From the April 2008 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

Perfect Pitch

"What do you do for a living?"

We ask and are asked this question all the time. If you have a superior answer to this question, you can create a never-ending stream of qualified and motivated prospects to convert into paying clients, and--more important--you can avoid a lifetime of missed opportunities.

There was a time when "What do you do for a living?" used to mean, "How do you get paid to help other people?" These days, it really means: "Please ask me that question so I can tell you what I do for a living, which will allow me to explain how I can sell something to you."

Do you want to be even more of a winner? Do you want to convert more strangers into prospects and then into paying clients? Then give other people every opportunity to tell you what they do for a living, and you will learn very quickly whether they are qualified to become a client of yours.

It may seem counterintuitive, but when someone asks what you do for a living, answer succinctly and then, immediately get them talking about themselves. Be clear, be precise, be brief, and then be quiet! Remember the Zig Ziglar quote: "If you're tellin' you ain't sellin'."

Top salespeople understand that the initial encounter offers one of the best opportunities to transform a stranger into a friend and a client. (Remember: Even if you're a fee-only advisor, you're still a salesperson--you're selling yourself.)

It's your job to gather as much information about the other person as you can. Gently pump them with questions such as "How long have you been in that field?" Remember: gently. This is a pleasant conversation, not an interrogation. Other questions to consider are, "How did you get into that field?" and "Who is your typical client (customer, patient, etc.)?"

Brian Tracy, one of the great sales trainers, suggests asking a question something like: "Just so that I can clearly understand what you do, if I were going to recommend you to a friend of mine, what would you want me to know most about what you do?"

The old axiom, that people buy from people they like still holds true. Learning how to get people to like you does not come easily to everyone, but make sure that your questioning is not so sharp or intrusive that they immediately dislike you.

People love to talk about themselves. You know that because as a normal human being, you would rather talk about yourself than listen to strangers talk about themselves. It's not that successful wealth managers must be abnormal or manipulative; it's that we have to develop and cultivate a specific skill set that will advance us professionally.

Every successful salesperson knows that you must develop some level of rapport if you are going to turn a stranger into a good prospect and then into a client. You will rarely establish that rapport if you are dominating the initial conversation. Have you ever been to an event and met a salesman who talked about what they do for a living so incessantly that you could not get away from him fast enough? People can feel the same way about us.

On the other hand, if you encourage people to talk about themselves, they will think of you as a great conversationalist. If you also ask the right questions, they will give you all the information you need to determine if they would be a good potential client and how best to sell them.

Everyone is familiar with the so-called "elevator speech." But even for such a brief summary to be truly compelling, it can't really be about you as much as it is about what you can do for the other person.

When asked, "What do you do for living?" your answer should be short and direct. You should be able to tell someone what you do for a living in 30 seconds or less. While it clearly describes to them exactly what you do for living, it should also include some kind of benefit you provide others.

Next, you want the other person talking about themselves. Ask questions that are non-threatening but will allow you to find out it if they are an ideal prospect for you. You should do this in a very structured manner. Here is a simple example for you to consider.

Q: "What do you do for living?"

A: "I'm a Warren Buffett-style financial advisor. I specialize in helping people plan for their retirement. What do you do for a living?"

Another example:

A: "I'm a Warren Buffett-style financial advisor. I specialize in helping business owners and professionals build their net worth. What do you do for a living?"

Whether you use the shotgun approach to gaining new clients or try to appeal to a very narrow niche market, you can see how easy it is to aim your benefit statement directly at your target market. But this will require a little work. You know the old joke about a young man, carrying a violin case in Manhattan, asking an older man: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The old man answers: "Practice, my boy. Practice." That is what you have to do now. Create your own answer to the question. Remember, your answer should be short, clear, aimed at your target market and end with a question, getting the other person to talk about himself. It should also be an answer that sounds like you and with which you are comfortable.

Write down your answer. No matter how short or how simple, write it down. When your "final" answer is clearly written, say it out loud a few times. Sometimes, even the most beautiful written words don't sound right when spoken aloud.

Repeat your answer over and over again until it sounds right to you, and you are comfortable with it. Then fine-tune it. It won't kill you to record it and play it back so that you can hear how it sounds to others. Don't simply memorize your answer--own your answer. It should be an integral part of you.

Now it's time to take your answer out for a spin. See how it works the next time you are asked: "What do you do for a living?" Notice whether your answer was automatic or seemed spontaneous. If you need to make some small changes, make them now. Remember: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly--at first. With a little bit of high quality practice, you will become very good at it. This skill is like most other skills. Whether it's swinging a club, playing piano or playing poker, you will get better with practice.

You have heard this many times before, and you know it's true: If you want to be good at something, you have to practice it. I believe that practice does not necessarily make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

You can increase your effectiveness and your income by successfully mastering the answer to the question, "What do you do for a living?" Best of all, you will have gained many more friends and clients.

Gary Wollin ( is a Warren Buffet-style investment advisor with 45-plus years of Wall Street experience. Regularly featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other publications, he writes and speaks on sales, customer loyalty and the stock market.

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