From the October 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

October 1, 2008

Meet the Rich

How do the most affluent, the top 20 percent (quintile), think? What motivates them? Industry consultant Matt Oechsli addresses these issues in his newest title: The Affluent Handbook: Understanding America's Top Income Quintile. First, he offers some broad observations that those in America's top quintile:o Account for more than 50 percent of U.S. consumer spending.o Dislike two things very much: salespeople and excessive taxes.o Are not prepared mentally, physically or financially for their retirement.o Did not inherit their wealth; 93 percent are "self-made."o Are willing to spend generously on time-saving and experience-enhancing goods and services.

Oechsli points out that these top 20 percent "are the powerbase of Western capitalism. They pay the bulk of the taxes, spend the most money, and are intensely coveted by everyone who is marketing or selling anything." The book's intention is to help readers gain a better understanding of today's affluent. To succeed in dealing with them, Oechsli believes they must be very well understood.

Today's wealthy are often working folks who happen to earn a healthy income. More than 75 percent are self-employed and work 60-plus hours a week. "They never have enough time to finish their work, so when making a purchase decision, they expect minimal hassles and maximum service." They earn an average $132,000 per year.

Although the top quintile buy and spend a lot, Oechsli writes that they are skeptical and don't believe in basic advertising. He writes that the most surprising findings from the research was the intense skepticism toward basic sales and marketing techniques -- especially when it comes to intangibles, such as services. The good news? As defensive as wealthy prospects can be, Oechsli writes that they will do almost anything for you once you prove yourself, break down the barriers and develop a relationship based on mutual trust and professional respect.

Oechsli provides Dos and Don'ts for marketing to the affluent. One suggestion: become a good listener. Take notes, ask for further clarification, nod your head and give short acknowledgements such as, "That's great," and "That's helpful to know." Also, create a friendly environment, provide personalized service that emphasizes savings and emphasize your knowledge, likeability and trustworthiness.

Many sales people are reluctant to do what it takes to succeed, writes Oechsli. "Despite the technical platforms provided by their companies -- high-end sales and marketing tools, cutting-edge products, personalized services, etc. -- a significant number of salespeople simply do not want to perform the necessary sales activities." He writes of a financial planner, Doug, who had gotten a referral and persisted for two months until he arranged a meeting. He prepared for the meeting. Yet, once in there, he lacked the communication skills to handle a face-to-face meeting with an affluent prospect, became nervous, and ended up talking too much. "And we all know what happens when people talk too much: they focus on their favorite topic -- themselves." Rather, financial planners must make an effort to really know the prospect so they can position themselves as solutions providers, professionals "who can add real value."

When a financial planner develops such rapport, a true relationship develops. Oechsli notes one advisor who, when asked what he does for work, responds, "I work with a select group of families in the Chicago area, overseeing and coordinating their financial affairs." If this leads to another question, he responds, "I do it very carefully. First I have to make a thorough assessment of the client's financial state of affairs, and see if there's anything I can help with."

Once the financial planner has developed rapport, he or she must present knowledge in a clear, concise way. Selling to the affluent also requires the financial planner to refine his or her image. Oechsli suggests paying careful attention to grooming and dress as a key to an advisor's success: "He doesn't overdress, but he never under-dresses."

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Mary Scott is the co-author of Companies with a Conscience and can be reached at maryscott303@comcast.net.

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