From the February 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

January 23, 2013

Are You Listening? Read This Book

A new book by Robert Finder reveals secrets of excellent communication.

Here’s the bold promise that opens a book I want to call to your attention: “Your mastery of the critical elements of communication bestows upon you great power to exert on behalf of your clients. You use that power wisely and always in your clients’ best interest—with care, skill and caution—to help them succeed financially.”

The book is The Financial Professional’s Guide to Communication: How to Strengthen Client Relationships and Build New Ones, by Robert L. Finder, Jr. The author, a managing director for a national financial services firm, has the credentials to make the claim. In my estimate, a veteran who reads and applies the insights rendered in each chapter can add polish to a successful career; a rookie will have a better chance to survive.

I suppose you could call this a review of Bob Finder’s book. Let me get the “review” part out of the way. It’s an excellent book. You should buy and read it. Order it from Amazon. There. I’m done with the review. 

As for the balance of this article, let’s consider it a “study guide” or “implementation guide.” It’s a “how to” complement to his “what to do” book.

Chapter 1, “Defining Your Core,” walks the reader through the steps to think about your value proposition. You have an opening statement that describes what you and “all financial professionals do.” You define your process as comprehensive. Then you explain how you do it. Here the author brings in a key theme of the book: “My process starts by listening to you.” And then you explain how you help the client. This fades into a phase in which you explain “why you’re confident in your ability.” Here you “say something nice about yourself.”

Here is what I would do with this. (1) Using the sequence laid out in Chapter 1, write your own value proposition. (2) Submit it to Compliance. (3) Post it to you website. (4) Have it professionally laid out.

It should become one of several pieces you present to a prospective client in your first meeting. But don’t just hand it to them. Go over it with them.

Your value proposition, burned into your clients’ minds, is the foundation for the client experience you will create. It is the point from which you communicate. It channels your thoughts, focusing the relevant, excluding the chatter.

Critical Listening

Bob does not call his book a sales book. And it’s not. You can know all of the steps of a sales process, have great knowledge of your craft and still fail if your communication skills are wanting. (If you need to strengthen your selling skills, please download the “The Good Way to Sell.” It is a series of eight articles I wrote for Research. You can download it free at http://www.billgood.com/goodwaytosell.) 

In sales, you are dealing with four things: a product or service, perceived value, fear of change and a series of steps. But beneath the decision-making process called “sales” is communication.

It’s no accident that the first step in Bob’s process is your value proposition. A client who understands and accepts your proposition will experience a decrease in fear of change. Plus, the client will now feel more at ease in telling you what really matters. Call these “keys,” “hot buttons,” whatever.

Sometimes the client knows exactly what the trouble is and will just tell you. Sometimes you have to dig. But in all cases, you first need to establish a base level of trust or the client will not share with you what’s really important. Without that knowledge, you cannot increase perceived value by showing how to handle what troubles him or her. Your carefully crafted “solution” solves the wrong problem and undoubtedly fails.

The value proposition lays the foundation of trust. Your “critical listening skills” enhance the trust AND enable you to find the problem.

As Bob points out, this is where so many advisors lose it. They talk when what they really need to do is listen. To paraphrase, you have to relinquish control of the conversation and get the clients to talk. They will tell you IF you get them talking.

Bob suggests a “Critical Opener” to start the client talking, and describes it as these three steps: (1) “A declarative statement of your readiness and preparation to explain what you do for your client followed by a pause before shifting the focus away from yourself to the client.” (2) “Explain that, as always, the primary objective of the meeting is to focus on those matters that are most important to the client. After all, isn’t that the purpose of the meeting?” (3) “The client is politely and directly invited to share his or her thoughts and perspective.”

Here’s a version I wrote incorporating these three elements. 

“Mr./Ms. _____ I have prepared an agenda for our meeting today. [Hand each client a copy.] My agenda starts with item No. 2. I will be happy to explain a bit about who we are, what we do, and how we can help. But the most important item is No. 1. That’s your agenda, and what is important to you. I would like to start with you and [other name] sharing with me why you are here and how you believe we might help.”

Continue: “[Name], let’s start with you. Please tell me about [choose one] your family/what’s troubling you financially/your grandchildren/why you are here.”

Assignments:  (1) Prepare your own critical opener. (2) Memorize it. (3) Deliver it in your next several presentations. (4) Modify as needed.

Note Taking

Bob wraps up four chapters on critical listening with some advice on what I will call “interactive note taking.” To expand on an example of his:

Client: I’m looking for a relationship where the advisor appreciates my business.

FA: [Quickly writes, “Wants FA to appreciate business,” then asks:] How should that be expressed?

Client: The advisor would have to listen to what I say and remember its significance. [FA writes down exactly what Client said.]

After the interview, FA creates a note in CRM and places it to be viewed every time the record is retrieved. The note states: “Every contact remind client of something she said earlier and clarify or comment on its significance.”

If you do not take notes, or if you do not record those notes in a CRM, that data is lost forever. Rather than provide exactly what the client wants, you provide something else. Client feels base level of dissatisfaction. Sooner or later leaves.

Implementation recommendation: Buy a hardback note book. The one I use is the Foray Faux Leather Journal. It’s inexpensive, has 150 pages and looks good enough to take into a client meeting. Put all notes from any meeting—by phone, in person, with staff, management or of course with client and prospect—in that notebook. 

Immediately after the meeting dictate a debrief of the meeting. I use the Copytalk dictation service or Dragon software. Let me further make this argument in favor of note taking: Imagine you go to your doctor’s office and the doc asks, “Do you have any allergies to any medicine?” You say, “I’m deathly allergic to penicillin.” And he says, “I’ll try to remember that.”

Critical listening skills are, well, critical. But they are not the whole story.  You must also be able to deliver your message with both substance and style. You’ll learn all this and more by following the steps in Bob Finder’s wonderful book, The Financial Professional’s Guide to Communication.

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Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing. His Gorilla CRM System helps advisors double their production or work half as much; visit his website His seminar program, “No More Pies,” helps advisors manage ETF portfolios using technical analysis; see www.nomorepies.net. And his blog, financialadvisorsmarketing.net, has lots of useful information for advisors who need to beef up marketing. To preview Bill as a speaker, see his YouTube channel here: http://bit.ly/BillGoodSpeaker.

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