Financial advisors, independents particularly, are often reluctant to even talk about sales, feeling the subject undermines their professional ethos as investment experts.
But to business development consultant Beverly Flaxington, such feelings betray a lack of confidence.
“If an advisor believes in what they do, they should want to find anyone out there who might be a good fit for them,” she told ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
The principal of The Collaborative, a consulting firm focused exclusively on financial advisors, frames the sensitive topic of sales as follows:
“The objective is to get the message into the marketplace to the right people for you to be working with and that you are able to serve effectively. It’s not pushing something down someone’s throat who doesn’t want it. But if you don’t make people aware of what you do, they don’t have a chance to say ‘Yes, I’d like to work with you,’ or ‘No, I don’t.’”
Advisors need to know and can feel good about the fact that, as Flaxington puts it, “Not everyone is a fit; you should qualify the prospect just as they’re qualifying you.”
So, what gets in the way of advisors’ sales success? Four factors, Flaxington says.
“First of all, advisors often don’t have a plan for selling. They’ll do a financial plan for a client who invests assets, but they don’t have a plan for how are they going to sell, how are they going to measure it.
“Second, there can be an inherent resistance because advisors may think of selling as distasteful.
“Third, it can absolutely be a time-management issue. After all, they’re serving clients, running a business, working with partners and employees, watching the market. They might ask: ‘When am I going to add in sales activities?’
“Fourth, they don’t have confidence that they know the right words to say, where to put the focus,” she says.
A commonly adopted solution to this hesitation about sales is to bring in a sales professional to focus exclusively on finding opportunity for the advisor, says Flaxington, who has been consulting for nearly 20 years after building her career in institutional and retail sales for John Hancock.
“But this business isn’t sold that way,” she says. “Push selling really doesn’t work. You’re never going to see someone reading the script on the landing page and then push the buy button,” she jokes.
Rather, the financial advisory business is a classic relationship-type business that is built on trust and on feelings of comfort on the part of the prospect.
And that is what advisors can and must learn, she says. It takes active listening to understand the behavioral style of the prospect.
An advisor shouldn’t insist on going page by page through a lengthy investment proposal when sitting across from a hard-driving entrepreneur more interested in getting to the point and getting out of the meeting. Some relish that analytical approach, others want to think things through till a subsequent meeting and still others won’t feel comfortable until they first talk about their kids and family, Flaxington says.
Yet advisors sometimes miss these behavioral cues.
“It’s as if your spouse said, ‘What kind of restaurant do you want to go tonight?’ and I say “I want something ethnic; it could be Mexican or Indian—surprise me.’ And then he takes me to the hamburger joint down the street.
“You’re asking me, so don’t give me the pat answer you had in your back pocket!”
Navigating the correct emotional path to a sale requires emotional intelligence combined with a genuine interest in helping prospects make the right decision for them.
“That’s where we get off track,” Flaxington says. “Sales is not about getting everybody to say yes to me. It’s about talking with enough people about what I do and learning enough about them to allow them to make a good decision about hiring me or not hiring me.”
For advisors who get that part right, the final critical difficulty they encounter is closing the sale.
Doing that is simply a matter of taking charge of the relationship by setting expectations.
“You say, 'Here’s how the process usually works. Let me tell you what most clients have needed in the decision-making process.’ You’re laying out a road map,” she says.
But advisors frequently get stuck in trying to move the prospect to the next stage by failing to outline at the beginning what the process looks like.
“Some wealthy people have never hired an advisor before, so they don’t know what to expect,” Flaxington says. “Even professionals fall into the trap of letting the prospect tell them how it’s going to go.”
That, she says, can lead to a situation where the prospect is constantly asking the advisor to jump, and the advisor then says, ‘how high?’ but the process never advances.
Rather, the advisor should constantly relate his answers to client queries to the decision-making process: “Is that the information you’re looking for?”
“So you’re confirming each step of the way. You’re covering what the person needs to make a decision,” she says.
The good news is that all advisors can improve their sales by following this approach. They don’t need to be born with a sales personality, Flaxington says.
“In this business in particular, I have seen advisors with so many different styles be very successful at selling so I’m not going to not say you need to have XYZ profile.
“And yet the advisors who are most genuinely interested in people, who accept the fact that the only way they’re going to grow is to put an emphasis on this and who do have that ability to shift that approach and style depending on what the client or prospect needs of them are often going to be most successful,” she says.
Flaxington explicitly adds that she has seen analytical advisors — those who are not “people people” — excel as notably as more gregarious advisors.
“Most advisors have the capability to do this,” she says.
Check out What’s the Real Driver of Sales Success? (Hint: It’s Not Personality) on ThinkAdvisor.