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Too Much Information

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When I visited a financial advisor in New York City recently, I noticed on my way to her conference room that all the rookie brokers in the cubicles around me were on the phone, apparently arguing with the person on the other end of the line. Some of the brokers were literally yelling, trying to hammer their prospects or clients over the head until they bought something.

When I went in to talk to the branch manager about it, he responded, “Yeah, these New York investors are tough cookies. You really have to know your stuff, be persistent, and sell hard.”

But I think these brokers were having the wrong conversations, and with the wrong people. Many people in this industry seem to believe that their job is to convince people to do things they don’t want to do by overwhelming them with data. Clearly, you need information to be effective in this industry. But my experience has been that the more information you give clients or prospects, the more confused they get–and a confused prospect will not sign on the dotted line. People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Hard Data vs. Soft Data

Most financial advisors are taught to gather data during an initial interview with a potential client. But they often don’t realize that they’ve been taught to gather a specific type of data, which I call “hard data”: information about the potential client’s investments, age, goals for retirement dates and retirement assets, number of children, and other quantifiable information. This information is typically entered into a computer program, an analysis is done, and the resulting recommendations are presented to the prospect.

What’s missing in most initial client interviews is the “soft data.” There aren’t any off-the-shelf forms for this information. This is the subjective information about the client’s hopes and dreams for the future, their fears and concerns, and the emotional issues that motivate human behavior.

The Power of Caring

One of my favorite stories about information versus caring comes from Steve, whom I coached when he was a brand-new advisor. As part of his training, he conducted a mock client interview with his dentist, using some “soft data” interview questions I’d come up with.

This data is not entered into a computer. It is not used to prepare an analysis or proposal. Its purpose is simply to help the advisor understand the prospect so that, if the prospect is interested, the advisor can help the prospect get what he wants.

The interview took about 90 minutes. Remember, Steve did not know the dentist very well, and during the interview, he hardly said a thing about his new job. When he completed the interview, he thanked the dentist for his insights and prepared to leave.

The dentist stopped him. “Steve, can I ask you a question? Can I become your client?” Steve blinked. He had told the dentist that he was doing this interview as part of the training for his new position. “I’m not licensed yet, so I’m not able to take on any clients yet,” said Steve.

“Well, how about once you get licensed?” said the dentist.

“I’m going into management and probably won’t have any of my own clients,” Steve responded.

The dentist didn’t give up: “Couldn’t you make an exception in my situation?”

Steve was floored. “Why would you even want an inexperienced guy like me to be your financial advisor?” he asked.

The dentist’s response was very revealing. “I’ve been working with stockbrokers, financial planners, and insurance agents for over 30 years. You are the first one who ever took the time to find out what I really want from my advisor, my money, and my life.”

Clients want an advisor who cares. Steve didn’t sell with data; without even trying, he built a relationship just by listening.

The $8 Million Pound Cake

I recently coached a financial advisor who, after only six months in business, landed an $8 million account. Most financial advisors believe that you have to have oodles of knowledge and expertise to be able to deal with wealthy clients, but she did not get the account because she deluged the client with information or because she knew more than the client. She got the account because she listened well, asked intelligent questions, bonded with the client emotionally, and then got competent technicians on her team to design an eloquent solution for the client’s problems.

I spoke to the advisor the other day. “I love my new client and she loves me,” she said. “In fact, I just baked her a pound cake and took it over to her house. The funny thing is, she baked me a pound cake, too. I’m exchanging baked goods with my biggest client.”

When you have a process to understand clearly what your prospects want from life, and you offer them an elegant way to help them get it, there aren’t any objections to overcome.

Not only have I coached many clients and seen the power of caring, but I have experienced it myself. In the late 1980s, I handled marketing for a financial planning firm in Phoenix. I would do investment seminars and my two partners, who were more technically oriented, would generally meet with the prospects. Occasionally, however, I would meet with prospects to get a sense of who was coming in for appointments and to see if I could help to enhance our closing ratio.

I had never been a practicing financial planner, and I told people this upfront. “One thing I need to tell you is that I am not very technical,” I’d say. “My role is to help you clarify what you want from your money and your life. Then my teammates, who are the technical experts, will put together a plan to help you achieve those goals.” The first time I tried this, I did it just so that the prospects wouldn’t be expecting too much from me. I was surprised when they said, “Actually, that’s great. The technical experts confuse us and stress us out. We want someone who speaks in layman’s terms.”

What we’re really talking about here is being the client’s advocate rather than their technician. Clients are looking for someone who truly cares about them and has access to top experts, but, more importantly, understands their dreams and aspirations.

If you try to sell prospects with information, you’ll end up like those shouting New York brokers. If, on the other hand, you come from a place of caring rather just than a place of information, you will find that your prospects and clients are much more receptive. As long as they feel that you care, have access to information, and will get them what they need, they will work with you to create a long-term relationship.

To streamline your sales process and minimize prospects’ objections, use your next initial interview to focus on understanding what your prospects really want from your services and advice. Instead of trying to convince clients how smart you are, see what happens when they experience how much you care.