Building a high-net-worth clientele is often based on developing relationships that start as acquaintances, develop into friendships as trust is established, and finally become business relationships when a need is identified and addressed. Many advisors feel this approach is flawed because it takes such a long time. But that mistaken sentiment is good for you: In a crowded field, most of your competitors eliminate themselves voluntarily.
Here is a systematic process to meet wealthy people in social situations, learn about their interests and needs, develop social relationships, and then build business relationships with them when appropriate. The objective is not to meet wealthy people in social situations and then call and ask for their business. If you’re not sincere and forthright, most people will quickly divine it and reject you. That’s especially true with wealthy people.
So where do you start? Developing relationships with wealthy people involves three steps: meeting the right people in low- or no-pressure social situations, discerning their interests, and then meeting them again. If this process sounds like the rules for dating, you’re right. Most of the rules for developing friendships with wealthy people are interchangeable with the basic rules of dating.
Step 1: Meeting People
Let’s assume that you’ve done your research; you know that wealthy people belong to the local art museum, for example, and you’ve joined, too. After reviewing the museum’s annual report, you have identified the people you want to meet. You attend a reception and see a wealthy person who heads your list. How do you meet them?
First, look around the room to see who’s present that you know and who also knows that wealthy person. This is easier than it sounds. After all, you have probably already met the membership director, development director, and publicity director of the organization. They could make the introduction for you.
Remember that there’s a considerable difference between referrals and introductions. When you ask for a referral, the intermediary must “sell you” as a prospective advisor. Introductions are much easier. You are a peer, another member of the same organization. The intermediary can easily mention a few things you have in common.
So what happens if you don’t see a familiar face? Then figure out who you know in common. If it’s a golf club, the person may play with the same people you do or serve on the same committee. You introduce yourself and say: “I believe we have a friend in common.” You mention the person and explain how you know them. The conversation’s started.
Does this sound contrived? Remember another rule of dating: Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. There is an accepted set of rules to follow.
What happens if you don’t have a common friend? Remember one of the key rules in the non-profit world: “You can never thank people enough.” Paradoxically, the people who give money to cultural institutions are rarely if ever thanked by the intended recipients, the membership. Take the initiative and thank those people yourself.
You may be wondering why these wealthy people would be interested in talking to you, but remember another rule of dating. The person who is doing the talking is the one having a good time. You are interesting because you are interested in others. Stop talking and listen.
Step 2: Topics of Conversation
Once the introduction is made, it’s wise to have a few open-ended questions in mind to get the conversation going. Among the safe topics to discuss are where they live and where they like to travel. This will give you clues as to their passions as well as their financial pictures.
Sometime during the conversation the other person will want to know what you “do.” This is not a buying signal–”Thank you for asking! I have a short PowerPoint presentation. Did you see a plug somewhere?” is the wrong response. Less is more.