When prospecting for new clients, the first step is to gain their trust so you can build a relationship and, ultimately, close the sale. How you go about generating prospective clients can be critical in how successful you are in the relationship-building phase.

Last month (“Luring the Wealthy”), we identified five personality traits and corresponding “wealth signs” that predominate among affluent investors. The findings are based on a survey by Iconoculture, a Minneapolis-based consumer research firm. By understanding what motivates these affluent folks, we described how investment advisors can develop prospecting strategies to capture qualified leads. You can review those traits and wealth signs online at www.investmentadvisor.com/issues/2004_10/features/4247-1.html. This month, we’ll explore how to convert these prospects into clients.

When using “shotgun” prospecting techniques like mass mailings or generic seminars, you will typically generate a disparate group of potential clients. Conversely, by targeting your efforts to individuals within a particular wealth sign, you’ll garner like-minded individuals with similar interests and goals. As such, you’ll be able to focus your sales efforts by appealing to the common factors that motivate them.

When working with a wealth sign group, it’s important to understand their interests and the language that the members respond to, and, more importantly, the language that they understand. By customizing the language you use and appealing to their motivating hot buttons, you will be better positioned to develop deep and lasting relationships. Our research found that there are distinct ways to tailor your language given a particular wealth sign. We call it sign language.

In each of the examples listed in the table on the right, you can see that language can play an important role when describing your approach to financial planning. Throughout the relationship-building process, and particularly when you get close to closing the sale, you’ll want to use sign language to drive home that you’re a trusted advisor who understands their needs. For each of the wealth groups below, use the following suggestions to position yourself in the best light.

Service Is Everything

Good Life clients are enthusiastic about their lifestyle and want to feel important, valued, and special. For example, convey that your practice is limited to providing wealth management to only a select few. Because these clients respond well to a “white-glove” service approach, pay attention to every detail, from the coffee you serve to the quality of the paper on which you write to them. Be very available for these clients, and when meeting face-to-face, let them talk about their successes. Be a good listener. Remember, too, that when you refer them to other professionals, make sure these centers of influence are of a high caliber.

Customized Service

Aesthetic qualities drive Artisan clients, so take a fairly casual servicing style and avoid being overly formal. Be aware that these clients tend to be more creative than analytical, so try to visualize your ideas. Focus on the broad design of the strategy and the underpinning thought process.

These clients may also feel insecure about the financial markets. That means they may require more handholding. Try to develop ties between their interests and their investment plan, and always convey the amount of thought you put into managing every aspect of their account and how passionate you are about what you do.

Efficiency Equals Service

Unplugged clients favor a simple, balanced, and self-disciplined life. Quality of service, and not its quantity, is important to them. They will tend to be fairly analytical and will want you to give them detail, but don’t waste time on things that they are not interested in knowing. Make sure that you are accurate and specific when discussing their portfolio, and that you do your homework prior to meeting them face to face.

When you do hold that meeting, stick to an agreed-upon agenda and time plan. Listen carefully: These clients ask detailed, technical questions. That should be a cue to you to take lots of notes during your meetings and phone calls and be prompt when following up on any issues or outstanding questions they have.

Institutionalized Service

Legacy clients feel a need to give back to their community and are concerned about how they will be remembered. They tend to appreciate a more formal, almost institutionalized, and traditional service approach. Convey how well established your practice is and your tradition of working with similar clients.

Show how you can help them leave a mark in the world. Educate them about charitable giving and explain tax planning, especially in regard to estate levies. Ensure they have plans for long-term care. On a regular basis, show how the plan is progressing toward their goals. Finally, show how creating a family mission statement can help them create a plan that gets the whole family involved. Talk regularly about their concerns to identify new issues they might have.

Caring and Positive Service

Wellville clients exhibit a holistic approach to wellness and emphasize spiritual and emotional wellbeing along with physical health. They will respond to a positive and energetic approach to service. Avoid negativity. Listen intently; ask questions and make them feel comfortable.

You should also keep things simple and take your time when explaining new concepts or portfolio changes. This goes beyond simpe changes, however. Make sure to check in regularly to see how they’re feeling about things. Focus on their portfolio.

If referring them to other professionals, offer to come along to their first meeting. Also give them clear goals with specific timeframes; many of these people are athletic and are used to having training objectives.

Understanding and applying appropriate sign language to affluent prospects demonstrates your desire to serve their unique needs. It can also help increase your closure rate among a highly desirable base of investors. What’s more, once you build a solid relationship with these individuals, you’ll find they’re often eager to provide referrals of friends and colleagues with the same characteristics.

Jackie McCarthy is vice president and marketing strategist in the wealth management program at JPMorgan Fleming Asset Management in New York. You can reach her at jackie.a.mccarthy@jpmorgan.com. Findings from the Iconoculture study are contained in a marketing kit entitled “The Culture of Wealth in America Today,” which is available by calling 800-218-4782.