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Cutting through the Noise and Seeing Your Way to the Sale

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If you have trouble building rapport with prospects, it may be because you’re not using the visual, auditory or “touchy-feely” methods through which they prefer to receive information. And if you’re skeptical about this premise, then maybe you should have seen ? and heard ? an audio-web presentation of Mark Davis. A principal of Haas Financial Services, Southfield, Mich., Davis spoke on the topic this month on behalf of the Society of Financial Services Professionals, Newtown Square, Pa.

“[Advisors] should have 100% closing ratios,” said Davis. “They don’t for a variety of reasons, a chief one being ineffective communications. Closing the sale requires an ability to ‘read’ how clients relate to your presentation.”

That, he added, means jettisoning conventional sales strategies that no longer pass muster with sophisticated prospects. Among them: manipulative ‘hard closes’, the “tell-and-sell” approach, memorized sales pitches and other formulaic techniques that take no account of how clients build rapport and warm to the information given them.

One way to view prospects is in terms of behavioral “quadrants,” an approach that dates back to the ancient Greeks. The technique’s modern-day incarnation, said Davis, includes four such quadrants: “expressives” (such as “party animals”); “drivers” (your hard-nosed boss); “analyticals” (think engineers); and “amiables” (people who are easy-going).

While useful in defining clients, the methodology is somewhat simplistic. Davis said that most individuals’ personalities are defined by overlapping quadrants. Though primarily a driver, the hard-nosed boss may also be an expressive. The analytical engineer can also be easy-going.

To better plumb clients’ personalities, Davis suggested that advisors turn to neuro-linguistic programming, which explores how the brain works. Among those schooled in the discipline are brand-name companies ? Coca-Cola, K-mart, Gilbey’s Gin and Las Vegas casinos ? that have leveraged neuro-linguistic-based subliminal messages to get people to buy or act in desired ways. Examples: Coca-Cola subliminal video messages placed between frames of movies at drive-in theaters, which boosted cola sales; and Kmart’s in-store broadcasts of auditory subliminal messages, which, observed Davis, reduced shoplifting in some outlets by 60%.

In neuro-linguistic programming theory, people fall within one of three categories: “visuals,” who make sense of words by constructing or recalling images in their minds; “auditories,” who make decisions largely on how things sound; and “kinetics,” who decide questions based on what their “gut” tells them.

Citing an extreme case of the second group, Davis talked about a client, Frances, whom he described as a “tonal” or very deep auditory. Frances was initially a problem client, arguing with him about recommendations relative to investing. After learning about neuro-linguistic programming, Davis developed an entertaining, story-based presentation that he believed would appeal to Frances.

Result? “For the first time, Frances did not say a word, but slowly relaxed and listened,” said Davis. “About halfway through the presentation, she literally put her hands behind her head, tilting the head so that one ear was pointed toward me, closed her eyes and smiled. She was in total and deep rapport with me. Soon thereafter, I closed the sale.”

Auditories, Davis added, constitute less than 15% of prospects; those like Frances are rare. As a group, they tend to repeat back information conveyed to them. They pay close attention to the tone and pitch of the speaker’s voice. And, as in Frances’ case, they love music and a good story.

Visuals, by contrast, translate words into pictures. They like bar charts and, when watching a presentation, tend to look up and to the right when creating a mental image of the information, then to the left and down, respectively, when recalling and processing the data. They are more focused when conversations are studded with visual words ? look, clear, see, picture, view, vision, and so on.

When they have trouble understanding a point, one solution is to break out a yellow note pad and convey the point graphically ? then wait for the look of comprehension, which Davis dubbed the “thousand-yard stare.”

“They look right at you ? or rather through you,” said Davis. “That’s when you know you’ve established deep rapport. Additionally, when giving visuals a paper-based presentation, you’ll want to let them look at it before you talk. Also, talk with your hands and be animated.”

Kinetics, who make up nearly half of the population, tend to feel “hot” or “cold” about experiences, are empathetic and emotional, and warm to kinetic words like touch, feel, grab, handle, smooth and sharp. An advisor, said Davis, might therefore ask prospects during a discovery interview to imagine how they “feel” about a desired outcome.

Other effective techniques said Davis, include “matching” or “mirroring” the kinetic’s posture (by, for example, leaning forward in one’s seat when the client does the same); and, with visuals, “sliding” by using visual cues to first recap points of agreement, then focus on the question at issue.

Davis additionally counseled advisors to voice support of competitors; discover clients’ buying behaviors; induce clients to imagine they already own the proposed product or service; incorporate attractive colors into presentations; and make frequent use of 12 words: discover, easy, guarantee, health, love, money, new, proven, results, safety, save and you.

Davis closed his talk by urging advisors to “listen your way to a close.”

“The cornerstone of my financial planning practice is that I spend from one to three hours just listening to clients during the discovery interview,” said Davis. “It’s very effective. By the end of the interview, they will have told me everything I need to know to sell to them.”