When Gilberto F. Gra-a, CFP, left the health care industry some 18 years ago to start his own financial advisory practice, he needed a name for his new venture, one that captured the essence of the approach he intended to use with clients and resonated with the people he hoped to serve.
The name he chose for the company was Wealth Solutions Group, with “solutions” being the operative word to describe a practice that under his leadership has prioritized problem-solving over product sales. There’s more to it than just a name, says Gra-a, whose practice is based in Coral Gables, Fla. As an advisor, he preaches a solutions-based approach to serving clients because, he says, when it comes to life insurance and other financial products, people want someone who’s first and foremost a problem-solver, not a salesperson.
For many advisors, the ability to develop and sell personalized solutions, not just peddle products, is an acquired skill, he contends. “This isn’t just ready-fire-aim. There’s a process involved, like there is with any discipline. The idea is to be an objective observer and through a series of inquiries, to learn enough about a person, his situation, goals and aspirations. That means taking a step back from the actuarial tables and the sales hype to focus on the complete financial picture. It’s not about trying to fit an individual to the suit; it’s about fitting the suit to the individual.”
Building trust, credibility
Before creating a solution, the advisor first must uncover a problem. That’s a process that, according to advisors who use it, entails developing a relationship of trust with clients – a collegial, conversational working relationship in which the advisor develops a dialogue for the purpose of fact-finding and getting a feel for the client as a person.
Rarely does a straightforward sales approach produce such a relationship of trust. Rather, product-focused, sales-first tactics are apt to turn off clients.
“Solution-based marketing is effective,” says financial planner Rich Schuette, a partner at MJL Advisors in Santa Barbara, Calif., “simply because people don’t feel like they are being sold.”
Before a problem can be identified and a solution offered, trust between client and advisor has to be established. “This is an industry based on trust first and foremost,” Schuette says. “It all starts with getting to know the client and actually taking the time to understand what the person needs and wants. ‘Tell me about yourself, your kids, your grandkids.’”
According to advisor Ben Baldwin of Baldwin Financial Services in Arlington Heights, Ill., people will be reluctant to answer those kinds of personal questions if they sense the line of inquiry is merely building to a sales pitch. The client has to trust the advisor is genuinely interested in his best interests. That sense of trust “is not something that happens instantly.”
To foster trust, Gra-a steers away from one-sided grill sessions and instead turns initial meetings with clients into give-and-take educational discussions where the client is welcome to fire questions at the advisor.
“A prudent advisor should make an effort to educate the individual because the individual can give you much better input if they are more cognizant of the big picture, what their potential needs are and what resources are available to meet those needs,” he says.
Educating clients also is a powerful way for the advisor to demonstrate expertise. And in the eyes of clients, expertise tends to translate directly into credibility, a key factor in building trust. According to Baldwin, posing broad, seemingly non-probing questions is another way to build credibility. It’s also an effective, non-threatening way to get clients to open up. “Usually the first thing I’ll ask is, ‘Why [did you come to] a financial planner, and why [did you come to] me?’”
Identifying the problem
Once prospects begin opening up, and with trust and credibility now established, it’s time to start delving deeper to uncover a problem that needs solving. Here, asking questions serves a dual purpose, Baldwin notes. It’s a means of fact-finding, but it also shows the advisor cares about the client as a person, a sure way to build trust.
It often takes some sleuthing by the advisor to uncover a problem, so asking the right questions – in a non-salesy tenor – is crucial. Here’s where the advisor’s efforts to educate the client bear fruit, Gra-a says. By filling in [a client's] educational gaps, you’ve developed a common vocabulary. The client now can use that vocabulary to better communicate his goals and situation, so the advisor can better ascertain the real needs of the individual.”