When the game is down to the final seconds and the outcome is still in doubt, a coach often will call a timeout to layout a plan to win the contest.
He’ll draw up a play he thinks will put his players in the places they need to be to score the winning touchdown or make the winning basket or goal. The best players and coaches will be comfortable when the ball is put back in play because what the coach has drawn up is something the team has practiced before; it’s a play they know well.
That’s what good coaching can do. But coaching isn’t strictly the milieu of sports. Coaching’s lessons can be applied to almost any aspect of life – even life itself, as the boom in life coaching can attest to. Financial advisors are coaches, too. They give clients game plans for their retirement; they set up budgets for clients to follow. The best clients are students of the game, so to speak, and listen to their coaches.
One aspect of the coaching game many advisors overlook is when it comes to referrals. Sure, advisors will make half-hearted attempts to ask for referrals at the end of a meeting, or they’ll remind clients that referrals are an important part of their business, without directly asking for referrals. But only through coaching will clients become the referral streams advisors depend on for their livelihood. Only through coaching will an advisor be able to claim status eventually as a 100 percent referral-based advisor.
How great would it be for an advisor to receive this phone call? “Hello, Mr. Advisor, my name is John Smith. Bill Brown gave me your name and number. He said you helped him take his money and make it work harder for him. I’m in roughly the same spot John is in, and he said you could help me. He said something about an indexed annuity performing really well. I’d like to talk to you about that.”
That, according to Travis Chaney, is the difference between an introduction and a referral. A referral is someone the advisor usually calls; an introduction means the person is likely to call the advisor, looking for something specific, whether that is a product or service.
“An introduction is more powerful than a referral,” says Chaney, CEO of Dynamic Directions in Owensboro, Ky. “An introduction is arranged. The person is told a story about me and what I offer.”
In a referral situation, a prospect may know of an advisor because his name has been mentioned: “Jim, I mentioned your name to my advisor, so he may give you a call.” In an introductory situation, the prospect knows about the advisor. The prospect will know the advisor’s name, company, specialty, what he did for the person who provided the introduction and what he can do for the prospect. And, as indicated above, the prospect may be the one who initiates the call.
To get to the all-important point where clients start providing introductions, advisors have to establish trust and create a running record of exemplary service. Trust is something that should come naturally. It should arise out of a commitment to doing the right thing every time for the client. Trust is something an advisor cannot ask for – it must be earned. Service, on the other hand, is something over which the advisor has total control.
It can live by many different names, but giving the client something to remember is vital. Many advisors call it the “Wow” factor, and it comes when they get more than they expect. Ron Roberts, the president of Roberts Retirement Group in Jackson, Calif., about 45 miles southeast of Sacramento, believes in the power of the Wow factor. He sponsors a Valentine’s Day luncheon for widows, where everyone in attendance gets a bouquet of flowers. During warmer months, he reserves space at a winery and holds a country hoe down complete with live music, barbeque and square dancing.
Clients remember the events Roberts holds and they talk about them until the next one. When it comes time to mention Roberts to their friends, clients can talk about great experiences they’ve had outside the business relationship; they can talk about personal service, and that resonates. But the business relationship needs to be stressed, too, and a plan works wonders.
“More important than trust is a plan of action,” says Randy Schwantz, president of The Wedge Group in Dallas.
Schwantz says advisors need to create written services timelines for clients, something they can look at and know what’s coming and when.
“If you set up reviews regularly, it gives the client certainty that things won’t fall through the cracks,” Schwantz says.
But don’t stop with only what is on the written plan. There are things advisors can do between meetings that will make them the topic of introductions.
“It’s important what touches an advisor can put between client meetings,” Chaney says. “There needs to be meaningful interaction: articles, books, reports that highlight anything that has happened [since the last meeting].”
Anything an advisor can do to seem more magnetic is important. All of this adds up to create the story clients can tell about the advisor. And without a story to tell, clients are just making referrals.
Something to talk about
Chaney and Schwantz both believe that the story a client tells about an advisor is the make-or-break facet of an introduction. Without a good story, it can go astray. And to tell a good story, clients need coaching.
“Advisors should ask clients what they’ll say about them,” Schwantz says. “It’s important to coach them through it.”
Remember, however, that coaching does not mean dictating. The story is more powerful if it’s in the client’s own words. To do that, Chaney says advisors need to create euphoric moments in a client’s mind. Recap the client’s situation since he joined the advisor’s company. Has the balance in his annuity gone way up? He needs to be reminded of that.
Has the debt he brought with him been paid off? That fact needs to be pointed out to him. Make the client feel great about his financial position so he’ll want to introduce people like him to the advisor. Plus, it fits into the story he’ll tell about the advisor.
Chaney’s recommendation fits nicely into Schwantz’s five steps to the story.
“The problem with introduction sources is amnesia about how an advisor has made their lives better,” Schwantz says.
Advisors should remind clients of their situation whey they met, especially if their situation now is dramatically better. Ask them, “Do you remember what was going on?” Then advisors should ask if clients remember how they were introduced. What was the opportunity that enabled the introduction? Get them to remember the factors that led to their decision to do business. Remind them of the action that has taken place since, and put the results in quantifiable measures.
Even if clients don’t realize they’ve been walked through a process, they have been, and they have a story to tell – in their own words – that has emotion, passion, places, times and results. Their story has a beginning, middle and an end (which may even get better). And if the current ending is a happy one, the story has a star: the heroic advisor.
What time is it?
So how does an advisor know when the time is right, when he has earned the right to encourage clients to start making introductions or referrals, when he has become the hero of the story?
Roberts says clients need to be impressed with an advisor to refer him to friends and family, but he cautions advisors to steer clear of using their knowledge of facts and figures to impress people. Don’t lose people by discussing ratios, fluctuating interest rates and other things that can keep financial professionals riveted but put the general populace to sleep.
“Simplicity is better because they can grasp concepts that way,” Roberts says. “And when they can understand things as you’ve described them, that establishes trust,” and once trust is established, an advisor never has to wonder if it’s OK to ask for referrals and introductions. “When a client has that ‘aha’ experience, that’s a client who is going to refer people to you.”
Schwantz compares knowing when the time is right to ask for introductions to knowing when the time is right for a teenager on a date to put his arm around the girl. If he waits until the credits are rolling, he’s waited too long.
“Advisors usually wait too long, too,” he says.
The way to avoid that is to change the way they think.
“It starts off with changing mindset from referrals to introductions,” Schwantz says. “The second part is you have to believe you deserve it. Advisors need to ask themselves, ‘Why do I deserve it?’ Then, they need to come up with the reasons why.”
In an old “Saturday Night Live” skit, Stuart Smalley had self-esteem issues, so to empower himself he stood in front of a mirror and told himself this: “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Advisors who spend a little time coaching themselves to recognize their strengths will have success coaching clients to point out their strengths, too.
Clients who know what play to run in a clutch situation, even without their advisor there to help, react well because they’ve been coached well. The referrals and introductions flow easily off their tongue because the story is well-known and a positive experience to recite. When the ball is in their court, do your clients know how to score for you?