Financial advisors spend a lot of their day in front of people. Whether they are presenting seminars to large crowds or seeing people in their office, advisors log many hours of face time every week.

Many of them excel in this area of their livelihood, but others struggle with the one-on-one setting. They either get nervous and see their performance suffer, or they don’t have a good game plan for success. Both situations point to less-than-stellar results, but both also can be overcome.

That nervous feeling may never go away; some people just get that way. But an advisor who feels butterflies on the inside can still give the appearance of confidence on the outside. A strong handshake and solid eye contact – the old workhorses of business relationships – give prospects the impression that the person they are talking to is in control and knows what he is doing. Those things come with practice, as does a confident tone of voice. The game plan is all about preparation.

What an advisor does before the meeting is probably just as important as what he does during the meeting. It’s called homework. Students from grade school to college know it’s a necessary evil, and advisors shouldn’t think that since they’re adults they’re immune to the “drudgery” of homework. Know the client and his situation. If it’s a first meeting, the advisor should still know a few things from an initial phone call or from a fact-finder that the prospect filled out. If the meeting is a follow-up, the advisor has plenty of information to work with, and he should make that known.

“Articulate what has been discussed previously,” says Liz Manibay, director of coaching services for ClientWISE, based in Tarrytown, N.Y. “This gives the impression you’re prepared.”

Marty Lassen, the vice president of Complete Intelligence in Denver, agrees. “Be prepared going in. Have all of the information pulled together and organized. Make sure it is clear and concise.”

Manibay says one of the most important tasks an advisor can take care of before any meeting – before even his very first client meeting – is creating a clear value statement. What does he do that sets him apart from everybody else? It’s bound to come up.

“Have something compelling and unique to tell them what you do,” she says.

Only after the homework is done and the value statement is ready can an advisor expect to have meetings that move effortlessly, but his work isn’t done by any means.

Manage expectations

Even after all the homework is done, an advisor still can set himself up for failure by going into a meeting thinking it will take shape as it goes. Not going to happen. A meeting’s shape can shift a little bit to accommodate a prospect’s requests, but it is much easier to go from one structure to another than from no structure at all to something resembling a meeting. As coach and trainer Sage Freechild says, advisors “have to be able to change and move,” but that implies there were expectations to begin with. Have an agenda set in drying plaster, not dried concrete. That applies whether this is the first face-to-face meeting or a follow-up.

The expectations and purpose for the meeting need to come from both parties, and they need to be addressed before the meeting is off and running. That accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gives the advisor confidence he’s on the right track. Two, the prospect is assured he is working with a professional, someone who has done this before, someone who takes care of his clients.

“State the meeting objectives and clarify [the prospect's] expectations,” Manibay says. “Make sure everything is well thought out. That’s the difference between looking polished and looking unprepared.”

Lay it out for the prospect and let him know he can lay things out, too.

“Before you get too far along,” Lassen says, “say something like, ‘What I’d like to accomplish today is one, two and three. Are there other things you’d like to talk about?’ Set the expectation upfront.”

And once the expectation is set, the advisor’s job is easy. Well, maybe.

Stop. Listen.

As simple as it sounds, one of the best strategies for having more successful meetings is for the advisor to listen. Really listen. Actively listen. Not just listen to pass the time between his turns to speak. Listen to learn, listen to create personalized plans and strategies. It lays the foundation for long-term relationships and increases sales.

“It helps the sales process,” says Freechild, owner and director of Phoenix Rising Personal and Professional Coaching Services, which does business throughout Massachusetts. “The more information you get, the better you can tailor a plan to their needs. You can’t tailor a plan unless you let them talk.”

Sounds logical, but does the human brain naturally see it that way? It seems human nature tells us to fill conversational silence with words. Besides, how can prospects buy what we’re offering if we don’t tell them everything we think they need to know about the products? Well, how can advisors know that what they’re itching to explain will suit the needs of the person across the table if they haven’t listened to the person’s story? Plus, a lot of sales training still advocates for the information dump – consider how difficult it is to get in a word when a telemarketer calls. That kind of machine-gun delivery is what financial advisors should seek to avoid.

“I see too many advisors talking at [clients and prospects],” says Manibay, whose company works exclusively with financial advisors. She goes on to say that one-sided conversations don’t get the job done.

Soliloquies, it seems, are better left to the characters in Shakespearean plays. Two-way dialogue is the path to a happy ending in real life, even though the advisor is being paid to be the expert. Unless an advisor is an expert mind reader, too, he should encourage the other party to do most of the talking, which should lead to a situation where a plan evolves out of teamwork.

“There can be a lot of kindness behind ‘I know what you need,’ but it can leave the prospect feeling left out,” Freechild says.

By listening before uttering those words, or something like them, the advisor shows the prospect or client that he has taken everything into consideration. And when the advisor manages to dig deeper, the client feels even better about the situation. If digging deeper sounds like a lot of work, think again. There are a couple of ways to encourage people to talk more, to give more information about their hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties about the future.

One way is to prod them to go deeper by asking simple questions aimed at keeping them talking, especially if the advisor feels the person may be holding back.

“Don’t take everything at face value,” Manibay says. “Probe deeper. Ask them, ‘Can you tell me more about that?’ Asking good questions will help facilitate their goals, dreams and legacy.”

The second way to get prospects to talk more, one recommended by business coaches and advisors alike, is to summarize for them as the conversation goes along. If the prospect stops talking, the advisor can take the opportunity to say something like, “So what I’ve heard you say so far is…” At this point, the prospect can clarify something he’s said already, or he has the opportunity to add something he left out by mistake. The issues of the day are clear in both the advisor’s and the prospect’s mind. And the advisor scores points by exhibiting his attentiveness.

“Make sure you can repeat the last few words the person has said,” Freechild says. “Summarize what you’ve talked about. Paraphrasing and repeating are good ways to encourage them to go on.”

It should already have been apparent to successful advisors, but sometimes even the best need a refresher. Client meetings are not about the advisor, they’re not about sales, they’re not about what product is better or worse. Good client meetings are about listening, because only by listening can advisors then engage their substantial planning skills.

Advisors are the financial experts, but no two financial situations are the same, so every day is a new challenge. That’s why homework is so important. That’s why a value statement is important. That’s why staying out of the way as much as possible during client conversations is important. The more the client gives, the more help advisors can deliver, and advisors who know how to get clients to give more can deliver even more.

“The one who digs deeper is the one who gets the business,” Manibay says.