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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Punch up your presentations

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Sales presentation.

Those words, let’s face it, strike something like terror in the hearts of too many financial advisors.

That’s because they find themselves confronted by a basic question. “What do you actually do and say in front of people?” asks David L. Lazenby, president of Rockford, Ill.-based ScenarioNow Inc., who holds a doctorate in psychology.

If you wanted to be cold blooded about it, you could say a financial advisor’s presentation, at its essence, is a set of numbers and a set of decisions about them. It should be easy to put across your great ideas in a few well-spoken paragraphs or a few colorful charts. But does it ever work that way in real life?

After all, presenting financial planning information or advice to a client or prospective client means trying to gain that person’s trust while communicating information and perspectives that, to many people, might as well be Martian.

“Sales presentation” is redundant, anyway, because every presentation and certainly every one-on-one presentation is really a sales presentation. And, while such a presentation should end with a sale, in order to close the sale the presentation often doubles as a compliance document. Even the advisor who conducts a presentation complete with balloons and a brass band has to get a signature on legal documents at some point.

So what is a sales presentation all about?

“There are about four steps to getting a client,” says Mike Prestwich, president of Albuquerque-based ImagiSOFT Inc. These are finding the client, also known as client resource management; offering the sales concept/needs analysis/presentation; illustrating the solution; and filling out the forms to close the sale.

Neal Ringquist, president and COO of Lafayette, Calif.-based Advisor Software Inc., says “delivery” means “the presentation to the client and the ease and efficiency with which the advisor translates the construction of advice into a presentation that they could logically step through with their client that helps express the uniqueness of that advice.”

Lazenby looks at the question a little differently. The real bottom line is gaining trust, he says. “I call it the financial therapist point of view,” he explains. “When we’re trained as psychologists, we don’t have a lot of time to build trust.”

How can presentations help build that trust in a relatively short span of time – especially when your clients and their needs come in all sizes and shapes? What are the most effective ways the illustrations and charts in a presentation can really pound home the information to prospects? What are the most compelling ways to show a need or value?

Companies that specialize in presentation products as well as the homemade kind have such wildly divergent philosophies it could be hard to know how to proceed. Here are some of the basic qualities to look for in your client presentation package, in rough order from the most basic to the most sophisticated:

Content - Know your audience. You don’t want to present asset management advice to a client seeking to roll over an IRA. Vendors offer programs in a dizzying array of categories but the question remains, what does the client/prospect need?

All but the most generic presentations include personal information, serious analysis and a digestible presentation. On the input side of the equation, remember the old computer programmer’s mantra: GIGO, or, garbage in/garbage out. You are the best judge of the analytical value of a presentation.

On the output side of the equation, ask yourself, how will this client best assimilate this complicated ball of wax? Would an older client/prospect appreciate a paper printout? Do younger prospects/clients like a little more razzle-dazzle, say, an interactive demo projected on a big screen?

Commercial presentation packages differ dizzily from one another. Some approach the subject by product concept, some by goal-setting, some by reviewing or devising an entire financial plan on the spot.

Some packages emphasize planning and some emphasize presentation. Some are more illustrative or educational; some are geared toward moving to a formal financial plan as quickly as possible. Shop for a product with your clients and prospects in mind.

Compression - It’s a vital part of producing clarity for the client or prospect. “There are about five or six primary pieces of a financial plan and within our financial plan, each of those has anywhere from two to 15 pages describing the (client’s) goals, their resources, and whether they are going to reach their goal or what they need to do,” says Mike Vitkauskas, chairman of Corvallis, Ore.-based Money Tree Software.

But those pages are the tip of the iceberg. “There might be as few as two pages and as many as 20 pages, depending on the subject – audit trail report, support pages – so that if the client says, ?? 1/2 Where did you get this number?’ you just go to the bottom of the page [and you'll find] a little code that leads you to the additional pages that show you exactly how we came up with those numbers,” explains Vitkauskas.

Clarity - Whether your audience is a veteran or novice, financial planning can be a tricky, complicated business. So make it simple and straightforward. This applies to the presentation’s content as well as its graphics.

A financial plan presentation is complex, Vitkauskas says. “There is a lot that goes on in order to get to a number, but we’ve tried to make it very clear.”

To give another example on the content side, ImagiSOFT Inc. uses simple cases to illustrate basic financial principles, citing Ben Franklin’s investment of $4,000 in a trust that turned into millions for his beneficiaries. Then its program uses client data to show prospects/clients how their heirs could benefit from a similar arrangement – in this case a stretch IRA.

“What makes a successful presentation, first of all, is that it is customized for (prospects); they feel like you have done something extra. It is colorful and it’s graphical and it has their name on it,” Prestwich says.

Color - A picture is worth a thousand words. So, often, is a graph or chart. The clarity of a presentation is almost always enhanced by taking the raw numbers and text and turning them into an illustration.

Steven Blair Wilson, general counsel of Raleigh, N.C.-based Capital Investment Companies and principal of Capital Advisers Inc., uses Advisor Software’s Client Acquisition Solution in part, he says, because it is “very visually compelling and very neat in summary.”

As with all presentation software, a database hides behind the presentation’s text and graphics. That’s the case with ScenarioNow’s programs, Lazenby says. “There is a database; if [clients] want to see it, they can, but usually after they’ve seen it a couple of times they come right back to the pictures. And when you can combine the words and pictures you get a very powerful communication.”

Configurability and customization - Advisors must tailor their presentation so it makes its points. “Each planner has his own his or her own style for using our system,” Money Tree’s Vitkauskas says. “We have some planners who use our software as a starting point to gather information for the customer, and then they run a few numbers, and then have an open-ended discussion with them. Others will print out all of the reports and have a three-ring binder with all of the information. Everyone uses it a little bit differently and at their own pace.”

All presentations must be highly customizable so that they reflect the client/prospect’s numbers, and so that they may be clarified and simplified. Too much information can be a bad thing.

“With recent volatile markets there was a period in which, if somebody had been in one or two asset classes – which is obviously a very risky proposition for anyone – they could have outperformed our standard proposal,” notes Wilson. “The Monte Carlo simulation was very misleading, so in those cases we would do one version showing it with the Monte Carlo simulation, and then before meeting with the (client) we would debate, ?? 1/2 Is it more compelling with or without it?’”

Collaboration has two meanings in this context. Bend, Ore.-based WealthCounsel Advisors Forum uses its Wealth Strategies Inventories presentation software to bring together collaborative advice from professionals including advisors, attorneys and CPAs. The outcome uses a Web-based tool to produce a printed document with “client-friendly” descriptions of the strategy recommendations plus an Excel spreadsheet that shows before-and-after planning scenarios. “It is intended really to be a memorialization of the recommendations of the planning team,” says executive director Jonathan A. Mintz. “It could contain as few as one recommendation or more than 40 strategies.”

Collaboration also can mean the process which takes place between the advisor and client. Lazenby’s ScenarioNow takes this idea to its limit. It uses what the company calls “just-in-time” interactivity that permits both the advisor and prospect/client to play with planning scenarios. The overarching idea is to induce “accelerated trust” on the part of the client.

“Planning doesn’t mean a piece of paper,” Lazenby says. “Planning means the process.”

David Lewis is the founder and owner of Monegenix. He designs insurance-based financial plans, financial calculators and apps for business owners and professionals. For more information, please visit


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