Many advisors look prospective clients because they don't handle chance encounters at social gatherings correctly.

So you’re standing at a barbeque, beer and plate of chicken in hand, and you’re talking to another guest who is a pretty interesting person. You find out that he or she is a business owner, rather successful, and an intelligent and likable person. You can’t help thinking “This is the kind of business owner I’d like to have as a client.”

Now what do you do?

Unfortunately, many financial advisors don’t have the answer to that question clearly identified. You accidentally meet someone you perceive as a “prospect”–not someone to pass the time with. This could be a dilemma. If you don’t handle the situation correctly, you can do one of two not-so-terrific things: (1) you can possibly lose an opportunity to create a new client; or (2) you can become the social pariah of the century.

The first part of “what to do” takes place at the event. There are other professionals who are more well-versed on proper networking skills in this circumstance. I am not a professional networking teacher, but I’ll share their best advice: “Don’t pounce!”

By asking the other guest subtle questions about their business you can gain valuable information–and your behavior will show that you are appropriately interested in the other person. It will also enable you to find a reason to either call them later or possibly suggest a future meeting right at the party. Which strategy is more appropriate cannot be answered in a single sentence, but if you ask good questions, you might hear something that creates your opening.

Most folks will ask you “And what do you do?” at a social event. Have your answer ready and make sure it’s not a long-winded two-minute commercial. It’s best to speak in benefit statements rather than descriptive ones: e.g., “I help people to grow their money, keep as much as they can and be able to afford their dreams” vs. “I’m a financial advisor with ABC Insurance Company.” I also suggest you keep the focus on them and not yourself. If you are too eager, people will be turned off. As someone said to me recently about this phenomenon, “Watch your commission breath.”

If you have revealed this person’s business challenges through ordinary social conversation, you can get them to expand on them a bit at the party. Then you might say, “That’s something we have a lot of information about. This isn’t the right venue for us to get into detail, but I’d be happy to give you a call and schedule a time to talk further.” That is your first chance as seeing if they are amenable to an additional conversation.

People always ask me if they should bring business cards to social events. Remember, it’s more important to bring a pen than your business cards. First, who is going to call you back? No one. But your chance to make a follow-up call, such as in the above example, means that you will need to get their phone number. As far as I’m concerned, that was why napkins were invented!

It’s unlikely someone will immediately pull out their Blackberry and schedule an appointment in the middle of a wedding, party. (Though in these days of reliance on technology, who knows?) But they will give you their phone number and you now have an opportunity to schedule the second conversation.

The phone call to this new prospect needs to be structured as follows:

First: Say hello and your name.

Second: Remind them where you met, and a brief part of the conversation which will jog their memory as to what you discussed about their business.

Third: Reintroduce the idea of getting together to share information, as promised.

Fourth: Tell them what might be the benefit of knowing that information.

And last, ask for the appointment.

Example: Hi, (name of prospect) this is (your name). We met at (mention event and when) and during our conversation you told me that (bring up something they said about their business, finances, family). And I had told you that at my company (ABC Financial) we have a lot of ideas on how you might be able to do that. And I’d like to find a time when we can sit down and share some ideas that help (share a benefit regarding that particular challenge). I know you’re a busy person, so what is generally the least crazy time of day for you–mornings or afternoons?

The key to successful social prospecting is the combination of what you talk about at the event, and how you use the information they share on the follow-up phone call. Your first skill needs to be in an ability to create the conversation (“Tell me more about that.”) and then there is the ability to subtly suggest another conversation might be in order.

Once you are ready to make the call, you must extract the part of the conversation which you can most use as a benefit for suggesting the appointment.

Adapting to the mantle

Many new advisors are challenged by this type of prospecting because they are getting used to the new “mantle” of being a financial advisor. It is important to remember that when you attend social events, you are first a guest. And good guests talk to other people. Since that is our forte, we should use our genuine interest in other people, our subtle questioning skills and our likeability to create a possible opportunity for an appointment.

If you find yourself getting anxious, it probably means that you are too focused on “getting a new lead” than genuinely enjoying the process. First, have a good time. After that, see if something naturally arises while being a good guest. The more you ask people about themselves, the more they like you. And the best result of that is more social invitations.

As my mother always said, remember to behave yourself.