“Discover what the clients need and then sell them the solution.” If ever there were a piece of frequently repeated advice, that phrase would qualify. There’s a reason successful advisors claim that that approach underlies their work with clients and prospects: It works. It’s possible to build a senior-market business by always attempting to sell your favorite product, but it’s not a reliable method for developing sustainable, long-term relationships. Life policies that don’t genuinely satisfy buyers’ needs are at risk of being replaced by an advisor who takes the time to match the client with the right solution. There’s also the problem of client loyalty; if clients see you as a product-pusher, instead of a trusted advisor who understands them, they’re less likely to expand their relationship with you.
Of course, understanding clients’ needs isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. In many cases, clients don’t recognize their own needs, and even if they do, they might not be able to articulate them. Furthermore, rarely do clients make an immediate connection between need and potential solution. For example, when was the last time prospects expressed concern over the outlook for estate taxes and asked what you thought of buying survivor insurance through an irrevocable trust to provide estate liquidity? In most cases, clients require guidance to see their needs and understand how your proposed solution solves their problem.
So how do you uncover clients’ needs and convert that knowledge into a sale? We asked four experienced advisors for their insights. All are long-term members of the Million Dollar Round Table, an international organization that restricts membership to the most successful life insurance agents and financial services representatives.
Working the Process
“It is a rare case where a client recognizes the need when we first meet,” says J. George Reilly, a financial advisor with Reilly Financial Group, an office of MetLife in Piscataway, N.J. “I find that the way I am able to connect with clients is through conversation, by finding commonality. A prospect will not care how much you know until you show him or her how much you care. I need to make certain they understand I care about them before I even consider a recommendation. Once that rapport is established, I lead the client down the road that ends with the recommendation by asking questions. In this way, they discover the need themselves and I just add the solution.”
It’s important to follow a well-designed plan for interviewing clients. If you don’t follow a plan, you risk overlooking critical information.
Greg Gagne, ChFC, is the managing member of Affinity Investment Group in Exeter, N.H. He stresses the need to be an active listener when meeting with prospects and clients. “If you go into a meeting with the attitude of fact-finding and trying to understand by asking a lot of questions and listening to the answers before offering solutions, you will go a lot further in helping your clients to help themselves,” he says.
Richard Sawyer, a principal with Norton Financial Services in Portland, Maine, expresses a similar view. Several years ago Sawyer attended a MDRT meeting at which Jon and Eileen Gallo, of Gallo Consulting LLC, talked about the psychology of estate planning. During a focus session, the Gallos discussed the need for advisors to help clients uncover what is important to them. That session motivated Sawyer to refine his fact-finding process. “As a result of that focus session, I developed a one-page list of questions in which I asked clients to simply answer the questions without necessarily thinking a lot about the questions,” he says. “That helps me better uncover what’s important to them, where their priorities are, what their values are. I use the questionnaire in such a way as to have both spouses answer the questions. To me that tool is very, very helpful at simply getting a dialogue going. It’s a way to get the questions started.”
Tom Spencer, CLU, ChFC and president of Spencer Financial LLC in Sudbury, Mass., says his work with clients involves a three-part process. The first stage, evaluation, involves in-depth fact-finding so Spencer and his associates can get a complete understanding of the clients’ finances. Using that information, the firm creates a financial model for the second part of the evaluation stage. “The financial model takes into account when they hope to retire or if they have already retired, how much income they want to live on,” says Spencer. “It takes into account very personal things like will you have to pay for your daughter’s wedding, do you want to buy a vacation home, or do you plan to downsize.”