Who: Stanton C. Selbst, SmartPros
Where: Madison Bistro, 238 Madison Avenue, New York City
When: March 17, 2009
On the Menu: Sole filet Colbert style, fried leek, and advisors becoming “want creators”
Stanton Selbst, the man in charge of financial services training at SmartPros, teaches me a lesson of sorts even before we set up our lunch meeting. He agrees to an interview only on the condition that he has time to prepare for it and understands what we are going to be talking about.
“This is what makes a professional different from an amateur,” he says. “If I come out to play on weekends, how I play doesn’t matter. The worst thing that can happen to me is that I’ll be laughed at. But if I present myself as a professional and people laugh at what I say, it will be hard for me to get paid for what I do.”
Professional athletes, even those like Tiger Woods who are head and shoulders above their competition, train every day. It is just as important for financial advisors to keep perfecting their professional skills and expertise.
Selbst offers me another free training session as we sit down to our lunch. The first thing he asks me to do is to talk about myself, and then reciprocates by describing his own background. Not just professional background, mind you. He likes to talk about his family, his wife and four grown up kids.
This kind of exchange does more than just break the ice, he explains. It is a first step toward a relationship, which after all starts with knowing things about each other. Learning about each other gradually transforms a customer into a client.
Selbst draws a triangle with three (more or less) equal sides on a notepad. Each side represents a key component of the advisor’s job. At the base he puts “motivation,” and labels the two sides “products” and “sales skills”.
The function of training is to strengthen all three sides of the triangle. To be successful, the advisor needs to be motivated, of course, to have thorough knowledge of the products he or she sells and to be able to communicate this knowledge. If any of the three components is neglected, the whole triangle becomes weak.
Selbst notes that over the past couple of decades, there has been a shift from product orientation to relationship management. While product knowledge entails academic learning, relationship management is more of an art form. Selbst clearly likes to discuss various aspects of selling.
“Everybody has his own style,” he says. Selling skills entail not only being able to gauge what style your client prefers but also having a thorough understanding how you as a seller come across. If you’re a skillful salesperson, you should be able to adapt your own style to the way the client is comfortable with. SmartPros calls it the “Sell as the Client Buys” approach.
Selbst also stresses that the best source of new business is existing accounts, not prospects or even referrals from clients.
When Relationships Sour…
Relationships with the client become all the more important in a bear market. Selbst encourages advisors not to disappear — even though he understands that many advisors, especially those with a close relationship with their clients, can feel just as awful as the clients themselves do about huge financial losses in the market. On the contrary, advisors need to step up communications with their clients. Without being annoying, of course, they should continue to make calls, to explain the situation in the market clearly and honestly and, especially, to ask questions.