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Practice Management > Building Your Business

What your most difficult financial client is teaching you

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Do these comments sound familiar?

  • “I’ve spent hours with this prospect and she still isn’t budging–how do I get her to make a move?
  • “My high-net-worth clients have pulled huge sums out of the market–and I can’t get them to consider better alternatives.
  • “How do I respond to comments that lump me in with “greedy Wall Street” or “evil insurance” crooks?
  • “My former client’s heirs have been unwilling to meet with me–and seem ready to transfer their assets elsewhere.”

These remarks are from some of the financial professionals I know that are frustrated by the number of people resisting their advice right now. The problem is, it’s not their fault–the economy is wildly unpredictable and investors are more wary than ever. However, some advisors have unlocked the key to client trust and are enjoying more business than they expected.

What turns a reluctant client into an eager one? It isn’t about products or investment strategies, although, of course, that is what a competent advisor offers. It’s about the questions and conversations that get prospects and clients to take the leap of faith required in today’s uncertain economy. And top advisors know that the quality of the conversations they have with their clients starts with the ones they have with themselves.

Self talk

Your most difficult clients can teach you where you may have some gaps in your self-talk–and how to rethink your approach. Let’s take Charles, one of my clients. He was frustrated because a particular business owner was dragging his feet on an investment move that would help him shelter significant business income. Charles had presented what he believed was a sharp, well-documented case to the client and–nothing! I asked Charles about what he believed was causing the delay from the client:

He thought the client didn’t understand the value of risk-mitigation. He was concerned that if he changed his previously successful, low-key approach, he might come across as “pushy.” He thought a more emotional case would be viewed as unprofessional. And he felt defensive when faced with critical comments about the financial services industry.

In looking at each of his assessments, we discovered they were based solely on Charles’ interpretations and opinions. These opinions revealed some of his basic biases, including those in favor of the scientific method, low-key behavior and technical information.

The new normal

These values had served Charles well in the past. However, they didn’t take into account the “new normal” of fear causing clients to want more than facts to reassure them. Even business clients today want an advisor who “gets” them–and who is willing to connect in a more personal way.

Charles realized that this “difficult client” was calling for a different approach. He could see he was holding himself back from conveying passion and a sense of urgency. Charles recognized he’d made some assumptions about the client’s reactions that might not be accurate.

We developed the following five strategies to help Charles ask better questions of this particular client:

  1. Start with “beginner’s mind.” Charles realized his preconceived notions of the client were getting in his way of discovering the real reasons for the client’s hesitance.
  2. Be a “game-changer,” not just someone who mitigates risk. Charles could feel the difference in the power of a few words–and so could his client.
  3. Be emotionally courageous with the client. Charles realized he needed to take a risk himself–to show empathy and even vulnerability with the client–to help the client open up about what he really wanted to discuss, but had not felt comfortable admitting.
  4. Display a physically calm and powerful presence. This will help establish a safe atmosphere for the client. We worked on some body language positions that would align Charles’ words and behavior for a more effective presentation.
  5. Respond to cynical comments with more curiosity, instead of defensiveness. This will diffuse any hostility. Charles realized he could learn from others’ anger and perhaps diffuse tense situations by not reacting or trying to be “right.”

The bottom line

Charles’ new communication tools allowed him to increase his close rates–especially with those clients who seemed the most reluctant.

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Debbie Nixon, founder of coaching company Masterful Advisor(R), has more than 20 years of experience as a financial advisor, coach and performance expert. For more information and tips from Nixon, go to


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