Writer Dorothy Parker cracked that the two most beautiful words in the English language were “check enclosed.” The three most beautiful words for winning financial advisory clients are “I get it!”
That crisp little sentence helps create a bond toward building trust by communicating that not only are you listening to what clients say but that you understand their needs, desires and goals.
In today’s tough business climate and with the breakdown of trust as a result of the financial crisis and scandals, clients are super-sensitive to the words and phrases FAs use. Yet many advisors fail to realize the power of words — how the wrong ones turn off clients but how the right ones can win and keep them.
“Advisors may be the experts in technical financial jargon, but they still aren’t the experts in working with and managing clients on a human level. In today’s fierce competition, you won’t differentiate through technical knowledge. That’s done through the relationships you build,” says Harvard-trained communications specialist Raphael Lapin, founder of Lapin Negotiation Strategies. He consults and trains for Fortune 500 companies, like AT&T and Yahoo, and governments globally (and has been a contributor to Research).
What Your Peers Are Reading
The specific words you use, as well as your look, body language and tone of voice combine to create a perception as someone clients can or cannot trust. Moreover, a choice of words can and often does make the difference between landing or losing an account.
Concise, positive, client-focused words are central to making folks feel at ease and to establishing rapport.
“No worries!” is a great phrase for advisors to use when meeting with a client for the first time. So says communications consultant and political advisor Frank Luntz, whom Businessweek calls one of the four “Top Research Minds.” His newest book is Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary (Hyperion).
“Imagine is the most powerful word,” says Luntz, whose Alexandria, Va.-based Luntz Global clients include Merrill Lynch and General Electric. “You’re asking clients to imagine success and then to imagine you guiding them there. The first thing I’d tell a would-be client is, ‘Imagine life as perfection. Where are you, and what are you doing? Because the goal is: I want to help you get there. I want imagine to become reality.’”
Michael Maslansky, CEO of Maslansky Luntz & Partners (Luntz left to form his own firm), advising, among others, brokerages such as UBS and Wells Fargo, on language strategy, notes that “long-term” and “strategic” are positive words that resonate with investors.
“People who work with financial advisors are more likely to be focused on long-term investing. Therefore, it’s important to be explicit with clients that this is where your focus is,” Washington, D.C.-based Maslansky says. “‘Strategic’ suggests that there’s a goal and an ongoing process that you’ve put thought into.” Maslansky is author — with Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor — of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics (Prentice-Hall).
When it comes to client-winning words, the main idea is to forget about being in pitch mode. Instead, be in listen-and-react mode, Luntz counsels.
“Financial advisors are all about the pitch, but they should be listening. Pick up on something the client says or their body language. It’s as much the process as it is the language,” he says. “I’ve had sessions in which advisors pitched 30 investors in a room and who, using a hand dial, would react on a second-by-second basis to what they were hearing. Inevitably, the first guys got trashed. They thought they were [showing] confidence, but what they were exhibiting was arrogance and lack of listening.”
Luntz continues: “They’d get angry and [retort], ‘You don’t know what’s good for you!’ Some got embarrassed, but it showed the [firms] to teach their people to think about what they’re saying and to slow it down. Financial advisors tend to be Type A personalities — so they push information, numbers and solutions. Rather, you want to pull, not push.”
UBS advisor Thomas Livaccari, who with partner Kenneth Shapiro in New York City manages assets of about $1 billion, sought Michael Maslansky’s help during the financial crisis.
“A lot of what we discussed focused on crystallizing our [approach] of not selling and doing more advising so that clients were able to make decisions without feeling pressured,” Livacarri says. “High-net-worth people don’t want to be sold to.”
Marcia Mantell, founder of Mantell Retirement Consulting, in Needham, Mass., who specializes in developing retirement-business strategies (and is profiled in this issue), recommends using “positive action words and phrases that demonstrate partnership, like ‘Let’s create a custom plan.’ That addresses the real needs of consumers in a positive light. Don’t say, ‘Oh my God, you didn’t save enough for retirement!’ Spin it positively.”
Words that win clients indeed help foster trust — a quality, however, that must be earned. The way to develop trust, according to the experts, is to first connect on an emotional level. Show your human side as opposed to just the numbers side. One way is by telling a story or anecdote about yourself that is relevant to the discussion.
“This helps to enhance credibility when it comes time to make an investment recommendation,” Maslansky says. Moreover, try to encourage the client to tell personal stories as well.
Self-disclosure on the part of advisors works well to encourage clients to elaborate on personal issues they might otherwise be reluctant to talk about.
For instance, advises Los Angeles-based Lapin, author of Working with Difficult People (DK Publishing), “you might say to them, ‘As I put [myself] in your shoes, I can only believe a concern of mine would certainly be [whatever]. Is that a concern of yours too?’ Once you put it out there and make it a safe environment to talk about by saying the issue is important to you, they’re much more likely to speak about it.”
But what if a prospect blatantly declares: “I don’t trust financial advisors — why should I trust you!”? A diplomatic, effective response would be, “‘I don’t expect you to trust me. That’s earned over time,’” Luntz says. “Then you demonstrate that you’re in this together. ‘Alignment’ is a word that often works.”
The approach Lapin recommends is to step to the client’s side and respond with the question, “What standard or criteria would be important to you in choosing one service provider over another?”
“The more information you get from them, the more you’re equipped to craft a response that addresses their concerns,” he says. “‘I don’t trust you’ is a volatile phrase. So I rephrase it and say, ‘I’m hearing that you have a concern.’ That way, I’m decontaminating the issue. ‘A concern’ is something we can solve; ‘not trusting’ we cannot.”
Next, says Lapin, show how you’re different from other advisors by putting into play further effective questioning. “You’re far more in control of any conversation when you’re asking a good question than promoting yourself.”
Limit the Jargon