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4 ‘Absolutes’ for Successfully Connecting With Clients

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What is the No. 1 indicator of success?

“Social intelligence,” Maribeth Kuzmeski said at the outset of her afternoon keynote at the Cambridge Women Advisors Forum in Denver, Colo. on Thursday.

The author and president of consulting firm Red Zone Marketing told the 75 female advisors in attendance that “the most intelligent person in the world would not be successful without social intelligence,” which she defined as the ability to “connect and communicate.”

“Most advisors have a high level of social intelligence,” she explained. “But like anything else, it needs to be constantly worked on. Like marriage, even a good one, what happens if you don’t work on it?”

A problem, she noted, is that there are no courses to take to help increase a person’s social intelligence because advisors “are just supposed to have it.”

Referring to her book, titled “The Connectors,” she asked attendees to consider how many truly powerful connections they have. The average is five, she offered. For most successful people, the average is 100.

“What’s the difference between 5 and 100?” she again rhetorically asked. “Everything—think of what it would do for your business if you were to increase the number to 10, or to 20.”    

Relating a recent anecdote from a Harvard Business Review study, Kuzmeski said researchers from MIT invited subjects to participate in a business plan competition. The night before the competition, researchers observed the contestants at a cocktail reception, and identified the individual they believed would win the competition, based solely on their interpersonal skills.

“Sure enough, the person the MIT researchers picked won the competition, even though it was a completely different set of judges and even though the researchers had not even read the business plan.”   

It’s not about dissecting the latest mutual fund product or breaking down an annuity for the client, she added. The advisor has to be able to do those things; but in order to truly serve the client you must be the best “at servicing the relationship.”

“Too often, we want to keep the personal relationships separate from our business relationships. But why? Think about it; your best relationships are your personal relationships; they want to do business with you.”

She then moved to the thrust of her presentation, which were the four “absolutes” she believes advisors must employ in order to successfully connect with clients and prospects.

1) Listen curiously—The average attention span in the United States is 17 seconds, Kuzmeski said. If advisors want to separate themselves from the competition, they need to “learn how to listen.” “It’s about them, not you. At first, this is a little uncomfortable for clients, because they’re not used to it and there’s no ‘out’ for them. But that is incredibly good for the advisor’s business. You have to go from ‘know’ to ‘trust’ to ‘like,’ and ‘listening for the remarkable’ is the way to do it.”

‘Listening for the remarkable’ is akin to speed reading, she noted. It’s impossible to listen to every single word. So it’s better for advisors to train themselves to listen for something unique.

“People will give up what’s important to them in the course of a conversation. Listen for it.”

2) Seek the remarkable—If you’re type A (like many advisors), ask big questions, Kuzmeski said.

“Many people will lie to you, which is okay. If I tell you the truth, often I’m socially unacceptable. For instance, if you ask me how I am and I say, ‘Fine” I might really mean, ‘My knees hurt, my dog died and I have a cold.”

Rather than, “How’s your health?” advisors should instead ask, “What’s your biggest health concern?” In this way, she said, prospects can’t lie to advisors.

“This is one of the reasons why introverts are better at connecting than extroverts,” she said. “Introverts don’t talk, they listen.”

3) Contrarian Networking—“Who here likes networking?” she asked attendees. After only three people raised their hands she continued, “If you knew networking worked, would you like it better?”

“If someone asks you what you do for a living and you tell them you’re a financial advisor, will they like you more or less?” Kuzmeski said. “Probably less, because financial advisors are lumped in with insurance agents and people think you will try to sell them something, but the whole point of networking is to have them like you more, not less.”

At networking events, successful individuals “look for the best connector in the room, and then connect with them, rather than looking for the person to whom they can sell the most. You either gather leads or develop advocates. The latter is better.”

4) Be memorable—“As women, we feel we need to compete and be better than men because women are really just coming of age as a whole in this business,” she concluded. “But you must bring yourself to the office and client meetings. What is it that makes you unique, and how do exploit your uniqueness? It’s not just about being better, it’s about being different.”