When I began to focus on the retirement market back in the fall of 2002, I had difficulty closing business. My conversion ratio of turning prospects into valuable clients was well below 50 percent. I often saw great potential clients come through my office only to leave without actually doing business.

This closing problem came to a head in the spring of 2004. I conducted a marketing event that led to $7 million of potential new business (new assets) coming into my office. I then converted one case of $80,000. Was I really this bad of a closer?

In retrospect, my problem had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to close. To this day I don’t think I am any better of a closer now than I was in 2004. So what changed, and how can you become more effective at converting more prospects into clients?

Prep time

In my opinion, becoming a better closer is all about what you do before the time of the actual close. I am reminded of this year’s NCAA BCS Championship football game between Alabama and Notre Dame. When Alabama was driving up the field time after time during the first half, and they got the ball into the red zone (inside the 20), did you have any doubt that they would close the deal and score a touchdown?

Alabama had already prepared for that moment over the previous five years. They prepared in the way they recruited, trained and practiced. Consequently, when they got inside the red zone, you just knew that they would close the deal.

The marketing plan

I believe that the sale is made well before that crucial time when a client decides to hire you and move forward into a formal relationship. It begins with your marketing plan. How are you introduced to the client? Did you have to promote yourself? Or were you introduced to the client by someone or something else (TV, radio, community education, web presence, etc.)? An introduction from someone with credibility puts you in a much better position of strength.

Once the client is in front of you, what is your message? Are you on your agenda, or the client’s? What is your value proposition? What makes you unique in your community? How do you separate yourself from the competition and rise to the top?

We must prepare for the close the way Alabama prepared to win their third national title in four years. We need to prepare to win. How do we do that? By doing what other advisors are not doing; by creating and implementing both a business plan and a marketing plan; by studying the art of selling; by learning to listen more than we talk; and by always putting ourselves squarely on the client’s agenda and not our own. This is the formula for consistent and sustainable excellence in what we do.

For more from Jim Brogan, see:

Creating a unique client experience

5 ways to make 2013 your best year yet

How well do you know your client?