It is, perhaps, the advisor’s most formidable challenge: persuading a prospect or client to do what, in your professional opinion, is firmly in that person’s best interests.
Call it closing the deal, call it fulfilling your fiduciary responsibility, call it selling an idea — your success as an advisor depends on your ability to convince people to act on your professional advice and do what’s best for them, whether it’s purchasing a specific product, following through on a recommendation or buying into a strategy or plan you have designed to help them reach their goals. Advisors who are best at closing will tell you that it takes preparation, strong analytic and communication skills, tact, timing, a keen ability to read people, and above all, a strong drive to help them.
Perhaps you fit that description to a large degree already. But even the best closers know there’s always room to improve, always more people to help, and always room to grow a practice. Try the following nine battle-tested tactics and you may find yourself accomplishing all that at once.
1. Project and practice transparency.
Trust is the most valuable currency in a strong advisor-client relationship. Establish and sustain it by always being up-front with clients and prospects about how you’re compensated, what the pros and cons of specific product or recommendation are, your motivations for a specific recommendation, etc. “It’s about full disclosure — sharing everything with them,” says investment advisor Anil Vazirani, LUTCF, IAR, QFA, president and CEO of Secured Financial Solutions, LLC, in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That kind of transparency creates tremendous good will and trust.”
2. Make everything about the client’s best interests.
“You want to offer solutions where it’s clear you’re putting the client’s best interests above your own,” Vazirani explains. “Honesty, integrity and good faith effort will triumph over slick salesmanship.”
“I position myself not as a salesperson but as a facilitator, one who can offer insight and tools to help shine light on a solution,” adds Joe Elsasser, CFP, founder of SocialSecurityTiming.com and Sequent Planning, LLC, in Omaha, Neb.
3. Paint the big picture.
Instead of narrow product recommendations, offer a solutions-based plan that you can later populate with specific products. “It starts with an objective analysis of the client’s situation,” says Irwin Gross, RFC, CFS, AIF, of Family Wealth Partners in Weston, Fla., “where there’s no implied motivation to sell anything. Then you provide tactical but generic solutions designed to get them to where they want to be, with the pros and cons of those solutions. This puts the client squarely in a decision-making position. That, to me, is the essence of getting a client to move forward.”
4. Ask questions that help you steer a conversation toward revealing a need or highlighting a problem that needs fixing. Then be the fixer.
“I’ll almost always ask a prospect, ‘What’s the one item of concern in your portfolio you would like me to address?’ ” says Vazirani. “Once they identify it, that’s the issue I’ll spend time on first, because if they admit to being concerned about it, they are usually ready to move to address it. I’m following that thread of discontent.”
“I ask questions about things that I see in their portfolio that don’t make sense,” echoes Elsasser, “hopefully to get them to realize things about their strategy that aren’t strategic at all.”
5. Stoke the client’s imagination by connecting solutions to the end game.
“A good closer listens, listens, listens, to understand the consumer’s goals, desires, needs and wants,” says Vazirani, “then offers a solution that shows the consumer how to get where they want to go.” Help clients create a vision for themselves, then show them how to fulfill that vision.
6. Connect recommendations to real-life experiences.
Throughout the process, ask plenty of questions of a client or prospect to uncover a life experience that could help you build a case for why the person needs a specific product. A recent health scare in the family could make a person more inclined to consider long-term care insurance or life insurance, for example. “Drawing out these life experiences can be an incredibly powerful motivator, where people actually convince themselves of the need,” says Elsasser. “They’re buying as opposed to you selling them something.”
7. Tell people something they don’t already know about themselves.
Use the information you gather through formal fact-finding, risk profiling and informal conversation with the client to get a comprehensive understanding of the person’s situation, mindset, needs and wants. Then show your analytic acumen and demonstrate your commitment to due diligence by providing insights or observations about the person and/or their current portfolio. “Tell them the type of investor you see them as, based on their risk score,” suggests Vazirani. Offer a tidbit that might surprise — and galvanize — them: “You’re actually in a better position to retire comfortably than you thought” or “You may not be as risk-averse as you claim to be,” followed by the “Here’s why…”
8. Keep it simple.
As much as you want to provide prospects/clients with tangible, viable solutions, most — though not all — would prefer not to be inundated with too many recommendations, Elsasser observes. What’s more, limiting the number of recommendations you make at once tends to add weight to the ones you do make. “You want to prioritize,” he says, “so you don’t overwhelm people. Outline a plan to the client, but reveal specific recommendations in phases. Build out tasks and timelines for exploring and implementing recommendations for specific parts of the plan.”
9. Show them you’re a complete package.
Sometimes convincing a client to take your advice is a matter of demonstrating the resourcefulness, expertise and versatility you and your team possess. Having multiple licenses, for example, broadens the range of solutions an advisor can offer. Tout the areas of expertise of your on-staff advisory colleagues and how that might come to bear. And don’t be afraid to tell people you’re willing to bring in professionals with expertise in areas outside your own firm’s (estate attorney, CPA, etc.) when the client situation dictates.
Even a small practice can impress clients and prospects with superior service, an attentive staff and an attractive, vibrant and professional office environment, because as Vazirani points out, “you could be the best closer out there, but it won’t matter if your service is lacking or your office is sloppy.”