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Winning New Clients by Building Trust in the Initial Prospect Meeting

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If you have been an advisor for more than, say, the last five years, then you probably remember “the good old days”—new business development was answering the phone! When a prospect did come see you, for the most part you were the only advisor they were meeting with and it was pretty easy to land them as clients. 

With the slowdown in wealth creation and the tremendous increase in competition, those days are gone forever. Potential clients are more cautious than ever in the wake of large-scale instances of fraud (Madoff) and market and economic volatility (the financial crisis), so they now interview several firms before choosing one to manage their future and build their legacy.

To stay competitive, a firm needs the right reputation, credentials and ongoing marketing efforts to drive new business. But the tiebreaker, and still the best way to differentiate your firm, is to go above and beyond with a curated client experience that begins the moment a prospect walks through your door.  

It’s hard to believe that only 20 years ago the independent advisor field was relatively new. That meant competition was sparse and marketing for most firms meant asking for referrals and then answering the phone.

As the market has matured and the financial industry morphed into a powerhouse, quality and standards went way up and credentials and experience became vital as clients became more discerning and cautious with their options. Times changed in what seemed like a blink of the eye, and the RIAs that rose to the occasion developed a sixth sense about where the market was turning.

Today, the firms that continue to succeed embrace change as if their lives depend on it—because they do. Building new business today means having the right combination of evolving talent, technology, social media prowess and a firm-wide sales-focused mindset. The secret sauce? Providing impeccable, consistent, personalized client service that not only runs like clockwork, but is also so inimitable that it functions as a fool-proof client retention strategy.

Why They Should Pick You: Making Initial Prospect Meetings Count

Your true first impression starts with the initial meeting with a potential client, and make no mistake—this is a beauty contest.

No matter how much preparation you put into a presentation, there will simply not be enough time to explain all of the benefits of working with your firm. Your number one goal for that first meeting should be two-fold: (1) to get a clear picture of the client’s situation, and (2) leave them a bit unsettled about something personal and important to them, and convinced that you can help them with that issue.  

I always recommend the interview-style meeting. You can begin with the expected presentation in which you provide your credentials, speak about the high level of  services you provide, and so forth. But I wouldn’t do that!  I start by just talking with them and asking questions, starting with “What brings you here today?” By focusing on the prospect right from the start you accomplish what is critical for success: you begin to build trust.

So how do you begin to build trust? By listening. This first meeting should be less about you, and more about the client. Ask questions; lots of them. Why are they here? What are their concerns? Their needs? I find that most potential clients initially hold back but then realize quickly that we are here to help them. And what better way to help than to discuss all of their issues?

Getting these clients to talk is what guides the rest of your initial meeting. In 20 minutes of discussion you will have gathered information about their personalities, their general financial situation, their issues, fears and why they’re shopping for an advisor.

From there your presentation takes a very personal turn. Based on their personality, you know the right people in your firm who can help them. You know from their expressed concerns which services you offer that will make the most impact on them.

Every point, every topic and every question you ask from that point on should relate back to what you’ve learned about the prospect so far. Demonstrate the nature of your plan for them and they will experience a deep, personal interaction with you peppered with thoughtful inquiries. Don’t necessarily go into the weeds about the technical issues they might not have considered; there will be time for that in another meeting.

The quality of this first meeting determines your future relationship with this prospect. They may still interview other firms, but by now you’ve planted a healthy seed that lets them know that you’ve listened to them, that you understand them and that you most definitely can take care of them.

That lasting impression—and the trust that you’ve already begun to establish—is what will bring those prospects back to your door, asking the ultimate question: “What are our next steps?”


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