There have been a number of studies that show how quickly people form an impression of someone. It can happen in a few seconds; and it can be difficult to change that impression even after numerous meetings.
One study was done with professor evaluations at Stanford. Students were shown a mere 10 seconds of video of the profs for their upcoming classes and asked to make initial assessments. At the end of their courses, they were asked to evaluate their professors. Their 10-second impressions correlated strongly with their end-of-term evaluations, including their comments.
Takeaway: You only get one chance to create a killer first impression.
This research should be sobering for every financial advisor. It means your prospects are judging you quickly and subconsciously and that it will be very difficult for you to change their first impression, even after numerous interactions.
Drawing on my experience as both an advisor and a consultant to advisors, let me suggest some ways to manage those crucial first impressions.
1. Dress Right
Everyone on our team pays special attention to their own wardrobe—even if they are not directly meeting with clients. Every man in our office meets with clients in a suit or a sport coat and tie. Clerical staff adheres to the same dress code even though they rarely meet with clients. Our team even dresses this way for a videoconference.
Many of our clients come to us in jeans, casual clothes and even gym clothes and wet hair. Some advisors use this as an excuse for their own poor professional image. I hear a lot of financial advisors say they feel they should dress like their clients dress. If that were true, I would look like a schlub much of the time.
As a female, I pay extra attention to this detail and make sure I am always dressed in business attire and pay special attention to the haircut, accessories and shoes. I never wear jeans to the office unless it is a day where we have no client meetings and we are doing it for staff morale.
The message: We are successful professionals and we dress for the part.
Contrast this with a wonderful local advisor we helped a few years ago. He really was a loving, kind and smart advisor who always put his clients first. He wasn’t the problem. It was his staff—every woman in his office looked like a candidate for the TV show What Not to Wear. They dressed in baggy exercise clothes, sweatshirts and other items that wouldn’t be accepted by the Salvation Army they were so faded, torn and worn.
Our comments to him: Why should your clients believe your team has any credibility given the way they are dressed? They don’t look the part of a successful, seasoned professional.
His solution: He gave each woman a $500 bonus to buy some better clothes. The atmosphere in the office improved immediately and he had instantly created a better first impression.
2. Emphasize Names
We have found clients love seeing their names. Think about all the junk mail you actually read because it comes addressed with your name and your name is used prominently throughout the letter. We try to put a client’s name in as many places as possible.
In our main office in Minnesota, we have a framed sign on the reception desk that says for example: “Vestment Financial Welcomes Jill and Jon Martin.” My offices are at the top of the stairs, where I have a whiteboard posted. There we write in hand: “Welcome Jill and Jon Martin!”
When we deliver a copy of their financial plan, their name is prominently on the cover. We also use an oversized computer screen to display their financial data. When they walk in the room, they see their names on the screen.
The message we want to convey is: You are very special to us. We are highly trained and experienced professionals who take care of the many details of your financial life.
I know this is important because a few weeks ago I was in the offices of our broker general agent. They had a small tasteful sign that said: “Welcome Katherine Vessenes.” It still makes me smile. Yes I know what they were doing, but I still relished the fact that someone took the time to create a sign for me and to appreciate my business.
3. Play Soft Music
When clients come into our main offices in Minnesota, or our satellite office in Rhode Island, I like to have a Pandora station playing in the background. I have found the classical musical ones are great (as long as there are no words, just music). The music creates a serene atmosphere and is very tranquilizing.
I know people are worried about their money and frequently anxious when they first come to see us. I want them to know that they can be calm with us, and soothing music is one way to do it.
But note—I turn the music off during the client meetings as it can be too distracting when talking about difficult financial concepts.