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The Best Practices Path: Sales, Timing, Persuasion

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Last month, I started a series on best practices, of which there are at least seven skill sets. I dealt with two last month—Invest Wisely and Prospect Constantly.

This month, let’s continue down our list, beginning with Manage the Sales Pipeline.

I have written several articles in Research on sales pipeline management. I have rounded up those, along with other articles relevant to this series, at This series highlights best practices, and my webpage provides deeper treatment of each skill set.

There are nine lead types as well as four “non-leads” that rattle around your sales pipeline. Each requires different processes to move them forward or out of the pipeline.

In this article, I focus on one lead type and the most urgent skill in managing it.

I call this lead type “Active.” I define it as: “Completed the first appointment, is considering doing business but has not completed the sales process.”

An Active lead might be interviewing your competitors, might be talking to a CPA, having conversations with family members, or just waiting for you to produce the proposal or plan. This lead is open to all kinds of influences.

Therefore, the worst mistake you can make is to fail to set the next appointment.

Let’s face it: In sales, especially as you get close to decision-time, fear and desire are fighting for supremacy. Your prospect wants the benefits you have laid out in your meetings and phone calls, but they are afraid.

The best way to keep the fear under control is a chain of next appointments. Here are several ways to do that. At the end of the first appointment, you can say:

“Bob and Betty, you have given me a tremendous amount of information. Obviously, I have a lot of homework to do. There are many moving parts to your situation. I can have my recommendations ready by (check your calendar). Could we reconvene next Wednesday at 3:30?”

There are two very important words here:

Homework tells the client that their problem is so large you are going to have to give it serious thought and probably work nights. Even if you know exactly what needs to be done at the end of the first appointment, the clients believe their problem is huge, which is why they are seeking help.

Reconvene suggests this process, at least for now, is ongoing. I have been using the word myself lately and I have had no one tell me they did not want to reconvene.

Here is another situation to expect from an Active lead. Prospect calls your office: “I need to cancel my appointment for tomorrow. We promised to take care of grandkids tomorrow afternoon blah blah whatever whatever.”

All staff should be trained to reset appointments. “Not a problem. Hang on just a second. Let me pull up Sue’s calendar. She has an open spot Friday at 2:00. Could you and Bob make that work?”

Or again: Prospect sends you an email. “Marge isn’t feeling well and we need to cancel our appointment this afternoon.”

I would immediately send an Outlook meeting request for a couple of days later.

“Bob—I hope Marge is feeling better soon. I’ve grabbed an open spot on my calendar, same time Thursday. If this doesn’t work, just click ‘Decline.’ I’ll ask Jewel in my office to call you and work out a better time.”

If you get a “decline” or no response within 24 hours, this Active lead is in danger of doing “dark.”

Once that chain of appointments is broken, just one of the countless fears and competition can weasel its way into your prospect’s mind, and now that smokin’ lead cools off, drops into pipeline purgatory and goes dark.

Pipeline management may well be the outcome of your lead generation. It is most certainly a “best practice.” Now let’s go to two more best practices: Control Time Allocation and Present Ideas Persuasively.

Control Time Allocation

While all best practices are best, there are some that are “more best.” As George Orwell put it in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

The “most best” practice is time allocation. It controls the execution of the others.

Lately, I have been having conversations with some senior advisors who prospected retirees 20 years ago, and have woken up to the stark reality that their clients are dying and their assets are flying. (Something like 85% of assets leave the parent’s primary advisor when the last parent dies and the kids inherit.)

Life has been comfortable. Fees led to a relaxed lifestyle—four-day workweek, 9-3 Mon-Thurs. The only problem: no time allocated to prospect constantly. Lifestyle downgrade looms.

There are two parts, then, to time allocation. First, catalogue the best practices you will deploy, and then allocate time for each best practice. Most are daily, some weekly and perhaps a few monthly.

These time allocations are your model week.

I have named these time blocks “mini-days” because, just like our usual day, each should have an end. At midnight tonight, you cannot say, “Wow, what a great day. Give me two more hours.” It is the same with your mini-days. If your “Call Clients” mini-day is 8:00-9:30, at 8:00 pick up the phone. Finish your last call at or around 9:30 and swing into your next mini-day.

You can start with a “model day.” Heck, you can start with just one mini-day—Call Clients. Now add a “mini-day.” Soon you will have a “Model Day.” Add time blocks for tasks that need to be done weekly. Now you have a “Model Week.” Somewhere along this road your work life will shift from reactive to proactive. You’re now in control. You are deploying all your best practices.

Present Ideas Persuasively

You can be extremely skilled with your investment craft yet produce a mediocre living. But add persuasive presentation of your ideas and your chances of success multiply.

The elements of persuasion include, but are probably not limited to:

Start with someone who is interested. The very core of prospecting the “Good Way” is to find prospects who are interested and qualified. You cannot persuade someone who is not interested.

Communicate clearly. Whether speaking or writing, use short words. Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use familiar words, not industry jargon.

Communicate with passion and conviction.

Create and sustain your expert financial advisor brand. The more your clients perceive you as an expert, the less persuasion required. (Does your doctor have to persuade you to “take two of these every four hours?)

Use crowd power. Many people are influenced by what they believe others believe. Keeping up with the Joneses is powerful stuff. This is why you have references. It’s why you invite clients to your prospect seminars. It’s why you have pictures in your brochure of you interacting with clients.

Be likable. Dale Carnegie really nailed this one in 1936 with How to Win Friends and Influence People. Can you fail to like someone who is genuinely interested in you, who smiles at you, who remembers your name, who listens to you, who talks in terms of your interests and who sincerely makes you feel important?

Ask lots of questions. The Roman philosopher Epictetus put it best, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” No filibusters please.

Tailor your presentation to what people want. In How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, my favorite author on sales, Frank Bettger, wrote (1947): “Show a man what he wants and he will move heaven and earth to get it.” To find out what your client really wants, keep asking questions until you are certain you know what they want. Then show them how to get it.

Because I’ve run out of space (as usual), I’ve created a blog entry, “Tips to Become More Persuasive.” You will find a link to it on my best practices resource page.


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