Alex Goldfayn

Subconscious fear hobbles salespeople more than anything else — but it’s easy to change from being timid and reactive to being bold and proactive, Alex Goldfayn, CEO of The Revenue Consultancy, whose clients include Amazon and Sprint, tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

The market strategist’s newest book is “Selling Boldly: Applying the New Science of Positive Psychology to Dramatically Increase Your Confidence, Happiness, and Sales” (Wiley-April 2018), a Wall Street Journal bestseller its first week published (week ended April 8).

Using the principles of positive psychology, which home in on honing one’s strengths as the path to success, Goldfayn argues that advisors can overcome destructive fear and hence grow financial services sales.

But, he urges, don’t focus on products and services — focus on value and the client relationship.

The top thinker in the field of positive psychology is said to be University of Pennsylvania professor Martin E.P. Seligman, director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and author of “Learned Optimism” (1991). As a clinical psychology student in undergrad and grad school, Goldfayn, now 41, studied his pioneering work.

In the interview, the sales motivator discusses how to make the productive shift from “default brain activity” to “focused brain activity,” one of the many growth techniques he recommends. Sales of Goldfayn’s clients who follow his approaches grow by 10%-20% annually, he says.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the popular keynoter, on the phone from his Lake Forest, Illinois, office. He puts his own twist on the power of positive thinking by, for one, touting the power of client testimonials: “Marinate in the positivity of your happy customers so that you know how good you are, and then behave accordingly.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: What is “positive psychology?”

ALEX GOLDFAYN: The study of what makes us successful, as opposed to the rest of psychology, which is the study of what makes us screwed up, depressed and anxious. That’s the study of what’s wrong. Positive psychology is the study of what has to be right so that we can be successful. This is a powerful shift.

What does psychology professor Martin Seligman, the so-called father of positive psychology, espouse?

He said that we can literally decide to be optimistic. For example, if you pick up the phone to call a client and think you’re going to have a terrible call, you’ll be correct. But if you think you’re going to have a wonderful, helpful conversation, there’s a really good chance you’ll also be right.

What else is key to the concepts of positive psychology?

Seligman said that perseverance and resilience are twice as important to success as talent — that not giving up is two-thirds of the equation.

"Selling Boldly" by Alex Goldfayn

Your book is titled “Selling Boldly.” What does boldness mean if you’re a financial advisor?

Asking for business every time you talk to a prospect, asking for referrals — and doing that proudly and confidently, not timidly and meekly. Bold means picking up the phone instead of sending an email.

You say that fear impedes sales growth. What fears might a financial advisor have?

One big one could be that a client they’ve had for 20 years is going to leave them. We don’t know that such fears are dominating our thinking and behavior. That happens automatically with lightning speed. The fears aren’t experienced because they’re subconscious. We aren’t in control of them — they’re in control of us.

What’s the mindset shift you say one needs to overcome fear, and why must that occur before you can change behavior?

It’s very difficult to make permanent behavioral change without first changing your thinking. Behaving the right way means communicating with your customers and prospects more. To do that, we need to be confident instead of fearful and optimistic instead of pessimistic. But we must work on thinking first and then on the action.

Please explain the concept of focused-brain activity versus default-brain activity.

The default brain is the stuff we do that comes automatically, like that fear we just talked about. It’s living reactively from one workday to the next. For example, with default-brain selling, or reactive selling, people simply phone us, and we address the issue.

What’s focused-brain activity?

That’s the stuff we do intentionally, or proactively. We have to inject focused-brain activities into our otherwise default-brain reactive day. For instance, a focused-brain activity is to call a client you haven’t talked to in six months or more. That’s an intentional activity, not a reactive one. Following up on a proposal you sent that the client requested is focused brain too: You haven’t heard from them, so you show them that you’re interested — you care — by following up.

What else is focused brain that could be helpful to financial advisors?

Asking a “Did-you-know?” question. When an advisor is talking to a client about their portfolio, they might say, “Did you know that I can also help you with insurance?” Then be quiet and let them answer. Infusion of a service you can provide that the customer currently doesn’t buy from you is a focused-brain, proactive activity.

You warn readers against being “a commodity.” How does an advisor avoid being one?

If you just talk about products and services, you’re a commodity and just like everybody else. In contrast, if you talk about how your services and working with you help the customer, you become singular. You “uncommoditize” yourself by talking about your value instead of the product. The value [you provide] is singular.

What’s essential to understanding clients’ needs?

The key is understanding them from their perspective. If, for example, you interview a customer on the phone for about 10 minutes asking, “How does working with me help you?” you’ll get very specific things like, “Because of what you’ve done for me, I get to sleep at night. You bring me great peace of mind.” That’s how you become singular. If you want to sell more, be present and stand out from the crowd.

You’ve encouraged salespeople to “nourish [their] customer evangelist.” Please explain.

Your most excited customers are your best marketing. But you have to become intentional about it. Get testimonials from your [biggest] clients and put them in front of prospects.

You write that persevering in sales means helping others understand your great value. How does that apply to financial advisors?

For an advisor, hearing ”no” from a client or prospect simply means “not at this moment.” So your responsibility is to try again to help that person. Here is where the optimistic, confident and bold financial planner understands that they’re not bothering the customer; they’re simply trying to help them. The work is not to give up. It’s not a financial planner’s job to stop calling when somebody says no. Quitting isn’t the work. Do not stop trying to help them. Show people you care.

What if an FA would like to manage all the assets of an existing client, but portions are held with other firms? What’s a good approach to move them over?

Say, “It seems like you’re happy with my work. And you’re one of my favorite clients. Let me handle more of your portfolio. What would it look like if [I managed] 10% [or 20% or 50%] more of your portfolio?” This is a focused-brain activity. It’s intentional and proactive. Imagine if you grew your business by 50% with 20 clients!

In a big dip, or certainly after a correction, many clients want to exit the market; meanwhile their advisors are urging them to hang in or even to buy more securities at bargain prices. What’s the best approach for the advisor to take?

Carefully explain the value the client is receiving from you. Focus not on the market or the products but on the great value they’re getting by staying with you. Say: “Now is the time to let me help guide you through this because we knew it was coming and prepared you for it to make sure you were safe. The market will go down, but it will also go up. We know it will because it always does.”

You write about the importance of actively listening to the customer by providing brief feedback, such as “Really?” or “Interesting…” Please talk more about just shutting up at certain points in the conversation, as after asking a “Did-you-know question”?

You can use silence to your advantage. Ask a question, and don’t talk until the client answers it. Don’t fill the silence with nervous chatter. Let them think. Also, if you believe that the customer is done with an answer, don’t start speaking immediately. Give them a one-thousand-and-one, one-thousand-and-two count because sometimes they’ll think of something else to add that you didn’t even know to ask about. And it could be really important and useful for you. Then, pull the thread and ask them to tell you more about it. They’ll often give you unlimited detail.

One major communication issue is that advisors often use financial jargon, which turns off clients because they don’t understand it.  What’s your advice?

Don’t talk about the technical specifications. Clients don’t [typically] care about the minutiae — earnings per share or other highly technical terms. This is what they care about: Is their portfolio safe with you? Have you established a safe environment?  If the market is contracting, are they protected? It’s not: Is the market or their portfolio going to lose one percentage point? It’s: Are they safe with you?

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