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Oren Klaff: How to Persuade Clients Without Being Pushy

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Nowadays, it’s not enough to deliver a great sales pitch about your idea. You must take folks on a path to discover their own ideas — to which you’ve been guiding them all along.

So argues sales and negotiation expert Oren Klaff, author of the bestseller “Pitch Anything,” in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

The key to financial advisors’ sales success — and that of others who sell — is making clients feel they’re in control instead of feeling pressured. Financial services veteran Klaff tells how in his new playbook on persuasion, based on neuroscience and behavioral economics, “Flip the Script: Getting People to Think Your Idea Is Their Idea,” written with Andy Earle (Portfolio/Penguin Random House-August 2019).

In the interview, Klaff, founder and managing director of Intersection Capital and partner of its $200 million private equity fund, which he manages, discusses ways to tap into investors’ innate feelings of fear and anxiety in order to bring about a sense of certainty about a potential advisor.

Klass opines, too, about why taking on different personas — such as Angel and Wolf, as he labels them — in reacting to clients’ attitudes moment by moment is the “Loser’s Formula.”

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Klaff, on the phone from his Carlsbad, California, office. He has advised blue-chip companies such as Cisco, Google and Xerox and was a venture analyst and partner at several midsize investment funds.

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Please explain your technique of “sales inception.”

OREN KLASS: It’s implanting an idea in someone’s mind so they think it’s their own. That gets the investor, or buyer, to the point where they say, “How do I get in? How do we work together?”

Why should advisors consider using this sales method?

The investor’s world has been gamified: It’s a game to find the same deal at a better price. So the moment the advisor says, “Here’s my offer. Here’s the price. Here are the terms. Do you want it?” the investor hits the pause button and says, “I’ll get back to you.” And then they look for something similar but better.

How do you finesse it so an investor thinks something is their idea when it’s really the advisor’s?

[That happens] when they believe you’ve solved their very hard investment scenario a thousand times before because you’re an expert in a particular area — and so they’re certain their problem is an easy push-up for you. It’s rising to their level as a peer and expert. Status plus expertise gives them certainty that in the future the things you say will actually happen.

What’s delivering “pre-wired ideas,” and how does an advisor capitalize on that?

Language was designed to communicate information about danger: Fire is coming! Don’t eat those berries! You’re on a tiger trail! The idea is to put your very complicated concepts about investment products, for which the brain was not designed to easily and quickly understand, into pre-wired idea receptors that understand things like danger and fear.

What’s an example?

The concept of “winter is coming.” The obvious “winters” in the advisor’s business are taxation, tariffs, regulation, bond pricing trends [etc.]. That is, we have to find a way to survive once this unprecedented [winter] freeze, in, say, a certain asset class, comes because everything we normally do won’t work. You establish that you’re an expert in how the world will work once the freeze sets in.

How does an advisor communicate that they’re different from the competition?

No wealth advisor has ever answered the question, “How are you different?” so that someone goes, ‘Oh, yes, I totally see that!” The way to answer is to say, “We’re not different. Every wealth advisor is the same: We all have to be FINRA compliant, have registered products, provide ROI [etc.]. We’re all plain vanilla.” Saying that commoditizes the competition.

What might the FA say next?

It could be: “One area that I think is important for a wealth advisor today is to be hypervigilant on tax regulation. If that’s not important to you because you don’t have a lot of tax exposure, I’ll send you over to Harry. He’s a good guy. He’s sort of the Costco version. But if tax [liability] is an issue, we’re your guys. We [handle] that better than anyone else.”

What are the “Big Three W’s” that an investor essentially asks an advisor before making a decision?

“Why should I care? What’s in it for me? Why you?” Most salespeople answer “Why you?” incorrectly. They’ll say “because we’re the best, or this is our track record, or we’re affiliated with Goldman Sachs [or another], or JPMorgan gave us the No. 1 award because we have 3,000 Facebook ‘likes.’” But none of those answers the question, “Why you?”

What does?

Nobody will give you money until they believe you’re the [person] that, even though [a situation] looks bad, doesn’t stop when you’re frustrated or angry or sad. You stop when the job is done.

What mainly differentiates your sales method from the traditional approach?

The old 1950s “features-benefits-trial close-close” was a way for the seller to control the buyer. That’s stopped working. Today, if the buyer, or investor, gets a whiff of that, they dig in their heels and say, “Send me a proposal.” And they’ll look for an advisor they feel they can have better control over. My process engages people in the way they buy today: They have to feel they’re in control. Otherwise, they feel pressured and back away.

What other methods should FAs avoid?

Never ask, “So what do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in? Why don’t we get started?” That yanks the handbrake: The investor is going to tell you things that will make you happy and cause you to go away for the moment. If he gives you his real objection, he knows that most sales-trained advisors will try to overcome it with a pat answer. That old process is where deals go to die because you just get into an argument.

Part of your process is a “flash roll” — a 60-second display of “pure technical mastery” to show you’re an authority, as you put it. But investment jargon turns off many clients.

The investor doesn’t want to know all the technical details about, for example, investing in an exchange-traded fund. But he does want to know that you know. It’s the job of the flash roll to show you’re a master of a [particular] subject. But you shouldn’t try to teach the investor about it. They’re comforted by the jargon because you know it.

Please discuss the idea of the five personas – Ultimate Nice Guy, ShamWow Guy, Sorcerer, Angel and Wolf — that you say salespeople manifest and why that’s the “Loser’s Formula.”

Most salespeople [react to] the mood or the attitude of the investor. If they’re nervous, we try to act overconfident or soothing. If they’re not paying enough attention, we try to bring excitement to the table. When they voice objections, we turn into a Wolf and become aggressive to try to overcome them.

What’s the upshot?

When you’re reacting to the investor’s attitude in the moment, you’re not [presenting] your [authentic] personality. Buyers know you’re [using] all these different personas to ease whatever feeling they’re having. So in the end, they have a strong sense that you don’t have a set of core values that you stick to.

You say that pessimism, not optimism, is the formula for success in sales and that, for instance, FAs should bring up ways their investment recommendations could fail. Please elaborate.

Being overly optimistic doesn’t allow the buyer to feel they’ve fully processed the opportunity — they know something is wrong because everything has a downside.

What’s a productive way to express pessimism, then?

You might say: “In our calculations, we think about the range of opportunity. We certainly believe our assumptions are based on things that this [particular] asset manager has successfully done over and over again with other investors. However, when we look at the full range of opportunity, we consider everything that can possibly go wrong. Do we think that’s going to happen? No.”

What’s the most challenging aspect of obtaining new advisory clients nowadays?

The investor is seeing [heavy] advertising and being pulled in multiple directions; so choosing to work with you has to be overwhelmingly compelling. Leads are easy to get — they’re 100% technology. Once you get the lead, though, conversion is zero technology, especially in the advisory business.

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