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Prospect Profiling

The secret to making it work in sales is learning how to do it accurately.

By Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D.

No matter what you sell or how you sell it, you do your best job when you know you thoroughly know whom you’re dealing with.

All of us possess the ability to judge people—to identify a person as this type of person or that kind of person. When you meet a prospect, within moments, consciously or not, you have a profile of him in your mind. You see him as a certain type—someone who is likely to think and behave in certain preconceived ways.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s instinctive and, although we may deny it, all of us have a natural tendency to do it. The secret to making it work for you in sales lies in honing your ability to determine that profile accurately.

The psychology of buying
People often have sensible approaches to money, but are uncomfortable with certain types of financial products and with some styles of financial advice. Others have in-doctrinated themselves with irrational beliefs about money, which can thwart your attempts to manage their financial affairs.

You might think that the world of investments, insurance and asset management is devoid of psychology or personality. It’s all just cold calculations and numbers. Yet money management is captive to the human heart. People make decisions about their money from various subjective, emotional and sometimes irrational points of view. These are the feelings that will end up having the most impact on what they decide to do.

The next time your client declines the perfect policy, examine his attitudes about money.

Psychological research on the financial behavior of Americans has revealed insights into how people treat their finances and why. And there are tips and tools that financial advisors can use to draw out a prospect’s or client’s true feelings about his finances.

It’s easy to be misguided, however, by how your prospects and clients portray themselves, and this may hinder your efforts to learn how they truly feel and what they expect from you. Ultimately, this may cause your clients to become dissatisfied, and they may even end up firing you for misreading their true needs and desires. Or you may find that prospects who at first seemed ready to buy are now refusing to take your telephone calls. You have to learn how to read people.

Dealing with personalities
Here are a few tips that may help you gain insights into the psyche of your clients and prospects and break through some of the psychological barriers that may be preventing you from communicating with them effectively:

  • Educate your clients about the psychology of risk. The subjective elements of risk and the perception of risk are as important for them to understand as are the known risks.

  • Listen to what your clients do not say. It’s just as important as what they are saying to you.

  • Pay attention to what your clients do as opposed to what they say. Their body language is a better indicator of their future behavior than the words that come out of their mouths.

  • Your clients’ expectations are based on how they perceive market conditions. Don’t assume that their perceptions and expectations are realistic. Listen to their expectations and fears and filter them down to what they are truly trying to tell you.

  • Partners often have different financial personalities. You have to try to keep both of them happy and avoid the temptation to please the more assertive partner.

  • Families, including second and third generations, provide terrific opportunities for you to target meaningful services to individual members and to the group. Keep in mind, though, that family members often have different agendas for the family’s money. As a result, you need to be astute in handling the group and making meaningful contact with each member.

  • Family decisions about money are more often driven by emotions than by facts; so you need to learn how to identify emotional as well as financial needs.

To orchestrate your client’s estate-planning objectives, you must first confront his psychological barriers and then keep him from interfering with the planning process. What you think a client should do for his financial well-being will not necessarily match what your client thinks he should do. You both need to get in sync.

Dealing with varied personality types requires that you take note of your own personal beliefs and biases about money and become aware of how you might unwittingly project them on to your clients.

The next time a client or prospect mystifies you by declining the perfect policy or plan, examine his attitudes and feelings about money. This will reveal the reasons for his resistance and will put you in a position to either modify the plan to suit his preferences or help him understand the irrational elements that are causing his resistance. Either approach gives you a chance to close a sale that otherwise might be lost.

Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D., is CEO of Financial Psychology Corp., Sonoma, Calif. If you would like to learn more about customer profiling, visit


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