When I started my financial services career eight years ago, I had a bit of an advantage since my father had been in the business for 30-plus years, and I was able to work his existing block of clients. However, I still needed to establish a relationship with them to gain their trust. I also needed to expose them to my style, which is what I like to call “the softer side of sales.” Here are some of the things I learned during this process:
Listening, really listening, to my clients helps cement our relationship. Clients are often put into a box—or a specific product—before they even enter our offices. We need to listen to their concerns, goals, fears and values before we help them solve their problems and realize their dreams. As Stephen Covey says in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we need to “seek first to understand. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Educating my clients on what they are buying is essential to their long-term satisfaction. Explain everything to your clients up-front so there are no surprises later, and explain it in a way they can understand. I have often had clients tell me they “never understood the difference between A, B or C shares until today.” Every client has the right to know exactly what he is signing up for before making the final decision.
I truly believe that the financial services business is built on relationships.
Clients have what Covey calls an “emotional bank account.” By showing kindness, respect, integrity and follow-through on our commitments, we are making “deposits” into our clients’ emotional bank accounts. By building their accounts, we can ensure that when mistakes happen we haven't lost a client—the withdrawal will not bankrupt the account. Our largest clients require constant deposits. Things like a birthday card, an unexpected call or drop-in visit, outstanding “above and beyond” customer service, passing on an article or book your client may enjoy are all examples of deposits. If something doesn’t go as planned, a withdrawal from the emotional bank account can happen before you can stop or remedy it. Make sure your deposits exceed the potential withdrawals.
The client’s best interest must be at the forefront of our minds. As tempting as it may be to win that sales contest or meet that sales goal, the product you recommend and sell to your client must be the best available product for him.
Don’t overlook the small stuff. It doesn’t matter what the client’s net worth is; everyone needs to set financial goals and begin planning for unforeseen occurrences. A small term insurance policy or a small mutual fund sale could turn into your best client down the road. I have had many clients start out with a small account with me, and because of the service they received on that account, they have moved all their accounts to me and are now substantial clients.
Strong client relationships usually coincide with strong sales results. A satisfied client will return to you again and again. I have had prospects call me after three years of not buying anything and tell me they are ready to get going on what we talked about during our first meeting. I think this is what many salespeople call the sales “pipeline.” Always keep the pipeline full, and you might even be surprised by one you thought got away. You will also be pleasantly surprised by the referrals you will receive from a satisfied client.
I truly believe that the financial services business is built on relationships, not on sales. Make your clients your friends. It’s true—it really does get easier with time, especially if you have the trust of your clients and their best interest at heart.
Juli McNeely, LUTCF, is vice president/treasurer of McNeely Financial Services, immediate past president of NAIFA-Central Wisconsin, past chair of NAIFA's Young Advisors Task Force and current chair of NAIFA's Committee on Associations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.