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In sharing stories with your clients, you quickly unearth what deeply matters to them.

By Charles R. Hale

It had become increasingly difficult to meet with Michael, my client. When I was finally able to get him on the phone, I told him I needed a few minutes to discuss an important idea. He agreed and we made plans to meet.

When I asked him how he was during the meeting, he said he was extremely busy and he had to meet someone soon. I had come to talk with him about charitable giving—Michael's a very generous man of great wealth—and realized that I would have to get right to the point. I began by talking about setting up a plan of giving, but I soon noticed that he was preoccupied. It was clear my approach wasn't working.

I'd known Michael for over 15 years and while our dealings were quite cordial, they rarely strayed far from business. Intuitively, I decided to take the conversation in a different direction and asked him about his youth.

"You grew up in New York City, right?" I said.

"Yes, I lived in East Harlem the first few years of my life and then we moved to Queens," he said.

Since I also grew up in Queens, some of the stories we shared overlapped, creating a connection that previously hadn't existed. Soon, Michael began to reminisce about his family, which led to fond memories of his youth. He stopped looking at his watch and asked, "You know what I would do on Sunday afternoons?" He didn't wait for my response. "I would get on my bike and ride out to the wealthy sections of Long Island," he said. "I'd cycle through the neighborhoods thinking, 'This is where I want to live one day.'"

I asked him, "Can you relate any of this to why you've been so successful?" He responded: "I guess I've always had vision. That, combined with the fact that I've always believed in pursuing my visions with passion, has probably been my greatest strength."

I thought of my client's wealth and realized that his biggest asset wasn't listed on his balance sheet. How do you place a value on vision and wisdom?

A few months earlier, I had become familiar with an organization called the Association of Personal Historians, whose goal is to help individuals and groups record and preserve their life stories, memoirs and histories. I mentioned this to Michael.


“You know, you've spent a great deal of time planning your financial legacy, Michael, but how much time have you spent articulating your visions, beliefs and values? Who will know your story?” I asked.

It was clear that he was captivated by the thought of a book or video about his life. “I'd never thought about that. That sounds like a wise idea,” he said.

As we walked to our cars, Michael told me he liked the idea about recording his life story and asked me to get some information for him. He also told me my charitable ideas were good and I should call his attorney.

Three weeks later, Michael, two of his attorneys, his accountant and I met in his office and we began devising a plan of giving. A few months later, my client purchased a $15 million insurance policy as part of the plan. After this, my eyes were opened to the value of listening to a client's stories and sharing mine as well.

The power behind the story
What is it about a story that is so powerful? Why should you listen to your clients' stories and share yours as well?

Within our stories lie the motivating forces of our life and our core beliefs. When we share our stories with our clients we connect deeply and discern quickly what truly matters to them and to us. And an added benefit is we can learn if we are meant to work with each other, earlier, rather than later.

You may be wondering why a prospective client would want to hear your story. Well, has anyone ever said to you, "Tell me a little about yourself." Sure they have. And if they haven't, you can bet the question has crossed their mind.

Recently a client referred me to a friend of his. After our initial greeting the prospect said to me, "So, Charles, tell me a little about yourself."

In the past I'd say something like this: "Mr. Prospect, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. My firm generates over $100 million of life insurance sales each year. Some of our clients are people you are probably familiar with. Most thought they'd taken care of their estate planning needs, but after spending some time we were able to show them things they weren't aware of, which resulted in potentially enormous savings."

I don't think there is anything wrong with that approach, but I was never comfortable using it. I was taught that it worked and for years it did. But the words didn't speak to what was genuine in me.

Now I start with: "Mr. Prospect, I do financial planning, but I'm really a storyteller ..." And I proceed to tell a story about who I am. I may talk about my values, my visions or family. Then I ask my prospect to tell me a story about his life.



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