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People Love Specialists

Concentrate on a professional niche and use this five-part interview process to build a relationship with these prospects.

By Phillip C. Richards, CLU, CFP, RHU

Specializing in particular markets serves many purposes. First, it is a client-centered strategy, so your clients’ needs are best served under this type of arrangement.

Second, specialization allows you to differentiate yourself from competitors and to be much more selective. You’re not interested in talking to just anybody. You’re only interested in talking to people in your profile market because that’s where you spend all of your time, learning and energy.

Third, specialization reinforces your sales. Being very specific makes clients realize that you understand their unique problems. They don’t have to spend their time educating you about the intricacies of their business. You already know about them.

Finally, referrals come more easily when you specialize. For example, pharmacists know scores of other pharmacists, so they can refer you to their colleagues, enabling you to become more involved in that market. The more pharmacists you work with, the more each one benefits, because your learning curve decreases and your knowledge about that market increases.

Why specialize?
Forty years ago, almost every case sold was in competition, and you had to figure out a way to differentiate yourself. Quick, package-type selling was not very effective in the professional markets, so we developed a system that built relationships and trust. In the affluent marketplace, people are interested in two things: (1) Can I trust you? and (2) Are you competent?

Following is an overview of the five-part client-interview process we use to help our affluent clients answer those two questions about our company.

Interview 1: The introduction
During the first appointment, our advisors explain what our company does and how we’re compensated.

Interview 2: Financial planning education
The focus of the second interview is education. We begin, in a generic way, to explain why people need financial goals as well as other types of goals. Then we describe some of the tools we use to help people achieve their financial goals.

Interview 3-A: Product education; fact and data gathering
During this interview, the advisors find out where clients stand and determine their needs and wants.

The advisors discuss what products the clients should implement and the asset-accumulation products they should have, for example, money-market funds or mutual funds. For brand-new professionals, such as resident physicians, this might be the first time they’ve ever put money in the stock market.

By now, the relationship is so good that the advisors are comfortable reminding clients to bring their checkbook with them for the next appointment, which is the implementation interview.

Interview 3-B: Implementation; request for referrals
Nothing is actually sold until the fourth meeting. By the time the client and his spouse get to this interview, where all implementation takes place, a strong bond has been formed between the individual or couple and the advisor.

During this interview, the advisor makes recommendations, on the basis of the information and data that have been collected, about which products the clients should use.

Our advisors also ask for referred leads during this interview. The key is to remind the clients that we specialize in their professional area. Our advisors are taught to give names rather than ask for them. That is, the advisors use a source such as a company directory, signage in a lobby or the internet to compile a list of professionals, shows this list to the client and asks if there is any reason these people should not be called on. This approach is more effective than asking for names. We teach our advisors to ask whether the client has any objection to being used as a reference if one of the people on the list has questions about the type of work we do or our reliability.

Head: You Take the Helm

Specialize for the client’s benefit. Clients are best served by advisors who understand the nuances of their specific professional markets.

Specialize for your firm’s benefit. Differentiate yourself in the marketplace, reinforce your sales and obtain high-quality referred leads.

Build a system that builds relationships. Take your clients through a structured process that answers two critical questions: Are you competent? Can I trust you?

Excerpted from 25 Secrets to Sustainable Success: A Master Firm Builder Book by Phillip C. Richards. (2007: GAMA International, Falls Church, Va.) Reprinted with permission. For more information about the book or to order, visit

Interview 4: contract signing
In the final interview, the advisors put it all together. By this time, they have obtained approvals from insurance companies for products and any securities are delivered. This is when the exchange of the actual fee plan (if included) and the products takes place, and the contracts are signed.

The services that we provide are sometimes a function of the relationship and the sale that’s taking place, and sometimes provided on the basis of fees. In our situation, clients have an option to choose a fee-only approach or a commission-only approach. In many cases, they take both. In other words, they’ll have a plan drawn for a fee and will rely on the advisor to execute the recommendations that are in the plan.

That is an important point. Some advisors are timid about being compensated both commissions and fees. But, for example, an internist who examines you and recommends surgery does not eliminate his or her fee just because someone else (the surgeon) will charge you for executing the plan. Think of the fee as “proof of commitment” from the prospect.

Phillip C. Richards, CLU, CFP, RHU, is the chairman of the board and CEO of the affiliated companies that operate under the name North Star Resource Group. He will receive the John Newton Russell Memorial Award at the 2007 NAIFA Convention and Career Conference on Sept. 11, 2007, in Washington, D.C. Contact him through

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