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The Two-Hour Expert

Building rapport with your clients is critical to cementing relationships—and may take you less time than you think.

By Maggie Leyes

Many advisors know that building a relationship with a client is not centered as much on the advisor’s financial know-how (clients expect you to know your stuff!) as it is on creating trust. And trust is often built on ties that lie outside the “financial universe.” That means you need to be conversant in the topics that interest your clients so that you can begin cementing the relationship on common ground.

But how do you do that with a client base that has wide and varied interests? Maryann Karinch, coauthor of How to Become an Expert on Anything in 2 Hours (, says that through some simple techniques (most don’t even require two hours—or any time at all), you can establish your “expertise” and quickly build rapport.

Don’t ?
Before focusing on specifics, Karinch begins by telling you what you shouldn’t do. It’s not about becoming encyclopedic about everything your clients are interested in and then regurgitating all the information and facts that you learn—that’s being Rain Man, she says. “You also don’t want to present yourself as something you are not,” she cautions. “Unless you are genuinely interested in the subject, don’t go too far [into it]. Nothing can ruin a relationship faster than someone trying to fake it.” For example, if you know your client is a sailing buff, but you’re afraid of sailing, don’t pretend to be an expert or have an interest in it. Instead, you might admit your fear and open up the conversation in that manner so your client can talk about his passion.

Do ?
Now for the things that you can do. “Employ active listening,” says Karinch. “Listen for keywords and then move with those keywords.” Say you are at a cocktail party and are speaking to a potential client. Note what she is saying and what she emphasizes and then begin asking her questions about that topic. From there you can start inserting information that you know about that specific topic into the conversation.

You can also use this technique when meeting with your clients. Do some research to get a handle on a few basic facts about your client’s passion, Karinch suggests, and then come up with enough questions so that he can talk about his area of interest. Once your client is talking, you can then tie it into something you are familiar with. For example, you may not know the ins and outs of sailing, but when meeting with your sailing-buff client, you can eventually bring the conversation around to having watched the Brits win their fourth gold medal in sailing at the Beijing Olympics (if you did, indeed, watch it). The bottom line, she says, is to “take what you know and find the intersections with [your client]. And as long as you keep inviting that person to speak, he will help you find the intersections.”

The next level
When building rapport with a prospect or client, you’ll also need to know his reaction to the information you’re providing. Reading a person’s body language is a good way to get silent feedback on how well you are doing, and the forehead is an easy place to start. “Use the forehead to its fullest advantage,” says Karinch. “It‘s a billboard for our emotions.” Both eyebrows raised? It indicates surprise and interest. A knitted brow? Concern. So look at your client’s forehead to see whether she believes you or is concerned about what you are saying. You can also use your forehead to convey emotion and elicit responses from the other side of your desk. Try this: Raise your eyebrows during a conversation with a client at the appropriate time and watch him begin to talk more about the subject at hand—because you just gave him a nonverbal opening to do so.

Be a refiner, not a spider
While How to Become an Expert on Anything in 2 Hours covers different ways of engaging your audience (even one person) with information, Karinch warns that not all the techniques discussed in the book are suitable for advisors. Using the “spider” technique—the process of bringing everything in a conversation back to what you know—will not serve you well in your advisory practice. In doing that, you “miss out on what the client knows and what you need to know about him,” says Karinch. Instead, it is better to practice the “refiner” technique. That means taking often disparate information and making sense out of it; in essence it’s adding value to otherwise useless information.

In the end, as the book states, you can generate great rapport with anyone by focusing on the one subject that interests him the most: his own area of expertise.

Maggie Leyes is a contributor to

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