Are You Working On Your Sales Skills

It is easy to forget that the current environment has created a tremendous opportunity to acquire new affluent clients. However, this opportunity must be approached with a true understanding of today's affluent investor.

Chicago: "What do advisors need to focus on most, when it comes to being able to work effectively with today's affluent investor?" asked Robert during the question and answer segment following a keynote address I'd just delivered.

Robert's question seems to be on the forefront of many advisors’ minds. I've heard it multiple times over the past couple of weeks, and it's the multi-million dollar question confronting every financial advisor who isn't capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by today's financial crisis.

It is easy to forget that the current environment has created a tremendous opportunity to acquire new affluent clients. However, this opportunity must be approached with a true understanding of today's affluent investor. Advisors must be aware of two major dislikes: salespeople and excessive taxes. They also must recognize that the investor’s distrust of Wall Street and the government directly impacts how they need to be approached. At this juncture the affluent don't trust anyone perceived to be selling financial services.

Ugh! In fact, it gets even more challenging -- one of the 16 criteria that is important to today's affluent regarding their financial advisor is that "He/she spends more time overseeing my family's financial affairs than marketing his/her business." Here we have a real "catch-22" - which means that advisors must possess virtually invisible sales skills.

This highlights both the challenge and opportunity for today's financial advisor. The question following Robert's put everything into perspective. An advisor commented on the fact that he was asking everyone he encountered if they would entertain a "second opinion on their portfolio" and was getting blown off with the familiar, "No thanks. I'm fine." His subsequent question was, "If 9 of 10 would welcome a second opinion, why am I getting stonewalled?"

My answer was simple and direct. "Without witnessing your technique, I have to assume that somehow you're coming across as a salesperson. It's not just doing the right activities or memorizing scripts, or saying you might hear from me. Seamless selling to the affluent is an art form. It involves everything; how you develop rapport, your understanding of timing, your ability to recognize windows of opportunity, and how you ask -- not close-ended, yes or no questions, but soft, open-ended questions that could eventually lead to a natural ‘Ah-ha’ moment from which you offer your services."

It was easy to determine from this advisor's body language that I'd hit a nerve. To take the pressure off, I asked the group if any of them could relate. All nodded affirmatively. When I asked if they felt they needed more training in the fine art of affluent sales, the majority of hands went up. From there I outlined a workout plan, much like a personal trainer creating a group exercise plan.

Before I share the workout plan, our research confirms in the chart below what these advisors were expressing.

Also of interest, advisors didn't feel as though they needed more help with details of financial planning or the complexities of comprehensive wealth management services. But they were unanimous in feeling a need to develop more advanced affluent sales techniques. And only 32 percent felt as though their B/D was helping them in this process.

Related to the aforementioned questions, I explained that the art of selling to the affluent in the form of a workout plan involved...

Becoming a student of the affluent, knowing their likes and dislikes, wants and needs, do's and don'ts, and what they're looking for in a financial advisor.
*Developing a set of professional/social skills that blend together and allow you to seamlessly sell your services in affluent circles.
*Being comfortable in affluent circles and skilled at developing rapport naturally and quickly.
*Becoming a proactive listener. The 80/20 rule of communication is quite powerful, especially within affluent circles (listen 80 percent of the time, talk 20 percent of the time.)
*Creating a series of open-ended questions that are general and inoffensive, and another series that can lead you closer to a business relationship. A general question like, "So tell me, where are your children going to school?" fits into the former category, while, "Geez, how's your financial plan fared during this financial crisis?" belongs in the latter.
*Having a natural response to the proverbial "What do you do?" throwaway question that ties so many advisors in knots, without reciting the “financial pledge of allegiance” or some other contrived version of a value proposition. You must be genuine, your response must be real, and any idea of responding in a manner that is provocative is dead. Less is more; less verbiage and fewer fancy words will produce more impact.
*Handling the premature fee question, "So what do you charge?" with confidence and recognizing that it's actually a buying signal, all the while remembering that you never quote price to an unsold prospect.
*Being able to orchestrate a personal introduction without the awkwardness associated with asking for a referral.
*Holding a social event and being able to discuss business without being viewed as a salesperson.

Obviously, this is a partial list of the arts in which talented advisors excel and what Robert and his colleagues were desperate to learn. None of this is complicated, but as I explained to Robert and his colleagues, this is an art form. It requires personal study, not memorization. Today's affluent don't want a parrot advising them on their finances. It involves the total person; today's affluent want a true professional in every sense of the word. They don't want somebody pretending.

The irony of ironies is that today's true professionals are consummate sales people who respect and consistently work on their art.
If you would like a few immediate tips on improving your affluent sales skills, register for our FREE teleconference 3 Tips to Improve Your Affluent Sales Skills (limited capacity).

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected]

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