To Turn Prospects Into Clients, Prepare To Ace Your First Meeting

Converting prospects to clients doesn’t happen by accident. Advisors use the first meeting to see if there’s a good fit — and if prospective clients feel the same way.


These introductory chats usually unfold in stages. After some small talk, advisors might describe their firm, highlight their expertise and summarize their investment philosophy. Then they field questions.

But savvy advisors orchestrate more revealing meetings. Their goal is to extract information from prospects while building trust and rapport with them.

“It’s an attitude more than a technique,” said Mike McGrath, a certified financial planner in Valencia, Calif. “It’s a desire to know more about them and what drives them.”

When he schedules an initial session, McGrath finds that prospects often ask, “What should I bring?”

“Nothing,” he replies. “Let’s just have a cup of coffee and talk.”

If they’d like to discuss a specific issue, they’re welcome to bring account statements or other material for him to review. But he doesn’t want them to feel obliged to gather reams of paperwork, because he prefers not to focus on technical or transactional matters in the first meeting.

“This way, they come ready to talk and just have a conversation,” he said. “All their defenses drop.”

Better yet, they arrive with an eagerness to open up rather than hear a sales pitch. Instead of launching a canned presentation, McGrath strikes an attentive tone.

“I want to tease out their story,” he said. “They see from the start that I want to have a free-flowing conversation. So they’re not waiting for me to present a 17-minute lecture about what I do.”

Aim For A Listen/Speak Ratio Of 70/30


Prospects appreciate the opportunity to steer the meeting in the direction they want to go. That’s why advisors who engage in more back-and-forth are likely to spark a connection.

Asking open-ended questions helps ensure advisors don’t talk too much. Showcasing their listening skills also sends a reassuring message.

“I take a lot of notes,” said Joan Malloy, a certified financial planner in St. Louis. “People say they like it that I take notes.”

Prior to meeting prospects, Malloy researches them online. She types their name into a search engine to learn about their background and personal and professional interests. She may also scan their company’s website and LinkedIn profile.

“They’re flattered that I’ve prepared,” she said. “But sometimes, you don’t tell them everything you know. You keep it in your back pocket.”

Malloy looks for ways to add value as their advisor. For instance, she may suggest privacy protections so that sensitive information (such as data on their home) isn’t readily accessible online. Or she might say, “Your Facebook page is wide open. Have you considered changing it for privacy for you and your kids?”

Her introductory meetings usually run from 30 to 45 minutes. By asking questions and keeping the spotlight on the prospect, she’s able to learn more in less time.

“My goal is for the prospect to speak for 70% of the time and I’m at 30%,” Malloy said. “To do that, I come in with a list of questions and do a lot of homework.”

To Build Rapport, Empathize Or Normalize

Ideally, advisors make a great first impression by listening without judgment. Affirming prospects’ feelings forges a stronger bond.

Look for moments to empathize, says Timi Joy Jorgensen, director of financial education and well-being at the American College of Financial Services in King of Prussia, Pa.

“If you can genuinely feel the same concern, that brings you closer,” she said. But sometimes empathizing is impossible: You may not know what it’s like to serve in the military or undergo a stormy divorce.

“In that case, try to normalize,” she said. Use phrases such as, “I’ve heard this from others who’ve faced a similar experience” or “I work with a lot of people who’ve dealt with that challenge.”

“It helps you meet them where they are and then you can walk them toward a solution,” Jorgensen said.

Advisors know that they will not convert every prospect into a client. Even if an initial meeting doesn’t go well, they want to end on a high note.

McGrath recalls an introductory chat with a couple in their 60s. One spouse was wrestling with whether to hire him, and it soon became clear he wouldn’t land them as clients.

“But the socializing at the end is so important,” he said. “We left on good terms.”

More than two years later, the couple contacted McGrath out of the blue and expressed interest in signing on with him. They’ve become good clients.


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