When a client agrees there is a problem, then present a solution.
I once had an agent partner tell me that he believed his job was to educate his clients. This was his response when I tried to coach him on the importance of having an effective sales process. He believed that if you just educated the client on products and options, they would act on that information.
He had his own “sales” process of educating clients he used for the last 20 years of his career with mediocre results but with enough success to pay the bills and make a decent living. He was coming to me because he wanted to improve his results. Isn’t it interesting how our human nature allows us to know what we need but not receive information that challenges our status quo?
Have you ever known someone smart and not so smart at the same time? That probably describes all of us somehow, but I am sure you have had experiences where you are trying to help someone, and they refuse to help themselves. Knowledge is only useful if put into action. Wisdom is the process of taking knowledge and applying action towards a worthwhile benefit. In other words, wisdom is what makes knowledge productive.
So, in that context, let me ask this question, “Is it wise to educate clients without any compulsion to influence their actions?”
Our best intentions lead us to educate our clients, but the problem is that education without action is a process with no conclusion. I have been in the insurance industry for around three decades, and every day I come to work I am learning something new. There is no end to financial education, not for us and not for our clients. How are we ever going to educate a client enough for them to make their own decisions? What cost are we willing to accept for that process to play out?
In my opinion, that cost is too high. I do not have unlimited time, and neither does the client. Does that mean that a client should not gain knowledge through the sales process? Of course not! It is not if, but when and how much that matters.
Educating your clients on financial matters before you know how knowledge applies to their situation is like the tail wagging the dog. Your understanding of your clients, their problems, and how those problems need to be solved must come first. This is where you then present a solution to those problems. It is only when a client agrees there is a problem that a solution should be presented. Moreover, only when a client agrees to a numerical solution can education on how that solution was created should be explained. To make my point, education is the tail, not the dog, and the tail should never wag the dog.
The key to keeping them may be to get to know them.
I cannot even count how many times over the years I have been asked this question — ”What if my prospect takes my information to another advisor?” — by the agents and advisors with whom I work. The most likely motive behind the question is a belief that once we provide information to the prospect, then that prospect owes us loyalty if they act on the information.
The premise of the question is a desire to withhold information from a prospective client because a competitor might use it if the prospect is not loyal to us.
It is a valid question and concern and a real-life problem we all face in this business, but the premise is exceptionally flawed. Rather than immediately answering this question, let me ask a question that is much more valid.
Why would a prospect owe us anything?
Making demands, literally or with motives only, starts our relationship with a prospect based on selfishness. Not only is that a terrible way to start a relationship but the prospect will see through our motives as clear as day. In the prospect’s eyes, it will come across as desperation and a lack of concern. No matter how hard we try and hide it, I guarantee you they will see right through us.
Getting someone to buy through a guilt trip is coercion, not sales.
Who has the most to lose, the advisor or the prospect? The money belongs to the prospect, not the advisor. It is their retirement, not ours, and the last thing they should be concerned about is our hurt feelings if they go with another advisor. They have everything to lose, and we only have our time and the cost of a lead, which is never as valuable as their retirement.
Why would any of us feel that our time and the cost of a lead are worth more than the prospect’s money?
A failure to compel is not the prospect’s fault; it is ours. Someone will service the prospect’s money, and the battle for that service is on us and the value proposition that we present.
For an advisor, as I wrote earlier, in The Rabbit Hole of Success, success in this business means helping people find solutions to their problems.
The prospect, of course, is under no obligation. We often say that in our marketing and disclosures, but do we mean it? Our job is to win the confidence of the prospect with the compelling purpose of money planning, and that all starts with a comprehensive fact finder. The advisor that gets the client to talk about their money and provide information that can expose problems that need to be solved is most likely to win the right to service the prospect.
Showing product before you have won the prospect’s confidence to receive comprehensive information that exposes problems is like waving a white flag of surrender.
The worst offense of the “guilt trip” sales process comes from product sellers.
Product sellers sell products, not solutions to problems, but somehow they may still feel like the prospect owes them something.
I find it astounding that an advisor can obligate the prospect because they spent time with them, ran an illustration, and handed out a brochure. Under no circumstance would that process obligate the prospect to move hundreds of thousands of dollars to any financial product. Not now, not ever.
Even if our process is based on fact-finding, problem finding, solution selling, and a comprehensive evaluation of a prospect’s financial situation, they still owe us nothing.
We are here to serve and to compel. If we serve and compel enough people, we win, and so will the prospects that become our clients.
Why is this the right way to approach the business?
Responsibility: This puts all the responsibility on us. If the prospect is not compelled, then we failed to compel. That puts the onus on us to become better compelling the prospect through a more effective case design and presentation rather than using the prospect as an excuse for our failure.
Good Mental Health: If our focus is on getting something every time we give something, not only will that never happen, but it will make us miserable. We should give unconditionally to the greatest extent possible.
There Is a Limit: Just because we are giving without the expectation of return does not mean we give perpetually. If we have something of value to offer, then we owe it to ourselves and the other prospects that need our help to move on. When do we move on? That is a judgment call. The more people we have waiting for our help, the less time we have to help people we have failed to compel.
This is the philosophy I have always used, which I believe has allowed me to succeed in this business and have fun in the process. Be a good steward of your time, but do not be selfish with your time by expecting that you will get something in return.
If we approach the financial planning business this way, we will not only enjoy it more, but we will also be more productive. Err on the side of giving “too much.” I promise it will make you feel good about what you do if you have the heart of a servant.
One idea is to have a goal other than just making money.
A second idea is to know things.
A third idea is to recognize the power of what you can do.
A new year has started, and the question every agent and advisor must ask themselves is, “What will this year look like for my business?”
In 2019 our life and annuity wholesale business grew by 33%, and I had confident expectations that 2020 would bring similar, if not even better, results. As it turned out, we did grow our business, but it felt like I worked twice as hard. 2020 was exhausting.
I often go down YouTube rabbit holes to find videos I want to share with my partners or my young adult children for encouragement. I typically look to self-made entrepreneurs that demonstrate a balanced approach to business and life but are also transparent about the real struggles of being successful. Although Kevin O’Leary often plays the arrogant villain on Shark Tank, I find his unproduced material demonstrates humility and transparency about the real-life struggle of building a business.
Two Key Philosophical Takeaways
Every financial professional should have these lessons, drawn from Kevin O’Leary, as core principles in their business.
Do not go into business to make money.
Let me explain. I went into business for financial and personal freedom, and what that first meant was that I needed to make the bare minimum required to replace my corporate income so that I would never have a job ever again.
I have found that the pursuit of money, in itself, is meaningless. Money must do something positive to have value. Personal freedom is liberation from chains that can hold you down and inspire all those around you who want freedom. Financial freedom can transcend money by exceeding your basic living requirements and giving back to those who do not have the same opportunity for freedom.
Money is a tool of stewardship. If money were a hammer, you could encrust it in gold and hang it around your neck for all to see, or you could use it to drive that nail into something far more valuable than gold, something that is bigger than yourself. Not all that glitters is gold. Have fun along the journey, enjoy the process, not the monetary destination, and make that journey bigger than yourself.
Become successful by finding problems and providing solutions.
If you are a business owner, you need to run your business with dollars and cents in mind. You can go out of business faster than going into business. However, you cannot build a successful financial planning business purely based on your ability to monitor your bottom line.
To be truly successful in this business, you must be an expert at finding problems, be passionate about removing those problems, and get others to believe in those problems and the solution you present. If you do that, the business’s money side tends to take care of itself by overwhelming your expenses with revenues.
Selling problems and solutions are the key to the emotional sale and what makes this business so rewarding. If you help enough people by not being a product salesperson but rather a problem solver and a servant of your clients, it will be challenging for you not to be rewarded.
Unfortunately, we all know people in this business who are in it for the money. Still, I would say that the vast majority want freedom, financially and personally, and the opportunity to help people solve financial problems. That makes this business simple, find people with problems and help solve those problems. You help enough people, and you become successful.
Simple, but not easy.
What makes this business not so simple is that most prospects and clients, even knowing they have these problems, do not want to be helped or are fearful of being taken advantage of in the process of being helped. Consequently, all agents and advisors in this business need to hone their skills so that clients will be more willing to receive the help being offered.
How to Solve Problems Better
This business has three skills that require fine-tuning.
First, the technical skills to help people through products, case design, legacy planning, long-term-care planning, tax planning, and every facet of financial planning can impact your clients’ lives. If you are not learning and retaining new information about products and solutions every day, you are not doing your job.
Second, to truly help people with their retirement, you must have the sales skills to get clients to move beyond the technical and become emotionally committed to solving a problem and believing that you are the person to provide that solution. The ability to sell is the ability to influence. The degree to which you can influence people is the biggest factor in growing a financial planning business. In a real sense, the ability to sell is the ability to lead, and your clients need your leadership to help them buy into solutions for their financial problems.
Third, you must have the ability and the desire to operate with integrity. Lack of integrity does not rear its ugly head just from ill intent. It can also come from incompetence, carelessness, or unreconciled conflicts of interest. The ability to compel and lead clients towards a decision demands a word of caution. With great power comes great responsibility. Obviously, the ability to sell must be tethered by an ethos of best interest if you want to keep your business and truly enjoy what you do.
Understand What You Do
f you are a financial planner, what are you selling? Is it a product? Is it an investment? Is it an idea? I hope at least it is more than a financial product. If you are solving problems with real financial solutions, then every time you are meeting with a client, you are asking them to invest in your version of their future.
Let that sink in for a minute. Do you feel the weight of that? Your version of their future. You should feel the significance of that! Financial planning is not about the sale of a product; it is about changing the course of a client’s financial future, for the worse or the better. If you are successful at compelling a client to act, you must also be emotionally vested and be responsible for the outcome.
Now is the time to prepare yourself and decide what contribution you will have to the results of your success and the success of your clients.
Every year will have its challenges, but will you be prepared to pivot and not let circumstances determine the outcome? Your success will determine how many people you can help. You owe it to yourself and to those clients that will buy into your version of their future.