Prospective clients are looking for some basic things when seeking an advisor. To win their business know their three questions and how to answer them.

When prospects meet you for the first time, they’re thinking three questions:

  1. Do I like this advisor?
  2. Do I trust this advisor?
  3. Do I believe that this advisor has the competence to help me solve my concerns?

Of course, they won’t ask these questions out loud. But when prospects can answer “Yes!” to all three questions, advisors (i.e. you) most likely will have a new client.

The genesis of these three questions can be traced way back to the evolutionary pressures that our ancestors faced as social animals, where they had to immediately determine if strangers were friend or foe. In ancient times, the questions were much more critical, “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “Are they capable of acting upon these intentions?”

In the past few years, there have been numerous ground-breaking studies on social cognition that have established that people everywhere distinguish each other by liking (i.e. warmth, personal rapport and trustworthiness) and by respect (i.e. competence and efficiency).

For prospective clients of financial advisors, these universal points at issue can be framed into three questions that prospects are thinking when they meet with you: Do I like this person? Do I trust this person? Do they have the competence to help me?

1. Do I like this advisor?

The golden rule of being likeable is simple and somewhat counterintuitive:

Here’s the thing about trust. Trust is an emotion. And emotions and feelings are somewhat independent of rational deliberation.

To become likeable to others, you must first make them feel good about themselves.

In a recent Harvard study, researchers discovered that those who asked more questions during a one-to-one conversation, specifically follow-up questions, were perceived as more likeable. Follow-up questions, the researchers point out, show that a person is not only listening, but is interested. They also demonstrate care, validation and understanding.

To get people talking and to make them feel good about themselves, you’ll want to be curious about what makes them tick and what they’re thinking about. In which case, you must ask open-ended questions.

Summing up, here’s what you can do to be more likeable:

  • Be curious about prospects and get them talking with open-ended questions,
    • One advisor who we work with always asks couples two simple questions, “How long have you two been married?” and “How did you two meet?” These are great ice-breaker questions and always get the conversation going.
  • Show that you’re listening and interested by asking follow-up questions.
  • Talk less than they do.

2. Do I trust this advisor?

Here’s the thing about trust. Trust is an emotion. And emotions and feelings are somewhat independent of rational deliberation.

Our feelings about a potential client and their feelings about us are the mix of basic emotions. We want our clients to be comfortable with us and feel safe and secure with us from the moment we meet. If they feel a survival emotion emerge during the meeting, you can be sure they will experience a feeling of fright, fight, flight or freeze. If this happens, adios new client.

Behaviors that build the emotion of trust:

  • Be transparent, open, and honest in your communication. (This includes talking about your fees.)
  • Do what you say you’ll do.
  • Be personal and invest in human relationships at a basic level (as opposed to being transactionally driven to get what you want).
  • Appreciate others and show respect to people regardless of their status or power.
  • Be consistent.
  • Listen well.

Emotions and feelings aside, here’s one practice that advisors could do that would build trust. If you have a professional accreditation like a CFP® or an AIF® or another professional certification, take time to explain to clients how your credentials benefit them, especially from an ethical standpoint.

Here’s an example of what a CFP® might say:

As a CFP® I am bound by a Code of Ethics which means that I must:

  • Act with honesty, integrity, competence and diligence.
  • Act in your best interest.
  • Exercise due care.
  • Avoid or disclose and manage conflicts of interest.
  • Maintain confidentiality and protect the privacy of client information.
  • Act in a manner that reflects positively on the financial planning profession and CFP® certification.

There’s no downside to describing the ethical aspects of working with a CFP®, AIF® or a CLU®. Equally important, you’ll differentiate yourself with this portrayal because very few clients and prospects will have ever heard this type of granular description.

3. Do I believe that this advisor has the competence to help me solve my concerns?

For advisors, answering the third question in this triad is most important. When prospects believe that you have the ability and understanding to relieve them of their financial concerns and worries, you’ve crossed a significant hurdle in the client-advisor courtship.

  • One of the biggest misses is that many advisors simply don’t ask prospects what they’re concerned about. (If you don’t hear the prospect say what’s troubling them, how can you help them?)
  • The second miss is when advisors don’t affirm and confirm to the prospect that they’ve heard what they’re concerned about.
  • And the third miss is the advisor not specifically stating they have the ability to help the prospect resolve their concern.

The commonality of all three “misses” is that it is essential that everything is said out loud. No assumptions. No speculation. No guesswork. Clear and direct communication between yourself and the prospect(s).

This all can be demonstrated in the following hypothetical exchange, which would happen after several minutes of small talk and rapport-building:

Advisor: I am honored to meet with you both. May I ask you what brings you in today?

Prospect(s): Well, we plan to retire this year. We think that we’ve done a pretty good job at saving, but we don’t really know. And we’d like to get the opinion of an experienced, outside eye.

Advisor: Congratulations on your upcoming retirement. And I’m curious, what are the one or two financial issues that you’re most concerned about these days?

Prospect(s): Our biggest concern is running out of money.

Advisor: I heard you say that you are most concerned about having enough money to live the rest of your life comfortably and safely. I can see why this would be troubling for you. Where does this concern come from?

Prospect(s): Well, we’ve been DIY all of these years. And we’ve never had a professional opinion about our situation. We don’t really know if we have enough or not.

Advisor: I want you to know that this is something that I’m very familiar with. In fact, on behalf of my clients I’m focused on this issue every day. My team and I have the experience, understanding, and planning tools to help you address your concerns. For the remainder of our meeting today, what are the issues that we need to discuss?

Final thoughts

There’s a tendency in this business to assume that clients choose to work with us because we provide more or “better” client service than our competitors. However, this thinking misses a key factor.

Clients want to be with you because of who you are.

This is a choice that’s driven by an emotional connection…a bond that is strengthened by your likeability, trustworthiness and competence. When you meet with prospective clients, don’t forget to be you.

Jan 16, 2024 / Written By Chris Holman – HorsesMouth