For one very young advisor with about two years of experience, a nightmarish meeting involved a man with a net worth of $20 million to $30 million, who had been identified as a prospect because he knew the advisor's father. The session was reported by Alfred Longtin, ChFC and CEO of abResources in Frankfort, Ill., who sometimes consults with advisors and was serving that day in that role.
The advisor began by talking about what he could do for the prospect. So far, so good. About five minutes into the meeting, the prospect received a phone call. "I could tell something was wrong when he got off the phone, because his face had turned white," Longtin says. Nevertheless, the advisor continued with his promotional pitch.
"Two or three minutes later," Longtin recounts, "I realized that something was really wrong, so I stopped the advisor and asked the prospect, 'Is there something that's on your mind?' The prospect responded, 'Yeah, my mother just died.' Upon hearing this, the advisor said, 'Wow, that's not good, but we should be able to wrap things up here in about half an hour. ' The prospect said, 'No, I think it's time for you to leave' - and threw us out of the office."
Fortunately, few first meetings involve life-and-death drama, but they can hinge on mistakes that are avoidable. There are numerous ways to make sure that a first impression is a positive one - one that leads prospects to decide to become clients. Here are a dozen ideas:
1. START OUT PERSONAL
"People love to see their names in print," says Katherine Vessenes, JD, CFP, RFC and president of Vestment Advisors and Vestment Financial in Chanhassen, Minn. When prospects visit Vessenes for the first time, their names are posted in a silver-plated frame prominently displayed where they first enter the office. The sign might read, "Vestment Financial Welcomes John and Mary."
"This may seem like a small thing," Vessenes says, but it really resonates with clients."
2. CARE - AND SHOW IT
According to Howard Erman, CFP, president of Erman Retirement Advisory in Seal Beach, Calif., planners too often convey in the first meeting that they care more about making money for themselves than they do about making money for the potential clients. "You have to show that you care about prospects," he emphasizes. One way he does this is to make sure that, during that first meeting, he listens more than he talks. "Nobody cares about what you have to tell them until they know that you understand them and care about them, and understanding and caring come from listening," he says.
3. CREATE RAPPORT
To develop a bond with prospects, Longtin opens the initial meeting with generic personal questions, such as, "How is your day going?"
When he sits in as a consultant on other planners' first meetings with prospects, he finds that some advisors fail to use such ice-breakers. "They just skip over this," he says. Afterward, these planners explain that they think prospects would be offended by these kinds of questions. "They think that prospects only want to talk about business," Longtin says.
But starting with general conversation can lead to important information and outcomes. For example, a small business owner might respond with, "Well, my two best people just quit," or "We just closed one of our biggest accounts ever." These kinds of responses, Longtin says, are priceless. They create an opportunity to get the prospect talking about himself or herself, and to build rapport quickly.
Vessenes agrees. "People may think they select advisors based on references, knowledge and skills," she says. "However, they select them based on emotion. They want to be able to feel that they click." For this reason, Vessenes also begins first meetings with brief chit-chat.
4. ENSURE A FIT
When prospects visit Karna Trautman, CEO of Trautman International in Minneapolis, one of the first things she wants to determine is whether she and her team will really be able to help them. "I try to determine if it is even worth it for them to meet with a planner," she states. Trautman has found that some people "just aren't ready to take the advice that is necessary."