8 advisor approaches for breaking the ice with clients

  • March 20 2017, 2:56pm EDT
Beginning at square one with prospective clients is a necessary part of the business for any advisor. That said, creating a meaningful rapport — and trust — between yourself and your clients isn't easy.

From starting with anecdotes to asking the tough questions, we asked planners to tell us how they approach these initial conversations. ­-- Maddy Perkins and Andrew Welsch

Beginning at square one with prospective clients is a necessary part of the business for any adviser. That said, creating a meaningful rapport — and trust — between yourself and your clients isn't easy.

From starting with anecdotes to asking the tough questions, we asked planners to tell us how they approach these initial conversations. ­-- Maddy Perkins & Andrew Welsch

A former Broadway star shares his story

I find that sharing my story helps people relax, lower their guard and realize that very few people get it right on the first (or second, or third) try. I often have to tell people that it's okay to give something a shot. It's okay to decide you don't like what you're doing and make a change.

The days of staying in one company or even one job from your early 20s until your golden years are behind us. These days, it’s not uncommon for someone to have multiple jobs — even multiple careers — throughout their working years.

I, myself, am in a second career. After college, I fulfilled my dream of being a professional actor and performing on Broadway. While I enjoyed myself, I quickly learned that I had other ambitions. It took a few years (and a couple of other jobs), but I finally found my fit helping others as a financial advisor.

Most people are initially very uncomfortable sharing their struggles, especially when they’re unhappy at work, or feeling stuck in a career that doesn't fulfill them. They especially don’t want to discuss it with someone who traditionally only focuses on their finances, since they’re so intimately intertwined. When people realize that you’re on their side, that’s what establishes a solid relationship.

Pearce Landry-Wegener
Wealth Management Advisor
Summit Place Financial Advisors
Summit, New Jersey

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How was your commute?

In my initial calls or meetings with clients, I usually start the conversation with something light, such as asking how their weekend was, how their day is going, or making a comment on the weather. During in-person meetings, I may ask clients if they had any trouble getting to the meeting place. Those questions typically break the ice and allow us to get to know each other on a more personal level.

For example, if someone says, their commute wasn't so good because they were coming from the Upper East Side and going crosstown during rush hour is tough, I can ask whether they live in the Upper East Side or work there. The conversation naturally builds from there.

During initial calls, the client typically talks about about their financial situation and goals for 20 minutes. Then I'm able to dig a little deeper into some of their points to get to know them further.

Usually, I don't find that there are really any awkward silences or a huge need to "break the ice." Most prospective clients are interested in hearing more about my practice and generally, very open about sharing high level details about where they are and what type of service they need.

Roger Ma
New York

Using the tools of a journalist

The best way to find and learn more about someone is with open-ended questions. Use the essential tools of any excellent journalist: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and Tell me. These open-ended questions create a natural environment for an ongoing and lively dialogue.

If you’re at a networking meeting or event, ask others: how did you decide to attend this event? What other events do you like to go to for networking or meeting new people? These are easy questions to engage anyone and allow them freedom and flexibility to answer any way they wish.

The methods to meeting and getting to know people better don’t change and they likely never will. What changes is your skillset in being able to find the common ground and being able to stay tuned in to the prospective client's answer. Once you’re confident, you’ll find it natural to have genuine and meaningful dialogue — not just with prospective clients and existing ones, but with everyone you know and work with.

Jeff Runyan
Chief Executive Manager
Runyan Capital Advisors
Beverly Hills, California

Remember: Everyone in the room is nervous

At an initial meeting, take it for granted that everyone in the room is nervous: The client, who may be undressing financially for the first time in their lives, and the advisor who doesn’t yet know if he or she can help with the issues and concerns the client brings to them.

I try to begin by asking if they want to speak first or if they want me to take the initiative. I begin by asking questions about their personal and family situation rather than financial ones ― a softer approach, in my opinion. Usually, the conversation develops into a back and forth with many questions addressed no matter who goes first.

When we get into the numbers from their finances, I take notes and give the information to one of my colleagues. Then we prepare a balance sheet or net worth statement during the meeting that the client can leave with. It is usually incomplete at this stage but I am always surprised to learn how many people have never seen their finances on one page.

When I first started out, I was probably more nervous than my prospective clients – if that were possible – and I was probably much more formal and stilted which did not serve to make the client more comfortable.

The sooner initial meetings become free ranging conversations, the better the outcomes.

Jane King
Fairfield Financial Advisors
Wellesley, Massachusetts

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Finding common ground

The most important thing I make sure to do before a prospect meeting is to find something in common with that person, whether it be an alma mater, an outdoor activity or a mutual acquaintance — no matter how seemingly trivial. That approach immediately gets the prospect talking about his or her background, interests, and eventually their goals in life. I let the person do most of the talking at the initial meeting because it allows me to gather information and prepare a plan going forward while learning about the unique details of their life story.

I started in the business six years ago, so not a lot has changed since then in terms of prospecting. However, I have learned to be a better listener and now understand that prospects get the most out of an initial meeting when they do the majority of the talking. I believe that becoming a better listener has helped me to become a better advisor.

David Greenfield
Financial Advisor
D.A. Davidson & Co.

Addressing the elephant in the room

If any client or their spouse looks uncomfortable, I don't let that elephant stay in the room. I often say, "You look you would rather be anywhere else. So why are you here?" or in some cases, "Did you spouse make you come?" That often gets a laugh. At the least, it starts a conversation about working with a planner, fear of the results and how things might be much better than they expect. If they aren't, they will at least know and have a chance to improve their chance of reaching their goals.

Bobbie Munroe
Supporting Your Choices
Havana, Florida

Fast-forwarding to three years from today

I used to ask them what was on their mind and let it go from there, but I found that sometimes could be not as focused as I would like. It also didn't portray that I wanted to start a relationship with them, not something transactional.

Now I ask this question right away: If we were meeting here three years from today –and you were to look back over those three years to today ― what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?

Specifically, what dangers do you have now that need to be eliminated, what opportunities need to be captured, and what strengths need to be maximized?

Then I sit back and let them talk.

Jason Archambault
Managing Member
SK Wealth Management
Providence, Rhode Island

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Proven methods

We try to be very genuine and let them know and telegraph the direction of the conversation. We heavily rely on agendas and try to send them prior to the meetings so clients know what is coming. We always use segues and set expectations. Before we start our discovery, we say something like, “We would like to start by asking candid questions and although they may make you a bit uncomfortable, clients have always felt we understood them better after the conversation. Is it ok to do so?”

We [also] try to do all presentations on a big screen and use iPads when possible. Snowden Lane’s technology capabilities are second to none and we leverage those whenever it’s appropriate and can enhance a discussion. But the same things I have written above have always worked. They come from the tried and true leaders/communicators like Tony Robins, Dale Carnegie and my coach Sarano Kelly.

Jesse Clinton
Managing director
Snowden Lane Partners
New York