It’s the question we’re all asked at cocktail parties, community events, on airplanes or golf courses: “So, what do you do?”

A simple question, right? No way!

When you’re asked what you do, the next 15 seconds can change your future. Your immediate response can help attract new prospective clients to you like a magnet — or it can land with a thud and do nothing for you or your business.

It all depends on how quickly and effectively you communicate the unique value that you offer as a financial advisor.

Why? Studies show that when you meet someone new, you have no more than 30 seconds — and maybe as few as seven seconds — to make a strong first impression.

Bloomberg Images
Have a good answer ready when playing golf and prospective clients ask what you do. Pictured: Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.


That means you must make yourself compelling to the person in front of you — and do it fast! You must be ready with an expertly crafted reply that will spark a sincere interest from the listener, and then motivate them to explore working with you.

Here’s how to make the most of those first few seconds you’re in front of a prospective client.

While that value promise may be perfectly clear to you, it’s probably not as obvious to other people you encounter. It’s up to you to convey it in a compelling yet succinct manner — especially when the moment is brief.

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Tick tock ... make a good impression, quick!
When a prospect asks, “So, what do you do?” the next 30 seconds can change your future. Or not, depending on how you answer.

The secret to success is having a simple, three-part “value promise” covering the three bases that express your unique value rapidly and compellingly.

1. Who you serve — and how they benefit: Instead of rattling off a plain-vanilla title or position that’s sure to get a yawn (“I’m a financial advisor,” “I’m a senior vice president in charge of…”), describe how you solve a key challenge or deliver an amazing result to your specific clients.

The reason: People care about benefits. A positioning statement that briefly and clearly tells the value that you — and you alone — provide to your select group of clients will act as a beacon to draw people toward you and get them “raise their hands” to learn more.

Here are a few examples from elite financial advisors we have coached:

  • “I help high-tech executives make work optional.”
  • “I help busy entrepreneurs make informed decisions about their money so they can stay focused on growing their businesses.”
  • “I help radiologists hang up their white coats.”
  • “I give retirees in our community gain confidence.”

If you are unsure of the unique benefit you deliver to members of your niche, answer these questions: Who are the ideal affluent clients that I serve? What are the key needs of my deal affluent clients? What makes me different from my competitors?

2. How you work: You’ll know that part one of your value promise is on point when, after you say it, the person asks, “How do you do that?” It’s like when a doctor hits your knee with a rubber hammer — you can’t resist reacting.

That’s when you’ll briefly summarize your approach to managing your clients’ wealth. Here are four examples of compelling answers that top wealth managers we know use and that resonate with their prospective clients:

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Creating a compelling value promise isn't easy. Keep it brief and make it all about the listener.

“We use a comprehensive process to help our clients address each of their five key concerns: making smart decisions about their money, mitigating their taxes, taking care of their heirs, making sure their assets are not unjustly taken and magnifying their charitable gifts.

“We work with a network of professional advisors to help our clients maximize the probability of achieving everything that is most important to them.”

“I use a consultative wealth management process to identify where clients are now, where they want to go and any gaps for getting there. Then I help them close those gaps.”

“We use a five-step wealth management process that we’ve developed over the last 20 years. We address investment consulting, advanced planning issues and relationship management.”

3. Call to action: Using this process, you can communicate your compelling value and position yourself as an expert in addressing the needs of your specific client base — all in about 15 or 20 seconds. Now the listener is engaged and really ready to learn what you might be able to do for them.

In most cases, the next question you’ll get will sound something along the lines of: “How do I find out more about that?”

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When you meet someone new, you have no more than 30 seconds — and maybe as few as seven seconds — to make a strong first impression.

Here is where you’ll reply with your call to action. This is the specific step you want the person to take next: A discovery meeting where you’ll go over where the prospective client is today financially, where he or she wants to be in the future and the gaps that need to be closed to get there.

As a bonus, sometimes you and a prospective client may be in a situation where you have time to have a more extended conversation. In that case, it may be appropriate to incorporate your personal story — the events in your life that caused you to care about helping people make smart decisions about their wealth. If you have this opportunity, tell your story right after you describe the discovery meeting, but before you ask if he or she would like to schedule the meeting.

Although this template is simple, creating a truly compelling value promise is not easy. Be sure to keep it brief, make it all about the listener and make it believable. Try writing a script and reading it out loud at least 10 times. Repeat it until the script sounds natural. Better yet, practice your pitch in front of your spouse, team members, friends and associates.

The next time someone asks you what you do, you’ll be ready with an engaging, compelling answer that sets the stage for amazing results.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global coaching, training, research and consulting firm for advisers in San Martin, California. Follow him on Twitter at @CEGAdvisorCoach.