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LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVES
Building Better Customer Relationships by Asking the Right Questions
By Tony Cole, Anthony Cole Training Group
Last month, CNBC Portfolio Perspective featured an article by Sarah O’Brien who wrote that the financial services industry will become more “customer focused” and “a more ethical, value-oriented socially responsible profession over the next five to 10 years”. Per the article, regardless of what happens to the current DoL regulations under Trump, the industry will migrate this direction because of burgeoning awareness.

She reported that only “54 percent of Americans trust the financial services industry” and only “51 percent of respondents surveyed said the industry had a positive impact on society”. Robert Stammers, director of investor engagement for the CFA Institute’s Future of Finance team and one of the study’s authors, said advisors “need to change from trying to beat the market to focusing on how they meet client objectives and create better outcomes for investors.”

This is not new news to those of us who work within the industry. In fact, many and maybe most organizations and advisors have been working long term to be more customer-focused. The challenge is in helping advisors be productive and assertive without coming across to customers as sales-driven.

Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others. These people care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the sale to ensure the prospect or customer makes good decisions. You want your people to be customer-focused and assertive. Does this describe your people?

What does assertiveness have to do with effort and execution? In a word, EVERYTHING. If done properly, the early conversations and meetings will help to qualify or eliminate a suspect. This will streamline your salespeople’s efforts and pipeline, giving them more time and energy to focus on finding more and better prospects.

In initial conversations, your salespeople must be gathering information that leads to a next meeting and eventually to a presentation meeting. It is only through the intelligence that is gained and utilized in building superior solutions that their presentation meetings will lead to decisions.

In each one of these steps, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way at the right time is critical. In our selling system, for a prospect to qualify they must:
  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, to make a change, to do something different,
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the necessary time, money and effort,
  3. Be willing and able to make the decision to fix the problem AND
    be able and willing to make the money decision.
There are lots of questions that need to be asked to find out if the prospect qualifies in these three areas. Some of these questions require a salesperson to be assertive. Questions such as:
  • “How will you go about telling your current broker / banker / relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?”
  • “If you don’t have the money, how will you solve the problem?”
  • “The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?”
  • “What will you tell your partner when they say they don’t want to make the change?”
Additionally, sometimes statements are required that would be considered counter-intuitive to selling, gutsy and risky. For instance:
  • “Based on our experience and our expertise and knowledge about your business, your best action is this: ______________. If that doesn’t work for you, we might not be a good match.”
  • “If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated (by your current provider), I would expect to be fired.”
  • “When we finish our presentation, which will include budget- appropriate solutions to all of the problems you’ve identified and once we have answered all your questions, I’ll need for you to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.”
  • “Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”. If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.”
Imagine that you have FAs who are gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. What would happen? You might fear that you would lose more business. But suppose that wasn’t the case. Suppose by being more assertive, your advisors eliminated the tire-kickers and the pre-planners more quickly. Suppose this lead to the elimination of think-it-overs and actually helped people to make decisions. Imagine that your advisors stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”. What would happen?

Your people would sell more, more quickly at higher margins. They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, stop being shopped by prospects who were trying to keep current providers “honest”.

How to Help Your Advisors to be More Assertive
You must hold your FAs accountable to the right level of sales activity. To do this, you must have a success formula and a well-defined sales process so that you can identify the choke point for each advisor if and when they fail to close “sure thing” opportunities. You must also have a pipeline tool that helps you predict the possibility of an opportunity closing rather than a tool that just reports activity in the pipeline. And finally, your people must have full pipelines – an anemic pipeline makes salespeople afraid to be assertive. These are the strategies you will need to help your FAs be more productive and close more business, more quickly at higher margins.

Download Tony’s eBook on Why is Qualifying a Prospect So Darn Hard?
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