by Ryan W. Smith
Sales, no matter the industry, is a process. The more clearly defined the process, the more repeatable the steps in that process, the greater success a salesperson will ultimately achieve. Within every sales process, the objectives are the same: increase the desire to own the benefits of a product or service while also decreasing fear to make a purchase enough so that a sale is completed.
Establishing a working sales process takes time. There are a near-infinite number of processes available, but a good salesperson only needs one. Solid sales processes in the financial industry should include the following in some form:
1) Communication and Client Rapport – A steady client is one who feels comfortable with his/her advisor as a person.
2) Expertise and Credentials Offered and Examined – If charging for expertise, credentials and proof of that expertise should be offered to the client.
3) Profile of Client – What are the client’s goals in life? What are the most important facets of life to the client? What impact does family have on the client’s actions and thoughts? Are there any important upcoming events in the client’s life?
4) Investment Profile – What are the client’s financial goals? Do they conflict with non-financial life goals? What is the client’s risk appetite?
5) Investment data – What are the types of investments and the pieces of information that will most inform the client about the investments that will help fulfill both investment and life goals?
6) Prepare an initial proposal – This should be very straightforward and lacking details.
7) Education – What are the concerns the client has regarding the initial proposal? Educate them based on addressing those concerns. This way, the client is prepared to discuss and decide on potential changes needed.
8) Questions – Answer all questions in a straightforward and honest fashion.
9) Close – Get the appropriate signatures and money transfers in order.
10) Client Onboarding – How will the client access their investments in the future? Make sure all logins and passwords work and that the client has easy access to get future questions answered.
While the sales process functions differently for every client, the above provides a baseline structure that will be effective in most situations. However, there are many mistakes that can be made following even the most effective sales process. Some of the more easily avoidable, but commonly made mistakes are:
1) Profiling Investor First
This is a mistake that many salespeople, even institutions, make on a regular basis. While it is important to understand a client’s current situation, future goals, and any other variables that might have an impact, the most important question to ask a prospective client is: “How can I help you, today?” Some successful advisors will ask prospective clients “What brought you into our office, today?” Both versions of this question directly ask the potential client about themselves as a person, not as an investor.
There is plenty of time to get to know the investor, one of the most important aspects of a successful client-investor relationship. However, without knowing the reason that a client came in seeking an advisor, all other questions might not matter in the long run.
Another reason profiling the investor before even asking about them as a person is a mistake rests largely on the fact that all clients are people first and investors second. Making investment decisions without knowing the individual might lead to short-term gains but rarely leads to long-term successful client relationships.
2) Allowing Emotions to Play Too Big a Role
Emotion is a necessary condition for change in a person’s lives. However, allowing emotion to control decisions will almost always lead to negative output. A good sales process will allow a salesperson to find the emotions that motivate a person to act.
To find the emotions that motivate a person, a deep profile is often required. This will inevitably include a list of personal questions and a list of investment questions. These two separate lists of questions will need to be refined continually in order to have the most impact, but there are several that should appear in nearly every list. The number of questions is not important, but many salespeople will ask far too many questions. The questions only need to point the salesperson to the emotion that will drive their potential client to action, while other, data related questions, can be asked at a later time or by an assistant in a different setting.
Do you have children, parents or a spouse who live with you? Is there an urgent situation in your life that is occurring now or that you know will have an impact in the near future? What do you want to accomplish with investing? Do you have an investment strategy or philosophy? These are all types of questions, examples among many, which can get to the emotional trigger of a person.
3) Failing to Follow Up
Salespeople have many first appointments. Some of these will turn into clients rather quickly, while others will require additional work before committing. A primary mistake made by salespeople is failing to follow up with each potential client after an initial meeting went well but did not end with signing documents.
Part of a solid sales process is to have a follow up plan in place for all potential clients. It’s great when everything goes well and a new client signs up after one meeting, but this is not the norm. Nor is it a solid plan from which to build a successful clientele list.
The necessity of following up is due to the short window of time where a follow up can be effective. Having an assistant call a few days later to check in, to make sure that paperwork is filled out, to verify that all necessary information is filled in is one way to effectively follow up. The best method, however, is to set the second appointment near the end of the first appointment.
Once the short window of effectiveness is breached, prospective clients can easily fall out of a sales pipeline. One out of the pipeline, even master salespeople have difficulty bringing new clients back into the fold.
There are many areas in which a sales process can fail. Addressing potential issues with a solid, tested sales process is the best way to prevent avoidable failure. Dealing with people first and primarily, to connect with the individual first and primarily then find the emotions that drive them to act are areas that many salespeople overlook or are uncomfortable dealing with. This often leads salespeople to make the avoidable error in misunderstanding a client. In addition, establishing a follow up plan with potential clients so that they do not “slip through the cracks” will eliminate the avoidable error of allowing a warm lead to get away.