Over the last few months, I’ve had conversations with financial advisors and financial planners about re-opening their offices. As restrictions have loosened in various parts of the county, many advisors have returned to their offices but are being cautious when meeting others.
Several advisors have told me that they are fine with using Zoom (or another videoconferencing service) to meet with existing clients but they greatly prefer meeting prospective clients in person. The general sentiment was that you can’t build a new trusting relationship over a video call.
However, many advisors have built virtual-only practices as identified in the article Advisors Lovin’ Their Virtual Practices from Financial Advisor Magazine on March 2, 2020. Michael Kitces identified this trend back in 2015 with his article, The Emergence of The “Location-Independent” Virtual Financial Advisor.
McKinsey & Company published a report in 2015 that surveyed nearly 11,000 affluent consumers aged 30-75. It found that 59% of investors were somewhat comfortable, comfortable or very comfortable working with a virtual financial advisor.
Imagine what those numbers look like today after the whole world has seemingly turned virtual!
If you are meeting a new prospective client virtually, here is a five-step process for an effective introductory conversation.
Step One: Provide some self-disclosure
A good introductory conversation should nurture a trusting relationship. Given that the prospective client is likely to be nervous and unsure, it is up to you to make the first move.
Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about yourself to others that is not readily known by them. When you do so, you let the other person to see the real you – not a façade.
Ever notice how drawn we are to videos where a child walks in on a parent’s video call? That’s because we now see the “real” person instead of just a talking head.
Here are some easy ways to self-disclose on a video call:
- Move your camera to show what’s just outside of normal view. Let the prospect see the messy parts of your office.
- Share your own nervousness about being on camera. For example, you can admit that you keep looking at the video of yourself when you speak.
- Identify any potential disruptions that may occur, particularly if you are working from home. For example, you can say, “If you hear someone growling, that’s because my toy poodle Hannah is sitting on my lap.”
Your disclosure will often lead the prospective client to share something in return, perhaps they too have a dog or a funny story about a video call.
Step Two: Talk about what’s happened
The next step is to talk about the last few months from the pandemic to the protests to the economic certainty. You don’t need to add your commentary or predictions. Simply acknowledge, “It’s been pretty interesting here lately, right?”
Ask a simple open-ended question like, “How have the last few months been for you?” This gives the prospective client a chance to share some of their concerns and perspective. Sometimes people just need a space to express their worries and frustrations.
If you find that the conversation has started to tend toward the negative, you can say, “Many of my clients have found things that have surprised them during this time – little joys mean a lot to them. What’s been a pleasant surprise for you?”
Step Three: Pivot to financial concerns
Now that they’ve become comfortable sharing with you, pivot to asking questions about their situation, what they are trying to accomplish, and what they are looking for in an advisor.
For many investors, there is an event, observation or realization that prompts them to take action. You can ask, “what led you to meet with me today?”
This will give you sufficient knowledge about the prospective client to determine if they would be a good fit for what you do.
Step Four: Tell them about you
If you believe they are a good match for your practice, you can tell them about yourself, your experience and how you serve your clients. By waiting until step four to tell them about yourself, you provide ample space to develop rapport. Further, you can adjust what you say to address the prospect’s specific needs, concerns and challenges.
Additionally, if you have determined that the prospect is not a good fit for your practice, you can shorten or completely eliminate this step. This may be necessary if they are looking for a different approach, their assets are too low, or you anticipate a personality conflict.
When you describe your process, make sure to use present tense (“Here’s what I do for my clients…”) instead of future tense (“If you become my client, here’s what I would do…”).
Step Five: Suggest next steps
If you believe they are not appropriate for what you do, you can say, “Based on what you told me about yourself, your situation and what you need from an advisor, as well as how we typically work with our clients, I don’t think we would be a good match at this time.”
If it’s a matter of not having sufficient assets, you can say, “Based on what you told me about yourself and your situation, I don’t believe I would be cost effective for you at this time.”
Using the phrase “at this time” communicates that you’re not entirely shutting the door to a future relationship if their needs change or they acquire additional assets.
However, if you do want to pursue a client relationship with them, you can say, “Based on what you told me about yourself and your situation, as well as how we typically work with our clients, I think we’d be a good match to move forward to our Discovery meeting.”
At this point, you should stop and wait for their response. Depending on how well you’ve communicated your value to them, they’re likely to say either, “Yes, let’s do that,” or, “Tell me about your Discovery Meeting.”
Most importantly, with strong Introductory Conversation process, whether you agree to move forward to Discovery or you agree that you don’t have a good match, everyone wins!