Communication Skills for Financial Advisors

By Dr. Jack Singer

Article originally published in Advisor Perspectives on February 28, 2012.

Communication Skills for Financial Planners from Dr. Jack SingerTo succeed as an advisor, it’s not good enough to have the right products and the right clients. You need to understand your clients’ underlying goals and constraints and to develop an atmosphere of trust and understanding. In the course of my work with numerous advisors, I have found that the “T.R.I.U.M.P.H.S” model effectively develops those skills.

Here’s the difference that model made for a couple of advisors:

Susan had been doing well in her advising career for many years. She understood how to how follow up on leads and referrals and how to offer excellent service to her clients. Yet she was amazed at how much more successful her colleague, Michael, was. She seemed to put a lot more hours and a lot more sweat into her work than Michael did, but Michael’s accounts and new referrals grew much faster than hers. What was she missing?

The key difference between Michael’s approach and Susan’s was the fact that Michael has trained himself to be an “active listener.” He used the T.R.I.U.M.P.H.S. model not only to help him maximize his client services, but also to communicate effectively with his wife and teenage children.

Here are the components of your sales ”triumphs:”

T – Treat your clients and prospects with respect. Developing rapport with prospective clients is a crucial first step. Smile, position yourself at the same level (sitting or standing, depending on what the client is doing), and slightly lean toward him, maintaining eye contact. Make sure your cell phone is on silent; give undivided attention to the client.

Listen to what the client is saying and don’t shuffle papers or start thinking about your response. Just listen to her. Regardless of what she asks, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to answer immediately. It’s ok to say, “That’s a great question. Give me a day or so to research our products to find the one that precisely addresses your question.”Some clients can be long-winded, nervously asking a lot of questions, especially regarding expensive products but cutting off someone may lose you the rapport you need to develop. Always give the speaker the courtesy of finishing a point before you interject yours. Take notes so you won’t forget what you wanted to say.

RReflect back what your client is telling you before you actually respond. The best way to understand a prospective client is to make sure you are listening carefully. The best way to do that is to reflect or paraphrase what you heard her say before you comment on it. An example is, “What I’m hearing is that you are not certain that this product will serve your needs.”

I – “I statements” are powerful. As you paraphrase and reflect back what the client is saying, you can use “I statements,” which are very effective. For example, “I am getting the feeling that you are uncomfortable with this product and would like some other options.” To start with “You” would be much more instinctively threatening for the buyer. Imagine hearing, “You don’t like this product?”

Realize that understanding what the listener is saying doesn’t mean necessarily agreeing with him. You are simply showing that you are hearing his concerns. For example: “Fred, I hear your concerns because of your last experience with a similar product. Let me get the information you will need to make you feel better about this.”Always acknowledge the speaker and his position before voicing yours.

U – Understand the needs and goals of your client. If you are genuine and sell quality products that will truly satisfy your client’s needs and desires, that person will trust you. That includes not selling him the most expensive product if you believe it is not right for her. Nothing earns trust more than being honest.

M – Monitor the tone and mannerisms of the prospective client. Body language is so important that studies point out that only a small percentage of what is “heard” by a listener are the words of the speaker. Most of what we interpret is tone of voice, facial expressions, inflections, hesitations, etc. Watch for all of these indications of your client’s mood and attitude. You might even wait for a moment to interpret what you sense after a client is done speaking. You might say: “I am feeling as if you believe that I am trying to force you to buy this product, Alice. Is that what’s going on in your head?”

P – Probe gently and with respect. Your job is to try to understand what your prospective client needs and how you can accommodate those needs. The only way to show people that you have exactly the product to satisfy those needs is to ask gentle questions about their goals and hopes, as they relate to your product. An example is, “If you could describe the ideal software to solve your business problems, what would you like it to do for you?”

H – Help your client feel safe in the conversation. For major purchases, such as insurance policies and annuities, clients need to feel safe discussing their specific money issues. Gently probing about personal and family situations that affect their pocketbook requires them being able to trust you. This entails ensuring confidentiality and showing genuine concern for their needs. If you expect them to share their biggest fears and insecurities, you must focus in on what they’re saying, be sensitive, and assure them that you will help them to meet their goals.

S – Summarize. You’d be amazed at how you can demonstrate your listening skills by frequently summarizing what you just heard. This will also help you to focus and remember what the speaker is telling you. If you hit the key points in your summary, the speaker will feel validated and closer to you. If you missed key points that he is trying to convey, he can inform you. Practice this with friends and family. It’s easy to get the hang of it, and it really works!

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