How to Prep for Client Meetings
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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How do I get my financial advisors to understand they don’t know everything about their clients?
I meet with my team before they go into a meeting. We have an excellent prep process we use on a regular basis and I am rigorous about making sure everyone goes through it. But more times than not I ask a question about a long-term client and they are unable to answer it. And yet, when I tell them they don’t know enough about their clients, they tell me they know all they need to know! It is a circular and very annoying situation because we are not improving in our client relationships and our approach. We are and not pushing ourselves for more.
Is there a way to open their eyes to what they are missing that doesn’t involve me knocking someone on the head?
I’ll start by complimenting you on having a rigorous process and caring enough about it, and that you and your team are actively engaged in it. You don’t share your role in the firm, but anyone who is dedicated enough to implement and then participate in this type of preparation process is doing something right! And I’m glad, heretofore, you have refrained from violence as I’m not sure hitting them is going to do you any good.
I’m curious about the language each of you is using and the tools you are using for prep. Most advisors say they know their clients very well. Some will point to the fact that clients invite them to family outings or share information about their travels or their hobbies. Those things “prove” they know the client and that client thinks the advisor is a friend or even part of the family.
But also more often, when I provide a checklist for things you could (and should) know about your client, few advisors are able to fill in all of it. They realize there are a lot of discussions yet to be had.
Review your prep process and make sure it goes deeper than just the financially oriented or travel/hobby questions (often the most popular ones). Do you talk about what your clients are passionate about, what they like to do in their free time, why they chose a particular career path, their family origin, where they grew up and why they live where they do now? There are so many rich conversations you can have with people. Most advisors don’t get there and they don’t know how to expand the conversations without seeming to be nosy or acting like an interrogator.
Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves! Most people, when you express a sincere and open approach to learning about them, will share information. If they think you are using a financial checklist or asking because you need to plot information in a planning tool, they might resist. But if you get into a general conversation and show interest and connection, they will open up about a myriad of important things. Do they all link back to what you need to know about your client in order to do your job well? No, they don’t but we tend to like people who understand us and care enough about us to connect so learning more about your client leads to a deepening of the overall relationship.
How do you get your advisors to embrace the idea of learning more? Move past the standard prep process and randomly ask them questions about their clients – “Why did John Smith decide technology was the right field for him?” “What did Mary think about her daughter choosing the expensive college over the one she received a scholarship to?’ “Is Brian going to go back to Tuscany in the future or was one trip enough for him?”
When those advisors say they know something about their client, and they share that with you, you can ask any of the follow-up questions. In other words, it isn’t enough we know John is in tech, or Mary’s daughter is going to X university or Brian traveled to Tuscany; it’s the why, feelings and thoughts that accompany those things. Once you ask the follow-up, deeper questions of your advisors (and you can start with easy ones like, “What is their favorite place to travel?”), you will catch your advisors not knowing what they could know if they were going deeper.
I always prefer when coaching someone to have the person I am coaching see the opportunity they have to do more, rather than telling them they could be doing more. If they don’t self-reflect and admit they could learn more in interactions with clients, you can continue to talk about it, and they won’t change behavior. But if you are curious, ask good questions of them and deepen your prep process, they will start to see this for themselves and begin to make the changes.
With some of the people who report to me, it is like banging my head against the wall asking them to work more collaboratively with others on the team. We are not going to grow and continue to serve our clients with the highest quality unless we work together more efficiently. Some people get this, but others are lone wolves and refuse to engage in team-oriented behavior.
Is it best to just cull the herd and remove those people or do I keep trying until they understand I’m not going to stop?
What reinforcement or reward system do you have in place for people to be team-oriented? Time and time again I hear the complaint that “people don’t team well” or “they won’t work together.” But when I look at the compensation and reward structure, the motivations are mostly (or all) around individual performance. People will gravitate toward whatever they are rewarded for, and move away from anything that punishes them. So if your reward system is focused on the individual, there is more downside risk for someone to team up – it takes their focus away from what they might need to do, and puts them in a position of counting on someone else.
What team structure is in place to encourage collaboration and cooperation? Is there a clear system and set of processes that encourages people to work together and eliminates confusion or redundancy in what they are doing? This is often another obstacle where your colleagues worry about becoming obsolete, not having enough to do or not getting appropriate credit for what they’ve done. It is not clear around handoffs, responsibilities and how the team can streamline and function well as one unit.
What obstacles do individuals face in working with one another? Instead of insisting they simply team and collaborate, have you taken a step back to ask them what’s in the way of their ability to do so effectively? I hear from people they don’t have the time, or there is confusion around process, or they don’t know exactly what’s required. It can be hard to hear, but it can give you the information you need to eliminate the obstacles in their way.
People who are not cooperating likely have a reason for doing so. Finding out those reasons will be very beneficial to get you to where you want to be!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.