How to Engage a Prospect in Two Sentences
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
On December 4, 2020, this article was edited to use the correct phrase, "ferme la bouche."
I’ve been called abrupt before. In fact, I am called many unpleasant things. In this article, I’m going to teach you how to communicate successfully with any prospect in two sentences or fewer. It works. It’s called the, “two-sentence rule,” and here’s how it goes.
The two-sentence rule
The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town. And if it’s my house you’re talking about, make it four buses under seven years old.
A few years ago, I noticed my communication fell into a strange rhythm with my utterances sounding like this:
- That’s your brother’s singing piggy. Give it to him.
- It’s bedtime. Who knows how to use a whisper voice?
- Now that spoon just fell on the floor. Get that filthy thing out of your mouth!
- Stop throwing Magna-tiles at her. How do you feel when people throw things at your head like that?
Does anyone want a kid or two? I’ll send them over. Just email me your Delta SkyMiles number. I’ll even throw in some Elsa and Anna face masks.
By the way, did you notice my speech pattern?
- Only two sentences;
- The first sentence provides clarifying information;
- The second sentence is either a command or a question; and
- They are all simple, one-step commands
Seeing how effective my two-sentence rule was on the battlefield, I started to put it to work in my business life, answering all my emails in two sentences. I found that I got quicker, more lucid responses. I was more in control of confusing situations and got people to take action quicker. I was whizzing through my inbox!
Then I put the two-sentence rule to work on social media messenger apps like LinkedIn and Facebook and found the same thing to be true – higher response rate, better clarity, etc. This was especially useful for prospects I was talking to who didn’t trust me yet and didn’t want to get into a long, involved conversation. I found them pinging back and forth with me instead of ghosting.
Don’t be a Henry VI
The two-sentence rule works because it allows you to take control in a situation that is three bags full of distraction and noise. Here’s why:
- We’re constantly giving people too much information. Ask them to process only one idea at a time.
- Making people multi-task leads them to zero-task. Ask them to perform only one action at a time.
- It shifts your energy from being the talker to being the listener.
Say your two sentences and the rest is rust and stardust. If the person needs more information, they’ll ask you.
I know, you feel like you’re being dethroned like Henry VI. But remember what happened to him after he lost control during the War of the Roses? What good is it being the smartest person in the room if nobody can stand being in the room with you?
Let other people breathe, folks! It won’t kill your credibility. In fact they’ll melt like a Florida snow cone. Do you really think that high-quality, successful people like it when an octopus latches onto them? It’s not like there’s nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. They’d rather be sipping gin on their private jet, answering their flooded inbox of emails from the company they are president of, or at a lavish party with Snoop Dogg.
Two sentences, laser focused like a beacon of clarity. Cut it short and let them free to go buy the Hermes Diamond Himalaya Birkin on their black credit cards. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of their money left in their Pershing account.
Putting the two-sentence rule to work
Put the two-sentence rule to work today. When you are about to type an email or a LinkedIn message to someone, ask yourself these two questions:
- What is the most important piece of information I need to give the person to create total clarity about what they need to do?
- What is the one thing I want them to do first?
And those answers become sentence #1 and #2. Done! Say those two sentences, and then ferme la bouche!
It’s that simple.
To the tune of “Annie’s Song” by John Denver:
You’ll fill up your pipeline
With a two sentence email
Like the dinners at Ruth Chris
Like a viral LinkedIn post
You’ll fill up your pipeline
Come ACAT again
All advisor prospecting communications (emails, voicemails, social media messages, etc.) should be two sentences or fewer. Here are some examples of how to apply this in your practice.
Dealing with vendors
I was recently looking for a graphic designer. I posted to a Facebook group and got a barrage of responses, to which I wrote:
I only work with vendors who fill out a W9 form. Will you send me yours before we begin any work assignments?
Clarifying information – I do not work with people who are not professional enough to report their business income correctly to the IRS.
Command – Send me your W-9 or we’re not talking anymore.
You can waste your whole day trying to find talented, high-quality people to hire. I lost quite a few prospects by saying this. But who cares? I have no use for tax evaders. I found a graphic designer in less than a day and she emailed me her W-9 that night.
Prospect says: I think 0.75% is too high a fee. My brother looks after my money for free.
You say: Ms. Garcia, I only do business when I am able to provide value way past what I charge. What’s the most important thing you are looking to get from this relationship?
Clarifying information – I’m in this to give you way more than what I get, emphasized by the word “only.”
Command – Tell me precisely what you value.
When a prospect rejects you, often it is because they are confused about something. Use the two-sentence rule and be the beacon of clarity.
Going for the close in a prospect meeting
You say: It looks like we’ve got about 10 minutes left. What do you think about this discussion we’re having today?
Clarifying information – Time is up so let’s get to what’s important.
Command – Tell me where you stand
This is a less sales-ish way of setting up the close. I’m surprised at how many advisors spend hours in meetings with prospects and solicit zero feedback as to what the prospect actually thinks of them. The close doesn’t have to be signing the documents – it can be agreeing to meet again. If they say something wishy washy here, there is an objection that you need to address before they walk out the door.
Use the two-sentence rule to execute a close with speed and levity to clarify where you stand.
The two-sentence rule is my most valuable contribution to this profession. This is my most powerful gift to you, my readers. I wrote an e-book containing 47 two-sentence-long messages you can use to approach somebody on LinkedIn, Facebook, or even over email. Get it here.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.