Effective Sales Skills

Think back to the last time you experienced a fast talking, jargon-laden sales pitch and then recall your reaction. No one wants to get “sold” but many advisors tend to keep on “selling.” Old sales techniques like preparing a sales pitch and powering through it have little value in today’s marketplace.

Honesty and trustworthiness are at the top of the list of criteria for choosing a financial advisor and pushy, aggressive sales tactics do not inspire trust. Sales trainer Tom Hopkins suggests that by ending every statement with a question, you pull prospects or clients into your conversation and gently guide them to a better understanding of your services. Asking a question, however, is just the beginning. Listening for the answer is even more important. If you have a true desire to act in your clients’ best interests, then talking less and listening more will increase your ability to serve them. Through careful listening, you will be able to tailor your response to their comments and ideas, providing a more direct path to increased sales.

Clear Communication

Lack of communication is one of the top five reasons investors leave their financial advisor.3 You might think you are communicating effectively with your clients. Perhaps you send out a monthly newsletter, host conference calls and distribute quarterly performance statements. These touchpoints are important but cannot be classified as clear communication because, for communication to be effective, it requires a two-way exchange of ideas. Effective communication takes place in phone calls and client meetings when a priority is placed on understanding clients’ needs and goals.

Advisors have a tendency to talk about themselves and their practices first. After the initial greeting, a typical first prospect meeting starts with the advisor describing the services the firm offers, his or her credentials and how the advisor’s extensive experience can help the prospect. However, this strategy does little to inspire affinity. How do you know you can help the prospect if you haven’t asked questions to determine what he or she needs?

Effective communication takes place in phone calls and client meetings when a priority is placed on understanding clients’ needs and goals.

Throughout any sales cycle, prospects provide clues about how they feel and what they think about your services and products. Listening carefully to your prospects or clients’ needs and desires will enable you to find the best combination of products, services and investment strategies that will help them reach their financial and life goals.

Active Listening

How can you ensure that you are listening effectively to your clients? By using the skill of active listening. Active listening techniques are critical to connecting with clients and discovering what is most important in their lives. Developed and used in counseling, active listening involves paying close attention to what is being said, confirming you are listening through short responses, eye contact or body language, and then acknowledging your understanding by paraphrasing what the client has just told you.

When you listen with a goal of understanding clients’ concerns, you can then begin to solve issues and address questions. When selling a product, advisors often focus solely on the benefits of the product, but a better strategy would be to connect those benefits to the particular needs of the client. This strategy is not possible unless you are familiar with a client’s goals and concerns.

When you listen with a goal of understanding clients’ concerns, you can then begin to solve issues and address questions.

Presenting Information

Advisors have in-depth knowledge of financial markets and the technical aspects of good financial management, which is why it is difficult to remember that not all clients are well-informed in those areas. Careful listening will enable you to detect the vocabulary your clients use and understand. More financially-knowledgeable clients may understand the term volatility, for example. For those less knowledgeable, use the phrase “ups and downs.” Avoiding jargon and buzzwords will make clients more comfortable and you more relatable.

Advisors have in-depth knowledge of financial markets and the technical aspects of good financial management, which is why it is difficult to remember that not all clients are well-informed in those areas.

Whether presenting a financial plan or portfolio implementation or describing a new investment that is consistent with a client’s financial goals, take extra care to ensure that the client understands the material presented. Watch for non-verbal cues such as a furrowed brow, blank stare or folded arms. Ask clarifying questions such as: Is that clear? What additional information could I provide that would help you make a decision?

Dedicated Attention

For many advisors, the pervasive tendency to multitask has contributed to poor listening skills. When a client calls, do you continue looking at your computer screen or do you stop what you’re doing and devote 100% of your attention to the call? Taking notes will help you to focus on what the client is communicating. It also lessens the urge to pay attention to other things happening around you. One common distraction is thinking about what you are going to say next. Train yourself to pay attention to your clients when you have an opportunity to connect with them.

Slow Down

Take time to listen. Developing quality client relationships requires energy and effort, and clients deserve to feel understood and appreciated. The top two qualities clients use to define trust in their advisors are 1) proactively calling about news related to their investments and 2) looking out for their best interests. Knowing what is in a client’s best interest comes from listening to what they are saying about their concerns and needs, whether you agree with them or not. After learning the details of client’s concerns, be sure to record the information in your customer relationship management (CRM) system for future reference. Sales come as a result of fulfilling specific needs or solving a clients’ problem. By listening you may uncover an issue that you did not know about, which can lead to additional business.

Importance of Emotions

Pathos, which means emotion, is one of Aristotle’s three pillars of great communication and addresses the need to make an emotional connection. Pathos is evident in every financial services commercial for a reason. Making that connection with a client is not only about showing emotion but about human interaction in a way that is authentic. Moreover, authenticity also builds trust, the advisor characteristic clients value most. Listening for emotions is as crucial as listening for the content of the conversation.

Emotions can be detected through the tone, pitch and speed of speech. They are also communicated through body language and other non-verbal cues such as facial expressions. The cues will help direct and focus your potential for appropriate sales. Without listening and watching for these cues, an advisor could continue with a sales idea that the client either has little interest in or does not address a concern important to the client. On the other hand, recognition of a positive emotional response can complete a sale more efficiently.

Listening for emotions is as crucial as listening for the content of the conversation.

Parting Thoughts

The importance of careful listening cannot be overstated. Clients rank clear communication very highly and successful advisors understand its importance. Remember, communication is a twoway exercise. In addition, clients want advisors who look out for their best interests, which can only be derived from focused listening. Sales opportunities are often revealed in conversation and are easily missed if the advisor is not attentive. Watching and listing for the emotional reactions from a client will help generate a positive sales outcome.

When meeting with clients and prospects follow these tips:

  1. Practice active listening
  2. Talk less and listen more
  3. Ask clarifying questions
  4. Focus direct attention on the client
  5. Recognize yours and the client’s emotional responses.

Only through discovering the goals and needs of each client can you become the responsive advisor clients will trust—so listen up!