by Tony Vidler
Coaching clients is a concept which is beginning to gain traction with financial advisers, and for many this is a new line of thinking. After all, they were taught that “you should always be closing”, right? No matter what else you are doing with prospective customers, and no matter what they think they want, you should always be pushing to close the business and make a sale.
Does ANYONE want to be the customer in that type of business relationship?
That thinking has always been nonsense, and the very best “salespeople” have always been brilliant at creating and maintaining relationships founded on trust and understanding rather than clever sales techniques. Many were, without necessarily realising it, excelling at coaching. How many of the best advisers have spent significant proportions of their advisory careers counselling clients on careers, relationships, kids, and pretty much everything else that matters to people apart from money? The greatest have always been coaching rather than selling.
The line “Always Be Closing” was made famous in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” in 1992, but it captured perfectly the selling mindset of half a century leading up to that point. Any advisers who have been around for more than 2 decades will recognise the approach…when we were fresh-faced young things eager to learn how to succeed we went through all the classic sales training methods of the day.
The Impending Doom Close…The Alternative Choice Close…The Assumptive Close…..we were urged to roleplay and practice on mastering bits of trickery designed to get someone to say “yes” when they really didn’t want to. The whole idea of such “salesmanship” is to achieve precisely that: get somebody to do something that they don’t want to do.
It never sat well with me, and I was definitely considered a slow starter with poor sales skills…my peers were racing away making more sales and picking up accounts way back at the start, while I struggled along for the first 6 months of my career. A couple of years later I found out that my sales manager had been the only one in my corner for that 6 months, as Head Office wanted to fire me as an under-performer. Funnily enough, by that time I found that out a couple of years later I was one of the top 10 advisers for that company nationally, and most of the peers who had started out with me on that initial training had been and gone.
My way was the slow way:
Not always be closing.
You don’t have to be a master psychologist to know that people hate feeling pressured into doing something. People hate feeling like they have been out manoeuvred. People hate feeling like they’ve been tricked.
I hated that feeling and everyone I knew and cared about hated that feeling too of being boxed into some corner and beaten into submission by some salesperson. How could this be a good thing to do then?
It seemed so logical to me; Being closer to clients and getting to know and understand them better leads to better relationships and higher trust. Then they are far more likely to consider and follow good advice. So “Always Be Closer” is better than “Always Be Closing”. But it isn’t the whole answer.
We definitely need to sell.
Selling is absolutely necessary when giving advice. It is not about clever tricks, one liners, or pushing people into decisions they are not ready for though. We need to use sales skills to get clients to pause in their hectic lives, and to think and plan when they otherwise would not. We need to use sales skills to open their minds up to different possibilities and consider alternative ways of achieving goals. We need to use sales skills to challenge bias and pre-judgement without clients disengaging from the advice process. Sales skills are critical to managing behaviour and creating the space for people to do things which are beneficial for themselves, but which they otherwise might not think about or do.
We need to sell people on the need to pause, consider possibilities, and think. We need to sell them on the benefit of putting emotions to one side and engaging in logical thinking.
We need to help them shift their mindsets and beliefs, and that is no easy thing to do.
The best advisers who were great at helping clients shift thinking and mindsets had one great advantage that todays advisers to not have: Time.
Prospects and clients used to have time to spend with the advisers that allowed trust to develope naturally. Products used to take a very long time to evolve, so there was not the frenetic pressure to choose something fast. Markets used to take more time to move significantly. People had more time to think.
Todays advisers are not given the luxury of time that previous generations of advisers enjoyed as a matter of course. Now we have to create that time and space if we want to be able to shift the thinking, beliefs and behaviours of clients. We have to
Prospects and clients will give advisers the time and space if they can see where a financial planning process can take them and how it can help them achieve their aspirations. They will give us time if we can add value to their lives in ways beyond advising on money. They will give us time if we make them feel good about themselves, and teach them valuable skills and knowledge which empowers them, and help them create the life they want – rather than just the balance sheet that they think will provide that.
Forget the “closing” and focus on “coaching”. The part that the industry typically thinks is “selling” is a product implementation. Real selling is convincing people to consider different options or a better path. Closing on product recommendations is ideally a complete anti-climax. They are not the highpoint of the advice process at all, but simply confirmation that a transactional element within the coaching journey has been completed. There will be transactions within the planning process….they are just tasks which are created and completed along the way. An adviser who is focussing upon the task completion as THE success measure has not grasped the power of coaching.
The thing is you cannot be both a Coach and a perpetual Closer. A Coach is there to teach, guide, and mentor others to achieve THEIR objectives ….a Closer just wants to get a deal done and move on to the next deal. To build a valuable business with loyal clients who are continually taking guidance you do need to be constantly coaching simply because that is what the clients value and will happily pay for.