by Tony Vidler
Sales Technique…the very phrase sends shudders down the spines of professionals today it seems. Despite the focus on our increased technical knowledge and the emphasis upon good process, financial advisers actually have to “sell”.
A large problem for many newer advisers is that nobody is teaching them effective sales technique anymore, and surprisingly advisers are finding it harder to engage prospective new clients. Perhaps the link is that being able to sell is critical to being able to open clients minds.
I worked a case with a relatively inexperienced adviser recently and we had an interview where a client was being presented with a complex risk management recommendation that had a serious premium attached. The clients initial response to the plan was to question price. An awkward silence appeared imminent as the other adviser took what seemed (to me) to be an age to respond, so I intervened.
“Can I just say that we understand that any price is a wrong price…in fact, this is probably one of the biggest grudge purchases you’ll ever make. We know you are hoping that you’re wasting all of your money here, and that none of it ever works”
Client (and other adviser) both looked at me with can only be called astonishment.
After some seconds the client said “what do you mean?”
“Well, all of this risk management recommendation is hopefully a complete waste of money: you don’t want the buildings to burn down, you don’t want key people getting incapacitated, you don’t want to get too sick to work, and you sure don’t want to die…..so in reality we are all hoping that you are wasting your money here. We are hoping that nothing we are covering ever actually happens…so it is all “Just In Case” isn’t it? And any price seems too high for “Just In Case”. We know that, and what we are doing with this plan is trying to make sure you get the financial outcomes you want – absolute financial certainty for the business in the areas we can – while wasting as little money as possible doing it”. But financial certainty ALWAYS comes at a price – insurers call it a premium, but really it is just taking a hit you can afford so you don’t get with something you can’t afford.
We know affordability isn’t the issue here, so when you questioned price you were actually questioning the value of the plan, not the price tag. We could waste less and find a lower price, but then the financial certainty gets a question mark put on it, and is probably not certain any longer. Getting financial certainty is the critical objective isn’t it? That’s where the value is for you?”
The client said: “I guess so…”
“You guess so? Ok I guess we just need to make sure we are prioritising the right things – because maybe we didn’t – so can I ask that if you were given the choice of having a 1972 Toyota or 2014 Toyota to drive for the next 3 years which would you take?”
He looked at me quizzically and said “The 2014 Toyota of course…but can I choose a BMW?”
“Sure you can…and that is the point: you can choose whatever you like at whatever price tag you like – but there are going to be quality, comfort, and reliability differences aren’t there? I mean you realise you are going to pay a lot more for the modern BMW than the 1972 Toyota – but both will get you around town….so why did you introduce the BMW as your preference?”
The client smiled and then told us why he liked BMW’s…and made his own argument for certainty, dependability and quality…..and smiled a little more when I said “well that’s what this recommendation is about – and it is only coming at a 2014 Toyota price tag even though it is a BMW in contract quality and performance. Let’s not forget though, that we understand you hope this is all a waste of money at the end of the day, which is why constantly working together to review the plan and re-assessing what can be removed, and when, is a critical part of getting good value for money”.
To be fair, this particular example is not a “sales technique” per se….but the technique is being able to call out and address the actual issues and then create context which can help the client make a valid decision. Analogies help clients to understand relative value, and helping to manage expectations around price and ongoing service and advice mostly. The technique underlying the use of analgoy here is to be able to meet the clients concern without being confrontational, and drawing out what the real concerns are. Price wasn’t the problem. The lack of clarity about quality and value were. It is worth noting that none of this part of the conversation was about technical stuff. None of it was about the competence of the adviser. None of it was about compliance or advice process. It was just about understanding value and the choices available.
Strong sales technique enhances communication ability and managing client expectations. It is actually about creating parity in the relationship and ensuring understanding on the part of the client- precisely what regulators and industry observers would like to see more of.
Strong and effective sales techniques used ethically give clients the right context which makes them feel empowered and able to make valid choices.
Sales technique is the ability to introduce analogies and stories that can help shift a clients thinking from a pre-set and fixed view to an open mind which can make sound judgement and choices.
Is that a bad skill to have? Of course not. It ist one that advisers should constantly work on and develope.