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The 3 questions clients want answered about advisors

Gary DeMoss

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You work hard to find prospects. Don't lose them — and damage your brand — because you're not using concise, clear and compelling communications. Find out how you can organize your thoughts, answer the three questions people have before working with an advisor and acquire clients. Learn more from Gary DeMoss in another EDGE presentation, "Showtime."

I don’t know about you when you travel, but I spend a lot of time in airports, hotels, lobbies, etc. And one of the things I’ve had the opportunity to do is to meet really famous people. Have you ever done that? Have you ever been in an airport or a hotel and you’ve seen somebody really, really important? For instance, I’m at the Peninsula in Chicago, and I see over there, about four tables to the right, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon having lunch at the same table. And then they get up to leave, and I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, they’re about that tall. I mean, I can’t believe how big they are. But I want to tell you about the most interesting famous person I’ve ever met in 22 years of travel.

It happened at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Los Angeles. I’m leaving my room to go down to my meeting to speak, and I’ve got my roller bag in front of me. I’m going down, and in front of me is this woman about 6 feet tall, and she is with a man who’s about 5 feet 5 inches tall, and he’s got his arm around her. They’re walking down the hallway, and I’m saying to myself, Well, that’s a fairly odd physical combination. But I don’t think anything of it. I start to get a little bit closer, and all of a sudden, he is swearing at her like a sailor. I mean swearing. And by the way, it does not bother her one bit. She’s not even paying any attention to it.

He is just going on with swear words. It sounds like a navy sailor. I mean, terrible. We get to the elevator, we stop, and he turns around. He’s 5 feet 5 inches tall. I’m 6 feet 4 inches tall. He turns around and looks at me, and he goes, “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. I just want to apologize for what just happened there.” I’m looking down and, lo and behold, this is about 15 years ago, I’m looking at Robin Williams. It’s Robin Williams in the flesh. He turns around, and he starts coming toward me, and he goes right into Mork of “Mork and Mindy.” I mean, what are you doing? What are you going to do? He starts talking to me really fast, and he says, “What do you do?” And I say, “I’m a speaker.” “Oh, I’m an entertainer. You and I, we’re in the same business.” And he’s kind of blowing my hair back, and he starts asking me all these questions.

We get in the elevator, and I mean to tell you he was the nicest person you’d ever want to meet, just a great, great person. We get in the elevator, and down we go. Now, how are you going to open? What are you going to say? What’s it going to look like? We get down to the lobby; he gives me one more pat on the back; and off I go. I’m literally almost to the room, and I see the manager. I said, “I have to tell you something. The strangest thing happened to me. I’m leaving my hotel room, and I see Robin Williams. He’s with this woman who is about 6 feet tall, and he’s swearing like crazy.”

You know what he said to me? “Ah, don’t worry. It’s no big deal.” You see, Robin Williams has been at that hotel. He says, “He’s been here for nine weeks, and every single morning at 9:00, the maids come in to change all the bedding, and there is Robin Williams, 6 inches from the mirror practicing the sequence of his swear words for his HBO special.” So what he was doing was practicing the sequence of his swear words for his HBO special. Did you hear what I said? Not just general swearing, but he wanted to make sure that the sequence worked, that every single time it worked. And when I hear that, I think about the amount of preparation that professionals do to be ready for showtime. How many of you have ever seen Robin Williams in some form or fashion on TV or live?

You think, Wow, that’s all improv. A lot of it is improv, but let me tell you, a lot of that improv is fully prepared. I was watching a documentary on him coming back from London two weeks ago, and they talked about his fanatical approach to preparing for when his showtime event happens. When the lights go on, he’s ready to go. And I want to say that’s a lot like what happens in our industry when we meet with new clients, with new people; every time we get in front of clients it is showtime for us. It’s showtime for us as communicators.

This is such an important session to be a part of because of what’s at stake every single time we communicate to clients, especially to new clients — your personal brand is at stake. Every time. And by the way, I look at it like this: I’m a presenter, I’m a speaker, a communicator, and so are you. We’re in the same business, but just in a different way.

My brand is at stake every time I get up in front of people. Nobody cares what I did last week or two weeks ago in London or San Antonio — nobody cares. What you care about is what’s going to happen today because this is what happens when it comes to our brand. People are continuing to make judgments about us in terms of our communications on an ongoing basis. So, what I want to talk about here today is that when you get in front of prospective clients, what do you say? What is your message? How do you come across to them? Most importantly, how much preparation have you done in thinking about how you can effectively tell your story? And everybody in this room, everybody sitting down, everybody at the high chair, everybody here has a story to tell, a great story to tell. And my passion for this whole thing is that I want to make sure your story gets told in a way that is clear, concise and, most importantly, compelling to people as you look to grow your business.

This is the biggest challenge we have as communicators. We have way too much to say, and we don’t have enough time to say it. I’m just going to tell you, you have way too much to say and not enough time to say it, so what’s critical to excellent communicators is that they have the ability to organize their thinking in such a way that it comes across clear, concise and compelling. That’s what I’m going to do in the time I’ve got here today. I’m going to give you a little teaser. Today’s goal of what we want to get accomplished is to make sure that we can organize our thoughts to tell your story, not my story, but your story in a way that is concise. I’ve got way too much to say.

Most importantly, it’s clear and it’s compelling. So that people, when you’re done, say, “You know what? That was really good. That’s a great message. I love what you have right here.” So, that’s our goal for this session. And from that, you’re going to learn a lot about your practice. You’re going to learn a lot about what you say about certain segments of the business. What I’m going to show you, not only now but certainly in the session to follow, comes from the largest study ever done on financial language. Over the last 11 years, we have been studying financial language. What do people think about when we are using the financial language that we’re so very, very comfortable with? I want to show you how we do our research.

It’s not just your typical, standard focus group, so to speak. Raise your hand, put it down. It’s very unique, and it’s very interesting. I’m going to show you a video of the actual focus groups we do, where we get our research, and our findings to share with you today on not only today’s topic, but others as well. We’ve partnered with this group called Maslanksy + Partners. Their specialty is understanding the emotional response that words have on people. See, I care how your clients feel about your message. Do they feel good or do they feel bad? So I’m going ask Michael here in this video to explain how these focus groups work. Watch. It’s very unique using the dial technology. So, let me explain. [video]

I’m going to explain what happens here. So, here’s the process that we do in our research. First of all, we do in-depth interviews to make sure we are on topic. We talk to advisors by asking, “Well, what do you say in a first-time interview with people?” We make sure that we have the language correct. The second thing we do in these dial sessions — I’m just going to show you in the video. You’re not going to miss anything here. We do these dial sessions, and a dial session is kind of unique. This is a picture of it. [visual] So, imagine you’re my group. I’ve got about 30 to 35 people in each one of my sessions, and you have a dial. If you like what Gary’s saying, you’re going to dial me up toward 100. If you don’t like what I’m saying, you’re going to dial me down. And back and forth it’s going, and we are collecting that information on what you like and what you don’t like in terms of the words behind the screen.

And I’ll show you how this works. We’re behind the mirror eating a lot of sushi and M&M’s and all that. We actually show actors talking about financial language and so everybody’s got a dial. Dials are set to 50 — 50 is at neutral. You’re going to see a lot of this in the next presidential election. Anything above 50 is good; anything below 50 is not good. That means they don’t feel good about you. So, we play a message. [visuals] You can see from the screen here — oh, the green is neutral. It’s nothing. Oh, we’re doing really, really well here. They love what I’m saying here. Uh oh, something just happened right there. That’s not good.

It’s absolutely fascinating to sit behind the screens and watch people respond moment by moment, instantaneously, anonymously to the financial language we use all the time and that we are so very comfortable with. But that isn’t always the case, and I’ll talk more about that in just a minute in terms of how people hear us when we’re using the financial language that we are so very comfortable with. We do three dial sessions, and the last thing we do is a national survey to make sure we have our findings validated and correct.

This is what we have learned over the last 11 years and 63 focus groups listening to people: The words we use, the sentences we use and the paragraphs we develop really matter. But if you take anything away from what I’m going to say here today, it’s not what you say that matters, but what really matters is this right here. [visual]

What are they hearing when you are speaking? Not what you’re saying, but what they’re hearing when you are speaking. I’m going to give to everybody who attends this a format, and that format is going to do the following: It’s going to allow you to organize your thinking and to put it in a template that allows you to tell your story in a way that is clear, concise and compelling based upon what we’ve learned about financial language. The second thing you’re going to get from this format is that it’s designed to be able to tell your story with consistency — time and time again, over and over.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, Why did I say that this time and I didn’t say that the last time? That really worked well. I want you to be able to tell your story with consistency. This presentation here is designed to be able to do verbally or in the format of a deck. Does anybody here ever use a deck to present by any chance? A couple of you may. Some of you may. Very good. That’s OK. One of the things that I say, all right, I coach about 50 some different teams with my staff on just this topic, nothing else. I don’t do what some of these other great speakers are doing here today. We only speak on topics of presenting your story to clients, so if you do it verbally, only you should go through the exercise of building a deck.

You will learn a lot about yourselves and a lot about your team, and so that’s what we’re going to walk through this afternoon. This format is designed to be able to present this in 15 minutes, 10 minutes or an hour. How many of you ever thought you had 30 minutes but you only got 15 minutes? Or you thought you had an hour and you got 30 minutes? OK. So, this allows you to meet any one of those objectives. Most importantly, I’m going to share with you the three questions that prospective clients want to know about you in this business. So, with that said, let me give you the three questions here right away because we’re going to build off this. I’m going to be that prospective client.

Here’s the first question: Do you understand the complexities that come with my situation? Do you know that I have two different businesses, and I have six children, and that most of them are out of college? I have six grandchildren. I have this, that. I want to make sure that you’re competent to handle my situation.” That’s the first question we have to make sure that we communicate to prospective clients, and we need to do it in a way so that you are not talking about you, but you’re talking about the client.

Here’s the second question: What are you going to do with my money? Can you make that happen? Can you get that? Can you make sure that I can understand what you’re going to do with my money on a regular basis? How are you going to invest it? What are you going to do? Can you tell that to me in a concise way?

And the final question: What other services do you bring to the table that I might be interested in beyond the investment component?

These are the three questions that clients all the time are asking. If I’m interviewing somebody in financial services to give them my money, I need to know these things: No. 1: Are they competent to handle my situation? No. 2: I’d just like to know what they’re going do with my money. You know some people want to know a lot; some people don’t. And No. 3: What other services do they provide?

So these are the three questions. And what we do is start to build a deck. It’s a hypothetical deck. Be able to tell your story by answering these questions. By the way, in our next session, you’re going to get a sheet like this, and you’re going to go through this with me, and you’re going to actually start filling in some of these boxes. [visual] I don’t have it for this session, but I do have it for my next session. So, the first thing I’m going to do is to answer this question, because if I don’t answer the credibility question, then I’m in trouble.

The first thing we’re going do in this deck is to include core team bios. [visual] going to put a bio there. How many of you have a bio? OK. How many of you have ever had to write your own bio? All right. So, what I’m going to show you this afternoon is, based on our research, the most effective bio to use with clients. We’re going to talk about this whole idea of how we can use a bio and, by the way, you’re thinking, Well, wait a minute. I’m not going to start out by talking about me, and I’ll show you. No, no, no. It’s not about you, but it’s about the role you play for those individuals.

I will show you how we use a bio effectively. Do you think they buy you, or do you think they buy their firm? How many of you think that they’re buying you? Everybody. Of course they are. So they want to know about you. They want to know if you are credible and that it’s not you sitting up there bragging about yourself and how great you are. I’ll show you how to use that, and I’ll show you how to write one based on research. And if you’ve ever been to any courses on how to write bios, I want you to think again.

The second thing that I’m going to talk about is support resources. Can you clearly articulate the support resources that you have to show that there is depth behind you? Who is behind you? Is there depth behind you, or is it just you? And if it is you, I know you’ve got resources.

And here’s the third thing: We’re going to be able to talk about the firm that you’re associated with and the resources that it brings to bear because clients do want to know who is watching over the money. They want to know where the money goes and who’s watching over it. They’ve all heard about Bernie Madoff. They’ve all heard about this. This is obviously a big deal, so the firm that you attach yourself with, that provides the regulation, that follows the money to get it invested is very, very important to them, and it makes a difference. I’ll show you how to talk about that. I’m going to talk about the core team bios and what you do for them. I’m going to talk about support resources and what they do for the client. And then we’re going to talk about what it means to be a client of your firm and your organization.

I’ll show you how to do that this afternoon. The second thing is, what are you going to do with our money? OK. So, I’m going to have you do three things right here. No. 1, I’m going to have you talk about the investment process. What is your investment process? Do you have one? If you’re selling mutual funds or ETFs or whatever, do you have an investment process? If I’m going to become a client of yours and give you my money — so I’m going to show you a way to do that. Very simple and easy, how do I communicate the investment process? No. 2, do you have an investment philosophy? So, when it comes to managing my money, what do you believe in? What are the principles that you follow? When you invest my money, what are the things that you believe in that you can tell me about? And then the third thing I’m going to do here is to have you share a case study with the client. And with the case study, I want to see if you’re dealing with people who are like me. Have you ever had to put together a case study? Have you ever done a case study before?

I’m going to show you how to quickly, easily and succinctly put together an effective case study that you can verbally share with clients. First of all, I’m going to talk about making sure that they know I’m competent by talking about the bio, the support staff, the firm that I’m associated with. Then I’m going to talk about the high-level investment process and the investment philosophy. And then I’m going to share a case study to show them how it all ties together, how it all works. Now, you may be saying, “Boy, this is a lot of work.” Can I just say this? Remember Robin Williams? There’s a reason why I open up with Robin Williams, because you see, Robin Williams spent the time to think through every single sequence like we have.

We don’t have to do this twice a week for the next five years. You do this one time of thinking through what you want to say. Get it down, and you have it for life.

We’ve organized your thinking about telling your story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. You work way too hard to get people to the table, and when they show up and you show up, I want you to be the best communicator you can be on this specific topic. OK. So, question No. 1, question No. 2. Here’s the third question: What other services can I expect in addition to the investment component? What else is there? And I would say that in this world, this is probably one of the most important aspects that we have to get down and that is to talk about the services.

One of the things that we’ve done is to survey the landscape on financial services. We found that there are 75 services that financial advisors in the United States offer to their clients — 75! How in the world do you talk about all 75? Well, this is what you do: You’re going to break it up into threes. Have you ever noticed that we speak in threes, right? Well, if you’re a good presenter, you’re going to learn that threes really matter as a speaker as well as how you speak and how you construct presentations. So, I’ve broken down your services, your services conversation, into these three areas. The first thing we’re going to talk about is financial services that are noninvestment related, and I’ll give you some examples.

Then the next thing we’re going to talk about is wealth transfer and charitable giving. Do you have the option to offer this service either through your firm or through someone whom you know? We need to be able to make sure that clients know that this is available to them. Then the last one that we talk about is what I call “concierge services.” These are services that are kind of one-offs. We deal with some very large teams that offer dog-walking services, if you can believe that. They do all the private travel that is super, super, super high end, but this last part is just really for the concierge services and how they operate.

Here we go. What I end up with here, as you can see on the screen, is the nine box. [visual] This is what I call the nine box. This creates the flow of my presentation. This helps if I’m sitting at a club or at a charitable event or something and somebody says to me, “So tell me about your group,” or you’ve had some discovery questions. And by the way, we still do our discovery work with clients. What I’m talking about here is our response when they say, “So tell me about your firm.” I know the first thing I’m going to need to do is to demonstrate competency that I could handle their situation. I’m going to talk about my role. I’m going to talk about the support staff we have.

I’m going to talk about what it means to them to be a client of my firm. The second thing I’m going to do is to explain what I’m going to do with their money so they have a clear understanding. I’ll talk about the process philosophy, and I’ll share a case study. Now, you’re not going to all do this at once, and this is not a monologue because you’re going to check in after every piece. Is that clear? Do you have any questions? This is more of a conversation than it is an actual presentation.

Then I’m going to talk about the services. Now, when I’ve prepared you to do this, and you are with somebody who says, “Well, if I gave you my $50,000 or $100,000 or a million dollars, tell me what you would do” then you would know immediately to go to line No. 2 and say, “Well, let me explain how the investment process works,” and I explain that process. [visual]

And then I’m going to explain the investment, our philosophy. Then I’m going to share a case study of how we help clients just like them. Or if somebody says, “Well, tell me about your organization,” I know I’m going to immediately go to line No. 1. [visual] I’m going to talk about the key team members that are a part of my firm. I’m going to talk about the support staff we have to meet their needs that they are going to deal with on an ongoing basis. And then I’ll be able to talk about my firm. The point of the matter is that I can plug and play. I can take these things out because I have prepared. I have thought this whole thing through.

So, when it comes to this program, we identify and we call this program “Showtime” because, much like Robin Williams, there’s a showtime, and when it’s showtime, he’s got to be on. And when it’s showtime for you, you work way too hard to not be on in this presentation. Many times it’s very confusing. How do I organize my thoughts? We have a lot of different slides. We can put in a lot of different thoughts. There are a lot of different ideas that we can have here. All we’re doing is organizing your thoughts and your thinking into these nine different areas. We’re putting a label on those, and I’m giving you a format to tell your story in a way that is clear, concise and compelling.

I’ll close with this. How do we put this thing altogether because that’s really important? I’m going to talk about a lot of this in our afternoon session. We always want to open; we don’t just launch right into our presentation. We have what’s called a “Client-Centered Opener.” What we say in the first 60 seconds of our presentations to people is the most important part of the presentation. Do you put them to sleep or do you get their attention? I want to share a way, based on our research, that we’ve identified here as a way of how to actually open up this conversation. And then I’m going to get into the body of my work right here. I’m going to talk about questions 1, 2 and 3, and then, most importantly, as you can see from the bottom here, I’ve got the Benefit-Base Close. [visual]

How many of you love closing? I’m going to show you in our session this afternoon how to put together a Benefit-Base Close. I’ll show you dials. I’ll show you the depth of the resources. This slide demonstrates that I want you to be able to do this whole presentation verbally. [visual] So, you may not use a deck. Most people don’t use a deck. It’s helpful to learn to go through this thing and create, in their own mind, that hypothetical deck, right? But you should be able to do it verbally.

When I’m done coaching a team, I can actually give the presentation. I can do it for them because I know their talking points in these three different areas. So, what’s at stake? Really important things. What’s really at stake is your brand, how you communicate to those clients, and I want to make sure that in that moment, when you’re talking about your organization, your firm, that in the end, you come across in a way that’s clear, concise and compelling. So, join me right after this, and we’ll go a lot deeper into these different topics.

Gary DeMoss is the director of Invesco Consulting.


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