Singer maximizes referrals by understanding the needs of clients' other sources of guidance.
A doctor has just told Simon Singer, CAP, CFP, that she does not want to talk about insurance. She hates insurance. So did that door close on the 34-year MDRT member from Encino, California?
No, Singer didn’t become a longtime member of Top of the Table by throwing in the towel.
Instead, he asked a series of questions to understand where the prospect’s animosity was coming from. It turned out she had coverage for her home, car and business, so what about insurance did she not like? Singer discovered she felt negatively toward the process of submitting claims and waiting to find out how much she would get paid.
“If I had just settled for assuming she meant life insurance as opposed to all the other kinds of insurance, nothing would have happened,” Singer said. “Because I asked additional questions and gained clarity about what she meant initially, we were able to continue the conversation on the same page. I had to take her through that thought exercise to get that clarity.”
In fact, understanding the nuances of communication has been key to Singer achieving such high levels of success, regularly producing triple Top of the Table levels in his business — which is nearly 100 percent joint work with tax attorneys and accountants. It all stems back to a case in 1978, when Singer was referred to a client in another state. Singer explained everything the client should do to minimize his taxes, and he knew he was right.
“What I didn’t realize was I had just embarrassed his accountant and his tax attorney,” Singer said. “The client said, ‘If this works the way you’re describing, why didn’t my accountant and tax attorney tell me this?’
“I should have just packed up my briefcase and been on my way — I could never unring that bell — but I didn’t.”
Over the next few years, Singer returned to this client several times, spending $10,000 out of his own pocket. He never made a cent, though, and later found out the client had implemented all of his suggestions with other advisors.
What he learned is the difference between questions and statements, and approaching an idea with “What would you think about this?” as opposed to “You should do this.” It’s an important distinction that not only draws more conversation out of a client but shows respect and openness to the client’s other advisors. Similarly, meeting separately with the accountant and attorney, without the client, would facilitate gathering their opinion of the opportunities Singer uncovered and making them part of the planning team, earning them both credit and compensation.
“Instead of pandering to my ego, I would have been seen as an advocate. It changed my career,” Singer said. “From then on, I never made recommendations to the client without involving those other advisors.”
Laying the groundwork
Of course, developing these relationships is not as simple as asking questions and being respectful. It is important to put yourself in the mind of these other advisors, Singer said, and communicate how you can help them.
“I want them to see that every time they’re in the room with me, I can help them generate revenue, observe things they don’t with the client and communicate in ways the client understands,” he said. Singer’s specialty in this setting is acting as an interpreter and facilitator, breaking down what can be complicated concepts to clients into more understandable language.
The result of doing this, and involving the client’s other advisors in the conversation at the same time, is “it prevents the client from taking my ideas, running them through his own filter and telling the CPA the part he remembered,” Singer said.
The power of communication
Anyone looking to begin this type of work should simply reach out to clients and ask permission to speak with their attorneys and CPAs, Singer said. From there, the building of the relationships involves having the same type of discovery conversation with the advisors that you’d have with a client. That means learning about their process, what is important to them and how he can help add value to their clients and therefore to them.
A small irony in this learning process is that Singer began hinging his career on his speaking abilities very young, working as an actor from the ages of 6 to 16 in movies, TV and radio while performing with names as big as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. His stage name was Stuffy Singer, a nickname coming from his mom’s initial description of her newborn son to his dad (dads not being allowed in the delivery room at the time). “A bunch of stuff,” she said, and a nickname was born.
As an advisor, Singer clearly has seen how a particular choice of words can have a similarly lasting impact.