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Power of observation

Bryce Sanders

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What can you learn when you walk into a prospect's office?

When you meet a prospect for the first time, there are advantages to meeting them on their home ground. Let’s look at what you can learn if you are meeting at their office.

Entering the office

You are at your prospect’s place of business. You are meeting in their private office. If they are an accountant or an engineer, there might be a line of enclosed offices. If they own a factory, there’s the area where people are “called on the carpet.”

Here’s a key point about walking through the door. You will meet support staff. Treat them graciously. Your prospect might ask them afterward: “What did you think of my visitor?”

Cleanliness. Is the office clean and organized? Are there lots of papers stacked everywhere?

Furniture. Look at the rugs, lamps, tables and chairs. Does it look like a design firm came in and did the whole job? Does it look like they brought items from home to personalize the space?

Flowers. Do you see any fresh flowers?

Telephone. Is it a traditional desktop phone or do they wear a headset?

Magazines on surfaces. These are for visitors. Trade magazines? Aspirational ones like Town & Country or Architectural Digest?

Books on shelves. It’s like looking into their mind. You assume they read them.

Personal appearance 

Clothes make the man (or woman). It’s how we form first impressions. You are dressed professionally.

Overall. Does their clothing fit? Is it cleaned and pressed?

Designer labels. This includes watches, ties, scarves and purses. It’s part of their identity.

Top foot, bottom foot. It’s an old rule about making personal judgments. Is their hair combed or unruly? Are their shoes polished and in good condition?

Where’s their coat? Men and women often wear suit jackets or blazers to the office. Is it hung carefully on a hanger or thrown across a chair?

What can walls tell you?

The prospect’s use of wall space provides more clues.

Artwork. Have they put any effort into decorating? Does the artwork look corporate, chosen to be inoffensive?

Family photos. There usually are some. Are they married? Do they have children? Young? Older?

Vacation photos. If they have pictures of exotic places or travel souvenirs, it must mean a lot to them. It’s a priority.

Framed articles. Have they been interviewed or quoted in the press? This may imply they are an industry expert.

University degrees. These are often a source of pride, especially if their MBA came from a prestigious school.

Certificates of recognition. These are awards. Plaques and trophies are included. Did their company recognize them as the top salesperson? Did they receive the “Woman of the Year” award from a community organization? It’s a clue about community involvement.

Longevity awards. Have they been with the firm for 25 years? Sounds like they believe in long relationships.

Clues you sense but don’t see

Something clicks in the back of your mind. You make a mental note.

Sports. Golfers leave clues. Sports fans sometimes have a signed ball or pennant on the wall.

Faith. If you see visual clues, it’s a pretty safe bet religion is an important part of their lives.

During your meeting

Amazing — you gathered all this information in less than a minute! No wonder they can’t build a computer to equal the human brain! Now you have walked on stage for your performance.

Where are you sitting? On opposite sides of the desk? This conveys who is in charge. On a sofa around a coffee table? We are equals here.

How is coffee served? Guests are often offered coffee or water. This might be in china cups and saucers. The prospect might ask someone to bring in coffee in paper cups from a machine. They might not offer coffee at all!

Do they take interruptions? The phone might ring. Do they act as if you aren’t there, picking up the phone and starting a lengthy conversation? Do they let it ring, assuming their assistant or voicemail will pick up? If someone knocks on the door with a message, do they apologize and step out momentarily?

Attitude. Successful people know how to put others at ease. They convey “You are the most important person in the room.” Others look at their watch and give off that “I’ll give you 10 minutes” vibe. In both cases, you are respectful of people’s time, but you handle it differently.

Attitude toward others

It’s unlikely they work alone. They might have people reporting to them or peers working in adjacent offices.

Do they talk down? You’ve seen it before. “I told you I didn’t want to be interrupted.” No, thank you. You can imagine them as a client and what happens if something goes wrong.

Do they introduce you? It’s part of their “treating everyone as an equal” attitude. Although they might not introduce you to the person bringing coffee, they might really have liked what you said about insurance, introducing you to the guy in the next office who has the same needs. Referrals can come at different times in the relationship.

You are an experienced advisor. You’ve met many personality types during your career. The clues you observe give ideas how to present yourself and engage with the prospect in the current situation. 

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for financial services professionals, and is the author of the book “Captivating the Wealthy Investor.” Contact him at


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