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Find Success in Consultative Relationships

By Mark E. Caner, MBA, AEP, ChFC, CLU, CFP®
Consultative two businesswomen

The ride slows. The lights rise. The restraints release. The attendant repeats, “Exit to your right.”

Off you go, straight into the … souvenir shop.

There’s no avoiding it. No matter how scant your interest in keepsakes, ride the ride and ultimately you must run the retail gauntlet. The park operator directs you exactly where they want you to go.

For amusement parks that may work. For financial professionals, not so. Not in today’s world.

The ride is over for cookie-cutter approaches and hard sells. Information is everywhere. Empowerment is key. Customers no longer accept “one size fits all.” Twenty-first century consumers expect to control, flexibility and customization.

What works are solutions — personalized, well-considered, carefully crafted solutions. And embracing that reality is crucial to consultative selling.

What Clients Really Want

Clients look to you for financial solutions that fit their lives —today and down the road. Crucial to helping them pursue their goals is managing fundamental “LIFE” retirement risks, such as:

  • Lifespan – As the longevity carousel goes on and on, can your income keep pace?
  • Inflation – The cost-of-living lifts prices higher.
  • Fluctuation – Asset values climb, plunge and loop on the market volatility rollercoaster.
  • Experience – As surprises await in the life events funhouse, can plan flexibility respond?

Unearthing the facts of a client’s situation – and the motivations that have brought him or her to you – isn’t easy. Many people aren’t at all confident in their understanding of financial matters. On top of that, financial affairs are deeply personal. People have a hard time discussing them with anyone.

That’s where consultative selling makes the difference. Characterized by the use of fact-finding techniques to gain a deeper knowledge of clients, consultative selling – also called relationship selling, needs-based selling or customer-centered selling – isn’t new. Perceptive businesses understand that content selling doesn’t connect with consumers. Financial services providers, in particular, have observed that reducing products to a laundry list of features and benefits fails to motivate prospects.

The answer? Gain personal knowledge of the client. Build confidence by making a real connection on an individual level. And from the insight gained, ultimately tailor an individual solution. When your client feels as though you understand them, confidence has reached the tipping point.

Getting to Know You

A doctor doesn’t immediately write a prescription. A mechanic doesn’t overhaul an engine right away. Fact-finding comes first.

Consultative selling likewise starts with genuinely getting to know a client. Understanding someone’s situation, concerns and aspirations – in detail – sets the foundation for addressing their needs.

Discipline yourself to follow these points as you interact with clients:

  • Be present. Now’s the time to really listen, not just wait to talk. Maintain eye contact. Pay attention to nonverbal clues, such as tone of voice and body language. Practice patience.
  • Ask questions. Your questions reflect how closely you’ve been listening and show your true interest. Ask open-ended questions that can deepen and further the conversation.
  • Reframe and repeat. Summarize and reflect back your understanding of what your client is saying. Be alert to the emotional words that convey the underlying message.
  • Ask more questions. Follow up on responses. Draw out details. It’s tempting to immediately offer your take on how to “fix” the problem. Move too soon, in response to a superficial concern, and you may never get to the deeper underlying need.
  • Stay focused on them. Try not to interject a scenario of your own (“That’s just like the time …”), unless you can quickly bring the conversation back to your client. Make certain you hear and understand your client’s point of view first before you move to opinions and advice.

Don’t get ahead of your client. Work to gain awareness of the challenges they face. Note their life events and the risks associated with them. Encourage the client to lead the way to what matters most to them.

Like many approaches, consultative selling often is professed more than practiced. But employing it can yield impressive results.  Both parties benefit when you advance a solid relationship. Leave prospects impressed with your attitude and your expertise.

Listening = Learning

Which do you do most? A financial professional’s first goal should be to establish a foundation of confidence. Values must be identified before features are presented and benefits explained.

Financial matters are deeply personal. Often they have less to do with expected likelihoods and more to do with personal preferences. Extracting this information from clients is where you add real value.

The process of building meaningful connections is time-consuming but essential. Facets to be analyzed include the client’s circumstances, objectives, implications, and needs. Exploring the situation and pinpointing problems, the consultative professional helps clients grasp possible implications and discuss actions most appropriate for their circumstances.

Be it an amusement park or a financial institution, extremely satisfied customers drive financial results and repeat business. The same holds true for a financial professional. The first step to creating loyalty is to understand what your clients need and want. Employ consultative selling to build an authentic relationship over time and you will create loyal clients for years to come.

Consultative selling is about relationships, not transactions. You’re not just selling a product; you’re building a client base. Build it strong enough to last. 

Mark E. Caner

Mark E. Caner, MBA, AEP, ChFC, CLU, CFP®

Mark is responsible for leading four sales channels. In addition, he has responsibility for relationship management, marketing, product development, and sales support.
Information provided is general and educational in nature. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. W&S Financial Group Distributors, Inc. (“the Company”) does not provide legal or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Consult an attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

To address the challenges associated with the accumulation, distribution, and preservation of retirement wealth, W&S Financial Group Distributors partners with a national network of broker-dealers, financial advisors, independent agents, and financial institutions. It develops consultative risk management financial solutions for financial professionals to help their clients invest for, live in and manage risk as they prepare for and enter retirement.

Securities offered through Touchstone Securities, Inc. Cincinnati, OH, a registered broker-dealer and member FINRA/SIPC.