by Mitch Anthony

I was once traveling with a friend in a city that we were both somewhat familiar with. As he mapped out our route, I told him that I knew of a shorter route. He said, “Oh, I don’t know. If we get lost, we’ll really be late. I’ll just stick with what I know.”

This phenomenon of sticking with “what I know” is not isolated to the routes we take while driving but also applies to the routes we take toward getting results during client conversations. Many planners stick to what they know even when the route isn’t the best one to take. Once we settle into a routine that we feel is “safe,” as creatures of habit, we begin to lose sight of what is possible through experimentation and creativity. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” many of us are apt to say. My response? “If it’s not fixing the problem (greater trust/more assets), then it’s time to break it!”

There are two paramount goals during an initial discovery dialogue:

  1. Connecting with your prospect or client; and
  2. Creating an awareness of that client’s most salient, but unmet needs.

When suggesting an alternative, more effective approach to advisors, I often get the response, “I don’t have time.” The fact is, what you are doing now may actually be wasting your time. If someone were to show you that you could get better results in less time, wouldn’t you be willing to alter your route?

A couple of years ago, a financial planner told me, “I have always resisted integrating your financial life planning dialogues into my client conversations because the process I have developed is already full. I simply couldn’t afford to take time for one more inquiry. Then something strange happened. I tested your Financial Life Checkup with a client, and we quickly located the area of greatest need and ended up getting more done in one meeting than I ever have…and in less time!”

He was referring to an introductory dialogue I created to help advisors immediately cull out where a prospect or client’s area of greatest financial dissatisfaction exists. If we are in the business of meeting needs, then it is incumbent upon us to identify quickly where that need is. The dialogue takes just 15 minutes, but immediately demonstrates to your client that you are aware of what needs the most attention, and have an agenda for making that happen.

I’ve had advisors tell me that they have learned more about their clients’ needs in 30 minutes than they learned during the past five years. If time is our most precious asset, then efficiency should be our most precious priority. I define efficiency as: best results in the least amount of time.

During training workshops designed to help advisors integrate financial life planning dialogues into their client conversations, I divide them into groups of two and have them ask and answer three questions to each other. One question is about their financial past, one about their financial present, and one about their financial future. I give them strict guidelines on how long they can take with each question (a total of eight minutes). After the dialogue, as a large group, we process the answers they heard, discuss the advisory opportunities that percolated from the conversations, and then develop different approaches to lock into those opportunities.

It never fails—someone will always comment, “I can’t believe how much significant insight I gained with those three questions.” I then remind them that all the information was gleaned in less than ten minutes. Whenever I hear the “I don’t have time” excuse, I ask, “How much time do you spend in chit-chat—talking about the weather, the drive, the football game? It’s usually more than eight minutes. If you are not learning something significant about your clients, then you are wasting time.” Significant means that it matters to your client. If dialogues are designed properly, they get to your clients’ areas of significance in short order. The emotional net-net to clients is that they sense the transfer of important and meaningful stories and insights to you, and this cannot help but lead to greater connectivity. The fact that it took less time than expected also sends another powerful message to the client, “I respect your time and will make the most efficient use of it.” I’m not suggesting there isn’t time for chit-chat, but it should not replace conversations of substance.

Take a close and scrutinizing look at the discovery processes and client discussions you are employing and ask yourself, “Is this the best possible use of face-to-face time?” If you are gathering or analyzing numbers or facts in face time, you are not optimizing your time/opportunity. Numbers and facts can be filled out anytime and anyplace, including either in advance of, or following, your meeting. The best possible use of face time is to forge connectivity through the exchange of significant perspectives and insights and stories. You can always e-mail your numerical analysis with commentaries. Use your time prudently to connect in significant ways to the potential or existing clients you meet with. If you don’t, your competitor may beat you to it—which means you’ll have plenty of time.

Your greatest value to your clients is not your computational capacity but your capacity for empathy—understanding their unique situation and needs. Use your face time to reflect this value.

© 2014 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc.and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work, and is interviewed by the media on a regular basis. The Institute is partnering with both Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs. Mitch is a popular keynote speaker, columnist for Financial Advisor magazine and Journal of Financial Planning, and host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition)From the Boiler Room to the Living Room, Your Clients for Life, Your Client’s Story, The Cash in the Hat, and The Bean is Not Green. For information on these books and more resources, click here.