by Mitch Anthony

To make the leap to a better, more satisfying conversation with your clients, you need to start seeing what you do through their eyes. This will not be possible until you begin to see the financial services industry from their point of view. Only then, can you begin to reshape the premise for your relationship with clients.

Imagine a large, fruit-bearing tree. Picture the trunk, six major branches and limbs, and the fruit hanging from them. Finally, try to imagine the root system of this tree.

For years, financial professionals have occupied a variety of branches on the financial tree of life. These professionals naturally climb onto the branch that they feel most at home with regarding their training and skill sets: asset management, risk management, tax management, distribution planning, debt and cash-flow management, and estate planning. These six branches, of course, represent the six branches of the financial planning process, which is the trunk of the tree.

Each of the various limbs of this tree is populated by professionals just like you. While it is always sturdier to be on a branch than on a limb, many advisors have developed a certain agility on these singularly focused limbs—and have prospered because of that agility. Only when the winds of adversity blow hard, do they question the wisdom of being out on a limb.

Most firms in the industry, no matter what branch they specialize in, have developed programs to encourage their advisors to move from the fickle limbs and branches down onto the trunk. The result is a healthier practice. Are you out on a limb? Here are some signs:

  • You’ve made a living selling your expertise at picking stocks.
  • Your answer to every client need has been a favorite annuity, mutual fund, or other product—one size fits all.
  • After spending most of your career on a limb, you now try to convince clients of your competence—not only on this particular branch but on all the other branches as well.

If your choice is to make a living out on a limb, that’s your business. If you think you can segue in a heartbeat from your investment branch to a new monologue such as risk management or estate planning, prepare to do your best flying squirrel imitation. Just don’t be surprised if clients give you a puzzled look.

No one person can master all the branches. For example, it takes a tremendous amount of study and experience to master the intricacies and nuances of insurance products. What are the odds of an individual being an expert in both insurance issues and all the other branches as well? Quite slim.

The wise advisor is mastering the big-picture conversations that exist in the trunk and in the roots of the financial tree of life. The conversation in the trunk is about the planning and management process we use, and the philosophy and principles that undergird those processes. You must come to the place where you can explain this process without being condescending or elitist, confusing your audience, or using industry jargon many clients won’t understand.

Clients want to know that the process they are engaging in has been proven over time, tried by fire, and linked to timeless principles. More importantly, they also want to understand what you’re recommending—and why. The inability to communicate with your clients on their terms will demonstrate that you are out on a limb—and that this limb might just be ready to break.

Whether or not you land a client for life doesn’t rest on your product expertise or even the processes you employ, but rather on your knowledge of what matters most to them. Advisors who are able to unearth the root system of each client will transcend their competitors because they now have an awareness of their clients’ past experiences, present difficulties and opportunities, future hopes, and the values that have shaped them. Those advisors understand the difference between return on assets and return on life. The latter will provide you perennial clients that grow each year; the former will provide you with annuals that need to be planted each year. Which would you rather have?

Risk tolerance questionnaires and fact-finders can never come close to the intimate knowledge of who your clients are and what they need from their money to be content. That sort of knowledge comes only in the form of the stories they tell. And clients only tell those stories to advisors who are wise enough to ask the right questions—and listen carefully to the responses.

© 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.