The first meeting between a financial adviser and a prospective client is the most important point in the financial planning journey: first impressions count and the first meeting is the vital moment where both adviser and client weighs up whether they are right for each other.
The best outcome of a first meeting is a second meeting - to have engaged a prospective client enough so that they want to continue talking to you about how they can improve their finances and their life.
If you don’t have clear objectives in mind for the first meeting the time spent sitting in front of the prospective client can while away. Although you might have had a lovely conversation, neither of you will have learnt anything valuable about each other that could establish how to help them through financial planning.
So, the first thing you should do – before any meeting – is work out what you want to get from the first meeting, for example:
- An understanding of what makes the client tick; what’s their motivation/aim/why have they come to seek advice?
- To know whether you can make their situation better or not
- Establish whether you can get along with them and work with them
- Decide if you can have a relationship of mutual trust
- Gauge the ability to pay your fees
Prep to set up the meeting
The first meeting starts before the prospective client even enters the room.
What is a client’s experience of you before they’ve even met you? Do you know the entire process that a client goes through after they’ve first been in touch through to sitting in front of you at the first meeting?
Do you send clients welcome packs, brochures? Do you make calls asking for documentation? Do you send them fact finds before they meet you?
Each to their own but think about what impression that gives to a client and the merits and disadvantages of doing those things.
What does it say to someone as a ‘customer’ and I use that word purposely, if you send them a 33-page factfind that they need to fill in all before they’re allowed to step into your office? Most advisers say their ideal client is time-poor, but they still send out a factfind? It doesn’t make sense and it will put clients off.
If you get referrals from professional connections you should also know how they’re setting up the referral - how do they describe you, what are they saying and is this all in line with how you’d like to be portrayed? You can’t control what they say; nor should you want to, but just make sure you are all on the same page.
Preparing your mind for the meeting
If you see clients as a challenge to convert, you will lead the meeting with ego and pride. You want to get rid of that sales mentality and think about engaging with the right people in the right way that you like.
You need to clear your mind of your preconceptions and issues and prepare to focus entirely on your prospective clients.
Think about some questions that you would want to ask, questions that will help you understand that client and move you towards achieving your objectives for the meeting. There are many gurus who have published their questions, make sure you only use questions that you are comfortable with and ready to handle the answers. A useful tip would be to only ask questions that you have asked and have answered for yourself.
Be careful of opening the meeting with very deep questions. You must engage with someone and connect before asking very personal questions; they must like you and feel comfortable before opening up to you.
I always remind myself before the meeting starts that I have an opportunity to get to know someone new, to see if can learn anything from them and have a chance to be of help to them.
In the meeting
For the prospect to want a second meeting you must have clearly demonstrated the value you can add to their life. Let me assure you this is not done by giving the client a presentation on your firm or explaining how many exam passes that you have, number of years of experience you have or the designations that you hold. If you have a power point that you use in the first meeting STOP. No prospective client cares!
They are interested in what you can do for them and you show this by asking open questions about them, their families and their businesses, listening properly to the answers. All the time seeking to understand the motivations of your client.
Follow this process: ask a question, shut up and listen (no matter how long it takes them to answer), then repeat back what they said to clarify your interpretation, reflect on their answer. Then repeat until you’re developing a stronger picture of who they are and where they want to be.
You should expect that the client will be talking for at least 80% of this meeting. Remember, you already know everything that you are going to say - you need to learn from the client what you don’t already know and you do that by listening.
At the end of the first meeting you need to be sure that you can add value to that client’s life, that the value will still exist after they've paid your fees and that they can pay your fees. Assuming those factors are in place then it’s just an exercise of communication and articulation: how do we get the client to understand the value and commit to the journey?
If you’re nearing the end of the first meeting and you’re not entirely sure where the real value is then you’ve got a problem, you have clearly not understood the client. I appreciate it can be difficult when you can see how easily you can make some money by giving the client what they want but every time you fall into the transactional trap you move yourself further and further away from the life and business that you want for yourself and, frankly, you let another client down.
So, you need to pause, review your notes, give yourself a moment to think about what you haven’t learned from the client, ask another open question and start again.
Remember, at the end of the meeting it’s up to you whether you offer to take that person / couple / family on as clients. Our mantra is if we don’t engage in what they want for their life or don’t connect on a personal level, we don’t take them on. You’re inviting people into your life and making a commitment to work for them for an extended period of time to help them achieve their goals, so you need to like them. How can you be at your best and give them your best if you don’t care if they achieve what they want? What life are you building for yourself if you are working with people that you don’t want to work with?
It’s not easy
Transitioning from another way or working or learning how to deliver a lifestyle financial planning services isn’t easy. It takes time, practice and in many cases bravery to make the leap and commit completely to that as your only service.
All I can say to you is that no-one who has ever done that would go back to their old ways so it must be worth it!