We probably all know the feeling of frustration when your carefully planned meeting goes awry, as the client takes it way off track.

    It reminds me of when Mike Tyson was asked about his fight plan against Evander Holyfield and he answered: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  

    This is built on the old saying “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” attributed to several different leaders of the years, such as Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower among others.

    In the financial adviser world, it could be that the client goes off on a tangent or that they have a plan of their own you didn’t realise. So how do you mitigate the risk of this happening in your client meetings?

    It is a real skill keeping the early ‘discovery’ conversations moving forward at a good pace without feeling rushed. The mark of success is not just that you have the fact-finding data you require, but that the client feels understood and that they feel it was a valuable conversation.  

    Here are four simple tips that will mitigate the risks quite significantly and keep the conversations positive and purposeful.  

    The good news is at that they’re not too difficult to implement.

    Tip 1: Agree meeting goals

    I suggest you make your meeting goals and plan explicit to the client. But importantly, make sure you also understand the client’s goals and what they hope to get out of the meeting. Then you can agree how to meet both, and if necessary, re-plan the meeting accordingly.

    You can save some time by sending your goals for the meeting out ahead, including asking them to tell you what they are hoping to achieve.

    Tip 2: Share the process

    The second element to share before and at the start of the meeting is how you intend to manage it. You may for example share an agenda with approximate timings and how the process will work.  

    This should not be a detailed agenda with a tight time schedule. You don’t want the client to feel rushed.  

    In a first meeting you may for example say “In the first 45 minutes or so we will focus on understanding your goals and aspirations. During this part of the meeting, I will ask you a number of questions to understand and clarify your goals and what’s important to you. We won’t talk about money and investments – we’ll focus on what the money should be doing for you!  

    In the last 15 minutes I’ll share some important documents with you; I will also address your goal around understanding the fee structure and the next steps. How does that sound to you?”

    Tip 3: Pull client back from tangents

    When you have followed tip 1 and 2, it will be much easier to intervene if the client goes off on a tangent. You can pull them back by reminding them of the goals of the meeting.

    You could say something along the lines of: “How this related to your goals and aspirations?” This should be asked with an open mind, as it may actually be related, but you haven’t yet seen the connection. If it isn’t related, the client will also realise it – but if it is, they can clarify.

    If it is important but not related to today’s meeting’s goals, you can suggest that you make a note of it and that revisit this later in the meeting, or at another time.

    Tip 4: Admit you are off track

    The last tip takes a little bit more confidence and openness from the adviser - admitting that the meeting is off track. Which may just be that you are behind the time schedule you had in mind.

    My suggestion is to be positive about what has been achieved already. You can do this with a quick summary of what you have learned so far, and then share as a matter of fact what is still left to do in the remaining time.

    By openly sharing the challenge without blaming the client, you can positively involve them in resolving it e.g. by refocusing to get back on tract, extending the meeting, planning for another meeting etc.

    Conclusion

    If we circle back to the quote “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”, the key difference here is that the client is not the enemy, and you don’t benefit from keeping your plan secret from the client.  

    On the contrary, explaining the goals and process at the start, and involving and being open with the client through-out the conversation, will make the client much more comfortable with the process, more open to share their thoughts and more likely to listen to your advice when you get to that point.

    I hope you find these tips useful.

    Please do share your experiences.

    What other tips would you add to the above four?

    If you are interested in improving your listening and questioning skills please check out our popular Coaching Skills for Financial Planners 1-day course.

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