Creating a dynamic that enables us to help our clients think ahead more easily rests on many things. But understanding a little about how the brain works can go a long way.

    In my last article, I introduced some findings from the field of neuroscience (the SCARF model) which we’re going to unpack to see how we can apply them in a first meeting.

    The set up

    Hopefully if you’ve had a screening call and sent the prospect a pre-meeting email, so they know what to expect from this conversation.

    However, those communications may have been a while back, so it’s safe to assume that clients could have worries whirring round their minds. For example, they may be concerned about fees: Am I going get hit by a bill? Am I going to be asked to sign a contract which transfers my pension off to Malta?

    If they have these concerns in their mind and you don’t deal with them, then you can do the best first meeting you’ve ever done. But your client will struggle to focus on what you say.

    Let’s turn our attention to five social needs the brain has which, when met, can make for a great conversation, illustrated in the SCARF model developed by David Rock.

    The first is status

    This is how important we feel in relation to others. Of course, money and status can be very interlinked. However, it may not just be money that gives a sense of status or lack of, it may be expertise. For example, your prospect may have money, but you’re the one who has the expertise. And that can make some feel uncomfortable, less powerful and less in control.

    So how we can equalise any sense of superiority that may be apparent in that first meeting?

    We’ve already talked about how you frame the conversation. But Nancy Kline’s questions can help you create a fruitful dynamic. Ask yourself:

    Am I at ease in myself? Or am I trying to prove myself? Or add value?

    Can I create a space where there are no judgements so that someone else can step into it? Or do I feel like I need to control, own and manage that space?

    Do I believe everyone is doing the best they can with the experience and resources they’ve got, at that time?

    Ultimately, I believe the key to equalising any sense of superiority and to build safety is rests on the quality of the attention you pay. By giving them time, focus and space – you’re helping them to feel safe and open up. This allows them to access parts of the brain where deeper thinking can occur.

    Be the best thought partner you can. And encourage them to do most of the talking.

    The next need is certainty

    One of the main reasons prospects are coming to see you is because they want some certainty around their future. When things are certain, our brains can relax. But when there is a lot of uncertainty around, it’s difficult to concentrate. So how can you provide as much certainty as possible?

    Send an agenda, listen deeply so that you demonstrate you really understand their problem. Or really understand what the outcome is they’re looking to achieve. Clearly explain your process and next steps. Managing expectations around performance is also another way of meeting that certainty need, as is the way you speak and the ease at which you are with yourself

    Let’s move onto autonomy

    This is our sense of control over events. We like to feel like we have a choice – we all hate feeling like we’re backed in a corner. If you had started a meeting with “tell me what’s brought you here today?” and they talk at length about a number of topics, you can then ask: Of those things that you’ve mentioned, what would you like to focus on? By doing this you’re giving them control of the meeting.

    The next one is relatedness

    This is about questioning whether someone has our back and best interests at heart. We’re sensing other people’s agenda and intentions. Letting them talk, giving them plenty of space, listening well and matching their pace are all ways to do this. Get comfortable with silence, don’t rush to fill it.

    Demonstrate your putting their needs first. Let’s say a clients hand you some paperwork – pension statements etc. Take it from them, put it to the side and say something like: “That is important – but not for now.  I want to better understand what’s important to you, what you want the money for and what you’re trying to achieve.”

    When you summarise what you’ve heard, you demonstrate you’ve been paying attention. They feel seen and understood. You haven’t tried to suggest or advise them yet – no products mentioned at all.

    And the last one is fairness

    We like to feel things are fair.  When we feel something is unfair, it’s hard for us to get past it. So how you can demonstrate the fairness of your approach through the meeting?

    This may be when you’re explaining your fees and charges. Being as open and transparent is key. It may be when they’re trying to get you to answer their technical questions about whether something is a good investment or not.  Politely respond that you couldn’t say whether it is a good or bad one yet because you don’t know how it needs to perform in the bigger context of their life. It wouldn’t be fair or professional.

    In summary, understanding how to tune into psychological needs is crucial in developing trust. Yes, we are wired for connection and the SCARF model can help us connect more deeply from the get go.

    Finesse your First Meeting is a four-part training programme, which helps financial planners and advisers develop confidence, connection and trust. 

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