Make the most of your initial one-on-one and achieve the best possible outcomes
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s an old adage, but it holds a significant amount of truth, and perhaps nowhere is it truer than in the financial services industry. Clients not only need to know they can trust their financial professionals’ instincts, but they also need to assess whether they are a good match personality-wise.
Yes, there’s a lot riding on an initial meeting. And there’s a lot riding on a very short period of time — research shows that most people make up their minds on someone in just seconds, and often, these first perceptions are accurate.1
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or are surviving your first year as a financial professional, these meetings are crucial. We spoke with experienced financial professionals who shared their advice on some ways of how to “master” the all-important first meeting with a new client.
1. Data, data, data
The foundation of a successful meeting is laid well before it takes place. Nancy Nawn, a financial professional with more than 25 years of experience who founded WatchDog Planning, says it’s crucial to perform data verification before your first meeting so that you can get down to business right away.
“When you start the analysis, you’re not questioning whether the numbers are right or not and you can very quickly start diving into the essence of the meeting which is beginning their financial planning journey,” she says.
Taylor Venanzi, who works primarily with millennial clients at Activate Wealth, has a similar approach. Before each initial meeting, he populates an agenda with the requisite financial information and provides answers to pre-meeting questions for each client so that they can hit the ground running.
“I populate a preloaded agenda – our intro call agenda – that puts that info there, their financial circumstance,” he says. “Then I’ll do some bullets on what they said was important to them – whatever those pain points were, goals they laid out, make sure we touch on those.”
“ The foundation of a successful meeting is laid well before it takes place.”
2. Remember the basics
It may seem obvious, but getting the most basic information about your new clients correct is of the utmost importance. Specifics such as the correct pronunciation of their name, how they like to be addressed, and their expectations about the amount of time you’re meeting can all play a huge factor in laying the groundwork for success.
“If these pleasantries are not met when you’re first interacting with a client it may cause them to tune out listening into the meeting,” Nawn says.
In a similar vein, you should be attuned to how you’re presenting yourself, and that you’re in the right frame of mind. In other words, you can’t just go through the motions — your clients will be able to tell.
“Showing up at your best means making sure you’re alert, making sure you’re taking notes, that you’re asking them their input along the way rather than telling them what you think they need to know,” says Nawn.
3. Talk less, listen more
It’s important to remember that these initial meetings are less about what you have to say, and more about what your clients are telling you. You can keep the conversation on track, but you really should let them take it in the direction they want.
“I just want to make sure they feel heard. They have problems they want to address; they’re not showing up to talk about what happened in the football game last night,” says Venanzi. “They’ve got some things they want to talk about.”
It's more than just listening, however. You need to know the right questions to ask. Nawn says that you need to ask open ended questions, and make sure you listen closely to what they say. This is a sentiment and approach shared by Venanzi.
“The most poignant question is: what made you book this call today? Why are you doing this today as opposed to any other day, and what specifically is going on in your life and they just start unloading information,” he says. “I’m not spending a lot of time spewing information at them. We get 10 minutes into the meeting and all I’ve done is ask questions – people gravitate toward talking about themselves.”
4. Structural Integrity
“They're not showing up to talk about what happened in the football game last night," says Venanzi. "They've got some things they want to talk about."
While it’s certainly crucial to make sure you’re saying the right things and asking the right questions during your initial client meeting, the foundation to this success is laid well before the meeting starts. Having a well-structured meeting is an essential component to acing this first step in the client-professional relationship.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but having a set agenda in place may not only help you and your client prepare for the meeting but will provide parameters for the discussion and ultimately it may lead to more rewarding conversations.
“Get really granular with your onboarding process,” Venanzi says. “It should be the same thing for everyone, structurally. It helps structure the conversation when the meeting agenda is much easier.”
5. Trusted feedback and guidance
Of course, nobody is going to perfect the initial client meeting right out of the gate; there’s always room for improvement. So how do you fine-tune your approach and become an expert later on? It starts with finding an experienced financial professional who may offer you honest feedback and guidance.
“I had mentors throughout my career that had shown me and point out to me things that I could improve on,” Nawn says. “I was also able to observe them and see how they were able to establish relationships with clients.”
But you can also be proactive. Nawn points to workshops and books that have helped her develop the skills she has now.
“Attend a workshop that helps you hone those skills, because not many of us are naturally inclined to know how to do that.” she says. “It typically takes either experience or training to learn that – it’s very unusual for someone right off the bat to be a natural. You’re taught sales skills; you’re not taught people skills.”