The art of selling financial advice

28 March 2001
| By Anonymous (not verified) |

As we are all aware, selling is both an art and a science. Explaining the economics is the scientific component, and managing customer emotions and expectations are the artistic components.

However the latter of the two is far and away the more difficult dynamic to master. This type of activity, which I have dubbed as story-selling, is an approach that will help you engage your clients and establish a rapport, enabling you to close more sales, improve your case sizes and extract referrals.

Managing customer emotions and expectations means modern salespeople almost need to be amateur psychologists. The more knowledgeable you become about how the human brain works the more effective your presentations will become. Today's customers are better informed, with a greater range of choices, so the old sales process needs to be revitalised.

Traditional selling processes place a heavy emphasis on left-brain functions at the neglect of the right-brain. But selling requires people skills and these are driven by the right brain.

There is no denying that analysis, rational logic and statistics play a necessary role in selling, but, they should support the story, not be the story. An over-reliance on statistics and charts when selling could leave you doing only half the job. These left-brain functions constitute, at best, 10 per cent to 20 per cent of sales success.

The right brain plays a dominant role, contributing 80 per cent to 90 per cent of sales success. It puts all the information together, forms a picture, and makes a decision.

The presentation style many salespeople use is a half-brained approach to selling because it engages only 50 per cent of the customer's attention span.

We've all seen customers' eyes glaze over when statistics are mentioned, dry figures are not what they want.

Customers want financial independence, security, peace of mind and simplicity in their affairs and they look to you for financial guidance. Top salespeople are both profound and uncomplicated, the way they sell is both illustrative and simple.

Put yourselves in the customer's shoes. Which response would you prefer:

"This managed share fund will produce an after-tax yield of approximately 5%" or

"This investment will generate a cheque payable to you every month for no less than $284."

Salespeople often speak a foreign language. They use financial jargon customers find confusing and annoying. The customer wants to know their investment will pay for their kid's university education, not the ins and outs of a technically sound analysis. The sales presenter who appeals to both sides of the brain doubles their chance of successfully winning or retaining a customer.

The typical linear sales process has become redundant. However the majority of salespeople still rely on it.

The financial adviser presents the product they believe will be the customer's salvation. The product's features and benefits are listed, such as the weightings in equities and cash, and how it works.

The sales person waits for objections and addresses those objections with more compelling statistical evidence, such as the fund's great performance or comparison against industry peers.

Finally, hoping their powers of persuasion and reasoning have prevailed, the salesperson moves to close the transaction. Yet the customer baulks.

A presentation process such as this that relies exclusively on linear logic is inherently flawed, because it fails to engage the customers' emotions or imagination. At the same time reasoning-based presentations invite objections and step-by-step logical explanations take up time better spent discovering customer needs.

IBM chief executive Lou Gerstner once said, "You've got to appeal to people's emotions. They've got to buy in with their hearts and bellies, not just their minds."

As successful salespeople have consistently discovered, 80 per cent of decisions are based on emotion and 20 per cent on logic. When we tell customers that a particular managed share fund is first quartile in the industry for investment performance in the last 12 months, we've invited a comparative objection, such as, "Show me all the funds in the first quartile."

Top salespeople have the ability to tell a story or use an illustration that hits the emotional bullseye. They address the emotional or creative triggers that cause decisions to be made, instead of spending the interview overcoming objections.

The tactic most often used by top salespeople in their discovery process is the art of framing provocative and incisive questions. Questions such as these speak to the customer's emotions, not their logic:

- "What do you expect from me as an adviser?"

- "What lessons have you learned about investing or borrowing?"

- "Is there anyone else whose future hinges on your financial decisions?"

- "What is the best financial decision you have ever made?"

Once you are comfortable with some good penetrating questions build them into your repertoire and stick to them.

The discovery sales process should give you enough information to then target your product explanation to the customer by illustrating how it fits their need.

If customers have questions about particular features and benefits, you can retrace and work backward to outline them. Why waste time on statistical evidence, which may not be necessary?

Although do-it-yourself investments are popular, people still yearn for financial mentoring, guidance and empathy. Your success with customers won't hinge on being a better analyst but rather on being a teacher and story-seller.

Customers will gravitate to advisers that excel in educating by enlightening and communicating. In selling situations, this can be achieved by using triggers such as humour, images, stories or metaphors.

Warren Buffett was once asked whether it was the right time to be investing in the market. He paraphrased a famous JFK quote. "A rising tide lifts all boats. It's not until the tide goes out that you realise who's swimming naked".

Observe your customer's response to this metaphor. You'll see them grin as they picture it! They nod, acknowledging its relevance as they receive the message in an entertaining, illustrative manner.

The factual alternative: "We are protected from bull markets because we only buy low PE and high yielding stocks" sounds pretty dry in comparison.

You can continue with, "Our investment analysts are constantly searching for companies that won't be swimming naked if and when the tide goes out. We know the nature of the market surges and ebbs, and our portfolios will be in a strong position, no matter which way the water is flowing". The customer understands your point instantly.

Your customers don't want an economist or an investment analyst. They want an adviser, counsellor, and coach.

Story-selling is an approach that will keep your customers from becoming bored and will leave an indelible and positive mark in their memory about your competence as a financial adviser. And not only is this approach more effective, you'll probably enjoy it more too!

This is an excerpt from a speech given at an annual adviser briefing by Paul van Rooyen, head of business development for Westpac Financial Services.

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