Client Communications

In order for a discussion to be useful, it must have a structure

By Dwarka Lakhan |

Having a productive conversation with clients or prospects can open the door to successful long-term relationships. "It will help you understand what clients are thinking and provide you with the information you need to give the most appropriate advice," says Jeff Woolley, president of Global View Capital Advisors in Burlington, Ont.

A conversation enables you and your client to get to know each other better. It must be a two-way process and you must recognize that while you will be assessing your client during the conversation, the client also will also be sizing up you.

In order for the conversation to be effective, it must have a structure, Woolley says. As far as possible, you should adjust your conversation style, including your tone of voice, to help put your clients at ease.

During the conversation you might pick up certain words and terms the client uses when referring to products. For example, a client might refer to permanent insurance as "lifetime insurance," or to deferred sales charges as "early redemption fees." Where appropriate, try to use the terms the client uses to show that you understand what they are saying.

Here are five steps toward productive conversations:

1. Make the client comfortable


For some clients, having a conversation with a financial advisor can be a stressful experience.

Start off with small talk, Woolley suggests. Tell your client about yourself instead of what you do. This will help to put them at ease. Your client will most likely open up and begin talking about themselves. Then, assure your client that you want the conversation to be "good use of their time," Woolley says, which sets the tone for a productive discussion.

2. Provide structure
During an initial meeting with a client, you should have an informal agenda or a few talking points based on what you would like to gain from the conversation. This will help you keep the conversation on track.

Woolley suggests that you take the lead by asking: "Is there something you want to talk about today?"

For subsequent meetings, you should have a formal agenda.

3. Ask follow-up questions
The only way you will get all the information you need from clients is by asking open-ended questions, Woolley says. Often, the first answer a client provides is not a full answer, so you will have to ask follow-up questions to get more revealing answers.

For example, you might say: "Tell me more about..." This type of open-ended question allows you to get more out of a conversation than through the use of more formal techniques such as questionnaires.

4. Be a good listener
Pay attention to what clients are saying without interrupting. Make use of "listen and respond techniques." For example, confirm that you understand what a client has told you by paraphrasing what they said.

Woolley also suggests that you pay attention to non-verbal cues, such as a closed or open posture, which also can be telling.

5. Have a concise wrap-up
Confirm what you've heard during the conversation, Woolley says. Ask whether there is anything else they would like to discuss that you haven't talked about. This will help ensure that you have covered all the bases.

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