When it comes to your first client meeting with a prospect, it can feel a bit like a first date. You’re trying to elicit more information without scaring them off or overwhelming them. And at the same time, they’re feeling you out, too.
While some of your success can boil down to personal rapport with the person, there also are some key steps to take that can increase the likelihood of the first meeting leading to an advisor-client relationship. For starters, it’s important to not be in a rush to know everything about the would-be client the very first time you’re sitting across from each other. You don’t need to know every single one of their objectives, for instance. You just need to know the most important ones.
There are lots of ways to try finding out those objectives, but I think business coach Dan Sullivan uses one of the best ways: the R factor question.
R stands for relationship.
To find out the R factor, you pose this question at the appropriate time: If we’re sitting here three years from today, what has to have happened for you to be happy with the progress that we’ve made in your financial life?
It’s rare that the answer to involves dollars, even if ends up being the solution. Before getting to that conversation, though, we first give prospective clients two documents to fill out so we can a starting point for the more in-depth conversation.
The first document lists the most common objectives we see among clients, such as estate planning or business succession planning. The person ranks those items from most important to least important. And, of course, if they have a goal not already listed, there’s room to include additional objectives.
The other document we provide is as important as the first. We ask the person to assess their satisfaction in various financial areas — for example, their level of financial education — on a scale from 1 to 5.
If they join us after this first client meeting, our goal would be to get their low rankings to a four or five. However, we don’t blindly assume four or five means everything is perfect. For example, if they say they’re satisfied with their investment options, we find out through conversation whether that’s actually accurate.
(It’s worth noting that we revisit both the satisfaction assessment and objectives sheet every year to make sure they reflect any changes in a client’s perspective or situation that we might not otherwise be aware of.)
Not over yet…
Once the potential client has filled out those documents and we’ve discussed their contents at length, we can’t move forward in our relationship unless we’ll meet again … so setting up the next meeting is also an important step before the person leaves.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to schedule that next face-to-face for several weeks out. They’ll need time to collect certain personal documents and get them to you, and then you’ll need time to thoroughly review whatever they provide in order to prepared for the next meeting.
You don’t need to ask for every financial and personal document at the first meeting. If you ask for too much, you run the risk that the person won’t collect anything.
Instead, ask if they can provide — if they’re comfortable doing so — their tax returns and any wills, trusts and investment statements. If they own a business, you also should ask if they have a buy-sell or operating agreement, or if a formal succession plan is in place.
Also find out how they would like to get those important papers to you — they might want to mail it or drop off the documents, or maybe they’d rather have someone come by their home to collect them. I also make sure to write the date and time of our next meeting on a paper that I include in their welcome kit.
Of course, when that next meeting is scheduled, your job is only just beginning. Yet getting to that point can be more challenging than what comes later. We’ve found that methodically going through these steps dramatically increases the chances of the relationship going to the next level.