How and why to know your clients better

Learning about a client’s current financial situation and future goals is one of the first steps of good planning. But getting to know your clients on a deeper level can give you a serious business advantage.

Have you ever met someone who talked endlessly about themselves? Or a salesperson who kept pushing the very thing you already said you don’t want? Or how about a customer service representative who forced you to explain yourself over and over?

Nobody likes to feel ignored. On the contrary, we enjoy being around people who pay attention to us and respect us. When it comes to business, we prefer those who listen to what we say and work hard to meet our expectations.

As a financial advisor, listening is one of the most powerful ways to gain client trust. It’s actually a competitive advantage because it’s not easy to do. There are many reasons why we can fail to listen, and a lot of it has to do with our knowledge and experience.

Here’s a scenario: you meet someone who has a fairly typical situation – the sort of thing you’ve seen a dozen times before. As you chat with them, solutions start popping up in your mind. You can already see where the conversation is heading. In fact, you can anticipate many of their questions before they even ask them.  These instincts reflect your expertise. However, if you anticipate too much, the client may feel that they have not been fully heard and disengage. If you jump to a solution too soon, you could miss an important piece of information, get something wrong or even cause offense.

Try to challenge yourself to slow down and just listen. Notice the details. Make it interesting by looking for something about the client that is new or different. Something that makes them more than just “cookie cutter”. Active listening will signal to the client that you are truly paying attention. Here are some areas of questioning that can help you bond with your clients at a deeper level.

Culture and beliefs

Culture is generally rooted in beliefs. It goes beyond language or heritage. It’s a good idea to consider a client’s cultural and religious background, and how it might affect everything from financial attitudes, dietary habits, and holiday celebrations to social hierarchies and gender roles. What is more important is to avoid making assumptions based only on outward appearances, such as physical characteristics, names or accents.

Personal preferences

Some clients like to meet in person. Others are happy to have a phone call. Some will prefer email and others are satisfied with a quick text. Some clients want monthly check-ins and others only have time for an annual review. Some will be flattered if you make time to meet for a coffee while others might expect a round of golf.

Understanding and respecting a client’s preferences gives them the intuitive sense that they matter to you. Taken further, imagine if you found out that a client was fascinated by WWII aircraft, and you gave them a book about the Boeing B-29. They would always remember that simple gesture.

Remembering preferences can also help you avoid awkward situations. You don’t want to invite a vegetarian to a steakhouse.

Family dynamics

Everybody likes to be asked about their children. Take it a step further by knowing their names. Take it two steps further by knowing their birthdays.

Another factor is understanding how financial decisions are made. Are both spouses always involved? How about grandparents? In many multi-generational households, the most senior generations hold considerable sway. This can complicate decision-making but can also open up opportunities for conversations about family wealth and estate planning.

Personal goals

It’s natural to ask a client about their retirement goals, but there can be so much more depth to the conversation when you ask about other areas of life. How do they see their family evolving in the coming years and decades? What career achievements are they aiming for? What’s happening with their health and wellness? Are they satisfied with their social life? Are they pursuing any hobbies or interests?

Knowing about these non-financial goals can provide valuable insight into what makes people tick. Remember to follow up on these topics the next time you see them and watch them light up with appreciation.

Society conditions us to believe that fast is good. We want to act without wasting anyone’s time. We may feel the goal is to quickly make a recommendation and close the deal so everyone can move on with their busy day.

But the next time you’re meeting with a client or prospect, try asking more questions. Keep them talking. Focus on really getting to know them. Try not to jump ahead to solutions. You might find that listening is even more powerful than advice-giving when it comes to building lasting rapport, trust, and loyalty.

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