For many financial advisors, choosing their profession was based on a genuine desire to help others achieve their financial goals. Yet, while these advisors recognize the importance of business development to grow their firms, they are also very often intimidated by the process of adopting sales techniques to convert leads to clients. It can feel stressful at best and disingenuous at worst. Sometimes, advisors can fall prey to the ‘scarcity’ mindset, which compels them to take any and all prospects who consider engaging them, regardless of whether there is a good fit. This inevitably leads to unsatisfying (and even unprofitable) client relationships and resentment for the sales process itself, making it harder to serve the firm’s full client base. These factors can understandably create a crisis of confidence for advisors, who struggle to market themselves and showcase the value they offer in a genuine manner, despite the business imperative to do so.
In this guest post, Stephanie Bogan, Founder & CEO of Limitless Advisor Coaching, explains that while the ability to sell with confidence is one of the most important skills advisors can develop on their path to success, there are ways for advisors to build their confidence through a ‘no-stress’ sales process that can help them tell their story and quote their fees without apology or hesitation. And by using such a process, advisors will have a systematic way to identify the right clients for their practice and filter out the wrong ones.
Implementing a no-stress sales process involves five steps: 1) the initial inquiry; 2) a brief ‘Learn More’ call to screen prospects for fit; 3) the Discovery Meeting to collect further insight into the client’s needs and goals, clarify expectations and next steps; 4) preparation of a 1-page financial plan that reviews the client’s situation and that defines the value the advisor can add through the relationship; and 5) the 2nd meeting to present the plan, review recommendations, quote a fee, and, if the fit is right, extend an offer.
Core to the no-stress sales process is establishing trust equity with the prospect. This entails the advisor explaining that they deliver their clients’ desired outcomes and that throughout the relationship, the advisor will see, hear, and understand the client’s goals and needs. The end result is that prospects will have a naturally implicit understanding that if they engage with the advisor, the advisor will be there to help them solve their problems. Importantly, using the no-stress sales process can help advisors seamlessly transmute their knowledge of the value that they can deliver to prospects so that they, too, perceive that value.
Ultimately, the key point is that the no-stress sales process offers advisors a structured approach to help them genuinely convey their expertise, credibility, and character while expressing their value with confidence to attract the right clients for their firm. And instead of making advisors shy away from the often-dreaded fee conversation, this process can help them feel more confident (and even convince prospects) that the fee they charge is an honest reflection of the value they offer!
Over the years, I’ve helped build sales processes for everyone, from small independent advisors just starting out to some of the biggest and best firms in the profession developing hyper-specialized processes. Three decades of consulting have led me to conclude that the two biggest challenges financial advisors face relative to their sales process are a crisis of confidence and the lack of a reliable system.
The ability to sell with confidence is one of the most important skills for successful advisors to master, yet for many, this skill is often underdeveloped. Notably, I’ve observed that advisors who genuinely seek to serve their clients’ best interests are less likely to sell with confidence than those who are selling in service of their pocketbooks.
Believing that all clients are to be retained reflects a scarcity mindset imposed by our survival brains and the sales culture of old; sometimes, this mindset can even arise from the stories we tell ourselves about what it means when we don’t get a prospect to say “Yes”. In short, if you think a prospect saying “No” means that you failed, that you won’t be able to maintain your lifestyle, or that you’ll never get another referral from the source, you are going to be driven to get the “Yes” at all costs… and you’re going to feel very bad and/or wrong when you hear a “No”.
In spite of knowing better, our crisis of confidence tends to shrink us in the face of challenge. I can’t count the number of times an advisor has told me that they will stop making exceptions that compromise their vision – to ensure “Yes” responses – when their next revenue goal is reached. And I’ve sat across from leaders of seven- and eight-figure firms as we discussed their habitual exceptions (and the culture of compromise they created as a result) just as many times.
This lack of confidence holds advisors back from fully showing up and sharing their story, leaves them insecure when quoting their fees, and has them backing down when challenged with requests for discounts or when faced with objections.
Stories based on statements like, “I don’t want to look like a cheesy salesperson” and “What if I’m not worth it?” have a nasty tendency to show up and destroy an advisor’s confidence when it’s needed most.
At the same time, though, advisors selling for their own sake have zero issues standing on the rooftop shouting their wares for all to see. They don’t hesitate to press or persuade people to adopt their point of view.
Since un-retiring, I’ve spoken extensively to advisors about how they can master their mindset to accelerate their success – in my Financial Advisor Success podcast (Episode 24) and in this previous blog article on Michael Kitces’ own hockey-stick style of growth of the Nerd’s Eye View Members Section!
Why? Because it’s time for good advisors – or as Kitces puts it, financial advicers – to stop holding themselves back without knowing why or how to do better. Advisors don’t confidently engage in the sales process due to many fears: fear they’ll be mistaken for a salesperson, fear they’re an imposter, fear they’re not worth it, fear they’ll be rejected.
So, what is the best solution to this challenge?
There is a more efficient, effective, and enjoyable way to build your sales process – a no-stress approach that clearly defines and demonstrates your value. Which matters because a successful sales process will help you identify the right clients for your practice and filter out the wrong ones – getting you to more ‘Yesses’ without the stresses.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to build out a structured process that embeds all the key aspects of a successful sales process:
- Identify if the prospect is a fit for your firm;
- Build trust equity with the prospect;
- Determine that you can add value (in excess of your fees);
- Give the prospect the information they need to make educated choices about their financial life;
- Define and demonstrate the value you can add now and over time; and
- Offer the prospect the opportunity to decide if they’d like to work with you.
That’s exactly what Adam Cmejla did. Before he implemented the no-stress sales process, he had been in practice for 10 years and was charging $600 a year for planning. His closing rate was just 50%, and he lacked a steady pipeline of prospects.
Needless to say, implementing a new sales process was a very stressful and scary proposition for Adam. Every single ‘No’ he faced while mastering his new process represented very real money being lost – which felt in direct opposition to his instincts and goals.
Adam now charges $8,000 in annual fees to a select group of clients and has used the no-stress process to help him grow 2x in 2 years, 3x in 3 years, and 4x in 4 years while delivering deeper value than ever, working 30 hours a week, and taking 6 weeks out of office.
Now, when Adam hears “No”, instead of wondering what went wrong, he’s confident that something went right.
You may be suspicious or hesitant to structure your sales process. At some point in your career, you may have been encouraged to memorize a sales script, which felt unacceptably schlocky and devoid of integrity. But the no-stress sales process isn’t about selling; it’s all about service.
A Good Sales Process Is All About Trust Equity
The priority goal of the sales process is to convey to prospects that you can deliver their desired outcome with a high probability of success.
To build this trust equity, then, both the process and your interaction with the prospect should convey to them that “I see you, I hear you, and I understand you.” When this happens, the prospect’s brain tends to naturally fill the gaps to convince them that you really can help them, no selling needed. If it’s not a fit, following the process will make it obvious and will provide a graceful exit for you and the prospect.
With this in mind, your role in the sales process is not to persuade or resort to sales-tactic trickery. Your job is to give prospects the information they need to make informed and educated decisions about their financial lives and to give them the opportunity to decide if you are the right advisor to help them.
With this new mindset, there is no failing. There is only finding the clients that are just right, who you can deliver deep value to, and who, in return, will deliver value to your practice.
I’m not saying this mindset is easy, just that it’s worth it.
The 5-Step (No-Stress) Sales Process
I now invite you to set aside all the sales training that you’ve read or been fed. In its place, I offer you a disciplined process that demonstrates the deep value you deliver.
The no-stress process consists of 5 familiar steps. The secret to the no-stress process isn’t in the steps themselves but in how you engage each step to curate that ever-important trust equity every step of the way. All while effectively filtering for fit and demonstrating your value while efficiently moving prospects through the steps to a decision.
Step 1: Initial Inquiry
The no-stress process begins with the prospect’s initial inquiry. This may be by phone, email, or through your website sales funnel. However the inquiry is fielded, this step invites the prospect to learn more by talking with you.
Step 2: Call to Learn More
The goal of this brief Learn More call is to screen for fit, seed key messages, share your process, and add value, all while inviting the prospect to take the next step.
The advisor typically conducts this call, but so too can a trusted assistant or team member with great communication skills. Having someone else make this call creates an opportunity for endorsement without coming across as arrogant. For example, an assistant can say, “You’re going to love meeting with Susan; clients always leave with a clear sense of where they are and what to do next. Plus, she’s really great at making complicated concepts easy to understand.” Whereas you can’t (without sounding full of yourself).
Asking inquiry-based, open-ended questions is an effective way to quickly surface the prospect’s needs and motivators. For example, Adam Cmejla works with Doctors of Optometry (ODs) and follows this script: “Dr. Smith, I’m glad to have time to talk with you today. In my experience, ODs don’t wake up and think, ‘Hmm, today’s a great day to work on my financial plan and investment portfolio’. So, may I ask, what’s top of mind for you that caused you to schedule time for this conversation?”
If you ask great questions and follow up with questions to delve deeper, you can gather a goldmine of information about the prospect’s needs and the problems they hope to solve. As my friend Carl Richards likes to say, “people don’t care about your solutions; they care about their problems.”
Once you have a sense of the prospect’s needs, restate them back to the prospect in their own words. Consider the following dialogue between an advisor and his client, John:
Advisor: John, I heard you say that you’re paying too much in taxes and want to know if selling a portion of your firm makes sense right now. Is that right?
John: Yes, absolutely.
Advisor: Okay, thanks, that’s important. There are at least a few places we’ll be able to move the needle based on what you shared. Would it be OK if I ask you some quick questions to get a better sense of your financial situation to see if we’re a good fit to help you?
In this simple exchange, the advisor ascertained the prospect’s needs and motivators and acknowledged they were important. They also conveyed that they see and hear the client while sharing more information is needed to know if they can really help. If a prospect says ‘No’ in frustration with this framing, they are not a good fit.
While the tried-and-true questions, “How much is in your investment accounts?” and “Can I get copies of every important document you’ve ever received?” gather information, jumping too quickly into these questions can skip opportunities to build that all-important trust equity.
Similarly, the all-too-common 8+ page questionnaire creates an unnecessary burden and complicates the prospect’s experience from the onset. The goal here is not to gather all the information you will need to complete your financial plan; just to gather enough to know if they are a fit (i.e., able to pay the value your advice is worth) so you can move to the next step.
Because the idea of telling a prospect they are not a fit tends to scare most advisors, I’ll share one of the many strategies we teach advisors to conquer this fear that leaves them feeling great about themselves.
It’s called being honest.
If the voices in your head start to scream, “You can’t say no! You’ll feel awful, and the client or Center of Influence will never send another referral again!” then rely on integrity-based messages like this one, “In your case, the best way I can help is not to take you on as a client.” This can be conveyed as follows:
Advisor: We focus our expertise on helping [insert your target client here], and our fees reflect our experience and the value we add.
Given that your situation is different [or isn’t as complicated as our average client], we could help you, but the fees we’d charge you would quite honestly be more than you need, and we wouldn’t feel good about that.
In your case, the best way we can really help you would be to not take you on as a client.
Or you might prefer the simpler, “While I’d love to work with you, your situation is outside my specialty. I’d be happy to refer you to another advisor that can better help you.”
Whether it’s a referral to another advisor or billing them for an hour of your time to point them in the right direction, doing what’s in their best interest is always in your best interest, too.
Seeding Your Value as You Learn More
If the prospect is a good fit, your next step in the Learn More meeting is to further seed your competency, character, and credibility by efficiently outlining the process you follow to deliver value to clients like them.
The no-stress process doesn’t create stress because you are always acting with integrity; at the same time, you are also continuously sharing information and allowing the prospect to decide if they want to act on it. No pressure equals a lot less stress for everyone, and you begin by telling them that.
Advisor: It sounds like we could really help you [insert what’s important to them]. Would it be OK if I took a quick couple of minutes to share how we work to help clients like you, so we can decide if it makes sense to schedule some more time to talk further?
Advisor: Great. First, we know people tend to call us to get answers and help, not to be overwhelmed or sold to, so our first rule is to make this a no-stress process for you and for us. We do this by…
This is where you lay out the remaining steps in your sales process.
The script we teach advisors outlines how to collect more information so they can advise on their prospect’s issues, what they’ll talk about in the next meeting, and the fact that if a prospect thinks the advisor can add value to their financial life, and they want them to, the next step would be to schedule another meeting to review their plan and recommendations – a proven process that works.
The key is the level of clarity that this creates, rapidly translating uncertainty into trust equity. It also provides a compelling glide path for moving forward and a clear, no-pressure exit ramp, reducing stress.
The Learn More call ends with defining how you will add value in the next step and throughout the process:
Advisor: This first part of the process is simple; my goal is to learn what’s important to you and what questions you have so that I can give you the information you need to make smart decisions about your financial life and to see if I’m the right advisor to help.
We aren’t the best fit for everyone, but for the clients who we can help, our goal is to help them sell and retire with confidence, knowing we’re always delivering value in excess of our fees.
It’s usually at this point that advisors often feel they should start talking about themselves. This may be a shock-and-awe moment, but you’re not going there in this call. In this new digital age, prospects have already done their credibility check via your website. If they didn’t think you presented as competent, they wouldn’t be speaking with you.
Step 3: The Discovery Meeting
There are many ways to structure this encounter with the prospect, but the primary aim is to deliver value and build trust equity. Then – and only then – do you get permission to tell your story and extend an offer to the prospect to work with you.
We have a lot of questions we share with advisors to open this meeting, but inviting the prospect to confirm their agenda is a great way to start. For example:
Advisor: I have an agenda to make the most of our time today, but before that, I want to ask what’s on your agenda. You told me on the phone earlier that you wanted to reduce taxes on your partnership equity and retire early; are those still your priorities? Is there anything else on your mind that you’d like to talk through today?
Next, explore their situation with clarifying questions like, “You shared that maximizing your partnership’s equity value and minimizing your tax liability are important priorities to allow you to retire early. If I may ask, what exactly will this mean to you? Can you tell me a little bit about why those particular strategies are important?”
Questions like this can help you understand the most pressing concerns and motivators behind the money work you will be doing, which will allow you to validate the prospect’s priorities and to consistently convey, “I see you, I hear you, I understand you”, adding yet more trust equity to your account.
Once you have clarified the necessary information about the prospect, you can then shift to sharing the story of who you are, your approach to what you do, and the value you deliver to clients over time. This is not a 10-page presentation; it’s a conversation. You’ll go over your value more deeply before quoting your fee in Step 5.
If it feels like a fit after the discovery meeting, close the meeting in a way that conveys you’ve genuinely heard them.
Advisor: John, Jane, I really enjoyed spending time with you today. As we wrap up, would it be OK if I just reviewed what I heard you say today to make sure that we’re on the same page about what matters to you so we make sure that’s reflected in your plan?
To conclude the meeting, simply follow through on the promise you made during the Learn More call and offer them the opportunity to come back in 2 weeks to sit down with you to review their personal 1-page plan (prepared in Step 4), recommendations, and your proposal and fees for moving forward. Then, simply ask them if they’d like to schedule the next meeting.
If the prospect declines the next meeting, thank them for their interest and wish them well. You should send a very positive email to the prospect and the referral source.
John, Jane, I appreciate your time today, and I hope it provided you with helpful information as you work to make decisions about how to maximize your practice value and retirement.
Even if you don’t do planning with me, I encourage you to do it with someone that is a better fit for your needs because planning can add real value to your situation.
When you follow the process as outlined, you won’t need to do any selling because the process naturally moves people forward or out. The further prospects go into the process, the more likely they are to retain you and the less likely you are to agree to make stress-induced exceptions.
Step 4: Prepare the 1-Page Plan
With the prospect’s priorities clear, you are now ready to draft their 1-Page Plan. Given the simplicity of the 1-Page Plan, they take an average of 30 minutes or less to input the prospect’s information using a template like the one Adam adapted from Carl Richards.
The point at this stage is not to present the entire financial plan and prove the depth of your worth, but to capture the prospect’s values and goals in simple, uncomplicated, and personal terms, to show that they’ve been heard, and to show how you can partner with them to align their decisions and capital. Or, as we like to call it, demonstrate value.
The power of the 1-page plan is that it provides a simple, succinct dashboard of what matters most, where the prospect is, and what’s next that they can come to rely on over time.
Step 5: Plan Presentation Meeting
In this meeting, you present the 1-page plan. We call this a ‘plan’, but it’s really more of a creative executive summary meant to keep you and the client focused on what matters during your work together.
Use this meeting to engage in a conversation with the client that reiterates their needs and outlines your ability to meet those needs while seeding the value that a relationship with you will add.
This meeting tends to flow naturally as you review the plan point-by-point and seek their agreement on the priorities they revealed earlier. Gaining their agreement helps gain their investment in the plan, and clarifying the plan together positions you as a trusted advisor.
Once you’ve reviewed the plan, your next job is to explain your value in a clear and compelling way. Here’s a partial example of a script we share:
My job as your financial planner is to add value to your financial life in 3 important ways:
- We’ll help protect and grow your investments. This includes things like optimal portfolio constructions, tax efficiency, and withdrawal sequencing. Just fancy ways of saying we’re going to reduce taxes and grow gains as safely as we can.
- We’ll use all the financial planning strategies we can to improve your financial outcomes: consistent savings and investing, managing debt, tax savings, and retirement planning fall here.
- And most important, I’ll be your lifelong problem-solving partner. I’ll be here to help you navigate your financial lives with greater clarity and confidence, help you avoid the big mistakes, and hold your hand through the tough times that we know will inevitably come so that you can make the most of your money and your life along the way.
After reviewing the 1-page plan and demonstrating your value, you are now in a position to quote your fees without apology or hesitation. Even so, the fee discussion can be the scariest part of engaging new clients for many advisors — which is why we recommend a structured conversation here too.
The Monster in the Closet – Talking About Client Fees
Just like the fear we had of the monsters in the closet when we were kids, your fear of quoting fees will tend to go away when you turn on the light using the no-stress sales process.
We assess an annual planning fee for our services, which you can pay monthly or quarterly. For your situation, our annual planning fee will be $4,800, which is either $400 monthly or $1,200 quarterly.
[Alternatively, for AUM clients: Our fees will be 1% of your assets, or roughly $6,000 yearly, in dollars and cents.]
This only makes sense if we can deliver value many times more than that, which is why we developed the planning process and service model we shared with you to make sure we cover all the bases to deliver real value to your financial life.
Did I explain this well? Do you have any questions?
At this point, it isn’t uncommon for the prospect to ask for a discount, suggest that your fees are too high, or ask if they have to give you all their money to manage.
There are answers to these questions, but you’ll handle them more confidently if you’re prepared for them in advance.
May I have a discount, please? “If I gave you a discount, I wouldn’t feel good about the next client who pays full fees for the same services. Our policy is not to discount our fees because we don’t discount our value. If you’re looking for a lower budget option, I completely understand and would be happy to share some resources.”
Your fees are high. The firm down the street charges less for these services. “We’re not the most expensive, and we don’t strive to be the cheapest. Given our clients’ trust and testimonials, we’re confident our fees are more than fair for the value we add. As for that firm down the street, we believe nobody knows their value better than they do. We know we’re not the right firm for everyone. If you’re looking for a lower budget option….”
Do I have to give you all my money to manage? “Only if you want our best advice.”
Like any sustainable system, the goal of the no-stress sales process is to be strong enough to overcome the resistance it will face. And the most formidable resistance for many advisors won’t come in the form of prospects who might say “No”… rather, it’s that scarcity mindset telling you that you must say “Yes”!
Closing it Out
For our coaching clients, the no-stress process has become a reliable substitute for the uncomfortable sales strategies that sales coaches have inserted into their professional lives.
To further help you implement the no-stress process in your own practice, we’ve created a No Stress Prospect Process Guidebook containing tips and best practices for each step in the process, email templates, and more.
Armed with a disciplined process that demonstrates your value to attract your just-right clients and that positions you as a trusted advisor, your sales process won’t be scary or intimidating. By stark contrast, it will be a series of clear steps you can consistently follow to demonstrate your value and quote your fees with unshakeable confidence.
If you’re into that sort of thing.
Join Stephanie and Adam on Thursday, September 29th, for a live Office Hours session to answer your questions and get process samples. Or join us on Monday, September 26th, for a Learning to be Limitless webinar on how to grow a $1M/100-day-off practice like Adam. And visit LimitlessFA.life to receive Steph’s Monthly Mojo for insights that will help you elevate your work!
Additionally, Kitces members receive a $1500 discount to the Limitless Lifestyle Program using promo code KIT23.