Let’s be honest. Many financial advisors view the first client meeting frettingly as an obstacle to overcome on their way to, hopefully, establishing a new client relationship. After all, the way you start a first client meeting sets the tone for how your relationship will develop—if it develops at all. Prospective clients don’t make it any easier, often approaching their first advisor meeting with an air of skepticism or apprehension. This creates an unnatural tension that crowds out trust-building. That tension must be broken at the outset, and the ball is in the advisor’s court.
For there to be trust, there must be a connection
The first client meeting is first and foremost about establishing trust. That doesn’t happen by spewing jargon or talking about numbers and financial strategies. The quickest path to trust is through connection. People trust people with whom they can connect and who they genuinely like. When a connection is established at the beginning of the meeting, your prospective clients will lower their guard and begin to know you as a person. That’s how trusting relationships start.
That means the first fifteen minutes of the meeting should not be structured. It should not involve presentations. It should not be about you, the advisor. It should be a conversation centering on the people in front of you. Every client has a story to tell, and you need to allow them the space to tell it.
Your job is to display a natural curiosity to guide the conversation and a genuine interest in what they have to say. You build the connection through active listening and responding with more questions. You do five percent of the talking and 95 percent of the listening. You can then seal the connection with your own ‘who I am’ or ‘why I’m here’ story.
So, what kind of conversations should you have? What’s appropriate in this moment? Clients say they want their advisors to spend more time understanding their priorities and life ambitions. Ultimately, clients come to see you to advance their lives, not just their finances. That’s as good a place as any to start.
#1. “Tell me about yourself”
An open-ended question such as this invites the client to express what may be top-of-mind for them. Small talk often leads to more significant topics and issues you can address with some follow-up questions. It’s also key to understanding what the client cares about. Your listening demonstrates you care about what they care about, which is the first building block of trust.
#2. “How do you define success?”
This is another excellent open-ended question, but it often leads clients down the financial path. That’s fine because you may learn something about their investment experience or concerns you can use later. If that happens, steer the conversation towards their most important priorities and goals, how they envision their ideal life in ten or twenty years, what they hope to accomplish for their family and legacy. An effective way to draw them out even more is to ask, “Why is that important to you?” That question often elicits an emotional response, which is how connections are made.
#3. “What keeps you up at night?”
This is the flip side of the last question, focusing on your client’s biggest fears and concerns and zeroing in on their hot button issues. Are they worried about outliving their income? Being able to care for their aging parents? Affording a quality education for their children? This is the conversation that needs to be handled with empathic care and transitions to what you can do to help bring peace of mind.
#4. “What are you looking for in a financial advisor relationship?”
Every client has a different reason for seeking an advisory relationship. This is their opportunity to tell you their reasons and your chance to explain how you work with your clients. Probe them on what they want to get out of the relationship. Is it better investment performance, guidance they can trust, or confidence in their future? Whatever their reason, find out why it’s important to them. Some clients may be coming out of a bad relationship with an advisor, so it’s also an opportunity to find out why it didn’t work and explain how you are different.
Conversations are the way people form connections. These first meeting conversations allowing your prospective clients to tell their stories open the door for you to tell your “who I am” or “why I’m here” story, which completes the connection circle. Your new client will walk away with the reassurance their most important priorities and concerns have been heard.