The Advisor and the Art of Observation

All advisors know it is important to listen.  Observing could be defined as seeing and paying attention.  This is a skill that works both ways.  What you observe about others can lead to business.  What clients and prospects observe about you can lead to business.

The Art of Observing Prospects

The better you know someone, the more you can customize your approach.  This can be important when it comes to forming social relationships, tailoring proposals and deepening client relationships.

  1. What’s on their bookshelves? One of your objectives should be to be invited into a prospect or client’s home.  How they live and decorate tells you a lot about them.  Do they own books?  Are they fiction or nonfiction?  Do they have favorite authors?
  2. Photos on display.  Does your client have many photos of their children and grandchildren?  This means family is very important to them.  Do they have photos taken alongside famous people?  This may be communicating “I am an important person.”  Do they have pictures from vacations?  How about a boat or beach house?  If so, they either own it or it was an important experience in their lives.
  3. Collectibles.  People often leave clues concerning their hobbies and interests.  You can tell the wine fan or home chef by the quantity of books on the subject.  If they have a picture of a classic car, they may be a car buff.  While visiting friends in Florida we saw four excellent photos of birds arranged in a grouping in their library.  The friend explained: “These were a gift from our financial advisor.”
  4. Do they entertain?  The dining room and the kitchen can provide good clues.  Some of our friends joke the kitchen is “for resale purposes only.”  This means they eat out a lot or order takeout.  On a recent house and garden tour featuring kitchen renovations, I noticed a binder above the refrigerator labeled “takeout menus.”
  5. Is the house immaculate?  If so, it would indicate they pay attention to detail.  They might either do their own cleaning or bring in a housekeeping service.  If they mention “the cleaners were in yesterday” this implies they are comfortable with outsourcing certain tasks.  Good to know.   

When Prospects Look at You, What Do They See?

Prospects make plenty of judgments when they meet you for the first time.  This involves your personal appearance and your office.

  1. Your top foot.  This means they are looking at your head and shoulders.  Is your hair combed?  Does your clothing look like it fits properly?  Is it clean?  Is your clothing wrinkled?
  2. Your bottom foot.  This represents your shoes.  Are they shined?  Are the heels in good condition or are they rounded?  If you are wearing trousers, is the length OK?
  3. Hands.  Your hands should be clean.  Your nails should be trimmed.
  4. Organization of your office.  Does everything look neat, or does it look like a hotel room crime scene from a TV drama?  Does your desk look organized?  Is the surface of your desk clear?
  5. Client confidentiality.  Are any papers visible that bear the name of another client?  Prospects want to know their data is safe from prying eyes.
  6. What’s on your wall?  You might have your college degrees on display.  You may have completed continuing education and earned a CFP or similar designation.  Have you appeared in newspaper articles?  Those might be framed.
  7. Family photos.  An advisor in California had a large B+W photo mounted on the wall behind his desk.  It was a studio shot including his wife and their children.  (Him too.)  In his introduction he would point to the picture and explain he has been married (x) years and his children are (age) and (age).  This would lead into the number of years he has been an advisor at the firm.  HNW individuals place a value on stability.
  8. Magazines on tables.  Aspirational lifestyle magazines hint at the interests your clients share and the dreams you want to help them achieve.

There is a lot to learn by observing the surroundings.  This is a two-way street.