Don’t overplay your hand
Christian Bale won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role in The Fighter, playing Dicky Eklund, the over-the-top addict and brother of aspiring boxer Micky Ward.
In Bale’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, he acknowledged the work of lead actor Mark Wahlberg, for playing his role in a quiet and reserved way.
What’s the fuss about that?
In acting, if the person playing the quiet role or the straight role overplays their hand, the crazy person needs to become even crazier to stand out, and it doesn’t work. They look like they’re hamming it up.
Bale acknowledged Wahlberg because what he did is hard to do. He also pointed out that doing that job often goes unrecognised. It’s not the high-profile part or the one that gets all the acclaim. Without a true professional in that role though, the whole project would fail; it’s that important.
This reminded me of the role you play in advising your clients, and how important it is not to overplay your hand.
1. Great advisers don’t talk too much
New or inexperienced advisers just can’t resist the urge to tell clients what they know. I understand why.
To get to a place where you really know your onions in this profession takes years and years, maybe more than a decade. As you gain new knowledge you just can’t wait to tell people about it.
However, by talking too much, telling too much, sharing too much, and showing off their technical knowledge, inexperienced advisers destroy the client experience.
When I go to see my doctor she doesn’t tell me everything she knows about medicine. If she did I’d probably get bored (as opposed to being impressed) and I’d think she was showing off.
Because she’s a good doctor, she tells me what’s appropriate, and then checks in occasionally to find out if I need a bit more information.
2. Great advisers ask great questions
If you want your client meetings to be effective and exciting for clients, the key is asking great questions. When you ask a series of thought-provoking questions and listen carefully to the answers coming back, clients engage deeply.
Because great questions help clients identify the real issues they’re facing. As Daniel Pink says in his book To Sell Is Human, the highest value that salespeople can add is not problem-solving as many of us were taught, rather it’s problem identification. That is, helping clients identify what the problem is in the first place. If that’s been done well the solutions are usually pretty obvious.
More importantly, Robo advice and technology are still an awfully long way away from doing this effectively. Many other parts of the advisory process are slowly being commoditised and reducing in value. Great questions and great listening skills are not.
Great advisers know that ‘telling is not selling’. So they ask questions and leave a lot of space for the client to respond next. They recognise that sometimes their questions require deeper thought and so if there are big silences or gaps, they don’t jump in and fill them with the sound of their own voice.
Just like Mark Wahlberg, they know not to overplay their hand.
3. Great advisers do just enough (and not one bit more)
Many of the challenges that arise for advisers come about as a result of doing more than is necessary. Advisers are helpful people by nature and most of the ones I know genuinely care about delivering something special for their clients. Sometimes though, this desire to please can get you doing too much and undoing all of your good work.
Trying too hard and doing too much is a sign of weakness. It stems from a fear of not being enough; needing to prove to yourself or others that you’re good enough or that you know your stuff.
This is usually just your ego telling you that if you don’t do lots and lots for clients then you might miss out. Ignore it. Leave your ego at the door and focus solely on the client and their needs. It’s not easy, but it’s the best way to conduct yourself.
Ask great questions, listen, and by all means share some of your knowledge when it’s appropriate. Keep checking in with the client, asking them if you’ve given them enough or if they need more. You’ll be surprised at how little some clients need to feel comfortable.
The issue is not that there’s a correct amount to share or withhold, but simply that asking clients about their requirements for information will improve your effectiveness. Being receptive to each person’s varying needs is important.
True professionals have clients leaving meetings raving about how they were made to feel; valued and cared for.
It’s this feeling that clients remember long after they’ve forgotten everything you might have told them at a technical level. You create this feeling by talking less and playing an understated role in your client meetings.
As Christian Bale alluded to in his acceptance speech, this is hard to do and only true professionals can do it. You need a true professional in that role to make sure the whole project succeeds.
The next generation
Are we teaching and training the new advisory talent coming into the profession these core skills? Or do they observe you and your business partners talking, talking, and talking some more during client meetings?
You can get away with it if you’re experienced. It’s not good practice, but you can do it.
You can’t do that when you’re younger or less experienced.
It takes a real professional to play it low key. In our profession, that’s done by asking great questions, and then staying quiet and listening. There is a time and a place for talking and demonstrating knowledge, but the pros do just enough to be great. Not a bit more.