Advisors: Ditch the Free Consultation and Do This Instead

August 22, 2019

A long road trip got me thinking about introductory conversations with prospective clients.

My 12-year-old son and I took a long road trip last weekend (long story) – 1,007 miles in two days had us talking, laughing, visiting greasy truck stops, and bonding, as we drove from central Wisconsin to eastern Pennsylvania. Early Sunday morning, during one of the few lulls in the conversation, I started scanning radio stations and I came across multiple financial advisor radio shows.

While my son read (he got a “late start” on the assigned school summer reading list), I listened to parts of at least four different shows designed to assist listeners with their financial issues. As I flipped back and forth, I noticed two things:

  1. After a while, I couldn’t remember which one was which – they all pretty much sounded alike.
  2. All continuously offered a free one-hour consultation.

My issues were about the messaging and the offer. And even if you don’t have a radio show, I bet many advisors fall into the same trap. The shows gave me a great sense of the kinds of introductory conversations advisors are having with their prospects – and they are not great.

All we hear is radio ga ga

I know that hosting a radio show is an expensive endeavor. For those of you who may not be familiar, most of those weekend morning financial programs are paid advertising. The financial advisor hosts are not sought out by the local station and paid for their work, but are actually paying the station for airtime. It must have worked at least well enough for them, as each of the hosts I listened to Sunday sounded as if they had been doing the shows for a while but I do wonder about the quality of the prospects.

<free consultations>_inlineIn previous positions (regional director/wholesaler and manager of sales people), I used to have plenty of time in the car, with long drives in between appointments. I was always interested in listening to financial advisor radio shows, both for personal and professional education. The good ones (which were rare) delivered advice on specific situations, allowed the listener to get to know the host (advisor) and generally entertained the audience while offering their services. The bad ones were purely product driven, repetitive and tried to scare the audience into an appointment. I noticed during our journey that things haven’t changed much.

What stood out was the repeated old cliché about retirees and fears about running out of money. The jump from fears to commenting on lifetime income was lightning fast, and while they couldn’t mention specific products, I think most of the audience knew that it was code for annuities. While I can see both the positives and negatives of annuities, I was really disappointed that it seemed like the only answer, especially since they didn’t do a great job of defining the question.  Instead of a one-size-fits-all product answer, how about:  What does your retirement really look like?

Instead of a one-size-fits-all product answer, how about: What does your retirement really look like?

Each of the hosts also followed up with an offer for a free, one-hour meeting to “get to know you, the listener” and look at your portfolio and retirement plans. Putting myself in the target listeners’ shoes, they promised that they would let me know if they could help.

As I thought about the offer, I felt uncomfortable. Does anyone believe that the so-called expert would look at my portfolio and NOT find something wrong? Does anyone believe that the free consultation would really be free or that I wouldn’t be sold something? I can’t imagine the host saying, “All good, you don’t need us; just keep doing what you are doing.” But why would I go to a meeting where I might feel sales pressure? (One host kept saying that if you called right now, someone with access to his calendar would immediately book your appointment!)

So what do these radio shows have to do with you? Put yourself in the mindset of the potential target audience. Are you jumping to the solution before you know the real question?

Shore up your messaging and offer

Revenue is not earned until you sell something, so it is important to have a sales process for your business. A sales process is not just tactics like a referral letter or a series of workshops (or a radio show) – it is a documented process that defines the branding, messaging, the “offer” and the benefits. That starts with building personas of your ideal clients, getting to know exactly what they are about and crafting your brand and messaging to speak to them.

It seemed like those radio hosts’ whole philosophy was to get a prospect in a room and to sell them a guaranteed income product. It certainly didn’t resonate with me. I wonder if your sales pitch resonates with your target audience.

The next time you meet with a prospect, what if you did something different? What if, instead of discussing an outcome, you discuss:

  • The two or three kinds of people who work best with your firm? Don’t describe them by investable assets, net worth or broad categories, but by how they were feeling or why they came to you in in the first place. What challenges did they have?
  • What it is like to meet with you? Outline exactly what meetings will look and feel like. Instead of discussing your investment process, clearly articulate your service process.

If, after the conversation, you and they feel the need for you to look at their portfolio, maybe charge a small fee to cover the cost. I think they will find it more valuable than the “free look.”   No one believes you will do this for free without the expected sale later.  Maybe a small review charge will help articulate your value as a professional.

Sign of the times

Consumers are changing, becoming less trusting, demanding more customization and wanting more transparency. What may have worked in the past may not be compelling enough to make people want to contact you.

Driving down the turnpike and listening to those radio shows had me considering how some advisors are still positioning themselves as salespeople, instead of advice-givers and behavioral coaches. My son looked up and politely asked what I was already thinking: “Isn’t there anything better on?”

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