Assume nothing, ask everything.

For a while now, I’ve helped advisors and financial professionals develop their “story,” or their value proposition, and then helped them incorporate it into a marketing plan and their everyday practice. It’s a privilege listening to someone’s story and I really enjoy doing it – absorbing a heap of information, understanding the challenges, and then creating a plan that addresses their challenges and takes their story to the next level. But as much as I enjoy the process, a couple of years ago I learned an important lesson about getting too comfortable.

I know what I’m doing – listen, learn, create, repeat.

I had gotten to the point that I felt like I’d done so many advisor and financial professional consultations, that I was in a groove – listen, learn, create, repeat. I assumed I could simply listen for a few key words, review some of their existing material and slap a plan together.

One day, I dialed into a call with an advisor and shared what I considered a great plan. His response? “This isn’t what I was looking for at all.”

But you know what they say about assuming…

Huh?  No way! I thought to myself, I’ve been doing this long enough to know what you need; you just don’t realize it’s what you need yet …right? The advisor explained what he was expecting, and I had a moment of clarity – I assumed I knew what he needed and forgot to listen.

Start assuming nothing and asking everything.

I made an assumption on about what this advisor needed based on my experience with other advisors and financial professionals.  I had quit listening.

Forgetting to listen is easy to do. Sometimes we get very comfortable and confident in our job, and we forget that every situation, every person we’re dealing with, is unique. I often hear advisors and financial professionals describe similar scenarios with their clients.

Has this ever happened to you? Your client is explaining a challenge and your brain switches to providing solutions before they’ve even fully explained the challenge.   For example, you may assume your clients want quarterly, face-to-face investment reviews. An assumption like this can lead to a service your clients don’t actually want, and adds unnecessary expenses to your bottom line.

Here are a few ways to help you identify what your client really wants.

Start asking questions. One of the first questions – ask how often your client wants to meet to review services.  Don’t assume its quarterly because that’s what everyone else wants.  Maybe they’d prefer a webinar with their committee, or a summary in lieu of a meeting. Understanding their preferences can go a long way.  Far too often, we jump in the car, drive three hours to the client’s office to deliver some type of report and miss the opportunity to truly add value.

Recognize what’s important to them. To get a more complete understanding, try an assessment, areas you want your client’s perspective on, like employee education, expenses and overall program priorities. Do this for committee members or each of the key decision makers, but make sure to review it each year – priorities change, it’s important to talk so you can recognize changes and respond appropriately.

Define their version of a successful relationship. What are their expectations of you? How are they determining if you’re meeting those expectations?  I often recommend advisors and financial professionals to create a scorecard based on the responses to these questions – it’s a great way to illustrate success, and along with a solid 408(b)2 disclosure of services, it provides clarity to your clients. The more you understand about their expectations, the more you’ll be able to provide quality, relevant solutions.

Don’t fall into the trap.

As we move into the second half of the year, now is the time to revisit that service commitment – you might find a new way to help your clients.  Don’t fall into the trap like I did. Take a step back and review what you’re doing. Is it what your clients really want? Let me know what you think in the comments or find me on Twitter.


In addition to blogging here, I also tweet regularly about advisor-focused practice management topics like sales and lead generation, marketing, service and management/operations. Follow me at @Rschutty.

Affiliation Disclosures

Insurance products and plan administrative services are provided by Principal Life Insurance Company. Securities are offered through Princor Financial Services Corporation, 1-800-547-7754, Member SIPC and/or independent broker dealers. Securities sold by a Princor® Registered Representative are offered through Princor. Princor and Principal Life are members of the Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®), Des Moines, IA 50392.

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