How to Build Trust with Clients

Instead of immediately answering all their financial questions, shift the conversation, says this advisor.

By Ross Marino

If your career is like mine, you grew up believing competence and integrity were the keys to success. They were the table stakes if you wanted to succeed. But if that were enough, most financial planners would have had more prospects and clients than they knew what to do with. I certainly didn’t have that experience. Yes, competence and integrity are foundational. But it’s not enough to build a thriving financial planning practice.

The key for any business, especially financial services, is trust. Looking back for 30 years, I’ve learned I didn’t fully understand trust. Sure, I understood its importance. Without trust, nothing happens. What I lacked was insight into gaining someone’s trust. Each is a component of building trust, but it’s not enough. Designations and certifications are essential. Being trustworthy is also necessary.

Consider a typical prospect conversation. Most, if not all, begin with a financial topic. It’s often a situation or life event with many considerations. Events include retirement, inheritance, paying for health care, etc. The prospect usually leads with, “What should I do?” or “How can I do this?” Financial advisors love these questions. Unfortunately, answering questions like this can do more harm than good.

How can an advisor respond in a way that builds trust?

Instinctively, we want to answer these questions. After all, I’m a financial planner. I’m always ready to explain what to do and how to do it. Something happens in my brain. One moment, I’m listening and taking notes. The next moment I turn into Answer Man. Can you relate to Answer Man (or Woman)?

Do you have questions? Never fear. Answer Man is here! My superpowers include excessive details, facts and figures, rules and regs, and lots of jargon. I can answer the question and other questions clients want to ask but haven’t yet. My run-on sentences may exceed 50 words, and my monologues are easily five minutes (sometimes ten). Go ahead, ask me anything related to financial planning. I’m ready.

Sound familiar?

Answering financial questions like a financial planner often does more harm than good. I need to address whatever the prospect is asking. But becoming Answer Man or going straight to solution mode will backfire. When a prospect asks a financial question, I must resist the urge to provide extensive answers and shift the conversation. There are two straightforward ways to do this after I’ve learned why the person wanted to meet with me.

Two essential questions

People need to be heard and understood. That’s foundational to building trust. Before shifting the conversation, I acknowledge the question and assure the prospect that I’ll address it. Then, instead of monologuing, I ask one of the follow-up questions. Either question will shift the conversation.

Question One: What led up to this?

If a prospect agrees to a conversation with me, something serious is happening. It’s not a random question. I need their story or the history behind whatever they’re facing. Have they been thinking about this decision for a long time? Did something happen recently? There is always a story behind the story. Shifting the conversation to discover why we’re meeting now provides insight and builds trust.

Question Two: How are you feeling?

I’ve been asking prospects and clients this question for years. Guess how many people tell me what they’re feeling? 100%. Life is intense for all of us. Whatever motivated someone to meet with a financial planner for the first time is significant. It’s not for simple information. That’s what Google is for. Life events are often dramatic and traumatic, creating deep emotions. In my experience, everyone wants to share how they’re feeling. This creates a connection and builds trust.

Neither of these questions requires a deep understanding of psychology or financial therapy. They are simple and can be used in any order. Many people answer one without being prompted. The more people share, the more notes I take. People will share the information I need if I just let them talk. This is like Answer Man’s instinct. People start talking and sharing what they think I want to know. It normal.

Building trust begins by recognizing when to shift the conversation.

Ross Marino CFP, CeFT, is the founder of Transitus Wealth Partners in Wilmington, N.C., and the founder and chief executive of Advisor 2X, which delivers online and live events to help advisors grow their practices. Focusing on the human side of financial planning, including building trust, is the focus at SHIFT, his conference to be held in San Antonio on March 19-20. 




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