This article is the third in a six-part series on best practices for wealth advisors. You can read the previous column, “Expanding Your Business: Delegate, and Grow Your Practice” here.
Bringing clients into the fold and developing them into their full potential as clients is a trust-based process. You can go only so far without building trust with your clients or propsects.
Some aspects of trust building are intuitive; we’ve all been around long enough to have been burned. We have a foundation from which to work.
Building trust with clients and prospects is a process, and that process can be learned, and that process can be enhanced.
Building Trust With Clients: First Steps
Most “cold” prospects are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt; they are skeptical but willing.
Here is where referrals shine — they come to you with a high degree of trust — they accepted your trustworthiness from the person who referred them.
They are far along the trust ladder, and though you still should develop and enhance that trust, you’re starting from a great position.
Like most determinants of your success, it’s again what you do. Whether your clients come to trust you implicitly is a direct result of your actions and behaviors. Let’s start with some basics before moving on to the more nuanced areas.
Advisors will tout their honesty and integrity. Mostly that’s appropriate. These are foundational: Lose them and you lose trust.
But they’re also expected. Clients assume you’ll be honest and they assume you’ll act with integrity. Or they wouldn’t meet with you in the first place.
They also have some basic assumptions about competence and reliability. They assume you’ll be competent, and they assume you’ll be reliable. Again, these are yours to lose.
These should be enhanced by your behaviors. You should always be building trust through positive actions, exceeding expectations in these base areas.
Communicating and Listening to Clients
For our first big step, we’ll talk about communication. Nearly all advisors believe they’re great communicators. Some are right. But everyone is capable of being better.
Communication is a two-way street. Your clients are a big variable. Their education, command of language, history, and experience all contribute to or detract from how they interpret what they hear.
If you always say exactly the same thing, you’ll achieve varying degrees of understanding. Some clients will get you. Others may need very plain language and a slower pace. That’s fine.
The other half of communication is what you hear. Clients aren’t necessarily good at expressing their financial concerns in your terms.
Listening skills are paramount to developing relationships and developing trust.
Nothing enhances trust more than your client or prospect knowing that you hear them and get them. Most likely they’ve never experienced that in a financial advisor relationship.
Reflective probes are key. These are your checks for understanding. And they are important. When you check for understanding, two things happen. You find out if you do, in fact, understand what your client is saying — or more importantly, thinking or feeling.
If you’re wrong, that’s fantastic. You can ask clarifying questions until you reach a new level of understanding. Then you can check that with another reflective probe.
And if you’re right, the client now knows that you understand what they’re saying or thinking or feeling or all of the above. And this is awesome for them. Unusual, but awesome. You get it and you get them. And trust gets a huge boost. Huge.
Developing Emotional Competence
Prospects and clients also expect you to be reasonably emotionally competent. They expect and deserve your acceptance. They expect you to act fairly. They don’t expect you to ignore your needs; you’re in business and they get that.
They do expect you to put their needs before your own and for you to be open about how you work and what you get out of it.
Emotionally competent people seek to understand before making judgement. They don’t berate clients or staff. How you treat others isn’t a reflection on them, it’s a reflection on you. And you need to be congruent.
If you’re all nicey-nice with your clients and then berate your assistant, that’s not congruent. No one will trust you. There’s no reason to.
You have to walk the talk. If you treat people with dignity and respect, there aren’t exceptions to the rule. You’re that person or you’re a fake. Be congruent. And be nice.
Additional Considerations for Building Trust
Other behaviors also matter. Take seating for example.
Let’s say you’re going to have a second professional or your assistant in a client meeting. You need to sit so your clients can see you both — see the eyes of you both — at the same time. You should be next to each other.
If a client has to split their view they may think there’s some hanky-panky going on, signals or some such thing. If they can see you both at once, there’s no issue.
We all know advisors who like to act like they’re royalty and have everyone sit in some subservient position, but they only hurt themselves — they diminish trust.
Similarly, we have to consider screen behavior. When you go to bring something up on a computer or even your phone or some other device, you should first turn the screen in the direction of the client.
Even when we can’t turn it to where they can easily see it, we should move it in that direction. This builds trust; failure to do so diminishes trust.
It can seem like you’re hiding something, but if you adjust it in their direction you’re including them — nothing being hidden, nothing sneaky going on.
We’ve talked a bit about what to do and we need to touch on a couple of don’ts. You can’t talk about anyone, no other clients, nothing like that. People will assume you’ll also talk about them. Trust destroyer.
No name dropping, nothing. Nothing about the person who referred them, other than you love them and think they’re awesome. No details about anyone.
And you shouldn’t talk about yourself. Not any more than necessary.
Your competence, respect, and work should speak volumes. If you find it necessary to tell people how great you are, there’s a problem. It should be so obvious that words are unnecessary. Thank them when they tell you how great you are, but don’t let it go to your head.
The Bottom Line
If you do a wonderful job of serving your clients and continuously build a relationship based on trust and respect, they’ll be telling not only you but anyone else they can get to listen how much they enjoyed working with you.
This in turn will fuel your referral pipeline and make your practice explode.
And that’s a great reason to focus on building trust with clients and prospects.
This article is the third in a six-part series on best practices for wealth advisors. You can read the next column, “Building Business With the Found Money Commitment” here.