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Interest, Curiosity and the Client Education Conundrum

I had the opportunity to attend a day-long session with Brené Brown last year, and among the many powerful takeaways from her talk was my first introduction to a fascinating study from Amanda Markey and George Lowenstein on interest and curiosity. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that, before reading through the research, I didn’t realize there was a fundamental difference between interest and curiosity.

It turns out that, if you agree with Lowenstein and Markey’s conclusions, there is actually a significant difference between the two, and that the distinction can have a powerful impact not only on how we view and implement the pursuit of knowledge for ourselves, but for clients as well.

Lowenstein and Markey said: “We define interest as a psychological state that involves a desire to become engaged in an activity or know more, in general, about a subject. If an individual is interested in pottery, for example, that person may want to sit down and throw pots, or that person may want to know more about the technique, the materials, and the history. Curiosity, in contrast, only arises when a specific knowledge gap occurs, such as, ‘What is the difference between high and low fire pottery?’ Thus, curiosity and interest differ by their objects of desire (specific knowledge vs. general knowledge/activity engagement).”

In other words, to be truly curious about something, you must have a certain level of knowledge about the subject—enough to ask a particular question or questions. For an example, let’s take a look at my initial interpretation of the results of Jackson National’s 2017 Investor Education Survey. Jackson generally runs the survey annually, and releases useful data on investor knowledge and confidence in the U.S.

The key findings from the survey highlight a gap between perceived financial knowledge and confidence (nearly 60 percent of all respondents stated that they did not have the confidence to make appropriate investing decisions) and U.S. investors’ interest level in building their knowledge and confidence (nearly 70 percent of respondents said they are very or somewhat interested in furthering their financial/investing education).

Initially, I looked at this gap as a black-and-white opportunity—if we (the financial services industry) can count on a certain level of interest, we just need to help people find the right resources or help to start educating themselves, right? Then, when they reach the point at which they’re ready for expert help and an adviser relationship, they will take the next step.

Based on the Markey and Lowenstein research, I think the answer is more complicated than that. What we’re talking about is the classic Catch-22 scenario, and it applies directly to both how investors educate themselves and how advisers educate clients. The research suggests that, if investors don’t have the financial knowledge to make appropriate investing decisions, unless they force themselves to understand the basics, they can never be curious enough to answer the fundamental questions about preparing financially for life. In other words, a rudimentary understanding of finance is required for investors (or clients, if they are already in your care) to be curious enough to seek further knowledge.

Thus, while interest remains the baseline (without interest, we are pretty much out of luck), the financial services industry in general and financial planners in particular must take a more active role in convincing clients to take that crucial step toward activating curiosity and the quest for deeper knowledge. As a financial planner, you are likely the primary source for your clients’ financial education, and data from the aforementioned Jackson survey supports that many investors working with financial planners rely solely on their planner when it comes to the sharing of financial knowledge. This is a crucial function of the planner-client relationship, but I believe the Markey and Lowenstein research shows us that it can be a double-edged sword in that too much reliance on the planner may actually reduce clients’ personal interest in or curiosity about financial topics over the long term.

Of course, that’s not to say financial planners should stop offering financial education support to clients. Quite the opposite. But I do think it’s important for planners to make sure that investors are not separating themselves from the pursuit of financial knowledge when they enter into the planning relationship. Planners may need to take on the responsibility of not only providing clients with the proverbial fish, but teaching them how (and why) to fish as well. So, the question becomes, where do we begin?

I wish I could provide a perfect formula on how to motivate clients to master the basics and activate their curiosity, but unfortunately there isn’t a “magic bullet” here. We are all so different when it comes to our current level of knowledge, how we motivate ourselves and even how we perceive what constitutes “the basics,” that to cast a single net designed for universal application would be beyond foolish.

To provide a semi-prescriptive starting point, however, we can look to the Lowenstein and Markey research, which said that the intensity of curiosity depends on importance, surprise and salience.

Importance

To satisfy the first criterion, we need to make clients’ curiosity about financial and investing topics personal so that they will feel important to them. For example, when your clients have children, crafting a will and testament or putting away money for higher education can become an urgent and tangible issue. When an issue becomes directly applicable to our lives, we inherently become more curious.

As a financial planner, you are already adept at tying financial concepts and strategies to a clients’ situation, but the fundamentally fluid nature of “importance” in the context of curiosity is a valuable reminder that a concept or strategy a client had little interest in can suddenly become a focus as a result of a life transition. This knowledge may allow you to pre-empt questions from clients about certain concepts with relevant content, further building the relationship, or provide a useful framework for your prospecting strategy.

Surprise

For surprise, human beings rely on our current understanding of the way things are and use curiosity to test the accuracy of our knowledge. When our frame of reference is broken with new information, we are more likely to dig deeper for even more revelatory insight. Or, as Lowenstein puts it, “the accumulation of knowledge tends to beget the desire for further knowledge.” As mentioned, the element of surprise makes the case for frequently sharing interesting and engaging content with clients in an attempt to spark further interest in a topical area or the world of financial knowledge as a whole.

I think the importance of surprise in sparking curiosity also serves as a good reminder to avoid marketing for marketing’s sake. Instead of sending out something your clients or prospects have already seen or a story they’ve already heard because you are running up against your newsletter deadline, it might make sense to search for or create a new angle on an old story, or to survey your clients on their most burning questions and attempt to answer those in a post. From a blogging perspective, Google always favors quality over quantity, and your readers certainly do too.

Salience

Finally, salience is the degree to which your environment highlights a particular information gap. According to Lowenstein, salience will tend to be high when a question is asked explicitly, and may be “even higher if there is another identifiable and proximate individual who knows the answer.” While not everyone needs or wants expert help when it comes to financial and investing discussions, the importance of salience in enhancing curiosity is an oft-overlooked component of the value of a financial planner.

That someone, somewhere knows the answer to our question is not of great value to us (and can actually decrease curiosity). But if that person is sitting across the table from us, with the added bonus of understanding the most intimate portions of our financial lives, the level of salience increases significantly. As it’s not always easy to find new ways to represent your value as a planner, research on the power of salience could come in handy.

As mentioned, there is certainly not one right way to go about educating clients, and many of you already have an excellent formula that works for you and your practice. That said, my greatest takeaway from Markey and Lowenstein’s wonderful research is the reminder to challenge everything, even the things we think we know best. I think your curious mind will thank you.

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Dan Martin is the director of marketing for the Financial Planning Association®, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. He is an award-winning author with a diverse financial services industry background in marketing and communications. He earned a journalism degree from the University of Denver and his MBA in marketing from the Daniels College of Business.


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5 Signs It’s Time to Move On from a Prospect

Have you ever had a high net worth prospect who seemed semi-interested in working with you but you just couldn’t quite get them off the fence? You’ve called several times; maybe you’ve even met with them and offered recommendations, but something is holding them back from taking that final step to becoming a client. Then, your prospecting efforts become unreturned voicemails or vague replies to your emails. If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to acknowledge the signs and realize it’s time to move on.

Following is a brief overview of what I tell my clients to look for and how to know when to let go.

Sign No. 1: A Family Member in the Business

Most experienced advisers and agents know that when a prospect says, “I have a brother in-law in the business but I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say,” it probably means that they don’t completely trust their relative, however it doesn’t guarantee that they’d change anything. Instead, they most likely will consider your recommendations, talk it over with their relative and still not end up working with you. The reason is because relatives are just too awkward to walk away from when it comes to business dealings.

If you run across this type of prospect, qualify them right away by saying something like this, “If we identify some need for changes in your portfolio, are you in a position to do business with me?” This will help you identify how serious they are about working with you.

Sign No. 2: Wanting to Split their Business

Some prospects may like your recommendations but not want to sever ties with their current adviser or agent. The reason is simple, it’s because they are familiar and have established trust with that person. They don’t know you but they might consider working with you on a trial basis.

Unfortunately, many times they are doing this with the caveat that they can compare results and then let go of the adviser/agent that doesn’t do as well for them. If this scenario is offered—working with you to “see what happens”—it’s important for you to reply like this, “I’m sorry but the clients I work with need to provide reasonable time for my process and recommendations to come to fruition.” When you stand by your value, you may lose a prospect now and again but you maintain your self-respect. As a result, you also build a better client base.

Sign No. 3: They Took Your Recommendations and Bought Online

Years ago, I had a prospect take several of my recommendations and purchase them in an online account. He felt there was nothing wrong with it since it saved him money. I on the other hand believe that if the relationship starts off on the wrong foot, it will end up remaining that way. This type of prospect is merely showing you that they don’t value your services. If this happens, you need to be ready to walk away.

Sign No. 4: You are Chasing a Ghost

At some point, you will have a prospect that needs to “think about it” or “review things.” When you follow-up they may not return your calls. The reason is because they didn’t see the value in your recommendations in the first place.

There may have been a concern or objection that you didn’t address. If this happens, simply leave a message like this, “Hi ______, this is _______ with _______. I have a quick question that only you can answer. Could you please call me when you hear this? My number is _________.” This is what I refer to as the “curiosity message.” If they aren’t curious enough to call you back, they really aren’t interested in doing business with you. If they do call, you need to ask them something directly like, “Are you still interested in (insert three benefits here).” If they are, then set another appointment with them to do the paperwork.

Sign No. 5: You Just Don’t Like the Prospect

If you find yourself dreading any type of communication with a specific prospect (email, phone call or appointments) then you certainly do not want to work with them. No matter how much business you think they can provide, inform them that you might not be an appropriate fit and they could be better served by someone who could provide more of what they are looking for.

Why Watching for Warning Signs is Important

This is not an easy business but when you make a conscious choice to work with people who want to work with you, you can make things much easier on yourself. That’s why it is so important to watch for warning signs that it’s time to move on from a prospect. Life is too short to chase those who don’t see your value.

If you are ready to take your business to the next level, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley
 Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.

 

 


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Seize the Summer with These 3 Growth Activities

Summertime can be a wonderful time to relax and recharge your batteries after a tough spring. But it can also be a great time to grow. Many advisers and their staff have excess capacity at this time of year, as clients are off on vacation. So, before you leave work early, stop and think about what a productive summer could mean for your business. You could be in high-growth mode come September instead of looking at a long list of tasks you need to complete before year-end. Here are three ways to help you get there.

Here are three growth activities you can do this summer:

1.) Connect with clients. Summer offers many opportunities to strengthen relationships with your best clients. Be sure to actively listen when clients talk about their vacation plans. If they are traveling to a particular destination, follow up with an article or item geared toward their trip. For example, clients going to a cooking school in France might love a whisk, along with a note saying you hope they whip up some wonderful summer memories. Clients heading to a national park might be thrilled to read a timely article on the “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Yellowstone.” These types of gestures could get clients talking about you, leading to introductions to potential new clients.

There’s another benefit to active listening: the ability to source names to follow up on at another time. Who is on the client’s tennis doubles team or golf foursome? Who will be at the lake house? Who’s coming to town for the family reunion? Be sure to add these names to your CRM system or database to keep your pipeline of prospects full and healthy.

2) Get to know clients’ families and friends. Are children, grandchildren or other relatives coming to town? Mention that you’d be delighted to meet them. Perhaps clients are hosting a barbecue you could attend. Or maybe there’s a Little League game in your area where you could watch their son or granddaughter pitch. Imagine their surprise and delight to find you in the bleachers, cheering on their young ones. And if you bring along a small cooler with popsicles or ice cream treats for after the game, you can quickly get introduced to a large number of players (and their parents) and make a great first impression. It’s a great way to turn clients into advocates for you.

3) Leverage community events. Many cities and towns hold free summer events that you can spin into your own unique entertainment offering. Invite clients to attend an outdoor movie in your community, and bring along blankets, popcorn, movie treats and soda to hand out. Or suggest clients come enjoy a band concert in the town square with you, and offer them wine and cheese while they relax to the music. (You’re likely to have clients introduce you to others, too, in a casual setting like this.)

Remember to take pictures (get permission, of course), and leverage the event even further by sharing those images on your website, blog or social media channels. The opportunity to delight your clients and meet potential new ones is all around you this time of year.

Make this summer fun—but make it matter to your business. When you prioritize connecting with clients, and getting to know their friends and families, you’ll create a pipeline full of prospects that can propel your business forward. And you’ll be well positioned to capture business leading into the end of the year.

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Kristine McManus, is the chief business development officer of Commonwealth Financial Network.