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The Empathetic Adviser

HighlyEffectiveIt never ceases to amaze me that after 20-plus years in the financial services industry, both as an adviser and as a coach, there is still so much that I learn as I work with individuals on better ways to increase their overall communication skills. A recent example of this would be when one of my adviser clients, who had recently played the role of a prospect during our 10-minute role play session, said afterwards, “I felt the most connected when I knew the adviser was listening.”

This brief statement was followed by a lengthy dialogue with others in the group about the value of listening. Another adviser suggested that we take a page out of Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he describes the four developmental stages of empathetic listening.

The following is an interpretive summary of each of those stages and an example of how it could be utilized when prospects state, “I’ve had it with advisers. They all promise great returns but never deliver.”

These stages are not consecutive but independent possibilities when having a conversation and should be scattered throughout your dialogue.

Stage No. 1: Mimic Content
In this stage you as the listener are merely repeating what you have heard. It is the most basic of all listening skills although be careful as this method can seem a little insulting if used too often during the same discussion. However, it does force you to listen so that you can repeat what has been said. Example: “So, you’ve had it with advisers, they promise great returns but never deliver?”

Stage No. 2: Rephrasing Content
In this stage you as the listener merely put the content you have heard from the prospect into your own words. Example: “With your experiences, you don’t believe what advisers have to say anymore?”

Stage No. 3: Reflecting Feelings
In this stage you as the listener interpret what you believe the other person is feeling. It is much more effective because you are focusing on both what is being said as well as the way you believe the speaker feels about what they are saying. Example: “That sounds extremely frustrating.”

Stage No. 4: Reflecting Feelings and Rephrasing Content
In this stage you as the listener combine stage No. 2 and No. 3 to make an authentic connection so that the speaker is feeling understood. Example: “It sounds like you are really wary of all advisers because many of them have over-promised and under-performed?”

After spending five group coaching sessions with one of my teams, I created the4 Levels of Empathetic Listening Exercise,” an exercise where we role play using a combination of the stages previously discussed. I have found that each adviser is making a much better connection with their prospects because they have increased not only their listening skills, but also their ability to gain trust leading them towards becoming a much more empathetic adviser in the eyes of their prospects.

If you read this article and are interested in hearing our audio the “4 Levels of Empathetic Listening Exercise,” email Melissa Denham, Director of Client Servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com or to schedule a free complimentary consultation. To discuss this article in more detail, email me at dan@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

Editor’s Note: FPA’s webinars are a great source of educational content, in addition to our Practice Management Blog, to help build and nurture client relationships. Click on the following related webinar titles to learn more:

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More Intelligent Referrals Step 3: Specialize and Target for Increased Results

Take your referrals to the next level. Now that your process is thought out and you know how to approach your clients in a way that builds trust, you can be even more strategic and thoughtful in how you earn new business. Over time, your message and the materials you use to implement your referral plan will become more defined.

These final few strategies from Frank Maselli’s book Referrals the Professional Way: 10 Strategies for Networking with Top Clients & Centers of Influence, can be used as an approach for expanding your referral plan and message:

Target a Specific Industry or Client Niche

Specializing in a certain industry or a type of client can dramatically increase your referrals from those groups. The goal of becoming the “go-to” adviser for an entire industry can be a major career driver with benefits that go far beyond referrals. Selecting an industry or client group to target is a simple process that can be replicated for scalable business results. Develop a genuine interest and expertise in the niche areas you choose by reading industry publications, talking to leaders, and attending regional or national conferences. This will take time, as you have to become a known insider and provide value to the group before you can seek a business relationship.

New Specialty Referral

Your long-term clients may be the perfect source of potential referrals, but asking for a referral can change the implied rules of the relationship game as you’ve both played it for many years.  The new specialty referral lets you go back to your best clients for referrals without looking like you just blew up your business. It also sends the right emotional messages about your success and development as a professional. Pick a critical topic of importance to your people and master it, then use your new specialty to approach your client with a new opportunity that themselves, their colleagues or their friends might also be interested in.

Use a Referral Guide

High-net-worth clients and centers of influence want to know that you take referrals very seriously and that when they give you a name of a client, friend, or colleague, you are going to treat that person with extreme care and professionalism. Using a “referral guide” is a psychological positioning tool that sends all those messages and allows you to expand your client’s story-telling ability beyond a two-sentence conversation fragment. Combine your referral materials into a binder to give as a resource to your client—items like an introductory letter, sample newsletters, articles, list of services, team biography, referral questionnaire, ideal client profile, etc. These items should convey your brand and your expertise in an organized, serious and professional package.

Take it a step further and enhance your referral guide with a book, authored by you, targeted to your specific industry or niche that highlights your knowledge in your specialty area. With a referral plan in place that is created out of genuine service to others with a targeted message, derived from a place of expertise, and supported by professional client-driven materials, you will find that referrals can become a powerful business growth tool.

Allison LooneyAllison Looney
Marketing Associate
Advantage Media Group
Charleston, SC