The all-important first meeting can either make or break your relationship with a prospect. So how can you ensure a good impression?

Grant Shorten, director of strategic insights at Renaissance Investments, says a proper introductory meeting consists of ten distinct phases.

Advisors must start strong: research shows that once a first impression is formed, it’s virtually impossible to change.

The second step is to set the tone with a written agenda. If you offer it from the get-go, the prospect will see you’re organized and prepared.

Then, initiate the discovery process. Focus on their attitudes towards money, future goals and how secure they feel in their financial situations. That will help you get a full picture of their needs and goals. Listen actively (it helps to repeat what they say, and ask if you’ve interpreted properly), make eye contact and make sure to take rigorous notes.

Once you’ve formed a clear picture of their needs, walk them through the general fears and desires of the majority of investors. This helps prospects understand your expertise and the basis of your recommendations.

Now, introduce structure and explain your process. Follow the emotional discussion with the logical mechanisms that deliver solutions, and clearly articulate your wealth management process by explaining the rationale behind each recommended step.

Phase six involves clarifying the complex world of financial planning. Explain complex topics using sequential logic. Strip out jargon, capital market terms and acronyms, and speak with clients on their terms and their specific level. Make sure they understand by asking them to explain what you’ve conveyed in their own words.

Phase seven: address the biases and objections each prospective client holds.

“During the course of your first meeting, you’ll become aware of several unspoken doubts,” says Shorten. “These usually remain unspoken, but if you take the opportunity to slay the dragon and address these obstacles one-by-one, you can effectively ease your client’s mind.”

Now, open the floor to questions so your potential client can ask about your process and your business, including questions compensation and how many clients you currently serve.

To end your meeting, clearly define next steps and explain how the process will unfold from that point on.

The final phase, a mirror of phase one, is to firmly close the meeting, and then follow up.

“A strong last impression contains many of the same structural elements as the first impression,” says Shorten. “Small details like offering a smile, giving a firm handshake and saying the name of a client do matter. As you deliver these elements, always extend sincere gratitude that they took the time to share their personal story with you.”

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