Careful timing: Take it slow and steady with prospects

By Dan Richards | July 29, 2004 | Last updated on July 29, 2004
3 min read

(July 2004) How many meetings should you plan to have with a prospect before asking them to do business with you? Traditional sales training taught advisors to ask for the sale from the very first call, using a litany of trial closes and sales techniques. Today, asking for the sale prematurely is worse than waiting too long.

Few things will put a prospect’s defences up more quickly than feeling pressure to buy before they’re ready, and few things will harm an advisor more than appearing to be in a rush to make a sale. Arguably, there are three steps in the process of preparing clients to want to work with you.

The first stage is familiarization, the informal process in which the client becomes comfortable with your personality and your professionalism.

The second stage is fact-finding, where you gather the information you need to make judgments about the prospective client’s circumstances.

The third stage is recommendations, where you lay out your advice and ask the prospect to begin working with you.

On occasion it makes sense to combine the stages, such as in cases where a strong referral has pre-sold the prospective client, or where they are pressed for time and want to move forward quickly. These are the exceptions, however.

Avoid asking prospects to bring their tax returns and investment statements to the first meeting as this may send the signal you are anxious to make a quick sale. And don’t fall into the trap of leaping to immediate recommendations.

A partner at a national accounting firms commented to me on this last issue. “One of our points of difference is that we give every recommendation considerable thought.”

His firm has a strict policy that, barring tight deadlines, every tax return takes at least three days from the time the information is provided until it is returned to the client for signature — even if it only takes 20 minutes to prepare.

Without that intervening time, the client may question how much thought went into the return and the value they are getting for their fees. “If clients want immediate turnaround, they can go to H&R Block,” he said.

Here’s how a three-meeting approach might play out in a telephone conversation after a prospective client has agreed to meet you: “Ms. Prospect, I’m delighted we’ll be able to get together to talk about your circumstances. If it’s all right with you, I’d rather not get into specific recommendations at our first meeting. Rather, the purpose would be for us to get to know each other — for me to get to understand your goals and objectives and to learn where you’re coming from — and for you to get a feeling for my approach.

“We should plan to spend an hour together. Then, if we both decide to proceed, we would schedule another meeting to go through your current financial situation in considerable detail. That would likely take another hour. After that, I would do some further analysis and we would meet a third time to go through specific recommendations based on your current situation and where you would like to be. That meeting might also take an hour.

“I appreciate you are busy and that taking three hours out of your schedule is a big commitment, but I’ve learned this is the best way for me to ensure I fully understand your needs in order to provide you with the best possible advice. Are you comfortable proceeding on this basis?”

This approach will not work for everyone. In fact, some advisors or clients will feel that it’s too time-consuming. However, in return for investing this additional time, you are sending a powerful message about your professionalism and commitment to fully understanding your clients’ circumstances. That’s something for which a little extra time is a small price to pay.

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Dan Richards is author of Getting Clients, Keeping Clients: The Essential Guide for Tomorrow’s Financial Advisor and is based in Toronto. Dan can be reached at

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Dan Richards