The Client Question You Should NOT Answer and Why

The Client Question You Should Not Answer

An investment advisor took a piece of lunchtime advice from me, and closed a $10 million client. A few days later news of a Stanford study on negotiation landed in my inbox echoing the same themes.

First, the science courtesy of my friends at Eloqui. Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Margaret Neale along with Scott Wiltermuth determined that using “non-diagnostic information” — which is academic jargon meaning useless, irrelevant statements and information &mdash undermined successful negotiations. Gathering information from Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn profiles lulled the parties into a false sense of confidence about the other party that made it easy to overlook critical issues.

True, but Useless

Deborah Shames and David Booth at Eloqui instruct their clients to rid presentations of “TBU” –dash true, but useless information. They counsel doing “the unexpected, and not what the client asked, as in ‘Come in and tell us a little about yourselves.’ Instead, launch directly into the potential client’s concerns, and in a concrete way, address how you will solve their challenges.”

This brings me to my investment advisor colleague, Alexandra Pastor, Managing Director at Fiduciary Trust in San Mateo, CA. Over a networking lunch, she asked for the one piece of advice which best captures my approach. That’s easy: “Don’t talk about how you’re different. Tell them why you’re the best choice.” The next time I saw Alexandra, she described doing exactly this to great effect.

Shortly after our lunch, she presented to a large potential client with an eight-digit portfolio. When asked how she and Fiduciary Trust compared to competing firms, Alexandra decided not to answer that question. Instead, she addressed why her firm was the best choice for the needs of that specific client. She spoke of her firm’s approach and the reasons clients love working with her and her team. She noticed this approach felt better and was much more powerful than emphasizing the usual list of bullet points about her firm.

The Easy Choice

After her selection, Alexandra asked her new client why she won. The client said, “You made the choice easy. Instead of answering my question about how you compare to other firms, you made it clear how you will better serve my needs.” Alexandra stood out against the other firms the client was considering because he was confident she better understood his needs.

Instead of answering my question about how you compare to other firms, you made it clear how you… Click To Tweet

Alexandra was able to ditch the TBU because she already had a deep understanding of why her clients select her and the Fiduciary Trust team to manage their multi-million dollar investments. She was in the room because the client already believed Alexandra and her firm were experts at the task of managing large investment portfolios. Most clients have plenty of options, so depth and type of relationship (“The How”) becomes more important in selection than trying to differentiate on task expertise (“The What”). The adjustment Alexandra made was to recognize her expertise was necessary, but not sufficient to win clients.

My approach pays huge dividends by focusing marketing and business development beyond the presumed “what” (true, but useless for decision making) to the “how” that plays a larger role in value-assessment and selection. As Alexandra can tell you, it not only sounds better, it wins clients.

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