The Client Question You Should NOT Answer, and Why

Advisor doesn't focus on useless information

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. Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Margaret Neale along with Scott Wiltermuth determined that using “non-diagnostic information”–academic jargon meaning useless, irrelevant statements and information–undermined successful negotiations. Gathering information from Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn profiles lulled the parties into a false sense of confidence that overlooked critical issues.

True, but Useless

Deborah Shames and David Booth at Eloqui instruct their clients to rid presentations of “TBU” — 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.”

Over a networking lunch, Alexandra Pastor, Managing Director at Fiduciary Trust in San Mateo 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.

A few days later when a large potential client with an eight-digit portfolio 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 that 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.

Become The Easy Choice

After her selection, Alexandra asked her new client why she won. He told her, “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.”
You made the choice easy. Instead of answering my question about how you compare to other firms,… Click To Tweet

Alexandra was able to ditch the TBU because she already had a deep understanding of why clients select her and her team to manage multi-million dollar investments. She gets to be in the room because the client already believes Alexandra and her firm are experts at the task of managing large 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 clients learn the difference between being an Expert and being an Advisor. My approach pays huge dividends by focusing marketing and business development on value-assessment and selection rather than reiterating information that is true, but useless for decision making. As Alexandra can tell you, it not only sounds better, it wins clients.

May you have similar success!

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