An essential skill for successful sales results

Most financial advisors have no problem preparing for a routine prospect presentation. They do their homework, find the right avenue to connect with the prospect and make the pitch. But when you’re acquiring new business that will elevate your client base, you must polish your strategy as well as remember that it’s not about you — and remain flexible enough to expect the unexpected.

Letting the prospect lead

Review all the notes from your meetings and conversations with your prospect. What words do they use? How do they describe their problem or situation? What do you need to emphasize in the conversation? Then reread your proposal and think about your key points from your prospect’s point of view.

Once you are in the room, let your client lead the conversation. Be deeply and completely immersed in their words, their thinking, their jargon and their nuances. Despite your level of advanced preparation, you also need to be prepared for progress to stall. Perhaps they are not quite ready to commit. Yet.

All too often, at the beginning of a meeting, prospective clients ask you to tell them about yourself, your services and how you can help them. It is easy to fall into just responding to this type of questioning approach with your canned commentary that you would use when asked what you do at a networking event.

Yet, how can you really answer the questions in a way that matches the nuances of the client’s needs? You must spin this around so you can ask questions. This should be done in a conversational manner and, if you can, practice by doing some role-playing with a trusted ally or colleague so you can get comfortable subtly steering a conversation to gain insight.

Use a cognitively flexible mindset

For complex financial planning, most advisors are technically and socially prepped for the meeting. Yet, it is essential to be mentally prepped in one more critical way. Complex planning is like a multidimensional chess game, with many, many plays available. Don’t assume that in this meeting the prospect will be interested in everything as outlined in your original proposal.

You must be mentally flexible enough to not be disappointed if the prospect takes your meeting in another direction. That way, you will not get thrown if they do or say the unexpected. Sometimes prospects want something smaller or less expensive than what they originally said or we think they need. They might now believe a different approach or fee level is better. Or perhaps they really desire more time with you before they follow your advice.

By bringing a cognitively flexible mindset that anticipates the unexpected might occur, you will be mentally agile enough to handle it. Most exceptional financial advisors have learned the hard way to expect the unexpected, so they are listening deeply in these meetings. This is vital if there is a new person in the room who will also influence the decision. This approach of expecting the unexpected keeps you on your toes. As the meeting moves along, you are then able to rally no matter where they take the discussion.

Recovering when things don’t go well

What you want does not matter to your client. By staying focused on their issues and actively listening to their concerns, you will be responsive and flexible. This is especially true because bringing more flexibility into your perspective means you may ask more probing questions. These questions might uncover their actual decision criteria or the real issues they are trying to address that they were not comfortable sharing in an initial meeting.

Take the insight you have about them and weave it into your conversation. Pay attention to their facial reactions, tone of voice and level of attention. Matching the knowledge you gain about their pain points, real issues and essential needs can take you from the brink of failure to back into the game. Circle back to their decision criteria and build your case for how you fit.

Even if the prospect only accepts part of your plan, you still have a “win.” You can use the new insights you gained to adjust and modify your next approach. You will also often discover that sometimes the perceived “loss” establishes the base for a client to implement more of your plan in the future. Cognitive flexibility combined with active listening and effectively managing disappointment are the key skills needed for successful complex financial planning.

Jill Johnson, president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, is a management consultant, accomplished speaker, award-winning author and Business Hall of Fame inductee. She helps clients make critical business decisions and develop plans for turnarounds or growth. For more information, visit

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