By Bob Zupanek
When you make a sale, you’re starting a new relationship. If you aren’t strategic in your approach to setting the tone and expectations for that relationship, the early stages will take you back to your teenage years. You’ll grasp awkwardly in the dark for a grip on reality and struggle to communicate sometimes uncomfortable — but very important — ideas.
To put the scope of this challenge into perspective, we’ve been in business for over 20 years, and managing expectations (and emotions) for new clients is still a critical challenge. During the course of our sales cycles, we must carefully manage every stage of the partnership in order to retain clients for any meaningful length of time.
Advisors face a similar change with similar stakes. The sales process for a big account can be a long one, and each stage of that process has its own set of expectations to manage. If you paint too flowery of a picture upfront, your prospect will feel disoriented and perhaps deceived during the harder conversations that a big sale necessitates. On the other hand, you can’t speak too harshly, otherwise you risk frightening the prospect.
In the end, it’s about balance. You must find the comfort point between building interest and excitement while also being persistent and honest with your prospect. It’s not always easy to do, but here’s what we’ve learned that could help you in your sales process:
1. Make sure the picture you paint is aligned with your prospect’s reality. That means communicating in a way that makes sense to the specific prospect in front of you. You must be comfortable sharing the same message in different ways — perhaps visually with charts and diagrams for one prospect and being verbally descriptive with another — while also being perceptive of what messages are sticking and which messages are not. If you come in with a one-size-fits-all approach, you will alienate a big part of your prospect pool.
2. Ensure the continuity of the sales experience. Numerous prospect touchpoints are involved in the making of a big sale. Those touchpoints include you but they also include your email system, your support staff, your website and any materials you might leave behind. Each of these pieces sets a tone and an expectation for the prospect. If your message or presentation is inconsistent, it can be confusing at best and foster distrust at its worst.
3. Build in an evaluation process. If you incorporate a prospect and client check-in process into your business, you can identify potential problems before they become catastrophic. We have a third-party sales coach work with new clients, and we rely on him to collect feedback from new clients. Since he is a third party, clients feel more comfortable talking openly with him, and we’ve uncovered some critical insights along the way. If you don’t have a third party available, you can hire a service or use an internal staff member.
Your approach may be quite different from that of a fellow advisor. That’s OK. Chances are you’ll touch on the same best practices that we discussed here. The most important part to remember is that managing expectations and emotions should be a part of your process, something that you repeat with every prospect who comes through your door. By making expectation management a part of your process, and by putting yourself in your prospects’ shoe, you will learn more about your target audience and refine your sales process along the way.
Bob Zupanek is vice president of operations for The PT Services Group. Bob may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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