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Sales skills: key to sustainability and growth for advisers
Business development — January 26, 2017

Sales skills: key to sustainability and growth for advisers

Recently there has been much discussion among wealth managers and financial planners on the importance of selling skills in today’s market. When financial advisers were distributors and remunerated on product sales, the emphasis was on achieving sales targets as commission bonuses were directly linked to these. Often, limited consideration was given to a clients overall personal and financial situation.

The implications of the sales driven approach have been recognised and led some to believe that wealth managers and planners should abandon selling. Yes there is a need to move away from product selling – although this depends on the business model that could feasibly focus on a very limited number of products where the proposition is product led, has a short conversion cycle and is designed to meet a specific need.

For wealth planners, the ability to sell remains of critical importance to the growth and sustainability of any business and should be recognised as a key skill for all client facing staff. In today’s market some financial advisers have successfully transitioned to being wealth planners with emphasis on the ability deliver a complex service requiring a mix of technical and soft skills.

Such a service delivers a significant amount of value to the end client and it is here that the distinction between product selling, and the selling of a service lies. Selling a service requires a different approach and a different set of skills. But it still requires the ability to sell, but in a more sophisticated way.  

Starting from the point of how to attract a new client, there are various options that will be determined by the profile of your target market. For example, if your business depends on serving a high number of clients you need an effective mechanism to build and maintain a new business pipeline.

In this situation a brand marketing led strategy may be required. Advertising, social media, sponsorship, events and direct mailings, lead the sales effort. To do this effectively requires significant investment and a quick return. Sales messages are present at the outset. Leads are generated and followed up by a sales support team or client facing staff often working to a short conversion cycle.

Conversely, if your business is structured to support a smaller number of more demanding clients with complex needs it is more likely that new relationships will be formed on a personal level. These could be through existing clients, a professional connection or a friend. In this scenario, a longer-term approach to developing the relationship is adopted and may require a number of face-to-face meetings or encounters.

Regardless of which approach is applied to initially engage a prospect, once the client has expressed an interest in your service, you have the opportunity to change your approach and think about how your prospect could become a client. The length of this process will depend on the cost and complexity of your offer.

For wealth palnners, a buying signal doesn’t mean moving straight to closing your prospect by delivering your sales pitch or providing lengthy details on your service or the benefits you can provide. 

This buying signal is an indication that the client is interested enough to give you a licence to ask questions that relate specifically to their circumstances and how you can assist. At this point you should be asking questions, listening with intent and thinking about what you will propose to meet the clients need. It may be you decide the client doesn’t fit your target profile, in which case you should explain why you are not in a position to help.

Only once this stage and process has been completed should consideration be given to the detail of your proposal, with emphasis on the value delivered which is specific to each individual case. By adopting this approach you are selling, but more importantly you are demonstrating to the client that you understand, and can accurately reflect back their circumstances and needs.  

When we look at the skills required to be successful in sales today, the same skills apply to the role of the wealth planner. According to sales transformation leader Mike Kunkle from GE, salespeople today need to be proficient at: 

  • analysis: researching, identifying problems, and thinking critically
  • creating value: displaying business, customer, and outcome acumen
  • communication: listening, influencing, and negotiating
  • judgment: making decisions, interpreting, and exhibiting purposeful competence
  • learning: learning, unlearning, and practicing metacognition
  • organization: planning, prioritizing, and managing tasks

For advisers and wealth planners reading this, the approach and the skills required should sound familiar. The same skills are required during the fact find, suitability and wealth planning process.

The need to sell has never been more relevant, whether it be to a new or existing client.  The difference between the approach today, compared to 10 years ago in a product led, commission driven world is clear. Making the transition is not easy. Today the emphasis is on value and delivering a service that accurately meets a client’s need. By adopting this approach, wealth planners stand a better chance of meeting clients’ expectations and building longer-term relationships. It also greatly reduces regulatory risk.

Selling tends to introduce risk when the seller is working to their agenda, not their clients’. This was largely the case prior to RDR, and is still the case in some businesses today. But the sector is progressing. At the same time costs are rising and scale is becoming more important. The ability to sell remains an essential part of any business planning a long-term future.

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