As we’ve explored in this blog series, virtual meetings are harder than live meetings, and people are starting to experience meeting fatigue. Because of this, while it’s nice to call a client to touch base, the best reason to conduct a virtual meeting is to motivate action.
For clients, that action may be to allocate new assets, to make a change in the portfolio structure or to complete an aspect of the financial plan that keeps them current with your Standard of Care. For prospects, that action will typically be to take one more step toward engagement or to begin the onboarding process.
Observations of advisor behavior over the past 30 years have revealed a surprising pattern: many advisors either assume the client or prospect knows what action to take or don’t clearly articulate what action they want the other person to take after the meeting. Don’t make those mistakes. Be crystal clear about what you want the client or prospect to do and why it’s important to do it now.
Here are six steps to organize a meeting’s flow so that you always keep your close on.
1. Introduce a Problem
The first step is to create a message that gains the listener’s attention. Our brains are constantly scanning the vast amounts of information around us and trying to decide what’s worth paying attention to and what can safely be ignored. Too often, the information an advisor is trying to convey doesn’t qualify as urgent or important enough to warrant interest. Without securing the brain’s attention, the message fails before it even gets started.
With this in mind, galvanize attention and urgency. Energize the message by starting with a problem that captures the listener’s hardworking brain: “There is a problem. It represents a danger. It’s important for you to pay attention and understand how this may affect you.”
2. Reveal the Mechanisms of the Problem
Next, activate the listener’s rational thought processes by explaining the dynamics that created the problem. These mechanisms are usually the cause-effect relationships underlying how the capital markets function. The advisor’s advice becomes valuable if she can interpret and explain the dangers of those dynamics. Revealing the mechanisms involved in the current problem activates the listener’s neo-cortex, engages his deliberate decision-making processes and earns you credibility.
3. Explain the Implications
The most important step is to show the implications of the mechanisms that make up the problem so that the listener understands what’s happening and knows what may happen if he doesn’t address the problem. This stimulates feelings and motivates action.
When preparing for a meeting, explore the future implications of what’s happening now. Design a message that helps the listener zoom in on the mechanisms that are most important today and that provides enough information to choose a course of action. Ideally, after this step, the listener will ask, “What can I do about this?” This means that he is ready to receive your proposal.
4. Propose a Solution
Steps one through three are designed to galvanize attention, focus thoughts, activate feelings and motivate a desire to act. Now the goal is to attach the motivation to a particular action. The first half of your message created energy, emotions and motivation; the second half should start with direction and guidance for the action that will either protect or benefit the listener.
5. Reveal the Mechanisms of the Solution
This is the time to reengage the listener’s rational processes by describing the mechanisms in the product or solution that will solve the problem: “This is what I recommend you do and how it helps solve the problem.”
When making decisions, the brain combines the analytic work of the neo-cortex with the emotions felt in the cerebellum. As a result, a decision to take action always involves thoughts and feelings. The feelings drive the behaviors; thoughts guide which behaviors are best to use. Because of this two-part process, an effective message moves from thoughts to feelings and back to thoughts to stimulate action and then direct it properly.
Now your client or prospect has a clear understanding of why it’s important to take a particular action and what specifically should be done about it.
6. Close with a Next Step
It’s time to end the meeting, but managing the close can be challenging because it’s easy to assume that the listener already knows what to do. Unfortunately, while you know what you want the listener to do next, she may not. Avoid making any assumptions. End the meeting with a clear call to action: “Here’s what I suggest we do next…”
Of course, closing a meeting with this type of clarity is a risk. Perhaps she wasn’t persuaded by your message. While “yes” is the response you want to hear, “no” can be equally helpful in that it gives you a chance to explore the listener’s thinking by asking, “Why not?”
While providing a clear next step stresses the relationship by forcing a response and may feel socially uncomfortable, it’s also the only way the listener can receive the full benefit of the message and the meeting.
Progressing thoughtfully through these steps will help you reach your ultimate goal, whether it be getting the client or prospect to take the desired action or building your credibility for the next conversation.
For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit http://alliancebernstein.com/go/abai.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.