Client Goals–Are you sure you are getting the message?

by IdeaTransfer on January 31, 2012

A recent poll of financial services professionals produced an eye-opening result we want to share with you.  However, the application of the findings goes beyond financial services to virtually all business relationships with customers or clients.

Here is the shocker.  Suppose you have 100 highly affluent clients who depend on you for personal and business financial advice.  The recent poll of wealthy individuals published by SEI, a global service provider to the financial services industry, says 26 of those 100 wealthy clients feel that you know their goals.  Only 26!

If you turn the numbers around, that means 74 of them think you really don’t know their goals.  How could it be true?  You are their most trusted advisor, aren’t you?  Yes, you are–for all 100.  But maybe you’ve made some false assumptions.  Maybe you understand their goals perfectly—but only in your terms.

Many of our clients are knowledgeable and experienced estate planning experts for wealthy families.  We know that by asking all the right questions and listening carefully they can safely say that exactly what the goal is.  Clients want to minimize the financial impact of taxes on their estates and maximize the assets they can transfer across generations.  When our clients implement a plan that achieves that goal, and then monitor the plan’s performance and modify it to new circumstances, they automatically earn their clients’ trust.  What could they be missing?

Here’s a suggestion.  Would any client object to achieving that goal as stated in the last paragraph?  Of course not.  Do clients ever start with that goal?  No, usually they come to it through your discovery process.  And there is the disconnect.  You see goals as logical.  Clients experience goals as emotional.

You state the client’s goal in your language—making it objective, clear, and inarguable.  But from the client’s point of view problems and goals are  subjective, fuzzy, and conflicted.  You take pride in helping clients articulate their goals, but when you very rationally break them down to so-called real goals, you dismiss the client’s emotions–complex aspirations and fears that feel very real to the client.

In the plan itself it’s necessary to use the language of reason, but off-plan you need to communicate in a language of emotion to show you understand how they experience their goals.  What’s the difference?

  • Minimize tax liability is not an emotional concept.
  • Tax freedom and self-reliance are intuitive, full of emotion.
  • Maximize multigenerational assets carries little emotional value.
  • Safeguarding family harmony for generations hits right at the heart.
  • Legacy once had inspirational power, but it has been deflated by overuse.
  • Maybe heritage is the next word to replace it effectively.

But don’t think you can just substitute phrases—emotional expressions have to be personal and authentic.  Every client meeting  and telephone call are opportunities to discover your clients’ own emotional language.  They probably won’t tell you consciously, but they always let important emotional cues slip out.  You have to be listening for them.

But you don’t have to be Barbara Walters to help those messages slip out.  You will be asking clients what they think about any number of subjects.  After they tell you what they think, ask them how they feel about it and probe for concrete examples. If they aren’t clear how they feel, tell them how your other clients feel.  Then they will tell you that’s the same, that’s different, or that’s right-but.  Listen and appreciate.

Here’s the acid test to prove you can hear their goals.  Which is more important?  That they understand your solution or that you understand their problem?  The answer is obvious, but how can you prove you passed the test. Understanding their problem means hearing the emotional words they use to describe the problem and adapting those words to your solution.

Write down any expression they give for how they feel.  Make that part of the client file.  Whenever you meet to talk about aspects of their plan, reinforce that you understand their goals by going back to the language they gave you.  Use those words as the benchmark for measuring performance of the plan.

When you are an expert, you see how to get from problem to solution straighter and faster.  Clients may appreciate that skill, but their reality is full of detours and roundabouts.  The better you are, the more they suppress their feelings, not wanting to make the clean solution messy. Then along comes some pollster asking if they think you understand their goals, and they are forced to say not really.

That sounds bad but much worse is that they don’t refer you to others or that when they do refer you they don’t get the story right.  Once they are convinced you really understand their goals they won’t hesitate to refer you, and just by saying you are the one advisor who truly understands their goals they give you endorsement enough.

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