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What it feels like to be a client

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July 15, 2011 by Chris Nöthling

Don't Trust Anyone But Us
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I recently experienced a situation where a pushy real estate agent tried to force me to make a snap decision about signing a contract on a property. It reminded me of an article I read a few years ago by David Maister about How Clients Choose. According to Maister the single most important talent in selling a service is the ability to understand the purchasing process (not the sales process) from the clients’ perspective.  It reminded me: I do like to buy things but I hate being sold to. As Financial Planners are we creating conditions that encourage our clients to buy the right solutions or are we trying too hard to sell something to them?

Maister argues that unless their skills are truly unique, unmatched by any competitor, professionals are never hired because of their technical capabilities. Excellent capabilities are essential to get your foot in the door but it is other things that get you hired. Once the purchaser has made the decision about “Can you do it?” his focus moves to “Do I want to work with you?”  The client will be more inclined to work with you if you demonstrate an insight into where they are at during the process. The reality is that buying professional services is rarely a comfortable experience. Among the unpleasant emotions frequently felt are the following.

  1. I feel exposed: In asking your help I have to give up some degree of control. Intellectually I may know that I need your expertise but emotionally it’s not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others.
  2. I feel insecure: I don’t know the extent of my problem, that’s why I need you, the specialist to help me.  But, I’m not sure I can trust you to be honest with me: it’s in your interest to convince me that my problem is complex and needs more time and money than may really be the case.
  3. I feel sceptical: The press is littered with stories about people who have been burned by Financial Advisers. There are so many promises out there: How do I know whose promise I should buy? How do I know if I can trust you or if you are simply out to do the best for yourself?
  4. I feel anxious: I am concerned that you either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special.  Will you be one of those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave me out of the loop, who befuddle me with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why? In short, will you deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?
  5. I feel threatened: By hiring someone to advise me on my finances I have to reveal stuff about my financial affairs. For many this is the most intimate aspect of our lives.  In doing so I risk revealing that I have made mistakes, or done foolish things with my money. Maybe I just feel embarrassed because I think I earn too little.

Whilst all these thoughts are running through my heart and mind there is a good chance that I can not actually identify my feelings and articulate them. I simply experience them as some kind of unsettling noise. Somewhere deep inside I probably recognise that I am looking for someone I can trust. The act of hiring a financial planner is an act of faith. As a client I must, inevitably, believe a promise. When your behaviour mirrors your promises there is a good chance that you will earn my trust and confidence.

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