Look out for the gates and the paths beyond…

Gates in our client conversations.

If you’re not looking for them you have to be lucky to stumble upon one…

Some advisers have made the decision never to open them even if they do notice them.

They prefer the conversational paths that they are used to. Their paths mirror their  ‘technical’ qualifications, are well-trodden, and clearer to see with technical borders. Not suggesting our technical discussions are easy but nonetheless they are based upon ‘what’ we do as advisers.

Understand your client’s WHYs before your WHATs

Behind the gates however is something far more powerful.

Behind the gates are potentially the reasons WHY our clients will engage us. This year, next year and the next year and potentially for years after that.  

Even if the paths the majority of advisers follow in today’s clients conversations don’t necessarily add a lot of value (and yes there are many ways to add value in today’s investment arena) it’s amazing how many advisers in 2011 stuck rigidly to what they know, rather than experiment off-path to potentially achieve greater value for their clients with a greater understanding of WHY our client is seeking our advice and advisory relationship.

Here’s a recent example I saw of a client conversation where the adviser either didn’t see or ignored some gates into a deeper unexplored territory in their advice relationship:

Client: “I just want to be able to pay my mortgage and school fees, to pay for basics like food, electricity and then to pay for some nice things, you know? Other stuff like TVs, holidays, I guess…”

Adviser: “That’s good. OK. So in forming our scope of advice we’re going to place strong emphasis on these things….”

The client here has shared a number of issues (i.e. gates) that need further exploration.

Unfortunately, the adviser paid little attention, in fact, the adviser’s response indicated a shallowness and impatience. The adviser wanted to move onto topics they felt comfortable with, technically trained to address and wanted to show value by demonstrating ‘what’ he could do.

Pity he didn’t understand ‘why’ he needed to do ‘what’ he could do.

Push hard to avoid assumptions

He made the mistake too many advisers make today – he assumed.

When he heard the ‘gates’ of “school fees”, or “some nice things”, or “holidays” he assumed he knew what they meant. Everyone with school age kids wants to be able to afford their “school fees” just like everyone wants a roof over their head. Everyone wants some “nice things” or “go on holidays”.

Here’s another recent example of a client conversation where the advisers pushed through a ‘gate’ to better understand underlying ‘WHYs’:

Adviser: “When you say, you want to be able to travel more, can you tell me a bit more about that. I don’t want to make any assumptions about what travel means for you as it can mean very different things to different people?”

Client: “I didn’t expect these questions. I feel like we are going around in circles here. I don’t know, I would just like to travel more, doesn’t everyone?”

Adviser: “These are sometimes tough questions and there aren’t any right or wrong answers. If we are going to best plan for you this and every year, we can’t afford the luxury of jumping to conclusions that we are providing you with, say, your travel objectives when they can be so varied. Take your time, tell me more what being able to travel more, means for you?”

Client: “This feels a bit like a test. What answers do you want? I haven’t thought about it much. I haven’t had the time.”

Adviser: “That’s exactly why all our advice clients work with us. To craft the right plan and ongoing relationship to achieve outcomes that are important to them yet have never had to the time, or experience with an advisory firm that is focussed on best achieving those outcomes. Our investment strategies, cashflow strategies, tax strategies or any strategies are only of importance in that they better assist our clients achieve the outcomes that mean something for them. So, again, it’s important your answers in your words and in this particular instance, tell me more about what being able to travel means for you?”

Client: <long frustrated pause> “I guess, I mean I just want to get away a lot more than I do”.

Adviser: “OK – tell me more, can we explore what getting away a lot more means for you?”

Client: “Last year I felt terribly guilty when I took two trips away from work something I’ve never ever done before. Being a cricket tragic, one was a short stint touring to a couple of matches the Australian team played at and the second was a short trek with good retired mates along Kokoda track…”

From this, the adviser understood (importantly only in one single area of the client’s life – travel) some significant “WHYs” if he is to engage this client. Having pushed quite hard not only through the ‘gate’ of travel but onwards into a conversation that the client wasn’t ready for (and who is?) or the client hadn’t really considered, did he then understand the value (i.e. remove the guilt, and maximise the probability of similar trips in the future) he has to create.

This client came to this adviser already with several advisers (a banking relationship, an accounting relationship and a share broker) with whom the relationship sometimes extend many years. None of them had pushed down the conversation path through this client’s gates as far this this adviser did in just a few minutes.

Which side of the gates are you on?

When our proposition in 2012 is destined to be based upon providing as much financial certainty in uncertain times, there isn’t a better place to start the year than locating the ‘gates’ and exploring in detail the territory beyond these regardless of the number of years you’ve known your client. Drop your assumptions and get closer to the core of WHY your advisory clients are engaging you and paying your bills.

They just want to achieve their detailed outcomes that are meaningful for them.

Do it before someone else does.

What do you think?

Photo: Sprout Daily –  daily.sproutdaily.com – Check out for the best shots of the best beach every day…

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