The inspiration for today's blog post is a continuation of last week's discussion about what financial planners can learn from Suze Orman about building trust virtually. Because the reality is that while many financial planners may not appreciate Suze Orman's particular advice recommendations, she still demonstrates a number of key points for developing trust with the people to whom she gives advice but whom she has never met in person. Fundamentally, these are steps to building trust that can apply for any planner before a face-to-face connection is made, and indeed steps to building trust that are strong enough to generate client action even without any in-person interaction at all!
People Work With People
The first key point is that if you want to delve further into learning about Suze, what you ultimately get is not information about Suze, but the story of Suze. You're not learning about the expert from whom you'll receive advice; you're learning about the person with whom you'll be developing a trusted relationship. Yes, Suze includes her bio, and information about her awards and accomplishments to build expert credibility, but it starts with her personal story. As human beings, we relate to other human beings.
And notably, so much of what Orman does is visual. Although she has authored several books, you don't interact with her solely through books. In fact, when you look at the initial page "About Suze" all you see is a single paragraph of text, and a video; visitors don't learn about Suze by reading about her, but by seeing about her, and are then invited to read more of her story.
From the financial planner's perspective, this means that it is crucial that your website communicates you as a real human being. For starters, this means every bio should include a picture (if it's not part of the overall website), and not just text; ideally, video should be included as well (and fortunately, in today's world, creating video and hosting it on a website can be done for a few hundred dollars or less). It also means that your bio should include more than just your technical information and your credentials; it should communicate why you do what you do, what motivates you, and convey a depth beyond your professional world alone (as discussed previously on this blog, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"). Again, your prospective clients don't want to work with a professional expert automaton; they want to work with an expert human being.
Credibility Is Necessary But Not Sufficient
While expert credibility matters, the best trust relationships are built on more than just credibility; it is a necessary condition for trusting someone to give advice, but not solely sufficient. As the graphic below from Charles Green of the Trusted Advisor illustrates, ultimately trust also requires building an intimacy with clients, and showing a genuine authenticity in acting in the interests of the client (and not yourself).
In Suze Orman's case, her introduction video, as well as the experience of her television show itself, provides a demonstration of her authenticity, her ability to connect intimately with people to deliver advice relevant to them, and that her focus is on her 'clients' to whom she gives advice, not herself (although obviously she is still trying to run a business, as are most advisors). And Orman doesn't just say that she helps people; through the video, and especially through the show, you see people being helped and getting the advice that they need.
From the financial planner's perspective, this suggests that planners also need to better show how they communicate with clients. While a planning firm might not necessarily be able to show a video of a client engagement, do you at least provide a video showing you describing in your own words what you do for your clients and why? Can your prospective clients see your video and in the process envision themselves communicating with you on financial planning issues that are important to them?
Trust Is Built Over Time
The reality is that trust is not established immediately; it is built over time, just as Orman provides her audience the opportunity to build a relationship with her over weeks, months, or even years. Not every viewer is going to take whatever advice is provided the first time he/she watches the show. But Orman's various offerings - from the show, to her website, to her books, etc. - allows for multiple touches on an ongoing and regular basis. Even though it's actually a series of one-to-many experiences, for the end user, the trust relationship is built systematically through repeated familiarity and interaction. In other words, Orman builds trust with the people to whom she delivers advice gradually over time, in a similar manner to how almost any advisor builds a trusted relationship with a client; Orman simply uses different tools and a different communication medium. Radio personalities build a trust relationship with their audiences in a similar manner, culminating in a first point of interaction often described as "Long-time listener, first-time caller; I have a question..."
From the financial planner's perspective, the key to developing a trust relationship with prospective clients virtually is to give them opportunities and ways to get to know you, over time, before it comes time to actually become a client. Whether it's regularly reading blog posts, getting a newsletter, seeing videos, or some other means, providing ongoing and regular contact through content allows planners to establish a remarkable amount of trust, before the client ever contacts the planner directly to take the relationship to the next level.
The Digital Age Levels The Playing Field
The good news is that as we enter the digital age, the tools required to provide ongoing content that establishes the foundation of a trust relationship with prospective clients are increasingly accessible to all. In the past, this dynamic has been the exclusive realm of those who ran radio or television shows, or who published books; in today's world, though, the existence of blogs, videos, and social media give any planner the opportunity to cultivate a following and begin to develop the foundations of a trust relationship... such that ultimately, when any particular person reaches the point where more help is needed, the outreach to the planner is a familiar, trusted point of contact, not an unknown stranger. In fact, when the content is done well enough, you don't even have to search for more potential clients, because they find you!
Best practices in this area are about more than just the content, though. It's also about taking steps to make the planner more human, and more authentic - showing (literally, with video and pictures) prospective clients who you really are, and telling the story of why you do what you do, even while establishing expert credibility. The combination of all of this, over time, puts you in the position to be a catalyst for client change.