For many financial advisors, encouraging new prospects to "think it over" at the end of an initial meeting can seem like a gentle way to offer the prospect space to decide whether the relationship will be right for them, while at the same time, keeping the advisor from feeling that they may be coming across too aggressively by making an immediate sales pitch. However, when a prospect meeting goes really well, and the prospect clearly sees the benefit of engaging with the advisor, ending the meeting with "Think it over" can interrupt the momentum of the meeting and send mixed messages to the prospect that, even though the meeting went really well, the advisor wasn't that enthusiastic about the potential relationship (because otherwise, why wouldn't they have asked them about the next steps to engage?). Instead, advisors can take a more direct approach in introducing the next steps to becoming a client during a discovery meeting to keep the momentum going and potentially increase the chances that the prospect will become a client.
While using an approach that encourages a customer to "think it over" can work well when selling products on a transactional basis between the salesperson and the customer (especially for high-cost products where the customer's behavioral biases come into play and offer the strategy powerful support), selling services to be rendered through an ongoing relationship (such as financial advice) is a very different process and requires a different approach to result in successful sales. In particular, financial advisors who offer ongoing services to clients can focus on 3 key areas that are unique to service-based sales as part of a successful sales strategy. These include 1) minimizing the prospect's uncertainty, 2) understanding their specific problem, and 3) being a 'true' service professional (who not only is capable of selling what's being offered but can also actually follow through and do the job with skill and expertise). Which means that it's more important for advisors to sell a prospective client on their ability to skillfully understand and solve the prospect's specific problems (rather than using tactics better suited to product sales).
For advisors who may feel anxious about coming across as too aggressive in asking for the sale in the first prospect meeting, supplying an agenda in advance that clarifies that the sale – the process of signing up as a client – will be discussed can make it easier by externalizing the issue and knowing that the prospect won't be surprised by the conversation. With this approach, the prospect still has the option to agree to take the next steps to become a client or, if they're not quite ready, to tell the advisor that they still need time to think things over. Regardless of whether they are ready or not, initiating the discussion on the next steps (and with the support of an agenda) can be an effective way to close the meeting without killing the momentum while reassuring the prospect that they would be a valued client and that the advisor is very much interested in working together.
Ultimately, the key point is that selling products and selling services are 2 very different processes, and encouraging prospects to "think it over", while perhaps an effective product-sales tactic, is a less effective way to close a service-based financial planning relationship. Instead, by communicating that they have the skill and expertise to help the prospect identify, understand, and address their specific problems and can ultimately help them minimize the uncertainty that they've been struggling with, advisors can build and leverage valuable momentum with the prospect during the first meeting, potentially increasing the chances that the prospect will agree to become a client by the end of the conversation!
Anyone who has ever bought a big-ticket item has probably heard the salesperson use the "Think It Over" tactic, where the seller suggests that the buyer take time to decide whether they really want to make the purchase instead of pursuing the close of the sale. This is commonly used with car sales: The consumer goes to the lot, picks out their car, test drives it, and loves it. Yet, the consumer hasn't totally bought into the idea of buying the car that same day. It's a big decision for them, and they're hesitant. Perhaps they're not sure about whether they really want the leather seats, or they are choosing between two models, or they want to find a good bargaining chip to make sure they can secure a great deal. And the salesperson senses this hesitation. They don't want to be too pushy because they don't want to scare the consumer away. So they tell the consumer, "Why don't you just sleep on it? Think it over – no decisions need to be made today."
By encouraging the customer to "think it over", the salesman is releasing the pressure of the sale, with hopes that their kind consideration will bring the customer back the next day. However, that's not the only thing they're banking on as they are also relying on the endowment effect – when a person believes that the things they own (or, in this case, the things they envision owning) are worth more than the actual market value. So the more time the customer has to spend thinking about actually owning the car, the more value the customer begins to associate with the car, and the more reasonable the sticker price begins to feel (and even might begin to seem like a steal of a bargain!). On top of the endowment effect, loss aversion can come into play, as the longer the customer thinks about owning the car, the more they think about how attached they are to it, which makes 'losing' the car (i.e., not buying it in the first place) all that much more painful!
This phenomenon of experiencing the endowment effect and loss aversion can happen even after a customer test drives a car, where the fear of losing something that has greatly inflated in value and that has become 'theirs' – at least psychologically – becomes overwhelming, leading to an irrational purchase that the customer can't afford! [Life Hack: Don't test drive a new car until you are ready to buy it!]
However, while choosing a financial advisor is a big decision that might seem akin to buying a new car, using a "Think It Over" sales tactic doesn't quite work the same way, nor does it have the same impact as it does with a new car consumer. And while nobody wants to feel forced into making a big decision they may not yet be ready for, the important thing to note is that engaging a financial planning client is a lot more about selling the advice and services that come with a long-term relationship, which is vastly different from a one-time sales transaction selling a material good, where chances are the customer won't remember their salesperson's name once the transaction is complete. And when the advisor is confident that they can provide advice and services that will truly benefit the client, there should be no reason to fear asking for (or at least discussing in detail) a commitment to engage the advisor's firm.
The reality is that while most advisors don't want to come across as too ambitious about making a sale (like a pushy salesperson), they can send the wrong message when they start by pitching their services, making a solid case for how beneficial a long-term relationship with a supportive and thoughtful fiduciary can be, and then following up by encouraging prospects to "think it over". (Though if prospects themselves are the ones asking for more time to think things over, the advisor can certainly acknowledge their request and offer to call them again in 3 days – or however long the prospect wants – to check back in.) Because leading with "Think It Over" messaging can make the 'relationship' sale seem more like a 'transaction' sale… which it is not. As while this tactic can be an effective strategy with product sales, the financial planning of today, especially as it relates to financial advicers, is very much a completely different animal.
Products Are Not Like Services – And The Best Ways To Sell Each Are Very Different
The historical roots of the financial planning industry lie in insurance and product sales that depended heavily on transactional product sales (including early versions of financial plans, which were often created for the sole purpose of justifying the sale of products!). This may be how the trend of encouraging prospects to think things over before engaging with the advisor became popular in financial planning meetings.
However, selling financial planning services and selling financial planning products are 2 very different activities. A 1966 Harvard Business Review article by Warren Wittreich discusses the differences between the sale of services and products – and its points are still relevant today. Wittreich discusses 3 key concepts that lie at the root of what buyers and sellers of services should keep in mind when evaluating sales strategies:
- Minimizing uncertainty. Buyers of services that rely on a professional relationship are often seeking that service to help them minimize some areas of uncertainty that they want help with. Sellers can appeal to buyers by showing them how they work to help clients reduce their uncertainty. For financial advisors, this is an opportunity to explain not just the 'what' (e.g., the topics covered in a financial plan) and 'how' (e.g., how the process will be carried out), but also the 'why' (i.e., why the plan is important and the way it can help clients reduce potential anxiety about the uncertainty of situation), which is most often the primary reason prospects seek advisors in the first place.
- Understanding problems. When it comes to marketing a relationship versus a product, businesses in service-based sales benefit more if they can explain how their services address their customer's specific problems instead of simply explaining what their services include. To successfully deliver on this value proposition, business owners must demonstrate not just that they have the means to address the problem but that they intrinsically understand what's most important to the customer. For financial advisors, this translates to explaining the services offered and how their process of delivering those services goes deeper into collaboratively working with the client to understand the particular and unique nuances of their problem and then defining and building a unique solution catered to the
- Buying the professional. Being a "true" professional, according to Wittreich, means being someone who can actually "do the work." He distinguishes a "professional salesman" from a "professional who can also sell" by describing the latter as follows:
This person thinks of himself first and foremost as a professional. His intellectual interests and his emotional gratifications derive from coming to grips with substantive problems…. At the same time, he is cognizant of those situations where he may be asked to demonstrate his and his firm's capabilities to a client. He is not averse to becoming involved in said situations. As a matter of fact, he enjoys doing this.
Which means that the best person to market the relationship is the financial advisor who can persuade a client that their skills and passion – and their own idiosyncratic way of working with unique clients – will be of value to the client; connecting with clients themselves will be significantly more impactful than a marketing-focused non-advisor (e.g., a salesperson) making a pitch for the client's business.
Integrating these 3 concepts of minimizing uncertainty, understanding problems, and "buying the professional" can help the advisor excel at being "the professional who can also sell", as Wittreich describes it. In other words, guiding and providing structure to the sales conversation – including asking for the sale – is not something advisors need to shy away from, but instead can be a process that can help advisors present themselves as skillful providers of valuable service well worth engaging with.
Ultimately, the advisor has a unique opportunity to showcase how they will work with the client to define and create the scope of work that will benefit the client and how collaboratively implementing the plan will address their specific needs. Asking for the prospect's commitment to come on board as a client and solidifying the relationship can be framed as an important yet natural process presented with finesse and sensitivity; it does not need to feel like a crass sales pitch.
"Think It Over" Undermines Relationship-Based Services, Especially With Prospects In Action
Many financial planning prospects who have never worked with a financial professional before, seeing a financial advisor for the first time can be a daunting experience. With no frame of reference for expectations, talking to a professional about personal and potentially sensitive financial matters can be difficult and cause the prospect to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, ￼subject to feelings of judgment, shame, and worry about not understanding financial jargon. And so when advisors ask prospects to "think it over" about so much unfamiliar territory, prospects can be made to feel very uncomfortable.
For example, imagine that someone is out on a great first date. They share intimate details of things they never discussed with anyone else before. And while they're not quite sure how the relationship might work out, they're feeling really good about how the first date is going. But then, at the end of the night, their date says, "I had a nice time getting to know you. This was fun, but before we decide to go out on a second date, why don't you think it over to see if that's what you really want to do."
Weird, right? And even though financial planning isn't the same as dating, they both involve the commitment to a very personal relationship. Which is why telling a new financial planning prospect to "think it over" (especially when the meeting goes really well!) can feel so strange and awkward at the end of a meeting. The prospect might be feeling exhilarated from finding a professional that they felt comfortable with – even good about! – sharing personal financial details, and excited about having someone to help them work through some really challenging problems. And then, the advisor says, "I had a nice time getting to know you. This was a great conversation, and this could be a great working relationship. But before deciding whether you want to take the next steps, think it over."
For some prospects, especially those who might feel uncertain about whether they want to commit, being asked to think things over might feel okay. However, when the initial meeting goes really well, and it's obvious that the advisor can be of great service to the prospect, it can feel unnatural and confusing for the advisor not to continue the pacing and momentum of the meeting with a discussion of the next steps to onboard the client. And foregoing this conversation does not often feel good for the motivated client.
While the advisor's intent is to be supportive and not to pressure the prospect –they certainly mean well – without the right framing and context, ending a meeting by sending the client along their way and encouraging them to "think it over" can sound like the "thanks, but no thanks – it's not you, it's me" that can leave the prospect wondering, "What just went wrong? I thought this seemed like a really good fit – did I read things incorrectly…?". Relationship sales are generally better off ending in asking for the sale because it conveys the message, "I want to work with you!".
Furthermore, disrupting the momentum after a good meeting can make it harder to successfully engage the prospect as a client if too much time passes after the meeting. Prospects will often be in 'action mode' while they're still in the advisor's office (virtually or in person), and letting them go before giving them an opportunity to sign an engagement letter can be enough to dampen their motivation to take action at all. As asking a prospect to schedule (and attend!) another meeting simply adds another barrier to the final stage of signing on as a client. People are busy, stressed, tired, apprehensive, anxious, and often just uninterested in setting more appointments because their lives are hectic. Getting in their car, driving in traffic, finding parking, sitting in a waiting area, and having another conversation just to get to paperwork that could have been signed two weeks earlier is not an appealing proposition.
Proactive Advisors Ask For The Business (In An Agenda) And They Know Their Service Is Crucial
While encouraging a prospect to think things over can undermine the goals of both the financial advisor and the prospect who meets with an advisor to get things done, selling the relationship and the services that come with it don't need to feel like an aggressive move for an advisor. Instead, asking a prospect to sign on as a client during the first meeting is a proactive gesture that can be a welcome gesture by an eager prospect, especially if they are a good fit for the firm.
Business Development From The Perspective Of Selling Services – Not Products
Financial advisors will find value in the 3 areas of distinction that make selling services unique from selling products, as pointed out by Warren Wittreich: Minimizing uncertainty, understanding problems, and buying the professional.
First, prospects who meet with financial advisors are, more often than not, seeking to minimize some form of uncertainty. By talking about the details that cover the financial planning process and relationship – we work together to build your financial plan and working together in this way, closely as decision-partners – advisors can help alleviate much of the stress that prospects experience by walking them through the specific 'hows' and 'whys' and helping them understand exactly how the advisor will work to address and minimize (to the extent possible) the prospect's uncertainty.
Second, acknowledging and reiterating the prospect's specific problems can reassure them that the advisor truly understands what they are up against. This is crucial to convey that the advisor's aim is to help the client and not simply to prescribe a templated process that won't actually address the client's primary concerns. If the advisor believes that there are more critical concerns that should be addressed in the financial plan first, they may find it helpful to educate the client to help them gain a more holistic view of their overall plan. Without disparaging the client's concerns in any way, the advisor can help them put all of their financial needs into clear perspective and help them see how all their issues will be approached and addressed.
Finally, financial advicers are "true professionals". As Warren Wittreich defines them, their "intellectual interests and emotional gratifications derive from coming to grips with substantive problems". At the same time, they understand the value of pitching their own (and their firm's) capabilities to the prospect or client. Accordingly, advisors can view business development as a vital process that offers them an opportunity to say positive things about themselves that will help prospects not only grasp the passion the advisor has for their profession but also connect how the advisor's expertise will benefit them and help them overcome their most pressing pain points.
In other words, financial advicers are not just professional salespeople; they are the people who actually do the work, and who enjoy doing it – they love the puzzles that come with creating a successful plan, they love the client engagement, they love working with their teams. Speaking to these points can be hugely powerful, and helping the prospect understand that the sale of the advisor's service comes as a gift wrapped in a relationship with a skilled professional who has valuable expertise. Not a bad thing.
Put The Sales Talk Into An Agenda
Anticipation anxiety is a real challenge for both advisors (who don't want to come across as aggressive salespeople) and prospects (who are nervous about what the advisor will ask them to do). Yet, anticipation anxiety can be easily cleared up by creating an agenda that establishes guidelines and sets clear expectations for the first meeting. A sample agenda that can be offered to new prospects could be as simple as the following:
- Your goals for financial planning.
- How we work with clients.
- Questions about our firm's processes, services, and fees.
- Discussion of next steps:
- Engagement letter, onboarding paperwork, and welcome packet.
- Data gathering process and paperwork.
- Financial plan preparation and follow-up meetings.
By supplying an agenda that clarifies that the sale – the process of signing up as a client – will be discussed, prospects know what to expect (alleviating their anxiety about uncertain expectations), and the advisor is able to stick to a scripted agenda (alleviating their anxiety about coming across as too aggressive).
Including the sales process on the agenda normalizes and externalizes the issue. In some ways, the agenda serves as part of a pre-commitment strategy. The prospect was aware that the sale was on the agenda… and they still came! The prospect can still tell the advisor that they need time to think things over, which is fine. Regardless of whether they are ready or not, the agenda will be helpful simply to explain what will happen in the meeting and set clear expectations.
Asking For The Business
When prospects agree to a meeting, they have, in some ways, pre-committed to having a sales discussion with the advisor. When they show up, they anticipate that the advisor will be asking them to come on board (as they saw this point in the agenda). One way advisors can ask for the prospect's business without feeling pushy is to ask the prospect for their permission. As asking for permission isn't pushy; it gets to the point politely and clearly.
When the end of the meeting draws near, advisors can use the following ways to ask for permission:
- Let's talk about the next steps and what we need to begin the working relationship today… is that okay with you?
- I have really enjoyed speaking with you and learning more about you. I'm feeling positive about taking the next steps; are you ready to go over the contract and talk about onboarding?
- All that's left is signing the contract. We can go over that now and I'll answer any questions regarding what we need to get started today. Sound like a plan?
These are easy ways to introduce the idea of next steps and to ask for permission to proceed. And being asked for permission generally feels good for the prospect. It is not aggressive; the prospect can very easily respond with, "I enjoyed our conversation, too, but I want a day to think about it".
Permission gives the prospect power and keeps the advisor from appearing pushy, but at the same time, it still makes it clear what comes next. It allows advisors to ask the prospect for their business and to let them know that they want the prospect to sign up. Because what they are selling is a great relationship that will benefit the prospect, and asking for permission gives the advisor an opportunity to communicate that they truly care about what the prospect wants and how they want to go forward.
As an artifact from financial planning when the product sale was the central goal, encouraging prospects to "think it over" is no longer an effective way to close a service-based financial planning relationship. While it may be an effective tactic for product sales, it can have unintended, negative consequences in relationship sales. At worst, it can be interpreted as rejection; at best, it can derail valuable momentum built up during an initial meeting. Instead of encouraging prospects to "think it over" at the close of an initial meeting, advisors can instead simply ask for the business before ending the meeting.
By reminding themselves that they are in the business of offering services and advice – not products – advisors can have more impactful prospecting conversations by assuring new prospects that they truly understand their challenges, by focusing the discussion on how they will help them solve their problems, and by explaining how they help to minimize the uncertainty that plagues so many new financial planning clients. And, perhaps most importantly, advisors can convince new prospects that they are in the process of buying into an auspicious relationship that will benefit them in the long term, one that will help them crystallize what is most important to them so that they can realize their most rewarding lifelong goals!