QUESTION: “Hi Michael, I’m in the business of selling financial products. I guess I need help screening people and to stop wasting time on people who are not interested in buying my products.”

LOVAS: This is a very common problem, but it has a very simple solution. Just ask about their values. What’s important to them? There are two issues here. 1) It could be that you’re not building rapport and trust, thus they see you as the lowest common denominator and can’t wait to hit the door. Or, 2) you’re placing the highest value on your products, rather than on what’s important to your prospects. If you push products, you’re building your business on your own values. Not good. You should be focusing intently on helping your prospects satisfy their values.

Speaking of values

QUESTION: “I try to find out how my prospects value money, but more often than not, the conversation irritates them. How can I find out how they feel about money?”

LOVAS: Values about money are severely misunderstood by financial advisors. Someone who values money assumes that other people do, too. The truth is, people rarely ever list money as one of their top four values. Instead, here’s what the research discovered:

In 2001, Kennon Sheldon, of the University of Missouri at Columbia, and his colleagues wanted to know America’s top ten values. They asked hundreds of American university students to recall their most satisfying event of the last week, month or semester. The students rated self-esteem, relatedness (feeling connected with people), autonomy (feeling in control) and competence (feeling effective) as the top four emotions that accompanied feeling satisfied. Their findings were reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Money was on the list. Want to know where? At the bottom, with popularity, influence and luxury. So, when you think about asking your prospects to tell you how they value money, get ready for a surprise – they don’t really value it. What that means to you is serious to how you proceed. Gathering values around money gives you answers that are next to meaningless.

My first response to that research was doubt. Perhaps Sheldon and is colleagues questioned philosophy or music students, rather than MBAs. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because there are over a hundred other studies which conclude that people are more motivated by internal emotions than by external rewards such as money.

For example, in an academically pure way, Edward Deci, of the University of Rochester in New York, recently illustrated the point by showing that people are typically happy to work through puzzles without getting any money, whereas those paid to do the puzzles are inclined to stop once the money is withdrawn. That research was published in 1971 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

From the psychological perspective, the benefit to you from asking about money is that you ask a “you-focused” question and listen. For many consumers, that’s the first time a financial advisor actually listened to them.

Again, from the psychological perspective, there are several other questions to learn someone’s values, and what you really want to learn is their actual values, not their sub-values associated to something they actually do not value. If you were to gather those, you’d be collecting smoke and illusion.

In conclusion

Our research (and that of others) shows clearly that the advisors who build strong relationships make more money. Of those, the most successful are the ones who put their clients’ values first. If you want to give your clients the best service possible, focus on helping them secure or protect their self-esteem, relatedness (feeling connected with people), autonomy (feeling in control) and competence (feeling effective). What do your prospects really want? Heck, what do your future prospects really want?

In order to even begin to make a meaningful connection with people and build meaningful relationships, you absolutely must succeed at the following:

  1. Learn how to “read” people.
  2. Use that knowledge to build purposeful rapport.
  3. Learn and develop the specific skills for communicating with each individual person with great clarity.
  4. Stop thinking of yourself as a “salesperson.”
  5. Begin to think of yourself as a counselor/consultant.

This whole topic of values is a pivotal point that could easily determine if you will still be in this business in a year or two. Now, that’s a statement that should scare the bajeebers out of you. But, how could I make such a wild statement? How could I substantiate it? Actually, it’s easy.

In Conclusion. Asking questions is the essence of consulting. Who needs a financial consultant? Boomers – the people who are your future prospects. What are you NOT getting taught to do? Consult with Boomers. How can you get more Boomer clients? Learn how to take the consultative approach. What would force you out of this industry? Trying to push products on Boomers, and that would be the result of NOT taking the initiative to learn the consultative approach.

Your Reward

My firm specializes in teaching sales teams how to succeed with Boomers and consultative selling. If you want to learn the skills that are absolutely essential to consultative selling, send me an email containing this paragraph. One of my partners or I will “read” you and determine what skills you need to succeed with Boomers and consultative selling. Then, if you decide to follow our advice, I’ll give you a $200 discount on coaching! So, it’s up to you now.

* This offer expires on December 1, 2006.