business woman writing to-do list on glass (Photo: Shutterstock)

It can be tough enough for advisors during good times. During bad times, it can be quite a bit worse. But in the time of the coronavirus, all bets are off as we all encounter circumstances very few have actually lived through. While the oldest among us might actually remember the Great Depression, being hit with a pandemic and likely on the verge of entering another depression (we're already in a recession, say a number of experts) is nothing we've ever faced.

So special tactics are called for to win clients' attention and provide them with advice on investments, potential retirement income solutions and other financial products or strategies. Wining and dining potential clients is no longer a viable strategy in the age of social distancing, nor is an educational event with everyone gathered in the same location.

Even office visits are not wise—how many clients do you know who might be willing to garb up in masks and gloves, assuming they're willing to leave their homes? And that's assuming you yourself are actually in your office and not working from home.

So what's to be done? If the solitude is getting to you and the itch to meet with clients or potential clients is growing stronger, there are other strategies you can try to counter the isolation of social distancing while meeting the need to stay productive and find new clients.

Below you'll find 7 problems and solutions for selling when the in-person approach is out of the question.

7. Problem: Getting clients to focus on important issues. Solution: Cast them in terms of the coronavirus.

So maybe you've been after an older client to set up a succession plan for his or her business, but they've been "too busy" to talk about it (too scared of their own mortality is more like it). Or to engage in estate planning, or write a will, or set up a plan or trust for charitable giving.

Now might be the time to broach the subject, particularly as we see the everyday structures of business and industry falling all around us due to social distancing, job loss, and catastrophic medical issues and expenses.

Remind clients that this is the time they wanted to plan for, and revisit any existing plans to make sure that they're still valid in a changing world.

6. Problem: Going above and beyond for clients. Solution: Think outside the box.

Particularly if you work with a niche market, you know a lot about your clients' businesses. Is there a way you can translate that into compiling information that can help them cope with potential business problems presented by the coronavirus?

If you can offer them solutions even before they think to ask the questions, such as how to better insure their businesses in the future against unforeseen events—or even how to cut expenses during the shutdown or how to rearrange funds or functions to keep valuable employees on their payrolls, it will certainly do a lot to cement loyalty.

5. Problem: Prospecting for clients or product sales. Solution: Store up leads for later.

You might be swamped with reassuring existing clients or even with getting your whole office's operations up to speed remotely, but if there's one thing that's sure, you'll be wanting to go out looking for new clients sooner or later.

Now might be an excellent time for you to share the workload and enlist some of your office staff (perhaps even someone who might otherwise be laid off for the duration of the shutdown) to research leads and contact information, so that when things calm down a bit you have a ready-made store of potential clients or, among existing clients, a list of those who might be interested in specific products and the reasons they might appeal to them.

4. Problem: Clients concerned about cybersecurity. Solution: Proactive reassurance.

Before your clients even ask whether all their data—income, trades, account numbers, etc.—are protected as well with you working at home as they were when you were in an office on a dedicated system, prepare an informational document that would answer all the questions you would ask—and probably did when you tightened up security on your system at home. (You did do that, didn't you?)

Proactively send that out to all your clients as a "You may have been wondering…" e-mail, and let them know that even though your physical office may be closed, your virtual office is still up, running and secure.

3. Problem: Prospect dinner. Solution: Gift cards for restaurant takeout, sent after the talk you'll give online.

You may not be able to meet with would-be prospects in person, but if you had planned to host a dinner—or a series of them—all is not lost. Schedule webinars on the topics you wanted to cover and do a good deed at the same time by providing restaurant gift cards to attendees who actually log in to the event. And if you can send the gift cards electronically, so much the better.

2. Problem: Educational event cancellation. Solution: Online meeting tools.

Say you had a number of people signed up to attend a class you were going to present on annuities, or on TDFs or ESG. Treat it the same as you would if you were giving it in person, by preparing handouts, background materials, perhaps even a questionnaire for attendees on what they most want to know or why the topic is important to them.

Then send out invitations online and send the materials to those who accept. If you were going to offer "freebies" to in-person attendees—a book you've written, perhaps—use snailmail and send them anyway.

Considering that thousands, if not millions, of people are having to get used to doing things online, your virtual attendees will probably be versed in the logistics of the process and will probably appreciate the time-saving aspect of the event.

1. Problem: In-person client meetings. Solution: Skype, Zoom, other online meeting tools; iPads.

No matter how much faith your clients have in you, in these tumultuous times you probably have some very panicked clients who are desperate for reassurance or for some action they can take to feel as if they're in control. Ask your clients what they most need to discuss, and prepare accordingly.

Once you've done so—the way you would for any other client meeting: knowing what the client's worries are, what to tell them, how to reassure them—send them information on how to dial in or a link to the appropriate app for what you need to cover, or make it easy for them—particularly older, less computer-savvy clients—and send them an iPad or similar device that is already loaded with whatever they need to connect.

Give it a test run before you try it out on a client, and make sure you keep the sort of tone you normally would if they were sitting there in your office. Oh, and don't forget to dress up—this is a client you're meeting with, not your best buddy out on the golf course.



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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.