Practical analysis for investment professionals
10 October 2017

“Same Side Selling” to Improve Trust and Opportunities

Eighty-five percent of adults in the United States report feeling some financial anxiety. Yet less than a third actively work with a financial adviser even though Americans report feeling more secure when they do consult with a financial expert.

People could benefit from good financial advice. Consider this:

So why do so many avoid seeking advice? It comes down to trust.

There are many good ideas on how to close the trust gap, including requiring all financial advice to be held to a fiduciary standard, expanding adoption of the CFA Institute Asset Manager Code, and promoting financial literacy programs, for example.

But I humbly offer one more suggestion.

We, as advisers, should shift our focus from selling advice and financial products to working as financial problem solvers: people who view the sales process as more about looking for fit — finding clients with dilemmas we can solve — than about winning or losing business.

To borrow an idea from writer, speaker, and salesman Ian Altman: Instead of viewing sales as a game to win, we must view it as a puzzle to piece together.

In Same Side Selling: A Radical Approach to Break Through Sales Barriers, Altman and Jack Quarles write, “While no one wants to be sold something, nearly everyone could use help to solve a problem.”

To move our industry out of the trust basement, we need to restructure our conversations with prospective clients. We should work to determine if we can help them solve their problem, rather than try to sell them something.

To do this, Altman and Quarles propose moving away from the outdated Always Be Closing (ABC) selling framework, to a new way of thinking about sales: Finding Impact Together (FIT).

  • Finding means discovery. Investigate, diagnose, and share how others in the same situation deal with the problem.
  • Impact is not about your product, but what it or you can do for the prospect. It’s about solving the problem, not about your products. Focus on the result the client wants.
  • Together is a collaborative and cooperative process that puts the client’s perspective first. And if it’s not a problem, don’t try to force an unnecessary fit.

So how do we transition to FIT? The authors provide a framework to help structure client conversation:

The first is called Entice, Disarm, Discover.” This is used to start a meeting, to get both parties on the same side of the table.

Entice: This is a quick overview of who your firm works with best, the type of problems it solves, and the outcomes it helps to achieve. An example might look like:

[Your target market] come to us when they encounter [the problem you help solve]. We help them by creating and executing a wealth strategy [or whatever you call your process] that accelerates progress toward their goals and ultimately gives them peace of mind that they’re on track.

Disarm: Next, it’s important to be honest about why your firm won’t work with everyone. For example:

We find that we can have a dramatic effect on only about 60% of the people we talk to at this stage in the process. What we do is not right for everyone. For example, if you’re looking for someone to [pick stocks for you, etc.] we’re not going to be your firm.

Discover: Finally, set the stage to learn more and assess if there is FIT between the existing problems and those your firm is able to solve.

So that’s why we’re here today. I’m happy to learn more about your situation and see if our process may be a fit for you.

Once you are into the bulk of the meeting and discussing if there is FIT, the “Issue, Impact, Importance” framework helps in the discovery process. Here are some good questions to go with each step:

Issue: What problem are you trying to overcome? What is your goal? For example:

How is this problem affecting you? Is it causing other problems or is it contained?

Does it affect your career, relationships, stress levels, health?

We hear that others in your situation also struggle with [related problem]. Is that an issue for you as well, or do you have that figured out?

Impact: What happens if we don’t solve this problem?

How will you measure success? If we can’t deliver, we want to get out of the way.

Importance: How high of a priority is solving this problem?

Compared to everything else, how important is this? Where would you rank it on a scale from one to 10?

Quality financial advice can improve people’s lives and working with a trusted adviser helps everyone feel more secure. Transitioning from a sales-based industry to one that looks for FIT by using “Same Side Selling” techniques will increase trust in the industry and give advisers more opportunities to help.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/retrorocket

About the Author(s)
Isaac Presley, CFA

Isaac Presley, CFA, is Director of Investments for Cordant Wealth Partners, a wealth management firm focused on serving current and former Intel employees. He leads the firm’s investment committee and directs the company’s investment strategy and research. In addition, he heads the firm’s blogging efforts on the Cordant Blog.

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