By STEPHEN WERSHING
There is an old expression in sales that, to win clients, they need to know, like, and trust you. But that old saw leaves out something critical. And makes it so easy to be off the mark that it ends up doing more harm than good. Let's retire that old idea.
Obviously people need to know you for you to be considered, and they must trust you before they will put their welfare in your care.
What leads people astray is "like". If I'm buying a refrigerator, and I can get exactly the same model at any one of a dozen shops in my town, the salesman I like will have an edge. Absent any other information, the saying goes, people prefer to do business with people they like. In professional services, however, there is other information. And the information that will help you is what should distinguish you from your competition. If too much of the relationship is based on how much a client likes you, there's a big risk that the client will bolt the first time you make a mistake or there is a down market. Strong relationships are built on more than like.
I suggest "respect" is more important than "like". Credibility arising from expertise will attract more strongly and securely than likability. I know many advisers who have attracted clients away from an adviser who was a friend of theirs – I have done it myself and you probably have, too. How? When the client needed a solution they did not think the friend could provide (or was not providing), they turned to a professional whose expertise they believed would get them what they needed. You probably know a few people who are among the most successful, best-known experts in their fields who have no difficulty attracting clients (and charging high fees) even if they are not particularly pleasant people. Can you imagine yourself saying something like "I don't know that I would want to go have a beer with her but she is the most incredible tax attorney I have ever met"? Or, "that guy is a real pitbull in court but I'm grateful he's my pitbull"? Respect trumps like.
More to the point, you can establish respect in a single appointment faster than you can get someone to like you enough to trust you. It may be that you are a candidate because of a reputation that established respect. And if a prospective client is interviewing several advisers, there is a good chance that most of them will be equally likeable.
The connection to referrals is easy to draw. How do you want to be recommended? You should talk to my adviser, I really like him and you will, too. Or, you need to meet my adviser. She's an expert and has solved some of my thorniest problems and I know she can help you with your challenge, too.
Here is how you can leverage this idea in your marketing. Emphasise your skills over how much clients will enjoy working with you. It's great if you provide an experience your clients enjoy, but your expertise takes priority. Develop expertise and project it in your communication. Be a thought leader. Design a client process that highlights the problems you can solve and how well you can solve them.
Likability is fine. And it's less important than respect and recognition of your expertise. When prospective clients are looking for a solution, they will be attracted to someone who can fix the problem more easily and reliably than someone they like.
STEPHEN WERSHING is the President of the Client Driven Practice, LLC, a company that coaches financial advisers on creating effective referral marketing plans.