Overcoming Client Inertia

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues.  To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I have clients with whom I have worked for some time, and they just don’t make the decisions they need to. They will say they have a referral for me, for example, but never give me a name or contact info. They will say they are going to come to a client event, but then not bother to show up. What can I do to make them more active and responsive?

Name withheld

Dear Financial Advisor,

First of all, you are painting a broad brush– do all of your clients behave in this manner?  For example, when you have an event, no one comes?

I’m struggling to understand if this is a pervasive problem with everyone (in which case there is a much bigger problem here….) or whether it is just certain clients. Let’s assume that this only happens with a subset of your client base. The major mistake you are making (and that most of us make, by the way) is thinking that you need them to behave differently. Your questions imply that you need them to have more get-up-and-go and be more responsive. Instead, turn the question around: You want to ask, “What can I do differently to make it easier for my clients to respond?”

As an example, do you have easy-to-hand-out materials, for example a simple postcard, with your contact info to give to a client for referral purposes? Do you call a client and follow up when they mention a referral they have for you? With your events, do you have a staff member who calls clients who have confirmed, and confirms again that they will attend? Does someone call them in advance of the event to explain why it will be valuable and what the clients will learn? Do you send, and re-send, information to clients to ensure they have what they need? Is it clear when, what and how you want them to respond?

Too often we assume that we’ve been clear with people, and they know exactly what they need to do. I recently received an invite to an event and the subject line said “March 31st” when the event was actually August 31st! We have to make sure everything we are sending is clear, correct and read by the recipient. If it is really important, don’t just rely on the written word, either. Make those calls, confirm by phone and then confirm again. The easier and clearer it is, the more likely your clients are to react and respond.

Dear Bev,

My business sells a technology product to advisors. Can you give me any insights on the best way to sell to them? We have a great product, but feel like we are always trying to convince advisors to look at what we’re doing. We would like them to come to us.

J.D., Boston MA

Dear J.D.,

Let’s talk about some things specific to advisors, and then I’ll add some things that are good sales approaches no matter what, and to whom, you sell.

Advisors are busy. In many cases they are running a firm or practice, managing people, dealing with budgets, managing money, watching the markets and giving clients high-touch service. Their days are often not long enough to get everything done. If your product helps them to solve a problem – save money, give them more time, help them to stand out in a crowded market, etc. – you need to make it clear up front what you can do for them.

Speak to the problem they need to solve. Too many salespeople in this market and others sell information about what they do – they don’t sell the problem they solve, or the solution they have. I often call this the “so what?” dilemma. So what about your technology product? Advisors have lived without it for a while; how will it change their lives, improve their business or make their lives easier?

You cannot assume that because you know the product and solution, and you can make a great presentation about it, it will mean something to the advisor! You need to get in their shoes and see the world from their vantage point. I often have salespeople tell me they are frustrated because they don’t hear back from an advisor or a prospect.

Think about it – if the advisor is unconvinced about why they need to talk to you, or they don’t recognize the problem you say you solve, there are too many other things in the day that take up their attention. Don’t make an advisor wade through information. Don’t present data and background on what you do without understanding what they care about first. Instead, spend time getting to know the advisor. Ask them if they have a problem they are trying to solve in the area you focus on. Ask them what major obstacles they face in their day-to-day lives. Ask them what you can do for them – not what they need to do for you in buying your product. Spend time getting to know the market, i.e. advisors in general, and your specific market niche. Forget about your pitch for a while; instead, spend time learning who you are pitching to and what they really care about.

When we think a salesperson truly understands us, we are much more likely to offer them our time and attention in the hopes that they can help us in some way.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers.  She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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