Building Trust with Prospects: A 3-Step Strategy

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Building trust and winning prospects’ confidence doesn’t begin with building rapport—despite years of expert testimony to the contrary. To kick off solid relationships with prospective customers, you’ll need to focus on one thing: positioning yourself as an expert.

Picture this: a prospect leaves thinking precisely the same way he did when he arrived after spending an hour in your office. Somewhere in that hour, you’ve fallen short. To win new business and forge solid client relationships, you need to change prospects’ perspectives, build trust, and demonstrate that you can deliver on your promises. I call this three-step process “head, heart, and feet.”

Let’s start with “head.” During your meeting with a prospect, you want him to transform: to add to his knowledge about his finances and the markets and change how he views things. He may come in thinking one way, but he leaves with increased knowledge and confidence about investing, more information, and a new perspective that challenges him and demands that he respond.

The next step: “heart.” Prospects are always on the lookout for evidence of whether or not you’re trustworthy. To convey your credibility quickly and effectively, engage each prospect in a dialogue during the profiling process—a give-and-take that demonstrates that you understand him and his particular needs. Doing so will help you earn his trust and respect.

Finally, “feet”—the stage where the prospect contacts existing clients and learns that you’ve made a difference in their lives, that you do what you say, that you show up on time, and that your team follows through on what you promise. Now he’s ready to engage his feet and to build a relationship with you.

The Great Sales Fallacy

For years, experts have maintained that before you can build trust, you need to build rapport. But these days, everyone knows the basics of marketing and selling—a firm handshake and direct eye contact, for example. These techniques are now so overused that the stronger the handshake and the longer the eye contact, the more uncomfortable the prospect; he’s afraid that he’s dealing with a used-car sales associate rather than a professional.

Over the last decade, surveys of baby boomers have consistently yielded the same result: investors are chiefly interested, when dealing with financial advisors, in the information that can help them make better, more informed decisions. They want an expert who knows what they are talking about and can provide them with better knowledge. Baby boomers have started to lag behind millennials in terms of investment knowledge. Rapport building is not the beginning of the relationship process—expertise is.

Thinkers vs. Feelers

How should you approach the “head, heart, feet” relationship-building process? First, you’ll need to identify whether a client or prospect is a thinker or a feeler.

Prospects who are feelers tend to process information in their hearts. Typically, a feeler will accept the advice or recommendation of a third party regarding your expertise. When attending a conference or workshop where the speaker has the endorsement of a larger group, for example, the feeler will tend to assume that she is an expert, then spend the bulk of his time trying to see whether he feels comfortable with her. He will ask himself, “Do I feel I can trust this person and what she’s saying?”

On the other hand, a thinker will spend most of his time figuring out whether the speaker knows what she is talking about. He will continually ask himself, “Is this person an expert?” Once he determines that the speaker is indeed an expert, he’ll trust her implicitly, then move quickly to the “feet” stage.

Third-Party References

Very rarely do prospects have enough information to understand whether you can genuinely deliver on the promises you make. This is why using references or advocates is a critical step in the marketing process. A solid testimonial will bolster a prospect’s trust and reassure him about the quality of your performance.

As you review this relationship-building process, take a moment to answer these three questions:

  1. Do you take time up-front to disclose your expertise on the topic at hand?
  2. During the profiling process, do you allow an exchange of dialogue where trust can be built?
  3. Do you use reference advocates to help the client better understand your ability to follow through on your promises?

Using this approach to building relationships allows you to understand better and meet your prospects’ needs. And by identifying whether a particular prospect is a thinker or a feeler, you’ll be able to focus your time and attention on the area of your presentation that’s most important to your prospective customer.

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