How An Unlikely Source Taught Micah A Valuable Lesson

Micah Shilanski, CFP®, shares how advisors can take advantage of everyday experiences to improve the ways they interact with clients.

4.5 min read

Micah Shilanski
Micah Shilanski
Financial Planner, CFP®

You’re inconsistent with your prospect meetings because you don’t have enough practice.

As an advisor, you’re not scoring prospective clients because you’re terrible at financial planning; you’re missing out on the essential communication skills you need to win clients.

But you should never practice on a client, so what are advisors to do?

Everywhere you go should be an opportunity to practice your communication skills. This doesn’t mean you give your Starbucks barista a second opinion on her 401k or that you practice your sales pitch on your suite guy.

Instead, look for moments when somebody sold you, but you felt good about it. What did the Lexus salesman do that excited you to fork over tens of thousands of dollars? And how can you mimic that in your practice?

On the flip side, where did you feel crummy about an interaction, and where did the communication drop? Let’s step back and consider how you do the same thing in your practice.

Lessons from the Optometrist

My family recently moved, so we needed to find a new optometrist for my daughter. I was recommended a doctor and decided just to go there. This place seemed nicer than LensCrafters, but it felt more like a chop shop; they were just processing people through.

Everyone working there was a little curt; they weren’t friendly, and I felt like my daughter and I were an inconvenience as they ran the preliminary eye tests on my daughter.

My daughter has a pretty significant astigmatism that we were aware of, but the doctor came in guns blazing, and no bars held on when she went in to speak to us. This was our first time meeting this doctor, and instead of making us feel valued, she briefly introduced herself and launched into a lengthy tirade on how she suspects my daughter has a terrible eye disease.

The optometrist lobbed medical jargon at us—leading my daughter to panic. All that my daughter, who’s twelve, heard was that her eyes were going bad, she’ll be blind by next week, maybe her eyeballs will even shrivel up and fall out.

I was beyond frustrated. Here was this medical expert who wouldn’t even look at my daughter, let alone explain what was happening to her in a way my child could understand. The doctor made no effort to include my daughter in her monologue.

I actually stopped the doctor mid-sentence and said, “Marshmellow, marshmallow, marshmallow—I can speak gibberish too,” which changed the dynamics in the room and showed my maturity level.

“Look,” I said, “stop throwing out medical jargon. You’re not impressing me; this isn’t a medical conference. Please speak in simple words so that everyone in the room can understand.”

But then the doctor thought I was mentally disabled because she started using really small words with me, even though I was trying to get my daughter involved in our conversation, but the doctor wasn’t having it.

We had a negative experience at this optometrist solely due to communication issues—not a lack of technical expertise.

We’re not going back to this office.

Instead, I’ll drive all the way back to our old doctor solely because of the new optometrist’s communication style.

This doctor came in, wanting to be the prominent expert in the room, and spewed jargon that made my daughter feel rejected, and I felt angry and defensive. She made us feel like we made terrible life choices over a relatively minor medical issue we had no control over.

When we talk about improving our at-bats, you must take experiences like this and consider how you’re making the same mistakes with clients.

How often are you strutting into the conference room, ready to dominate the competition with your technical prowess? How often are you throwing out jargon like “tax strategies,” “investments,” “betas,” “RIAs,” and “contingent beneficiaries?”

We default to these technical terms and make our prospects and clients feel incompetent. They have very little idea of what you’re saying, and clients will feel embarrassed about what they don’t know. Instead of feeling uplifted and supported, your prospects will walk away feeling like they made terrible life choices.

You don’t want that.

Instead of asking your client who they want as a contingent beneficiary, explain this technical concept in a way the client can understand:

Mr. and Mrs. Client, we have named each other as beneficiaries; heaven forbid something would happen to one of you. The other person gets all the money.

We call that an “I Love You Beneficiary.”

Now, where would you like that money to go if something were to happen to both of you? I imagine you’d like it to go to your children.

Heaven forbid, if something happened to one of your children, would you like the money to go to their siblings or your grandchildren?

Okay, attornies call that a “contingent beneficiary,” so we’ll check this box here.

We’ve gone from pelting the client with technical terms to gently explaining concepts to your clients in a way that doesn’t disrespect their intelligence.

You must consider terminology and explanations that resonate with your clients and then bring in the technical jargon as appropriate.

After I explain a concept to my clients, I’ll tie in the industry jargon because my clients will hear those words thrown around in the news, business publications, and future forms. I want them to understand these words and how they apply to my client.

When clients hear these words in the future in various forms or other situations, I want them to have a base understanding of these definitions, or at the very least be thinking to themselves, “I don’t know what this means, but Micah explains it so well, I’ll just ask him.”

Some advisors lambast one-page financial plans for being too simplistic. However, I’ve found using buckets or guardrails in my client meetings is another forcing mechanism to keep me from lobbing jargon across the conference table. These presentations must be concise and straightforward to be effective, and I want to use every tool available to help my clients reach their goals.

Action Items

Pick a communication skill you want to improve this week. Dedicate your entire week to improving this skill. Practice it at the grocery store, driving on your commute, and with your team.

Explain to your team why you want to try this new communication thing and practice pushing the boundaries. Where does it fall apart? Where does it work best? You want a good gauge for when you eventually use it in client-facing conversations.

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