If you’re an advisor, this experience may sound familiar: You’re speaking with a prospective client and as they’re leaving the initial meeting you realize something – you have no idea if you’ve met their needs and expectations. Or maybe you feel confident coming out of a 2-hour (or longer) initial meeting with a prospect only to find out later they went with somebody whose services are way different than yours. I’m sure you’ve got your pitch down, and you’re obviously a people person (or else you wouldn’t be in the financial planning business in the first place, right?). So, what gives?

These misunderstandings may be no fault of yours, sometimes people just aren’t sure what questions they should be asking you!

I seriously can’t emphasize this enough. As the professional, it’s your job to answer the questions that your prospects didn’t even know they had! Not everyone is a financial planning guru – in fact, before their first meeting, they probably aren’t. So don’t sweat feeling like they’re misunderstanding you, just make sure you clarify.

cfp prospective client guide

The financial planning world is far from cut and dry, and people looking to work with a professional advisor are bombarded with options. It’s often tough to narrow down exactly what they want or need when every service available sounds pretty darn good to someone who doesn’t know a fee-only planner from a broker or annuity salesman. While it may not be your fault that they don’t know what they want it is your job to help draw that out in your first meeting with them. After all, you’re the professional, and I know you’re capable of helping to guide those who need financial advice.

What to Do Differently

The first step in figuring out if you meet the needs and expectations of a prospective client is to decide for yourself what kind of client you’re looking for. It’s easy to want to sign on each client who shoots you an inquiry email, but that’s a surefire way to get stuck with clients you don’t love and to get stuck doing work that doesn’t leave you feeling ready to jump out of bed each morning. Sometimes it’s easiest to break it down into a list. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

  • What pricing structure am I most comfortable with? Do I want to do ongoing work with a retainer fee? Or am I more interested in hourly planning?
  • Do I want to work with DIY investors or do I want to work with a delegator who is willing to turn over the reins to me?
  • What level of interaction do I want with my clients?
  • What’s my investment philosophy? Are you willing to work well with someone whose investment philosophies don’t necessarily match your own? (Pro tip: you should always look for clients whose investment ideals match yours – if you’re an actively managed guy, a client who is an index fund fan will not mesh well with you, and vice versa).

Have these ideas in your head way before any prospective client meeting, and double check that your messaging (both verbal and online) is matching your answers to these questions. If you build the kind of practice that you want, you’ll get the kind of clients you want. Now, let’s circle back to that awkward initial meeting where you’re not sure if anybody walked away feeling confident that this was a fit. The quicker you are able to define what a prospect is looking for, the quicker you’ll be able to tell if you meet their needs (and if they meet yours as a planner).

How the Meeting Should Look

In many cases, beginning with a super brief description of what you do, who you are, and what your practice’s core financial planning values are. Keep this as brief as possible. The sooner you shut up and get to listening, the sooner you can determine what your prospects are looking for! Listening actively to what they’re saying is key. If you’re so excited to be talking to a prospect and to force them to fit your “perfect client” mold, you’ll miss key signs that maybe you two aren’t a great fit. And you know what? It’s okay that they might not be a perfect fit. You don’t have to say yes to everybody. That makes the people you do say yes to that much more important to both you and your firm. The key is not to turn “not a fit” clients away empty handed. In fact, you shouldn’t turn anybody away empty handed.

If a Client Isn’t Right for You

If a client isn’t a good fit for you, or you can tell that your investment and planning styles are just going to be too different from the get-go, I recommend you have some referrals ready. This is where networking with your fellow advisors is such a huge help to both you and your firm. If you’re an ongoing planning/retainer fee advisor, find someone who loves one-and-done sessions with DIY’ers. If you’re an index fund advocate, find someone who likes actively managing. Buddy up with planners who are your opposites, jot down their information, gather up their business cards, and have those tools at the ready during initial prospect meetings in case you don’t feel like you’re what these prospects are looking for.

Finally, have a sheet of questions prepared for them listing what they should ask any other advisors they’re speaking with. Just because you’re not chomping at the bit to work with these folks doesn’t mean somebody else out there wouldn’t be stoked to add them to their client roster.

If a Client Is a Fit For You

If a client is a good fit for you, I still advocate sending them away with a list of questions to ask other advisors they’re speaking with. You have your head buried in the sand if you think they’re chatting with you and only you. Communicate clearly with them that, while you believe you’re a great fit to be their advisor, you know they’re probably shopping around. Ultimately, you want them to be in the best hands out there, right? Pass along your list of questions, and walk through it with them. Explain how your answers to those questions reflect their needs, and what they should look for in a different advisor. This shows them that you genuinely care, and likely cements the idea that you’re the right fit for them.

Meeting with prospective clients can be exciting and stressful, but knowing how to determine whether or not you’ll be a fit for them is a good way to pump the brakes and make sure everyone gets the most out of your meeting. Are you still experiencing awkwardness with prospective client meeting clients? If you feel like you’re following all of these steps and you still aren’t signing your dream clients, or you’re taking a lot of meetings with clients who aren’t the right fit, reach out to me. I’d love to talk through why this might be the case and how we can improve your strategy so that you’re feeling like you have the tools to be successful!