Prospecting: Still relevant, or consigned to history?

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Thirty years ago, probably the only way to start your career in financial services as a financial adviser (aka company representative or salesperson) and to continue to survive was to prospect. Many contracts in the early 1990’s were based purely on the requirement to meet a sales target month in and month out. Failure to do so meant, for want of a better word, being “sacked”, and when there are bills to pay the fear of being “sacked” drives an individual to ensure that they are talking to enough people to make the sales needed. So you prospected, and that meant a continuous process of finding new names to talk to, which in turn meant researching people to call or meet through telephone directories, local newspapers and magazines, walking round retail and commercial parks and calling into businesses, putting up a stand at a local supermarket, and even buying names of leads from marketing companies. Of course, there was an easier way, if that’s what you wanted, being to start off with a list of people you knew, which included friends, family, old school chums etc. Then it was just a question of who wanted to talk to you, and who wanted to buy from you, and yes, it did get easier as time went on.

Another route to market was the inheritance of “orphans”; clients who didn’t have an appointed adviser, but the reality was usually that they had not engaged with the firm for a long time, or more likely had gone through a succession of “sacked” advisers. You inherited “orphan” clients if you were a survivor back then, and you certainly couldn’t afford to ignore them. Of course, the first sale you needed you make was to convince them that you were here to stay. I recall one adviser who inherited eight four drawer filing cabinets stuffed with files of clients who the firm had, in the main, arranged mainly mortgages for in years past. It was too good an opportunity to miss, providing the effort was put in, but it took months of prospecting to go through all the files, make contact, get appointments, and make new sales.

it amazes me that so many financial advisers I meet appear either to not have the first grasp of what prospecting is, nor how important it is to their business.

Wind forward to today’s environment, and it amazes me that so many financial advisers I meet appear either to not have the first grasp of what prospecting is, nor how important it is to their business. Maybe they just choose to ignore this activity. Or maybe they’ve never had to prospect.

I come across quite a lot of trainee and new advisers through my business and more often than not when it comes to assessing them against the criteria for “creating new business opportunities” or “maintaining a sustainable client bank” these are often poorly addressed, and through subsequent discussion the reason for this appears to be that often firms don’t include prospecting as part of the training programme. It seems to be more about getting them qualified and signed off as competent, rather than preparing them for the reality of getting appointments in the diary.

Quite often I meet experienced advisers who don’t seem to prospect, or perhaps obtaining referrals feels like a taboo activity, even for advisers who do have a substantial client bank. These advisers, in my experience, generally won’t take on more clients because they believe that they have enough clients. Whilst this may be true from a practical perspective, this may also be a mistake since there will always be some level of attrition by clients moving to another practice, or liquidating all their holdings, or perhaps just through natural causes, so in my opinion advisers should be continually looking for replacement clients. Even if they end up with more clients than they can comfortably deal with, then this may be an opportunity to re-evaluate their client bank and consider reassign some clients to other colleagues.

Reassigned clients are no different from “orphan” clients, other than there usually hasn’t been a gap between appointed advisers. You’d think that when the newly appointed adviser receives these clients, they’d jump at the opportunity to engage. However, on occasion I’ve noted that they’ve just sat on their “new” clients. When I’ve asked why, the response might be that they’re “low ticket” clients, or there won’t be much for left to work with. But that’s just a poor excuse for missing an opportunity. Two opportunities, in fact. Firstly, the new adviser may well have a different style to the previous adviser and may create a different relationship with the reassigned clients, and secondly if there’s no new business it’s still a route to prospect for referrals. Why wold you wait until the annual service date is due? Get in there straight away!

Recently I was asked by an adviser what my thoughts were on him turning down an enquiry that had come in because he was too busy, and the potential business had a low value. Through discussion it turned out that the new enquiry was a colleague of somebody the adviser was currently working with. My challenge to the adviser was that even if the new enquiry was of a low value, the adviser should take it on to increase the chance that if he had two clients working in the same business he would increase the opportunity to get other referrals, some of whom may have much higher business opportunities. It’s just another form of prospecting.

How we nowadays approach and engage with new clients has changed considerably from thirty years ago. We certainly have more tools like social media, websites, etc, and of course electronic communications have made a significant difference. But does that change the need to prospect? In the same way that the fundamentals of fact finding remain unchanged, prospecting, in my opinion, is still relevant at whatever stage an adviser is at in their career and should not be consigned to history. Prospect. Fact Find. Business. Why miss out the first and most important stage?

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About Author

I am a highly-versatile and forward thinking management professional with a history of successful delivery across more than thirty years’ in the Financial Services Industry. Core skills include assessing, training, coaching, process design and implementation, specialising in people, processes, and procedures within a Training & Competence or Learning & Development framework. Periodic writer for T-C News.com

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