On December 7, 1965, the writer E.B. White wrote a letter to a friend. From this same man White had previously heard about a boy telling his teacher that alligators eat herons, pigs, small dogs, and beer bottles.
“I am writing simply to report a development of the story…While drifting south this morning on Route 17, trending towards Brunswick, I regaled my wife with this yarn, hoping to relieve the tedium of mid-morning on a national highway. She listened attentively and made no comment. About five minutes later she said, ‘I wonder how an alligator eliminates a beer bottle.’
‘That’s simple,’ I replied. ‘He Schlitz.’
I did not get a very strong response to this witticism, and we knocked off another couple of miles in silence. Then I asked Katherine, ‘Do you know how an alligator feels after he has passed a beer bottle?’ She said no, she didn’t know.
‘He feels sadder, Budweiser.’
The response was still rather weak, and silence fell upon us again.
A few minutes later, my wife broke the awful stillness. ‘Pabst he does, and Pabst he doesn’t.’”1
This incident is as much an insight into their relationship as it is an indication of their personalities. At this point in their lives, E.B. and Katherine had been married for 36 years, he was 65 years old and she was 72 years of age. Many couples no longer enjoy lively conversation after so many years of marriage.
“The more you get to know a person, the easier it becomes to run out of things to say.”2
This is not only true of life partner relationships, but also of long standing Client-Advisor relationships.
Independent financial professionals (IFPs) are in the relationship business. Clients place as much value having a close relationship with someone they trust as they do in securing strong investment returns. IFPs who build their practice over several decades have many relationships. The question is, how can these relationships be kept strong and active?
Authentic and Fresh
The Client-Advisor relationship is similar to every other important relationship. It is kept strong and active by the application of several skills:
- Regular, personal, and effective communication.
- The relationship takes priority over simply seeking successive revenue opportunities.
- Continuous assessment of the goals of the relationship.
- With each life stage, the IFP has the ability to assess new and pressing financial realities and open new doors.
- Expressed commitment from both parties.
- No relationship can rest on past glory, so the IFP and the client need to make fresh commitments to one another.
- Courage and the willingness to be true and authentic.
- If at any point either party feels like the other is hiding an ulterior agenda, or harboring unsettling concerns, there is no point in the relationship continuing unless the air is cleared.
- The assumption of positive intent.
- Every single relationship will encounter road bumps, twists and near accidents, which means, each party must assume the other did not intend harm or have malicious motives.
- Most important—trust.
- The IFP needs to take the client at his/her word and vice versa.
The First Quarter of a New Year is the perfect time to take stock of our most important asset–relationships. This is particularly true of IFPs and their clients. (It is also true of wholesalers and their BGA relationships, and BGAs and their advisor relationships.)
In the mature phase of the Client-Advisor relationship, clients do not come into the office as often, and may not be as responsive to emails or phone calls. Still, because of the work done together, the client is enjoying regular retirement income, or experiencing handsome returns on assets invested, or seeing the account values grow in the life insurance and annuity products they purchased.
Note: Past success is no reason to cease making progress.
Best Practices with Mature Relationships
- Trust is maintained when care is expressed. While a client’s financial life can be in order, other aspects of their world can change and cause upheaval. The IFP who cares, really cares, inquires, respectfully, into the other aspects of a client’s life such as family dynamics, health, career advancement, and achievement of dreams.
- Three magic words: “How about you?” If a client asks a question, the wise IFP responds and then asks the client to do the same. This deflection adds to the impression of interest and care.
- Client Reviews are conducted just as professionally as always. No short cuts are taken. At the same time, nothing superfluous is forced on the client. There is nothing worse than an IFP telling a client, “Thanks for coming in today. I guess we had nothing to talk about, nothing to review.”
- It is unwise to start driving to a new destination without first researching the best route to get there. Similarly, it is unwise to start a conversation without a goal in mind. A conversation without a game plan is like driving without first planning the route.
- The wise IFP freshens the relationship with mature clients by asking thoughtful questions. Examples:
- You have come a long way. Are you pleased with the direction you are heading now?
- You have achieved great success in your career. Do you still enjoy what you do?
- At this stage in life, how are you building new relationships?
- What is left on your bucket list?
- What fears do you have regarding your kids’ and grandkids’ futures?
- Can you describe the ideas you have for how you can give back?
- Is there a group of people or type of person you care deeply about?
- Have your risks changed?
- Are you seeking different kinds of rewards?
- The IFP is wise to ask these kinds of questions because the answers can lead to more planning and perhaps product purchases.
Light and Life
Perhaps the most important opportunity in close relationships is leaving every encounter with both people feeling better. We easily recognize an enjoyable conversation by the fact the persons involved in it are laughing a lot.
A. Humor: I found four pertinent quotes about the importance of humor.3
- “I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.” –Frank A. Clark
- “Laugh as much as possible, always laugh. It’s the sweetest thing one can do for oneself and one’s fellow human beings.” –Maya Angelou
- “A good laugh makes any interview, or any conversation, so much better.” –Barbara Walters
- “The more I live, the more I think that humor is the saving sense.” –Jacob August Riis
Question: Are you bringing humor into your long-standing relationships?
Example: My wife and I have homes in two locations separated by a five-hour drive. We experience the togetherness of the car’s passenger compartment four times or more every month. That translates into twenty hours together in close quarters!
Sometimes we drive along in silence. In these moments she is often on her phone while I drive. Recently, I waited until she was off her phone but indicated that I had a serious question to ask her. When she was ready, I asked:
“Do you know the Muffin Man?”
Without hesitation, she said, “I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.
… How much is the doggy in the window?”
B. Positivity: Enjoyable conversations stem from positive content that two or more people share. In this era of craziness and disruption, we all need to hear good news. In reality, good things are happening all around us. However, these instances generally do not make the front page or cable news. When we can share good news with others, we provide lift in the conversation.
Question: Are you able to bring good news into your conversations?
Suggestion: get a daily dose of good news via email from this web site: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/category/news/usa/
C. Encouragement: “The word encourage comes from the Old French word encoragier, meaning ‘make strong, hearten.’”4 Encouragement is not the same thing as praise. Encouragement acknowledges what people do, the effort expended and the improvement someone makes. It is a means of lending others courage to continue to do the hard, right thing. Everyone everywhere wonders if they are doing the right things well.
Question: Are you able to sense when another person needs encouragement?
Consider: Make use of each contact with mature clients to:
- Instill confidence
- Feed hope
- Give support
- Give empowerment
D. Something New: Successful IFPs working over many years with the same clients know they cannot change everything for these people. That knowledge, however, does not keep these IFPs from helping their clients change the things they can.
- What was once a dream is now simply impractical. The mature client once asked the IFP for ideas to achieve certain goals. Life, somehow, got in the way.
- The IFP must now apply rigor and creativity to assist the client to search for new, achievable goals, while ensuring suitability to the client’s current circumstances and life phase.
- The word “innovation” comes from the Latin noun innovatio, derived from the verb innovare, which means to introduce “something new.” New can mean repurposed. Clients may have saved money for a goal that no longer is meaningful. How can those funds be applied to some new goal?
Longstanding relationships mean that the IFP and the client have seen one another’s ups and downs and have watched each other move through several phases of life. To continue taking these relationships deeper, the wise IFP will introduce authentic freshness, light, and laughter into their conversations.
Humor, positivity, encouragement, and something new are relationship elements that mature clients appreciate universally.
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”—George Eliot
- Letters of E.B. White, Collected and Edited by Dorothy Lobrano Guth, Harper & Row, 1976, page 537.