For nearly three decades of training, it seems that every year has “a theme”. I distinctly remember one year we called “The Year of the Siblings” because advisors were having trouble getting their siblings to see them as financial professionals. Another year, we struggled with “one generation up” natural market leads.

Well, this year seems to be the year that everyone wants to start conversations by leading with solutions.

What am I talking about?

When we go to any kind of social or networking event where we’re meeting new people, a lot of us resort to old habits. Depending on how much training you’ve had around networking and conversation skills, your first instinct may not serve you well. I’ve spent a lot of time this year talking to advisors about talking to people. Just regular people. Someone isn’t a prospect until your brain lights up and you think “Wow, I like this person and they might be a good client for me.”

At that moment, you’re usually in trouble. Why? Because your SALES MONSTER is taking over your brain and something not helpful is coming out of your mouth.

Several people I’ve coached this year are suffering from this problem. A lot of it starts with a lack of network training. Some it comes from the wrong idea of what to do in a social conversation when asked “What do you do?” A LOT of it comes from being told to “tell everyone what you do.” [Which I wholeheartedly disagree with.]

You’re not there to tell everyone what you do. You’re there to find out who that other person is. Learning to ask a lot of question and being genuinely curious about people is extremely important. Knowing how to keep the conversation going – so it goes where YOU want it to – is also a vital skill. Not using your “Elevator Speech” is very important. (Yes, I know. I just lost some of you. But keep reading.)

When engaging in conversation with a new person, your goal is to hear who they are. Get them to talk first. I can’t emphasize that enough. Once you’ve gotten someone started, you can keep them talking about their life, their business, whatever, for a long time. The irony is that if you ask someone about themselves, they will keep talking. And when you stop the questions they realize they’ve been going on and on and will ask you “So what do you do?”

Here’s where i get nervous.

Think of listening as “Gaining Intel.” Keep them talking till you have enough information to be able to create a sentence that starts with “You know when you said….” and THEN wrap what you do around something that matters to them. (Which is the opposite of an elevator speech, guys!) You add a benefit of what you do to their story.

Here are examples:

You know when you said you have trouble competing for talent in your field? Well, I work with business owners to overcome that problem.

You know when you said you can’t figure out how to exit your business at retirement? I help people to do that.

See? If you listen closely, then you can describe what you do in a way that matters to them. And now that other person is interested in you.

Too many advisors are asking me how to get in the door with people because of a specific idea the advisor wants to share. So I ask them – do you know if this is an issue for that business owner? Often, I get an answer like this: We have access to corporate retirement plans and this company’s plan has problems.

Really?? You’re going to call me and tell me I have a problematic retirement plan when I’m not your client??

I hope this sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me. Unfortunately, I’m hearing versions of this over and over again. More examples of what advisors say to me:

I need to call X because I heard through friends that she is expecting.

I want an appointment with Y because I know they’re laying people off at his company and he needs to roll over his 401K.

I have to get in the door with Business Owner Z because I heard he is selling his business for 4 million dollars.

If you know them, I can help you. If you don’t, it’s more complicated. My big question is this: Why do we bother to do fact finding when you think you’re in possession of the solution?

Obviously I’m being facetious, but I’m trying to make an important point. ALL relationships in financial services start with getting CHOSEN AS THE ADVISOR. Rarely will you “get in the door” because you have the solution to what you think is a problem I have.

Keep these things in mind:

1. Be aware that your conversations need to be about THEM, not you.

2. Get information on who they are, what they do and what they care about.

3. Then, and only then, offer to have a separate, more private coffee appointment to expand the conversation

4. Never, ever try to get an appointment because “you know” what they need based on information you got from someplace other than the mouth of the person.

And never, never, never suggest an answer to what is a possible financial problem until you have gotten chosen, did a fact find and can present your ideas in a context the other person will understand.

Okay, rant over. For now.