How to Prospect Like a Pro

Journal of Financial Planning; May 2014


Over the past decade, I have been fortunate to coach hundreds of amazing financial advisers. Being a former adviser myself, I know what it’s like to build a business from scratch; I can relate to the struggles many of my clients are experiencing.

For many people, getting into the financial services industry is a second or even third career, and as a result, it is common for advisers to bring many of their strengths and weaknesses from past roles into their present occupation. It is interesting, though, as I have noted over the years, that my clients who were former athletes bring some of the most effective habits for building a successful advisory business. That’s because they exhibit a willingness and inner drive to “win” no matter what the scoreboard says. In other words, they have been conditioned to perform at a higher level, and they understand it requires going above and beyond to find success—regardless of any circumstances or challenges tossed their way.

The Willingness to Win

Typically, if you want to win at anything—whether sports related or in your profession—you need to have a game plan.

If you don’t agree, consider this: If you had the choice to place a bet on one team versus the other, all things being equal, except one team has a playbook and practices their plays and the other doesn’t, who would you bet on? I would hope you would bet on the team that has prepared.

It makes sense that advisers should apply the same type of principles when it comes to growing and servicing their business. It might surprise you to hear that most don’t. Perhaps they don’t realize that to truly succeed, they need a well-thought-out process, a way to systemize that process and evaluate it so they can either learn from their mistakes or duplicate their success.

Take any professional or college football team during the regular season. Each team uses a similar type of process that goes something like this; field training, weight training (or physical and mental conditioning), daily scrimmages, game day, and then evaluation of the game. This common system can be applied to several facets of your business, most notably when it comes to prospecting.

Training like a Pro

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with a former member of the North Dakota State football team after the team won their division, ending the season with a 15–0 record. When I asked him why they did so well, he matter-of-factly said, “Everyone on the team was prepared and there to win.”

Training like a pro begins with having a winner’s mentality—going into each game knowing that you are there to win. Prospecting is no different. Training your mind (yes it takes training) using that winner’s mentality that “every no brings me closer to a yes” is a must. However, this alone won’t ensure success—you must also sharpen your prospecting skills.

Practicing like a Pro

Just as winging it on the field can be a waste of time (if your goal is to win), so is winging it on the phone, in a networking event, during a client meeting, or while asking for referrals. If your way of doing things is by winging it, you will find yourself eventually getting lackluster results.

On the flip side, many advisers spend hours putting together in-depth financial plans, but do not spend time actually practicing their presentation. They go into a prospect or initial client meeting full of knowledge on how to help the prospect, but they neglect preparing for objections, knowing how to identify buying signals, and/or how to ask for the prospect’s business.

I have found that if we break down the preceding aspects of what could happen during a prospect meeting, and what to do if it happens, most of my adviser clients quickly understand that preparing and sharpening their prospecting skill sets is the best way to increase their probability of success.

There are too many possible challenges in the client acquisition process, from the initial contact stage through the client onboarding process, to be discussed here, but there should always be a plan (or solution) for each.

Playing like a Pro

One of my clients, Chris, is a 20-something former professional football player and now rookie financial adviser who has taken the art of prospecting very seriously. He understands that the more we role-play a presentation, the more relaxed and better prepared he is during the presentation.

Prior to each meeting, Chris carefully maps out not only his recommendations, but each step of the process, at least five possible objections he might encounter, what to do to overcome each of those objections, what physical and verbal closing clues to look and listen for, and two possible ways to ask for the prospect’s business. As a result, Chris is successful at new client acquisition at the majority of his prospect meetings.

Evaluate like a Pro

Even a loss can become a win if you learn from your mistakes. That’s why many sports teams spend time watching their game films.

Here’s an example of a man who really understands this: Mike is a former Canadian Football League player and 20-year veteran financial adviser. He has built a very successful financial advisory team and has taught his team to learn from each other, both the dos and the don’ts.

During weekly meetings, each team member discusses their current activities, practices their presentation skills, and evaluates each other’s performances. They also analyze the new client acquisition meetings that succeeded or didn’t, to determine how to change or adjust their prospecting skill sets. Every team member, from the newest rookie to the oldest veteran, is expected to provide feedback.

Would you bet on Mike’s team to win a prospect’s business versus a competitor who doesn’t prepare this way?

Level the Playing Field

You may be wondering what you can do to level the playing field with your competition. You really only have two choices—you can continue doing the exact same thing that you have been doing and getting the same results, or you can make the decision to find your competitive edge.

In the financial planning profession, as with life in general, your past doesn’t have to equal your future. You can get better results. If you only focus on where you are now, it won’t change a thing. Think of a player on a team who is constantly staring at the scoreboard; you can’t be focused on the game if you’re doing that. If you focus on each play and how to increase your own performance, you will have a higher probability of success. Your business should operate the same way.

Daniel C. Finley is president of Advisor Solutions (, author of 101 Advisor Solutions: A Financial Advisor’s Guide to Strategies that Educate, Motivate, and Inspire, and a regular contributor to the FPA and Journal of Financial Planning practice management blog (

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