One line of questioning I receive often from colleagues involves inquiries that begin with the phrase “How do I get clients to….” and ending with some action the advisor wants the client to undertake. I’ll give my take on a few of these in future columns, but for now I have to confess something.

In many cases, the question is essentially one about selling. This may be an odd way to begin a column, but I have no problem saying you are asking the wrong guy. I may be the worst salesperson on earth.

When I first got out of college, I needed a job in a town where the only person I knew was my high school sweetheart. An insurance company needed salespeople. 

Every two weeks, we would have meetings with sales management to learn and develop sales skills. The trainers would provide us with a host of clever things to say.  We would role play and learn various responses to overcome objections. It was horribly uncomfortable and yes, it was largely BS. I did not last long.

It was not a job that suited me well, but it turned out to be an experience that has proven beneficial. Beside becoming an expert in spotting BS, I understand insurance very well. I appreciate the value of the true professionals in the field, and I learned some things that have been helpful to me in serving my clients.

First and foremost, if what you want the client to do is not in the client’s best interests, you are wasting your time and the time of your prospective client. Don’t even bother asking me a “How do I get my client to….” question about such an item.  I don’t have an answer, and I will spend no time coming up with one.

Second, I have absolutely no desire to listen to a sales trainer or read books about sales. For more than 20 years now, I have avoided all such information. By my standards, my practice has been successful anyway.  When reading for business, I prefer to spend my time on things that will help me empathize with clients, solve their problems, or anticipate their needs.  It is fair to wonder that if my sales skills were better, would my firm be more successful? I don’t really care.   

My “sales” shot up as soon as I stopped selling. I remember the day I decided to be an advisor and not a salesperson like it was yesterday.

Shortly after getting married, Kelly’s transmission went kaput. We took it to the local franchise of a well-known transmission specialist. We were escorted into a room where a well-dressed, grease-free gentleman proceeded to explain our options. He opened up a book with frayed laminated pages and graphics that discussed the basics of how a transmission works and then described the three packages we could choose from.

It was crystal clear that this presentation was made to everyone who walked through the door, and it occurred to me that the same fixes were offered regardless of what any examination may have revealed. I could tell the salesman had been through this pitch too many times. He kept looking around the room like someone who is repeating himself for the umpteenth time.

Sure, the “everybody gets the same” part of it was bad, but the thing that made the most impact on me was the way the process made me feel. By the time he got to page 2 of his presentation, I could feel my blood pressure rising and the urge to squirm in my seat. I barely listened to a word he said and simply wished he’d get to the page with the prices so I could see how bad my checking account was going to be reduced.