By Michael Byrnes

Tips on how to create stronger bonds with clients capped off IMCA's Winter Specialty Conference in Vail, Colo.,with speaker Jamie Ziegler, founder of AUMPartners, telling attendees, "Trust is the single most important factor in building lasting relationships."

Ziegler, the author of High Performing Investment Teams,   offered ten trust-building techniques  that advisors could use to improve client relationships.

1.    See the world through your clients' eyes.
Advisors might have a clear view of the markets and the services they provide, but what really matters is what the clients see. "Your job is to understand them," she said. "You have to go there first."

One natural problem advisors have in this area is that they are smart, she said. Ziegler referenced a Harvard Business Review study that showed, 'Smarter people find it harder to learn from their mistakes because they were not used to being wrong.'

2.    Adapt your communication style to your client's personality type.
Attendees participated in a a personality test so they can be more self-aware. Ziegler explained that there are nine personality types and the thought process and behaviors are different for each. By knowing the type of personality you are working with, it is easier to match the style they prefer.

3.    Avoid being defensive.
Ziegler pointed out that the top predictor of executive success is curiosity. "These individuals are open and responsive in the face of feedback," she said. "They have a desire to learn rather than be right." People are less able to learn, adapt and be agile when they are defensive, she said.

Getting defensive is tied to the brain's flight-or-fight mechanism-nature's way of keeping us safe from predators since the dawn of man, Ziegler said. When people feel threatened, their blood pressure rises and oxygen flows away from areas of the brain that influence curiosity and creativity.

The problem now is that something like down markets can set off this defense mechanism, Ziegler said. "Physically, we can't prevent this from happening. You can't make your clients not have that reaction either, but you can recognize it," she said.

4.    Find reliable ways to snap out of defensive states.

Advisors need to shift out of a defensive state when it hits them, she said. Deep breathing is one way, she said. Trying to take on a different point of view is another, as is just going to sleep or taking a timeout, Zielger said.

5.    Be a great listener.
People love to talk and like to have intelligent questions asked of them. Some advisors need help in this area, as they do not let their clients talk all the way through a point, Ziegler said. "People want to be appreciated. It is a good way to build trust," she said.

There is an art to being an active listener. If advisors can ask enough questions, they can find out what is wrong, even if the client does not know what is wrong. To do this well, they need to focus on the person and go beyond the words and pay attention to the client's emotions and moods, Zielger said.

"You can give your clients energy, just by listening. There are six degrees of connections. Try to find those with your clients," she said.

6.    Don't immediately solve problems.
When it comes to dealing with upset clients, Ziegler suggested the following:
    Inquire about the problem.
    Describe what you're hearing in your own words.
    Add another perspective.
    Suggest a solution.

"Empathizing is most often the piece that goes missing," she said. "Advisors often don't want to go there."

She added, "Once you get good at it, you can really build trust. Understand and validate their feelings. Then you can suggest a solution and they will go right with you. You are like psychologists or counselors when doing this. Get in their shoes-then it is so much easier to be helpful."

7.    Tell stories.
"Be creative, tell stories, use visuals and humor to make a right-brain, emotional connection with your audience-because that's what they will remember," said Ziegler.

8.    Use the rule of three (again and again and again).
Ziegler believes that things that come in threes are more memorable, satisfying and effective. For example, she shared examples like "Stop, drop and roll" and "Lather, rinse, repeat."  She suggested using this principle in writing and speaking with clients.

9.    Keep agreements.
Ziegler said advisors should give a clear summary of who will do what by when after every meeting. She said, "There are few greater trust-destroyers than broken agreements," she said.

10.    Practice.
Record yourself and play it back. Ziegler finds most people are usually unhappy with how they sound and can see ways to improve. She suggested practicing speaking in front of colleagues.

"To make a habit, it takes 30 days of focus before it can become automatic. Practice makes perfect," shared Ziegler.

Through better awareness of client personality types and emotional intelligence, improved dialog skills and clear messaging, advisors will increase trust and have stronger connections with their clients, she said.

Many other topics were discussed at sessions during the IMCA conference. To learn more about improving your techniques for obtaining client referrals, click here. To read about how advisors can use the Internet to find new clients, click here.

Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at