Michael Lovas uses unconventional tools to show advisors how to talk with clients.

    After interviewing Michael Lovas (www.aboutpeople.com), I realized how haphazard is the process of getting to know someone, like a prospect, for the first time. We take in a multitude of cues from their faces, body language, speech patterns ... not to mention, what they actually say to us. With rudimentary faculties, we try to make sense out of all these signals and figure out how best to respond.
    There's a whole science that deals with this process called Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Michael Lovas knows it well, being a Licensed Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or "NLP." The question is, how can this knowledge be used to transform the way an advisor optimizes his communication with a client?
    "In my pursuit of NLP," says Lovas, "I discovered a very specific area called 'metaprograms,' or mental filters. I look at any person and, either by reading certain lines on their face or listening to language patterns, I can begin to put together a specific psychological profile of that person. I also listen to how they talk and then structure my communication similarly, so they can hear what I have to say."
    Voodoo meets psychology? Lovas prefers to call it "mental marketing," which he elucidates through his People Map concept. "Visualize four circles inside each other that, together, represent the psychological makeup and behavior of your client. The big outer circle is Cultural; the next circle is Generational; then there's Professional; and the innermost circle is the Individual."
    Explaining the cultural aspect, Lovas says, "If you're an advisor in Flugerville, Texas, with its large German and Polish population, the thinking of people there will be different from the thinking of people in Austin, just 20 miles away." As for the generational aspect, Lovas and I discovered we were both in our late fifties, meaning we're on the leading edge of the baby boomer generation. "We think differently than boomers just ten years behind us because our life experiences were different."
    Professional differences factor in because different professions have a different psychology than other professions. "Loggers think differently than neurosurgeons. In fact, neurosurgeons think very differently than dentists."
    And, finally, each individual is different. "Once we've established that our client is a 59-year-old German dentist, we then look for the personality type and mental filters of the individual." Lovas discovered that certain personality types often have similar facial lines. It works like this: "The face is a map of the facial expressions one has made over his lifetime-habituated based on the individual's attitude or mood. So, if he's very analytical, he may have a single vertical line between his eyebrows because, as the analytical person ponders things deeply, he brings his eyebrows together. Beyond the age of 30, these lines will have etched themselves into his face."
    Once an advisor understands his client's personality type, he can grasp the client's mental filters that control how the client hears messages. "We have a client in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, Jeff Moormeier, who works with locals-commercial fishermen and loggers. Jeff gave us a description of his clients and we built a profile from that. These people are a freedom-loving, don't-fence-me-in kind of people. They want options, and they want to work with someone who understands and holds their values."
    Understanding these qualities, Lovas built a Web site and white paper with which Moormeier could market himself. "All the language patterns therein are based on the profiles developed from Jeff's clients." Adds Moormeier, "Everything on the 'About Us' page of my Web site (www.quantum-advisors.com/about.html) is Michael's. With Michael's help, I don't have to change who I am; I can be myself and the right clients will be attracted to me."
    Here's a passage Lovas wrote for Moormeier's Web site: "When I look at that beautiful night sky atop the Cascade mountains, I see my childhood. Growing up here in Seattle in the 1950s, I developed a passion for the great outdoors and respect for the people of the Pacific Northwest. Freedom and choices are huge parts of who I am. I am a traditional guy committed to delivering those same values to my clients." The passage is accompanied by other text and by photos that express similar concepts-a comet in the night sky, a photo of Moormeier as a kid and as an adult, with his wife, Jean.
    Moormeier says he could have spent his seed money on lots of things but chose to spend it on his work with Lovas, and Lovas' wife, Pam Holloway, also part of the AboutPeople team. "I've gone from operating out of my basement to a practice in which I have real credibility," says Moormeier.
    Neuro-Linguistic Programming is an uncommon skill for those who coach financial advisors. Lovas' path to NLP started when he was writing marketing copy for JC Penney Financial Services. "I asked them, 'Who buys your stuff?' information I needed to sculpt the proper marketing message and, in spite of having tons of demographic information, they didn't really know. Their answer was, 'People between the ages of 18 and 80.' I was speechless."
    When he moved on to working with advisors, he found they could no better characterize their clients than JC Penney could its customers. This led Lovas back to school for a psychology degree in human relations in business, so he could better answer the "who buys" question. "Let's say an advisor's clients are doctors. If I can understand why he's attracted to doctors as clients, I can give him a more effective marketing program."
    One day a client said to Lovas, "We love what you wrote, but the coaching you gave us was even more valuable." "I didn't think I'd done any coaching," says Lovas, "but the questions I'd asked forced my client to go into his client base and focus his marketing efforts. So, I thought, 'Let me be even more specific,' and I got into coaching."
    It's my opinion that pairing NLP with a background in advertising provides powerful tools to help someone better communicate with his clients, whether by Web site, white paper or open dialogue. "Marketing must be looked at as expressions or communications from a person," says Lovas. Knowing that there are 60 different mental filters, if Lovas can discern an advisor's client's mental filters, he can teach the advisor exactly how to communicate with the client so the client hears the advisor based upon the client's own personality and mental constructs.
    Steve Neff, a principal with Signia Capital Management LLC in Spokane, Wash., found this process invaluable when he joined a group of young CFAs to help them build a new firm. "By using his knowledge of psychological language patterns, Mike helped us elicit our firm's core values. He then helped us sculpt this language into our marketing materials, Web site and oral communications. This was no easy task, since he was dealing with four highly analytical, left-brain CFAs."
    Of course, Lovas' methods can't be expected to work for all people. Says Mike Dressander of Dressander & Associates, Inc. in Naperville, IL, "We had 25 of our best producers in for an annual Top Producer Conference-typically very seasoned, professional and successful advisors. About half the group was interested in Michaels approach and presentation and the other half couldn't wait for it to end."
    Dressander says one group was intrigued with the ability to quickly read a prospect, mirror his personality, and make an instant connection. The group that wasn't intrigued simply didn't feel that learning an approach like Michael's would help them with their business. "In my 24 years in this business, I've never seen a group so divided on the value of a presentation," says Dressander.
    However, Elaine Christakos-another Lovas client-wasn't divided. A branch manager and investment advisor with Union Securities Ltd. in Kelowna, British Columbia, Christakos first contacted Lovas after reading one of his articles. "Something in it rang true for me. My business was doing OK, but I had recently taken over as branch manager of my office and was struggling with the dual goals of building a profitable branch and building my own clientele."
    Upon hiring Lovas, Christakos learned how much more there was to communicating elegantly. "In blending the personality profiling with various NLP skills, not only am I speaking the language of my clients, I can also help them articulate their goals better and visualize the outcome they're seeking."
    As if the mastery of NLP weren't enough, Lovas is also a clinical hypnotherapist. "Before the age of ten or 11, we don't have the faculty of recognizing when someone's giving us bad information. So if a credible person, such as a parent, gives us information, we take it in and build our mental wiring based upon it. Sometimes it's bad stuff, sort of like building a house on a bad foundation; I can't change the facts of the experience, but I can change how the person perceives the experience." Christakos, says Lovas, had been successful but stuck. "Her life purpose was obscured. She enjoyed what she was doing in her career but it didn't feel right to her because she didn't understand why she was doing what she was doing." Lovas took her into a trance and then had conversations with her subconscious mind as it relived wonderful experiences. "I captured the language she used and the deep, core values she exposed in those conversations." From that, Lovas built a "life purpose statement" that now guides Christakos in achieving the satisfaction she'd been lacking.
    Many advisors believe they are doing the right kind of marketing if they have a brand and a Web site. Lovas' message is that these tools are only as good as the language contained therein.

David J. Drucker, M.B.A., CFP, a financial advisor since 1981, now writes, speaks and consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems. Learn more about his services at www.daviddrucker.com.