by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA
“My Case Open Inventory feels like a black hole,” laments a Financial Representative (FR), adding, “cases are stuck because we still need a voided check or my client just needs to return my calls.” Most often my clients tell me that their projected premium for the month is hinging on one or two clients following through with a simple task or a quick phone meeting.
Do you encounter this scenario often? If so, I find the most common explanation is that FRs do not communicate clear expectations with their clients. The ground rules for the relationship are never established. Assumptions are made by both FR and client. This leads to frustration for both parties.
If the solution is as simple as setting expectations, why doesn’t everyone do it? There are several common reasons:
- You’ve never thought to do it
- You fear setting clear boundaries and expectations might create conflict
- Stating your needs and services clearly might jeopardize the relationship (rejection!)
- You could lose a case It’s uncomfortable for you (and possibly the client)
If you relate to this, there is good news. You have the power to change this frustrating pattern of working really hard for clients or prospective clients only to be left waiting and wondering if your efforts will be fruitful.
It might surprise you to hear that the relationship with the client with a lingering case in your Case Open Inventory actually began with the nominator. If you did not take the time to rigorously make a plan with your client to contact the person you’re working with today, you began the relationship from a place of imbalance. If the nominator does his or her job and contacts the Qualified Suspect (QS), explains who you are, what you do and then endorses you, your relationship will be on stronger footing before you even pick up the phone.
When you are endorsed by someone the QS cares about, you will start your relationship right away with a higher level of mutual respect. This sets the stage for the next critical step: communicating how you and your practice work and learning the same about your clients. This can include any or all of the following (spoken and/or in writing) with this step in the meeting expressed right in a written agenda:
This relationship is a partnership. If we decide to work together, we need to help each other. When you are in need of something my team will respond within 24-48 hours. When we require something from you, can we expect the same responsiveness in return? If we have not heard from you, our progress is stalled. Do not assume that we can continue to work on your behalf when we are missing information or a step is not completed (such as the medical, signing applications, producing statements or voided checks, etc.). We are a team. Can you commit to following through on your end? Is there anything we can do to make this easier for you? If so, what? I will always do my best to be on time for our meetings. If something unforeseen should come up that causes me to be late or need to reschedule, I will let you know immediately. Can I expect the same from you in return? How do you like to be communicated with in general? Should we email, talk on the phone, meet in person, exchange texts or use the mail? If you need to return signed forms to us, what method works best for you? My team often communicates with our clients on my behalf so that we provide prompt and efficient service. Are you willing to work directly with my team when they can serve your needs? (If no, why not?) What do you need from us when we are working together? For example: a lot of education, clear steps and instructions, strong deadlines, or working in person—perhaps outside of an office setting? We have a history and culture at Northwestern Mutual of building strong financial practices by meeting people our clients introduce us to—not through expensive advertising. I will ask you every time we meet who do you know who might benefit from having a conversation with me. I am also happy to introduce you to others I may know. Does this work for you? (If not, what are your concerns?)
What do you feel when you imagine communicating these expectations consistently to your clients? If it doesn’t feel natural, you’re not alone.
Begin by examining your beliefs:
If you’ve never thought to assert yourself and communicate clearly, now you have a new idea. Make it your own. Put it in your own words and practice communicating your expectations. It is helpful if you can shed any baggage you have about previous experiences with clients who have not met your unspoken expectations. Make sure you are in an emotionally neutral place when you do state expectations or you will sound passive (disappointed), aggressive (angry) or passive-aggressive (thinly veiled, pent-up anger). Neutrality will convey confidence and assertiveness which are positive. If you fear setting clear boundaries and expectations because it might create conflict, ask yourself—might conflict already be occurring? If cases are lodged in your pipeline, something is wrong if your clients have gone radio silent. What is the worst thing that could happen if you do “create conflict” by communicating your needs to clients? If stating your expectations will jeopardize the relationship, is this a client with whom you want to work? This is a two-way street! The client will also benefit by having a chance to tell you what he or she needs and expects from you. Have you actually ever lost a case for this reason? What is the actual risk? If it’s uncomfortable for you (and possibly the client) to communicate expectations, ask yourself this: are you comfortable now? I doubt it. Which is worse—temporary discomfort while you say what needs to be said or a lifetime career filled with frustration?
Who does it serve if you allow cases to languish in a black hole, aggravations toward unresponsive clients to fester or resentments to interfere with positive relationship growth? Ask yourself: is not speaking up giving you only temporary comfort while costing you long term discomfort? Who gets hurt when cases don’t go through? What becomes possible when you assert yourself and step up as the leader? I’m guessing you will have happier, healthier clients and you might just feel the same way, too.
Coaching Tip If you are ready for a new era, start by documenting your own guidelines in your own words. You may wish to include the information on a handout that you review in your meetings. Begin as a pilot and change things as you gain experience. The end goal is for both parties to feel more comfortable, informed and supported.