As retirement beckons or at least starts to seem closer, thoughts about managing money and whether there will be enough come off the back burner.

But the question of how to find the right financial professional to help with financial decision-making is so scary that it often leaves people frozen in indecision — in fear that if they pick the wrong person, they will find themselves in financial ruin.

On the other side of the equation stand the myriad financial professionals who may actually be able to help people avoid catastrophe and indeed be well prepared for retirement or for other financial goals, like buying a house or putting a child through college. But creating a meeting of minds between the wary consumer and a financial advisor is not an easy matter.

To earn a living, financial professionals need to market themselves effectively to people who don’t quite feel ready to make a choice. Bill Walton, president of ProDirect, will offer some ideas to help them out in a workshop on “Growth Strategies for Financial Professionals,” Thursday, June 21, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., at the Trenton Country Club in West Trenton. The program, sponsored by SCORE, will focus on finding, connecting with, and advancing ideal prospect relationships. Cost: $50. To register or learn more, visit

Being a financial professional is a tough gig because of all the things they have to be doing at the same time — following the market, prospecting for new business, serving existing clients, and managing their practices. Walton offers a process by which investment managers can successfully prospect for new business:

Decide which types of clients you want to work with and what you want to help them with. Potential prospects may fall into any number of potential categories, for example, people looking to buy a second home or to get a child through college; or two professionals marrying and combining their assets.

Thinking about your ideal prospect, and consider where you have had prior success. Do particular types of prospects respect you as a professional and feel comfortable with your process? What is their buying style — do they prefer a relationship that is transactional, that is, one mutual fund or stock at a time with no dialogue, coaching, or mutual transfer of information; or do they prefer a longer-term partnership?

In trying to determine the ideal prospect, think about your own affinities. For example, lawyers might be good clients for someone with a legal background who can understand their work schedules and who also shares their attention to detail and their analytical bent. Or, for someone who wants to focus on college planning, it may be useful to have expertise in finding scholarships and even writing college applications.

When the mesh is tight between a particular client and a financial professional, then your clients trust you and become your salespeople. And their own trust often communicates to their referrals. “Ninety percent of consumers trust referral from a friend,” says Walton.

Set goals that pull you toward the activity of prospecting. On the one hand, it is important to set doable goals, like a specific number of meetings each week with potential clients or the amount of assets you want to acquire on a quarterly basis.

But financial advisors also need to be doing their work for the right reasons—rather than just the dry numbers, they need to focus on who they want to help. “When you focus on the activities, there’s no joy,” says Walton. “When you put helping people get what they want at the center of your prospecting, that’s when you tear down the obstacles.”

Though everyone knows the importance of goal setting, people do not do enough of it, says Walton, who keeps in his office a vision board with his own most important goals: publishing a book, getting a house on the Jersey shore, and raising horses.

“When it means something to you, it will mean something to your prospects,” says Walton about having particular goals. “They’re going to feel that.”

Use crisp messaging to open your initial meeting with a client. Your early messages to clients, whether oral or written, are an early indication to them of why you are interested in meeting with them and, in a general sense, how you think you can help them. First, you need to identify what is unique about what you do and why other clients have chosen to work with you.

Second, you need to say why this particular person should be interested in talking to you. For example, to an attorney, you might say, “As a lawyer myself and being married to lawyer, I understand that you have limited time to focus on your investments and your long-term future.” Walton explains, “They want to work with people who know their world and are as exacting and detailed as they are.” Finally, your messaging needs to reflect that you’ve done your homework about the prospect or the profession you have chosen to target.

Keep the first meeting general. Sometimes financial managers come up with specific recommendations before they have really listened to the potential client, and as a result these first face-to-face engagements are not successful.

“If the adult you are communicating with hasn’t had enough time to talk about, speculate on, and show some emotion around their problem, they’re not going to buy into your recommendation,” he says. “Anyone who is someone worth working with is going to have a point of view and has achieved some level of success in their life, and as you go from prospecting to meeting and hopefully to landing a client, you have to dignify and validate that.”

The idea in the first meeting is to do a little meaningful discussion and create a comfortable dialogue. This is not the time for penetrating questions. “The initial meeting with the prospect is not about closing,” says Walton. Rather they give clients a chance to open you up to their world, how they arrived at where they are, what their financial situation is, and where they would need to be to be doing better.

“You have to earn the right for people to open up to you,” says Walton. “You have to ask really insightful questions that show genuineness and authenticity. To make your best recommendation, you need more information and need to know what’s important to people.”

Play back what the client has said. Respond to the prospect by capturing three or four points that stood out for you in the conversation. This will help validate and affirm potential clients and let them know you have heard them. And of course thank them for sharing.

Prioritize your prospects. At the beginning finding prospects takes a lot of time, but as your client base grows this time becomes limited and has to be as efficient and effective as possible. Walton suggests a couple of criteria for this prioritization.

The first is likeability—is this individual someone you will enjoy working with and they with you? The second is whether the process or methodology you follow is one that the prospect will understand and respect.

Walton grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut. His father, an ex-Marine, was a professor at Western Connecticut State University in theater and dramatic arts; and his mother was a human resources executive.

Describing himself as “a total jock,” Walton did varsity baseball for three years at Connecticut State University and was team captain. He graduated magna cum laude in 1986 and won a scholar athlete award. He earned a master’s degree in training and development at Fordham University.

Walton spent 12 years in sales and marketing of consumer products, first at Nestle, then at Tampax Corporation.

Then he moved to training and development, working for two years for the Forum Corporation, a sales leadership and service training organization in Boston. His next position was at Manchester Consulting as a senior vice president and executive coach.

In 2000 Walton started ProDirect in New York City, and in 2004 he moved the business to Lawrenceville. ProDirect is a sales training and coaching firm that helps companies leverage their sales talent. Its sales training curriculum, he says, focuses on how to mean more and become more of a resource to clients than are your competitors.

The company now has four fulltime employees and works with 53 associates who are coaches, trainers, and designers of training programs and work on a project-by-project basis. Sixty percent of ProDirect’s customers are on the East Coast, 30 percent elsewhere in the United States, and 10 percent global. Right now the firm is focusing particularly on developing its relationships with professionals in the central New Jersey community.

In the end prospecting is all about getting people to feel comfortable. For some this may mean providing references; for others, who are analytical, it is facts and data that will comfort them; for still others, what is important is establishing a personal relationship.

At the same time the process must allow prospects to talk about their problems and issues without having the advisor rush to recommend a solution. “It’s like leasing a car; we don’t want to buy anything until we’ve done our research,” says Walton. “We don’t want to make a bad decision, especially around money and markets. In a way, the best advisors are a decision coach.”

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