Charlotte: "I'm twenty-five and only a couple years into the business," started Chris. He continued hesitantly, "I really want to focus my business on dentists - I think.  My father is a dentist and I have a lot of contacts and family friends in the field.  My problem is that I don't know how to approach them.  I feel super salesy when I do." 

Chris recently graduated at the top of his class from an excellent school in the Midwest.  He moved back home to Charlotte and started his career as a financial advisor.  He was committed to building this niche but just needed some direction. We suggested he start with informational interviews. 

Why Informational Interviews?

Any advisor, new or veteran, can conduct an informational interview with a member of a niche they wish to target. This could be dentists, corporate executives, farmers, or any other group the advisor would like to target. They are beneficial for a number of reasons:

•    Uncovers genuine concerns of your niche

•    Opens a comfortable dialogue with this potential connector

•    Creates awareness of your specialization

•    Uncovers keywords and phrases this niche uses

•    Enables you to customize your marketing to appeal to this niche

•    Helps you develop a story regarding your research and specialization

Ideally, informational interviews are conducted with those whom you already have a warm relationship.  If you call someone cold and ask for an informational interview, they will think it’s a sales pitch. The idea is to engage members of your niche in business conversations and uncover their chief financial concerns.  It's a non-threatening way to get them involved in your success and learn something valuable. But remember, this is not a sales pitch!  It must be done with the purest of intentions.  Attempting to conduct these interviews with a hidden agenda can come across disingenuous. You want the interviewee to feel your sincerity.

We suggested Chris approach his contacts and ask them a few questions over a meal or drinks. The following is a process for conducting powerful informational interviews:

1. Preface the conversation

Before you begin, frame the conversation for the interviewee.  This step is important and should not be skipped as it dramatically increases the likelihood of open and honest responses.  Let the interviewee know why you are asking these questions and the importance of their candor.  You might say…

"I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me today. As you know, I'm focusing on building a business of professionals like yourself. In order for me to best serve your community, I need to understand the financial issues you face. My clients are not always forthright in their financial concerns and this helps me understand concerns that may be left unsaid.  I'd like to get your unfiltered perspective and hear it straight from the source.”

2. Ask the Right Questions

Now you are ready to segue into questions.  Ideally, you don't want this to feel like a formal interview.  You want to ask a few questions, take notes, and let the conversation flow.  Some potential questions may include...

•    What are some of the financial concerns that people in XYZ industry have?

•    Do most people in your industry hire a professional to manage their money?

•    What concerns do you have about professionals who attempt to give you financial advice?

Remember to take notes and ask probing questions to dig deeper.

•    Tell me more about that?

•    Why is that such a concern?

•    Has anyone addressed this with you? Why?

•    What is a specific issue you have had with a financial professional?

3.  “Signal” along the Way

As you uncover your contacts’ financial concerns, resist the temptation to jump into sales mode.  That said, you may subtly signal that you have helped others address similar concerns.  As the interviewee expresses an issue you might say…

“I understand.  We’ve run into that a lot with the (insert niche) we work with.”
 

4.     Send a Thank You Card

Send a Thank You card immediately after the interview.  Make sure you include a handwritten note expressing your appreciation and mention something you specifically learned from this conversation.  We've seen some advisors even include a ten dollar Starbucks gift card as a token of appreciation. 

5.     Follow-Up Regarding Concerns

Your follow-up can take many different forms but it should never come across as pushy or salesy. Take sales out of the equation and think about how you, once again, might truly add value and support this niche you’ve identified and researched. Remember, you are planting seeds for future growth. 

One way to follow-up is to send them some articles or whitepapers pertaining to the issues you uncovered.     Another way to follow up would be to research an expert regarding their concerns (i.e. charitable gifting) and make this expert available to them.

“I remember when we spoke last you mentioned a concern of yours was (insert concern).  I did some digging, asked around, and uncovered an expert in X.  Do you want me to get you in front of them?”

Common Informational Interview Faux Pas

We've seen advisors take these interviews down the wrong path.  There are a few common practices you want to avoid. 

·       Don't ask a question such as "If you were in my shoes, how would you market services to professionals like yourself?"  Why should you avoid this?  Doing this puts the focus on you and off your interviewee. Plus, it’s awkward.  

·       Don't follow up too quickly to discuss business. Remember, we need to be genuine in our approach. Don't call them the next day to ask for a meeting to discuss their finances.   Instead, think about how you can follow up within the next few weeks or have a general social contact.

Chris seemed excited to start his informational interviews. Through this simple process, he would be able to gather invaluable information about what concerns his niche and at the same time broach a business conversation.  Often, that is the most difficult part.  Remember, this is one of many tactics new advisors can use to proactively engage their natural market and centers of influence.

Stephen Boswell and Kevin Nichols  are thought-leaders and coaches with The Oechsli Institute,  a firm that does ongoing research  and coaching  for nearly every major financial services firm in the US.  To take the first step towards coaching, complete the pre-coaching business profile   for a complimentary consultation.