How to Convert a Friend into a Client Without Being Creepy
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One of the common questions I get is how to convert a friend or acquaintance to a business prospect. Use this five-step process.
Prospect to friends with intelligence
Should you prospect to your friends? I ran this LinkedIn poll and a little less than a third of people saw it as a solid “yes”:
I can see why advisors may be apprehensive. Unfortunately, the chew-up-spit-out broker dealer and insurance training programs have poisoned 99% of advisor friendships.
Look, it doesn’t have to be a drive-by, okay?
If you are worried about losing them, ask yourself these questions before approaching:
- How is this person likely to respond?
- Is this likely to offend them and/or ruin our relationship?
- How does this person handle surprise, shock, or being put on the spot?
- Have I ever seen this person manage an uncomfortable situation before?
- Do we share similar values?
- What are my instincts telling me about this person?
The best person to ask to be a client is a distant friend, a familiar acquaintance – but not too close. My college roommate who I used to go to the frat parties with, hang in the Buffalo stance (and do the dive every time we dance) – she just knows me too well. Plus, if it gets messed up, she’s permanently in my life.
No more coffee grabbing!
First, throw these out the window:
- Everything you probably have been doing so far
- Everything they taught you in sales training
- Anything that will make you look like the typical advisor
- Anything that makes you act like someone you aren’t
- Anything that wouldn’t fit within the natural cadence of the friendship
- Anything that goes against your instincts
No, you cannot ask to “grab coffee and catch up” when that isn’t your real goal.
Serving the person with an enriching experience
Instead of “How do I fill up my pipeline with leads and make a pile,” the question to ask yourself is this:
What is the most beneficial way to engage my friend so that they wind up better off than if they had not?
Hey how about this?
Serve the person by the act of involving them with your business – whether or not you wind up ever making them a client.
And throughout the whole thing, ask yourself:
- Am I making this a positive experience for them?
- Am I educating them?
- Am I changing their life for the better?
Pssssst – ask these questions about everything you do – not just prospecting.
Now let’s get to the process.
1. Connect to the friend on LinkedIn
If they aren’t on LinkedIn (as many Baby Boomers aren’t), skip to step #2.
If you aren’t on LinkedIn, read these blogs and get started!
After you connect with them, do this.
Follow the friend’s posts and make insightful, genuine comments that show you thought about them deeply. They will pay more attention to the 0.1% of people do this.
To make this work these are the preconditions.
You must be:
- Able to selflessly be interested in the content they post
- Online with some frequency, not checking in once every two weeks for five minutes
- Someone who posts or even comments on other people’s posts. Some people don’t.
And you must not post:
- Boring cookie-cutter stuff about Seven Reasons to Buy an Annuity that will make you look like the typical advisor
- Frivolous stuff about what you ate for dinner, your travel plans, etc.
See what I’m saying?
Serve the friend with content they want to gobble up!
And give them the gift of paying attention to theirs!
By the way, you should be posting almost every two weeks with something insightful. Yes, you may have to learn a few new things about how advisors can use social media.
2. Get the friend reading your email newsletter
Yes, you have to ask first.
We all wind up on email lists we never signed up for; it causes resentment. Moreover, by not asking you miss the best opportunity to clue them in on the value they could get.
Before you start signing them up, you are probably going to have to give your newsletter a revamp.
Make it bad.
Not bad like morally reproachable bad, but bad like Michael Jackson bad. Try a refreshing three-bullet point newsletter. It’s rad. I described it in my article about weird niches.
Forward them a copy of your revamped newsletter with a note that says, “I set up this newsletter to be a deviation from how financial advice for Boeing employees is typically presented. If you think it would be valuable, please feel free to subscribe or let me know your email and I can add you.”
Make it be the most valuable thing they’ve ever read, by the way. Write like you’re out on the edge of glory and you’re hanging on a moment of truth!
3. Prevent awkwardness by using testing
Prevent awkwardness in advance by subtly mentioning the topic.
I just saw Tori Dunlap has almost two million followers on TikTok. Do you follow her or any of the financial influencers on TikTok, or do you just go by what your advisor says?
I had an idea for my business. Can I get your opinion? I want to deliver my client’s annual statements in organic, non-GMO recycled brown paper envelopes. Do you think this matters to people? Does your advisor do stuff like that?
If I wanted to meet more people like you, where would you suggest I do that?
Observe their body language after you say it.
I want to be very clear on the last point: Since they are your friend/acquaintance, they will not want to reject you verbally. Give them the gift of interpreting their body language, which never lies.
Don’t skip this step. If you don’t get conclusive results, repeat it until you do.
4. Bluntly ask for the meeting
Once this friend of mine emailed me, “Hey, now that you had a second baby would it be a good time to sit down and talk about life insurance?”
I didn’t mind the bluntness. You know why? Because he didn’t try to manipulate me, be my BFF, pander to me, or suck up my time.
If you get the green light in Step #3, look them in the eye and say what you really mean:
I don’t want to set our friendship on fire and go down in flames like the New York Yankees in 2004, but I often wonder if what I do for Boeing employees has any application to your life. Do you ever think about that?
As blunt as you can say it, no hesitation.
Watch their body language and if they are running like the wind, never mention it again.
A word about vulnerability
The process is one thing; opening people up is another thing.
Vulnerability is not something people are comfortable with in the first place. But nowadays since we have the internet to hide behind, human vulnerability has gotten even more messed up. It’s gotten harder to judge where you truly stand, who the real friends are.
A few weeks ago, we had my oldest child’s eighth birthday.
Nobody showed up.
Well, actually, Antonio invited this family with two kids who are friends with my two youngest girls (I have four children under nine years old). The little girls came. But those weren’t the birthday girl’s friends; she was let down.
I tried to be strong and put on a brave face, to teach her a lesson about gratitude and how disappointments are a part of life. Deep down, I took it hard.
The next day, I went to drop her off at camp. I tried to ask her teenage camp counselor to have the class sing happy birthday but here’s what happened.
It came out like:
Today is Rachel’s (not my kid’s real name) birthday and could you…
(Tears start rolling down)
We had her party yesterday and nobody showed up.
Can you please have her class sing her happy birthday?
I bolted. I’m a tough girl who doesn’t cry. To lose control of myself in public like this was utterly humiliating.
In New York City in the middle of July, it gets so hot that the rats straight up die in mid-stride in the cracks on the sidewalk. A July birthday, I guess everyone was out of town or wasn’t around. But as I’m walking home in 95-degree heat, strolling past the rats, I bitterly ask, “How could they? How could they hurt my kid this way? She’s just a baby, too young to feel this pain. How could they do this to a child, how could they, how could they, how could they?” The tears are drowning the rats; I can’t hold them back.
Well, I go to pick her up that afternoon and I see there’s this chaotic party happening in the school lobby. There’s a cake and two huge bunches of balloons, decorations, kids running all over the place. The 17-year-old camp counselor, whose name I didn’t even know, had arranged for an impromptu eighth birthday party for my kid.
She saved my baby.
We’re all floating around passing through life and despite all that we do, you never know when you might need somebody else, or they may need you. No life coach or therapist retreat with a tagline about self-reliance can take that away. Acts of friendship are calling to be made all the time; if you look, there are all kinds of signals. It may not get you the IRA rollover but that doesn’t mean that living this way isn’t worth doing. With all society has gained through evolution we have the iPhone. But sometimes I worry we’ve lost the emergency birthday cakes and I’m not sure that’s a great exchange.
And by the way, being a person who treats people with kindness in their moments of vulnerability isn’t a bad marketing strategy because it will make you rare beyond imagination. Word on that gets around faster than a speeding Twitter bullet.
I have to go now, because my four kids are torturing me by refusing to go to bed.
If you are looking for marketing advice, here is how I can help.
I’m also having a meetup for flat fee, advice-only, or hourly advisors (or anyone interested in this movement). Sign up here.
Sara Grillo, CFA, is a marketing consultant who helps investment management, financial planning, and RIA firms fight the tendency to scatter meaningless clichés on their prospects and bore them as a result. Prior to launching her own firm, she was a financial advisor.