Professional Development

How to chat and mingle with clients


Susan RoAne
Author, “How to Work a Room”

Matt Krantz
Senior Financial Writer, Capital Group

Key takeaways

  • Advisors: Stop telling yourself you’re an introvert and “aren’t good at socializing.”
  • Concrete techniques can help you mingle with clients and connect with them.
  • Know how to prepare an efficient but memorable introduction and connect digitally, too.

Give a financial advisor a calculator — or spreadsheet — and they’ll feel right at home. But hand them a cocktail and toss them in a party with strangers, and some degree of uncertainty might set in.

It’s natural, but doesn’t have to be that way. Some simple techniques can help advisors — even those who identify as introverts — turn any meeting into an opportunity to make new connections, says Susan RoAne, author of “How to Work a Room®” and a former schoolteacher in Northern California in an interview with Capital Group®.  RoAne gives presentations to advisors and companies on how to improve socializing skills.

“To those people who think, ‘I hate networking.’ Don’t say that anymore,” RoAne says. “Stop networking, start socializing. Socialize with people so that they feel a social connection to you.”

Here’s one tip you can use right away. How to deal with the uncomfortable silence in a social setting. This might happen at a party when you’re chatting with people you don’t know or even with a client in the office. What’s the way out of this situation? RoAne says there are magic words that work every time: “Tell me more.” Just asking the person you’re talking about to explain more opens angles of discussion and also lets “that person have the stage,” she says. Earnestly looking to learn more about what interests the person you’ve met may help  you form a connection.

The same method applies, too, when you hit a lull in a face-to-face conversation with a client in your office, even if the client is unhappy about something you’ve done. “These are the tricky situations,” she says. Just say “why don’t you tell me about it?” Being concerned and interested can cool the situation and put you in a position to help — and even strengthen the relationship.

That’s just one suggestion to turn conversations with people into something you enjoy. Here are several more from RoAne, including: 

  • Don’t discount “small talk.” It’s easy to think advisors should be talking about serious topics like portfolio construction and standard deviation. But “that’s not how you start” a conversation, especially when talking to a new client, RoAne says. Find a personal connection first. Find out how old the person’s children are or what kind of food they like. Just knowing a person likes deep-dish pizza might tell you what part of the country they’re from, RoAne says.
    Some advisors might think small talk is frivolous and takes away from their cache as an advisor. But that’s “backward thinking,” she says. “Once you have the foundation, these little bits of information, those common bonds, can merge … when you hear something that you can relate to.”

  • Show appreciation and act like a host. People want to be thanked. Appreciation is a great place to start most conversations. Rather than feeling honored that you’ve met with them, people want you to thank them for traveling in the rain or hunting for parking to see you. It’s similar to how you might treat guests at party at your home. It doesn’t matter if the client has financial issues you have the technical skill to solve. What matters most is “making that person feel comfortable with you,” RoAne says. “I know there are people who are shy (saying), ‘I want to be comfortable with the client,’” RoAne says. “Think (instead) of what you can do to make that client, who’s a guest in your office … feel at ease” with you. 

  • Practice everywhere. Don’t just wait for the next in-office client visit or social event to practice your socialization skills. Practice whenever and wherever you can. When in line at the bank, talk to the people next to you, RoAne says. Notice something about people and ask them about it.
    Talk to the clerk at the supermarket. RoAne noticed the clerk at her local grocery store looked like actor Matt Damon. She asked him if customers routinely pointed out the resemblance to him. He said, “actually, very few customers talk to me. They look down.” What a missed opportunity for self-described introverts to hone their conversation skills.

  • See people, not prospects. Sure, the people you meet could turn into valuable clients or connections in the future. But the key to reaching them is to see them as people first, RoAne says. “If we go in thinking we are going to treat everyone as a prospect, it changes our behavior,” he says.
    Let’s say you meet someone from New York. Rather than thinking this could be your first client in a bicoastal practice, ask them what Broadway plays they’ve seen, RoAne says. That’s why preparing for meetings requires not just doing homework on who will be there, but general topics to allow you to connect with attendees. “Have three or four conversation starters prepared ahead of time that you get from the news,” RoAne says.
    Another pro tip: Have an introduction ready for a social event. Be ready with a seven-to-nine second pleasantry — that includes the benefit of what you do for a living, not your job title — which is more powerful than a crushing handshake.

  • Be extra careful when going digital. The brain is “wired for face-to-face conversation,” so it’s important to recognize much is lost when communicating online. When communicating in an email, write the informational part first, but don’t send it yet. It’s important to add conversational writing as well so the tone of your request isn’t lost. “You want someone to read your email as if it were coming from a real person,” she says. “Add in some conversational comments.”

Many advisors try to “forge trust,” RoAne says. “I don’t know that you can really forge it,” she says. “Trust is built over time, not overnight.”



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