How to Sell Financial Advice - Lessons from a Used Car Lot


Scott Rowe, Marketing Specialist

There are a lot of places an advisor can go to for insight on how to better run their business. A used car lot probably isn’t one that comes to mind, but that just might be the best place to learn how to sell products and services that look and feel a lot like your competitors’.

I was recently in a car wreck. While the only major damage was done to my car, I was left with a major pain in the neck (literally and figuratively). Worse than the soreness of whiplash was the fact that I now needed a car, which meant I now needed to deal with car salesmen.

“What can I do to get you in this car today?"

I couldn’t believe my ears when one of the first car salesperson I met dropped the iconic sales line. People don’t say that in real life, right? That’s just a classic sleezy line reserved for Hollywood, right?

Apparently not. Needless to say, I left that car lot immediately with no intentions of returning. The aggressive and shady sales tactic made me feel uncomfortable. It made me second guess the product, and definitely didn’t leave me feeling confident about the support I would have in the instance of car trouble.

What’s really astounding is that salesman wasn’t the exception, but the norm. Car lot after car lot I ran into aggressive salespeople with only one thing on their mind. Closing the deal. They were chasing the sale, not my needs. They were trying to move product out the door, not me toward my goal.

Around the third car lot it dawned on me that this must be what an investor feels like when shopping for investment advice (hopefully minus the aggressive sales tactics).

I had a general idea of what I needed, but the options were overwhelming. I was hesitant to trust the only source of advice, which was provided by the person whose paycheck was directly tied to my decision. I was also uneasy about any hidden/overpriced fees tied to the product.

But then I found hope. The last lot I visited delivered a completely different experience. I was greeted by a salesman who took an alternative approach that immediately won my business. Within 30 seconds of speaking I knew that I was going to buy a car from him that day.

Why? Because he was the exact opposite of every other salesman that frustrated me that day. He didn’t take me to the lot immediately, ushering me toward the vehicles he wanted to move. Instead, he sat me down at his desk and pulled out an iPad, where we scrolled through all the inventory that matched my needs. We discussed price, mileage, and features openly. He was completely transparent about the cars that might fit my unique needs, and more importantly, which weren’t a great fit. He placed my goals at the forefront of the conversation and removed all uncertainty from the process.

That salesman earned my trust before he started selling the car. Instead of wondering why he had chosen to show me each car I was excited to see the cars that I had chosen. I felt like I was in control of the situation.

As you could have guessed, I bought one of the cars I saw that day (a pretty sweet minivan). I felt good about the purchase, which was free of anxiety and uncertainty.

The lesson for financial advisor is this – think about your business like a car lot, and try to be the most transparent and trustworthy sales person around.

Studies show that financial advisors are among the top mistrusted professions. That’s scary for two reasons. First, it shows just how hard it is to be a financial advisor. Second, it’s unsettling that a large chunk of investors aren’t comfortable with those who manage their money.

Though the landscape seems challenging, the mistrust of investors gives the financial advisor willing to do the work an opportunity to stand apart from their peers.

Investors are extremely similar to car buyers. The advisor who can best reduce their anxiety and build trust through transparency is going to be best positioned to earn their business.

You can reduce uncertainty by addressing the knowledge gap between you and your prospective clients. You know your investment options/strategy like the back of your hand. You know what’s available, what might fit their needs, and how they can best achieve their goals. But investors don’t.

So, pull out the iPad (or computer, or brochure, or whatever it is you have), and walk them through all the options. You will earn their trust by helping them understand your thought process and why certain options should be considered or eliminated. Instead of telling them what’s right for them, help them discover it through an open and honest discussion.

This seems like a simple idea, but it works.

I would be willing to wager that the last car salesman I encountered sells a lot more cars than the ones who were more aggressive. Certain things in life like choosing a car, buying a house, or selecting a financial advisor to entrust with your money are stressful. Every person will naturally take notice when someone radically improves the experience by reducing stress from the start.

If you don’t look different from the average financial advisor, it might be time to re-envision the sales process.

Scott Rowe is a Marketing Specialist at FTJ FundChoice, millennial, and newfound minivan enthusiast.