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Sept 1993

How to gain your client's trust - fast. (High Net Worth: The Accoutrements of Success) (Cover Story)

by Johnson, Kerry L.

    Abstract- Accountants who normally deal with new people and would want to attract more high-net-worth clients need to learn how to develop high levels of rapport. Rapport-building is crucial to engendering trust and consequently convincing prospects to avail of the accounting services being offered to them. One of the most effective techniques in creating rapport when discussing with potential clients is imitating the nuances of their body posture. Mirroring the position of prospects is a sure way of drawing their attention. To test if a desirable level of rapport is generated, accountants may use the 'leading' procedure. This involves making a body cue and finding out if the client will unconsciously follow this movement. If so, then the CPA is sure of a new business source. Voice qualities should also be considered in conversations. The pitch and speed of speech should be moderated and adapted to prospect's speaking manner.

John, an experienced CPA, was about to meet with a prospective high- net-worth client. John persuaded the wealthy business owner to visit his office to discuss his business needs. After several minutes of conversation, they sat at a small conference table facing each other.

As they talked, the prospective client learned back in his chair as if relaxing. John learned forward towards the owner's side of the table. While John realized the prospective client was relaxed, he still wished he would show a little more interests and enthusiasm. He seemed almost disinterested. John felt himself consciously trying harder to make an emotional connection and ended up speaking faster and disjointed. He learned even further forward and felt perspiration beading on his forhead. He was losing control of the interview and the potential engagement.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? Have you wished you were able to quickly generate rapport and trust? Once you gain someone's trust, he or she will accept almost anything you recommended. Trust is tough to earn and rarely given quickly. Trust in the process of securing clients is defined as the degree to which you can communicate competence, dependability, likability fairness, and well-meant intentions. If you believe someone is competent and has a desire to help you achieve your goals; and he or she can give you what you want and need, you will do almost anything for him/her in return. If you can communicate dependability and fairness while keeping your client's needs always in focus, you will be able to prosper in a thriving practice for the rest of your career.

He was able to generate trust but didn't know why

It takes years to develop this kind of trust. Your best clients hold you in high regard. They trust your advice almost without question. But is there a way to gain trust especially with prospective high-net- worth clients? You don't have years to convince a new client you are trustworthy. You need that business now.

To gain trust, you first must establish rapport. Rapport doesn't necessarily come from a broad smile or engaging in pleasant conversation for a few minutes. Although finding common social interests may be important, there is a quicker and more effective way.

I recently spent a few hours observing an expert practitioner at gaining trust. A very successful CPA/fiancial planner, Dennis, invited a high-net-worth couple to stop by his office. I played the part of a silent associate, sitting to the side and in back of the couple. Dennis seated the couple at a small round table, making sure he sat near the decision maker, who in this case was the male. Dennis sensed some initial reluctance in the couple. He first discussed their mutal friend who referred him. Dennis then started probing the couple asking for their short, medium, and long-term financial goals. I was astonished at how quickly this once suspicious couple warmed up to Dennis.

Puzzled, I tried to stop listening to the verbal exchange and instead paid attention to what I saw. Surprisingly, all three were in perfect synchrony. Every movement was duplicated by the other. Dennis's head was tilted in the same direction as both husband and wife. They leaned forward onto the table in the same fashion. Even their breathing rates were in unison. They were in such high rapport that Dennis could have pulled out a photo of a used Chevrolet and the couple would have bought it.

I paid close attention during his next appointment as well. The same initial social amenities were discussed. This time I looked for only non-verbal cues. The new client, a high level exeuctive,- was obviously as relaxed as Dennis. I noticed the client lean forward onto the conference table. Within a few seconds, Dennis also moved forward from his chair onto the table. What astounded me is how receptive the client was to Dennis shortly after these episodes. I discussed with Dennis afterward what I saw. He was unaware of his non-verbal behavior. After 20 years of practice, he had become an unconscious competent. He was quickly able to generate trust, but didn't know why.

This runs counter to everything you were taught about dealing with clients. You probably learned in Customer Relations Training 101 that you must be enthsiastic and positive when in front of a prospective client. If you are enegertic, as the saying goes, your client will also become repective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Through watching miles of video-taped interviews, I have learned very articulate and technically astute practitioners fail to gain the business of especially high-networth clients because they don't establish a sufficient level of rapport and trust in the interview.

Another enormously successful CPA/financial advisor, Frank, gains engagements from almost 100% of the prosective clients he sees. He mirrors every nuance of the client's posture. When a client enters his office, Frank watches how he or she stands and then mirrors his/her posture. If the client crosses his/her legs when sitting, Frank does the same. If he or she leans forward, Frank follows. This really makes a lot of sense. People tend to mirror others they trust. They avoid those they distrust.

Next time you're at a restaurant, try to spot a loving couple. They will invariably mirror each other's gestures. They'll likely space themselves one to two feet from each other and engage in a kind of courtship dance. If one smiles, the other will follow. If one's arms are folded, the other will unconsciously fold their arms in exactly the same way.

Your first response may be that this seems manipulative. Yes, it can be if done dishonestly. Ethical practitioners don't manipulate. But they do strive to communicate more effectively. The big hitters I have observed mirror so elegantly, it's impossible to spot. But they do it to gain higher levels of rapport and trust, not to manipulate. They first match the client's initial body posture. When the client moves to a new position, the peak performing CPA will wait twenty to thirty seconds and slowly mirror the new position.

Try Leading

One of the most difficult tasks is communicating your ideas to a client is to change suspicion and concern into receptivity. This is especially important in "selling" new clients to use your services. Dennis uses a technique called "leading" to cause people to be more responsible. He will first match and mirror his client's body cues until he feels rapport has been generated. He will then lead them into increased interest by moving forward in his chair. If the person is in high enough rapport, he will follow Dennis, mirroring the same position.

Have you ever seen Air Force jets flying in tight formation? The following pilots will strive to line up their aircraft's nose with the wingtip of the leading plane. After few minutes in flight, these pilots report such a high level of flying rapport they fly without consciously looking at the forward wingtip. All planes in formation move as one single welded piece of flying steel.

Using a Trust Check

I decided to test this mirroring and leading theory on my own. I attended a reception the night before a conference where I was to speak. The program chairman held a drink in his left hand keeping his right hand in his trousers pocket. I also held a drink but was motioning while talking with my other hand. I sensed very little rapport as we conversed. I immediately realized our mismatch in body posture. I then mirrored my host. I put my drink in my left hand with my right hand in my trousers pocket. I felt our rapport level increase. He seemed much more conversant and candid. I then decided to check our rapport level and lead him. I removed my right hand from my pocket and switched drink hands. Within five seconds, he also removed his right hand from his pocket and switched. While I told him later that he had followed me, he laughed in recognition. This process is called a "trust check." If the high-networth client mirrors you back, you are in a high level of trust. If you are interviewing a new client, stop talking. They have already accepted your ideas. Not paying attention to these cues will ensure that you oversell yourself and buy your services back.

If you want to gain rapport more quickly, mirror the person you are talking to. But if you want to lead him or her to your point of view, change your nonverbal cues. If you do not spot them mirroring you in return, your level of rapport is not yet high enough.

Use Your Voice

You have learned people tend to trust others when rapport exists. That rapport occurs not only in body posture, but also in voice qualities. You probably are aware of the difficulties inherent in a hard charging New York City CPA trying to generate rapport with an Alabama prospect. The fact-clipped harshness of the New Yorker would not engender trust from the slower talking "down home" client, especially on the telephone. But are you also aware of more subtle voice characteristics?

Peak performing practitioners like one I know from the midwest, can do wonders on the phone. Craig is able to raise or lower his voice pitch depending on his client's voice qualities. Craig instinctively knows that if he talks in a gravely deep tone, the listener will lose rapport and trust if the listener's voice is high pitched. Most importantly, Craig knows to speed up his voice pace or slow it down depending on the way his client says hello.

I recently heard about an executive who received an insurance settlement after learning about voice matching and pacing. After his car was stolen, he spent weeks of negotiation with his insurance company. He phoned the Des Moines headquarters from his office in Newark. He became immediately aware of the slower voice tempo and tone of the manager on the other end. He changed his voice to match his listner. He not only received a larger cash settlement than expected, but the check was mailed the next day.

Develop Your People Skills

If your clients already know and trust you, there is no need to use these techniques. But if you constantly deal with new people and you would like to attract more high-net-worth clients, you must develop high levels of rapport. Your technical accounting expertise is not as important as your client's level of trust in you.

As a CPA, you are far more likely to be saturated with technical guidelines than ideas centering on people skills. CPAs who think the more they know about the technical competent CPAs do not the point. Have you ever noticed that the most technicaly competent CPAs do not get the high-net-worth clients? If your client didn't think you were technically competent, he wouldn't be in your office in the first place. Your high-net-worth clients buy trust first, your technical expertise second. Trust is the skill that separates those who barely succeed from those who always do. If you want clients who give you business for life, get good at dealing with people. Use these techniques on gaining your clients' customers' trust today.

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