At the guts of your Approach Talk is a specific conversation. It's called the Planning Horizon® conversation. The Planning Horizon® shows up in the middle of your meeting and we'll show you where it fits in the batting order but we want to introduce you to it here first so you have it nailed. The purpose of the Planning Horizon® conversation is threefold. First is to understand what the prospect has done so far, who they've worked with and what investments, insurance and estate strategies they put in place. Second is to help them recognize that they probably aren't sure if what they've done to date is going to get them where they want to go. And third is to give them an experience of how working with you is different than working with other advisors. Instead of saying I'm different, you're actually demonstrating that difference. So how does this conversation work? Let's get into it.
To create The Planning Horizon®, draw a horizontal line and that line, which we call The Planning Horizon® creates two distinct areas, cleverly named Above the Horizon and Below the Horizon. The area Below the Horizon is where you see traditional financial conversations. How are you protected? How are you invested? Do you have a will in any trusts? How's your tax situation? Below the Horizon, you talk about the strategies, tactics, and tools of accomplishing goals. It's the quantitative aspect of a financial situation and often where you're talking about how to solve things, who will do it, and when to solve it. Everyone ultimately provides a product or solution of some sort and this is where it's handled, Below the Horizon. The area Above the Horizon, however, is where conversations explore something different.
They focus on what the client values. They look at the vision that they have for the future and the goals that have to be accomplished to move them toward that vision. In simple terms, Above the Horizon we discern what the client really wants and why that's important to them versus Below the Horizon conversations that handle how to solve things, who will do it and when to do it. Now, most advisors are initially taught to start below the horizon, and if they go above the horizon at all, it's only briefly and it's typically just long enough to identify a product for the client, then they had below the horizon. And if you're doing that know that that's not your fault, you were taught to do it, everyone is doing it, so that's the way it's done. But what this also means is that most wealth holders are used to this as well.
They meet with an advisor, have a brief conversation about their goals, and then everyone starts solving problems. Here's the problem. When you start to solve a problem for a client, if it's not the right problem, a few things happen. The case moves slower or not at all. Client dissatisfaction is higher, client defection is higher and you miss a whole raft of other opportunities that are present, and you operate the same as almost every other advisor in North America guaranteeing your status as a commodity in your client's eyes. Now we know that you don't want to be seen as a commodity, and you're not a commodity. We know you're actually different. If you're on this growth journey, you have a real heart for the real desires of the client, for what they really want. So The Planning Horizon® Conversation, it's the hinge pin that's going to let you shift into having the best first meetings ever where you really demonstrate that you are different and the client will know it too.
So how do you use The Planning Horizon® to extract you from the world of commodity and connect with what the client really wants and have a deeper, richer, more powerful relationship with them? Well, here's a sample of a conversation, how would it go with a potential client in an approach meeting? So a simple role play: So, before we get into asking you about yourself and your situation, I want to create a little context for you about why it's important we start by looking at all of that together. We have a model that makes a really big difference when you're working with an advisor and it certainly makes a big difference as we work with you and it's called the Planning Horizon®. There's a lot that needs to be looked at when we're dealing with your overall finances and to do it well, we divide it into two kinds of conversations. We call them Above the Horizon conversations and Below the Horizon conversations.
Below the Horizon is where you see traditional financial conversations. How are you protected? How are you invested? Do you have a will in any trusts? How's your tax situation? These are the strategies, tactics and tools of accomplishing goals. It's the quantitative aspect of your financial situation. And often where you're talking about how to solve things, who will do it, and when to solve it. Like many of the people we meet, would it be fair to say that you've had your fair share of these types of conversations along the way? Okay, good. While we have great expertise Below the Horizon in investment management, risk management and so on, these are table stakes of being an advisor and anyone you work with should be strong here and we certainly are. We've got tons of experience there. However, it's the Above the Horizon conversation where real progress happens and where we're really able to make a difference in our clients lives.
This is where we look at what really matters to you, and why is that important? This is where we take some time to really understand what you value, what your vision for the future is and what goals will move you closer to that vision. It's the qualitative aspect of your financial situation and this is the area where we've become quite recognized with our clients and it's one of the key reasons they value their relationship with our firm. See, most advisors start below the horizon, and if they go above the horizon at all, it's only briefly. So if you're like most people we meet, you've probably had a fair bit of advice about what you should put in place without many conversations about what you're actually trying to achieve and why. Would that be fair to say? Client says, "Yes, absolutely." Well, The Planning Horizon®, it's going to help you and us get an understanding of your overall situation so that we're all clear on what's needed next.
And while I'm sure some of what comes out of our discussion might represent how you want things to be in the future: your vision, or things that are important to achieve: goals, we'll be spending much of our time today, understanding what your current financial situation looks like. Who's advising you, how confident are you that based on the things you're doing and the advice you're getting, that it has you on track for how you want things to be in the future. Now, step out of this for a second. The next step is to get an understanding of their current financial situation. You don't want to take a deep dive into their facts or more importantly, begin to provide or suggest any solutions because that's what your competitors do. However, you need to get enough information about their income, assets, insurance, key advisors that they're working with, and any planning they've done to date.
The goal here is to get enough information to determine if it's a good opportunity and if they have the kinds of problems you can solve. So it might sound something like that. So with that being said, let's switch gears and spend some time talking through your overall financial situation from below the horizon. I'll ask you some questions along the way to help guide the discussion. So you might ask, "Do you have an accountant you work with? Great. How would you describe what they do for you? Do you have a lawyer or an attorney? Great. How would you describe what they do for you? Do you have an insurance advisor? Great. How would you describe what they do for you? Do you have an investment or wealth management advisor? Great. How would you describe what they do for you?" You want to understand their description of what they would do.
Let's talk about your job or your business, depending on the prospect. Can we get a sense of your income and the benefits that come with it? What's your current salary or your income? Do you get bonus, stock options? Is there a retirement plan? How do you see this change over the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, depending on the prospect's age. Let's talk about how you're invested today. What are your current qualified and non-qualified assets? How do you feel about the performance of these assets? How confident are you that these assets will provide for your plans to retire, transfer wealth, leave a legacy? What concerns do you have, if any, with regard to your assets, let's talk about how you're protected from an insurance standpoint today. Do you have insurance in place? What kinds of protection do you have? How confident are you that your current insurance planning protects you and your family or your business in the way that you want?
Tell me about any planning you've done to date. Have you done a financial plan? When, and with who? Have you done an estate plan? When did you do that and with whom? When was the last time that these plans were reviewed or updated? Has your situation or your thoughts or your desires changed? And finally, tell me a little bit about your family. Do you have children? Do you have grandchildren, have you given thought as to if or how you'd like to provide for them in the future? Does your current plan accurately support this? Have you communicated your plans or desires with your children or your grandchildren? Do your children have an advisor? Have your children had a financial plan done for them before? Would it be important to you if we were to provide planning services for your children as part of this process?
Okay, great. That was a lot of questions and a lot of good answers, so thank you. It gives us a lay of the land about what you've put in place. Now, let's move above the Planning Horizon® and here's what I really want to understand. What is it you really want? What I mean by that is what does the future look like for you? Is it clear to you? If it's retirement, most people are focused on an age, but what would you be doing? How do you want to spend your time? We call it a vision, but really to desired future state, how do you want it to be one day? Now at this point, most people start to get pretty vague in their answers. They have a sense of things, but not concrete answers. For the things that they do want or can't articulate ask them: "Why is that important to you? What will the impact of that be? Why is that really important to handle or achieve or complete?"
And once they've shared as best they can, here's the important question, ask them: "So when you think about what you want, and you're still getting clear on that and why that's important, how confident are you that the things you've done here below the horizon are going to get you there." Now, the typical response here is a bit of an awkward pause and an answer that ranges from, "I'm not sure," to "I can't even really articulate what I want, let alone whether or not this is going to get me where I want to go." And in that moment, you get to say, "Look, that's actually a normal answer and a fair one. The problem is that until we're all really clear on what you want and why that matters, how can anyone make recommendations below the line for you? Should you have some risk protection? Sure. Should people invest? In general, yes.
Should you have a will? Probably a good idea, but anything you do below the line has to serve what you really want and what is your vision for the future? That's why we always start our work together with our clients above the line. Our work is to help get you clear and to help you get the future you want. So our starting point is what do you value? What do you want it to be and how do you want it to be one day? And then what are the specific goals that will move you toward that vision? Once we're clear on that, then we can look below the line and decide together what needs to be put in place. How should it be set up? What are the risks and what's appropriate and so on. Does that make sense?" The answer you'll get typically is a very relieved, "Yes," because this is the first time someone has put their attention where it should be on the client's vision for the future, not just what policy they can write or money they can manage.
Now, as I said at the beginning, the Planning Horizon® conversation fits in the middle of your approach talk, but we need to make sure you have this simple conversation handled because it's the crux of setting a new promise with your clients. The promise that you'll put their values and their vision first and then support those with appropriate guidance on strategies, tactics, tools, and products to help them get there. Now, what are your next steps? Here's your action task. You've seen me talk through the Planning Horizon® conversation. Pretend you're meeting with a prospect for the first time, practice drawing out the Planning Horizon® and explain the difference between above and below the horizon.
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