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Do you speak your audience’s language?

I don’t mean their cultural language – English, Spanish, Japanese. I’m referring to their buying language. That’s probably a term you’ve never heard before. A quick Google search for “buying language” brings up countless results for how to buy a foreign language course or explanations of technical terms for certain industries (e.g., real estate). There are no results for the most important form of buying language..the words, phrases, and emotions each potential buyer uses to assess, connect with, and eventually make a purchase decision. Each of your prospects and clients has a language and if you don’t initially engage them in that language you might as well be speaking to them in French.

If you feel I’m speaking a foreign language right now, stay with me for a few more minutes.

Most wealth advisory firms or asset managers have clients that fall into one, or more, of three distinct groups – mass affluent, high net worth, or institutional. I realize I may be slightly oversimplifying things, but not by much. If you take a minute and think of the clients you work with I am guessing you will find that virtually all of them can be placed in one of those three groups.

Now, think of your interactions with specific clients in each of these groups (i.e., phone calls, meetings, emails, etc.). Are they different from one group to another? Do you find you talk about some aspects of investing or planning with one group that you rarely, if ever, talk about with another group? What words and concepts would you never discuss with one group that may be common to bring up with a different group? I hope that your answers to these questions identify some things. If not, that can be a potential problem. If you are engaging with your mass affluent clients exactly the same as your institutional clients you are not effectively connecting with one of those two groups, and potentially both.

How do you identify someone’s buying language? That’s a great question!

A person’s buying language is most often dictated by the basic objectives they are trying to accomplish in their relationship with you. For the mass affluent that is often goals such as wealth accumulation, debt reduction, future financial security, and such. High net worth investors generally have already satisfied those goals so they are often more focused on wealth preservation, legacy planning, generational wealth transfer, etc. Finally, your institutional clients are thinking about a whole different set of goals – risk reduction, asset/liability matching, and spending rates to name a few. As you can see, the objectives for each group are significantly different. That means that each group’s buying language is significantly different too.

Most of us on the sales/business development side of the investment business have been taught to engage with clients through facts and figures. If we simply have enough data points and snazzy charts and graphs we can overcome any objection, answer any question, and otherwise satisfy every client’s need to know that they are investing with the best and brightest firm. What else could they need, right? Wrong!

While facts and figures, charts and graphs (i.e., technical data) is necessary to engage with institutional clients – it’s their buying language, it is a foreign language for nearly all mass affluent and high net worth investors. The majority, if not all, individual clients use an emotional and goals-based buying language. It is critically important for individual clients to feel their objectives are understood, to feel confident in their decisions, and to believe you are there to support their objectives. I realize there are some individuals – engineers and doctors come to mind first – who often ask for and demand technical data. Yet, that typically isn’t their buying language..it’s the language they think they need to speak to engage with you!

Think of all the times you have engaged with an engineer, doctor, or other mass affluent or high net worth individual investor who was speaking “technical.” How often did these interactions end well? From my experience, most often these individuals either never became clients because they always found a cheaper or higher returning alternative (whether that alternative was actually appropriate for their situation or not). If they actually became a client, they were one that no one on the team enjoyed working with because of their constant return complaints and frequently the client terminated the relationship after a couple short years for that “better alternative.” These clients are akin to tourists in Shanghai trying to order off a menu without understanding a word of Chinese. Once in a while they will get something good, but most often will end up with something quite surprising..chicken feet or snake soup anyone!

So, before you spend another afternoon pulling together your best charts, graphs, and technical data for your meeting, take a step back. Who are you meeting with? What are their objectives? What’s their buying language? Make sure your mass affluent and high net worth individual clients “feel” good about their investments and plan, that they “believe” what you are doing for them will help them achieve their objectives. Save the abundance of technical data for your institutional clients. But remember, the decision makers at those institutions are individuals too. The more you can help them “feel” and “believe” in their decisions, the better you will be speaking their complete buying language and the better all of your client relationships will be.



Drew was drawn to the financial services industry while in high school. He was fortunate to be mentored by a prominent local business executive in one of his first teenage jobs. During that same time he learned of the costly financial mistakes that several family members made over the years. These experiences prompted his fascination with gaining the knowledge and insight to help both family and others to avoid financial pitfalls and more successfully achieve financial well-being.

Drew earned his MBA and BS degrees from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. He spent 20 years in various leadership roles at the Capital Group/American Funds to include developing and leading an institutional analysis and business development group as well as forming and leading American Funds’ RIA and Bank Trust distribution efforts nationally. Drew spent the following four years running the strategic, growth, and business development efforts for a multi-billion dollar RIA in Southern California.

He is an engaging speaker and consultant helping wealth advisors and investment managers execute growth strategies. His ability to develop business development strategies, implement focused sales processes, and effectively coach teams led to consistent high-level organic sales growth throughout his career.

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