LAS VEGAS -- Generational differences are a key factor in winning new clients – and they're not limited to a preference for email over face-to-face meetings.

The same pitch that successfully won key baby boomer clients may fall flat when delivered to prospects of younger generations, says expert Cam Marston, president of consulting firm Generational Insights, and speaking at IMCA's annual conference. Likewise, younger advisors need to be conscience of the customer service preferences of older clients.

The key, says Marston is always being aware of the unique emotional and psychological characteristics of each generation.

"It's our bias that prevents us from connecting." 


Baby boomers, Marston says, care about characteristics like pedigree, history of the organization and name recognition. These clients give credibility to people and organization that a story that says safe and predictable: They want to see diplomas and certificates on your walls.

"If I am running a door to door sales business, and I knock on a baby boomer's door then I am going to tell them a story about how this is a third generation business and how safe the products are. I tell them the story before I sell the product," Marston says.

Baby boomers are more team- and community-focused than members of Generation X and millennials, who grew up in an era that emphasized the individual.  Millennials in particular, Marston says, had their uniqueness and specialness emphasized in their childhood; he points to sports medals and ribbons given to kids who participated but did not win their swimming race.

Marston asks, "Were you, as a baby boomer, told that you were special? Unique?  No way."

These younger clients care about how things will affect their lives and make them distinct going forward. Using the same analogy, Marston says if he knocks on the door of a Gen Xer or Millennial, then he'll emphasize how his product will make them happy today, change their life for the better.

"It's future focused instead of history focused," he says.


There are important attitudinal differences about how plugged in the generations are. Baby boomers, Marston says, may have smart phones, but they still want face-to-face meetings.

Younger clients are much more tech friendly, which means that they will be researching you thoroughly before ever meeting you. As such, Marston recommends having a good online presence that tells a story that will appeal to them.

"They are educated consumers. They will not buy what they do not understand," he says.

Of course, some advisors may run into hurdles when trying to create an online presence that emphasizes their love of skiing or kittens.

"Yes, you got to get this through all the approval and compliance things. It's a pain [in] the neck, you know it," he says. "When the millennial or Gen Xer is online doing research on you – if they see that, what are your odds of engaging the next generation? They've gone up a lot."

When you do score the client meeting, be careful how you approach someone of a different generation, he says.

For example, if you are a young advisor meeting with older clients, Marston says that, "You never talk about retirement being the end of anything. You talk about it as the start of something."

Marston says that Gen Xers are typically more cynical than their parents and tend to think of experts as teachers. Therefore, he says, you should present them with options because it offers a teachable moment. For example, Marston says, "'I've thought about five different options for you, and I've asterisked two of them that I want to make sure we touch upon, but ask me about any of them.'"

Advisors also need to give younger prospective clients time to decide on whether to sign up; they'll want to go home and do their own research.

Finally, Marston adds that older advisors shouldn't bank on younger clients evolving into versions of their parents. Each generation is unique in its own characteristics because of the era they were born into, and the way that they were raised.

He points to the values of the World War II generation.

"The baby boomers and Gen Xers will never pick up those characteristics because they were not born in similar circumstances," he says.

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