How to gain new clients – applying generational strategies to broaden your client bank

Is your current client bank limiting you?

It’s a known fact that most IFAs and those who give financial services solutions are at their most effective when advising to people in their own age group.  The majority of IFA client banks tend to be with people within 7 years either side of your own age.

It’s also well reported that the average IFA is getting older. James Hay puts the age at 54, the FSA put the age at 51.

So the majority of IFAs and their current clients are going to be what we know as Baby Boomers. Boomers selling to Boomers works well, they’re the same generation, but if you want to broaden your client bank the same selling strategies won’t work with different generations, they just won’t.

Let me quickly remind you of the 4 generations.

  1. First we have Matures, born before 1945, currently aged 66 and older
  2. Secondly we have Boomers, born 1945 to 1965, currently aged 46 to 66.
  3. Thirdly we have Generation X, born 1965 to 1980, currently aged 31 to 45
  4. Finally we have Generation Y, born 1980 onwards, currently aged 30 and under

I wonder which generation you are?

Generation X – they sound like a generation to target

My point in this article is that to be able to sell to different generations requires completely radical sales practices to your normal style and the generation I want to focus on is the curious generation, the smallest in number and the most mis-understood – Gen X, those aged currently between 31 to 45.  The most lucrative as well, the average age of a first time house buyer is 34 now, most people who set up new families are in this age range, and those in their early 40’s begin to take retirement planning seriously.

And being able to sell well to Gen X’s might be your master stroke as these people have come of age, have big pockets, are now beginning to take on senior management positions and need financial advice.  The problem…they don’t trust you or financial advisers…but they need our help.

Let me explain the Gen X in more detail, some of their behaviours and quirks and this will then help you to appreciate how you can adapt your selling or advising style to meet them. Beware though, they are the prickliest of the generations when it comes to sales people and it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, they still see you as a salesperson.  They can sniff a sales person a mile away better than my Spinone dog can sniff a pheasant.

But read on and I’ll give you some very practical tips to communicate and sell successfully to this generation.

Gen X Dissected

Gen X is the smallest generation primarily because of the contraceptive pill.  As a result they grew up in smaller families and were the first generation to be helicopter’ed by their parents although not as ferociously as the Gen Y.  The reason was both parents were usually out to work and Gen X became known as latchkey kids.

I remember coming home from school, rummaging under the plant pot for the key to let myself in, gorge on marmite between two slices of Farmer’s Wife bread until mum came in at 5.30pm. Parents tried to give us quality time whenever they could.

But the three characteristics to understand that’ll help us sell better to Gen X are:

  1. Scepticism
  2. Tech Savi
  3. Carpe diem


Gen X invented and patented the word. Our whole life has been one continuous let down. As latchkey kids we didn’t see our parents and as the divorce rate climbed, many didn’t have two at all. We observed the Yuppies in the 1980’s. “Loads of money” being shouted by the Baby Boomers at the time who we looked upon with superstition. That all came crumbling down with the 1990’s recession when we also witnessed the house market crash by up to 25% in some areas.

Politicians.  What can I say?  We saw devastation of the industrial base in the 1980’s, the sleaze of the early 1990’s, Iraq of 2003, Clinton and Monica.

Scandals continued from the financial services sector. Pensions mis-selling, the loss of our parents pension schemes, stock market crashes, endowment policies riddled with charges and heading southwards with performance and now billions of pounds written off by the banks to pay for payment protection mis-selling.

And then we had AIDS which put paid to our own 1960’s peace and love attempt.

No wonder Gen X’s are super cynical especially of anyone who is pushing a product or service and operates a traditional, find your needs, open your needs, present product, close…sales cycle.

And our favourite cartoons such as the Simpsons aways portrayed salespeople as slick and untrustworthy.

Tech savvy

Gen X’s were the first generation to grow up with the PC and the internet and use both ferociously. Gen X’s remember the floppy disk and how painful dial up internet was. Whilst Gen Y’s are weaned on technology and mobile devices, Gen X’s use them as much but for more practical purposes and don’t treat things as fads.  My eldest son, a Gen Y, told me about a YouTube video where these guys produce the most calorific meal possible and created one with 70,000 calories.  One meal. My son was fascinated and told me that the video had gone viral with millions of hits.

Gen X’s won’t be interested in this, just Gen Y’s.  That’s the difference in the use of technology.

Gen X’s are massive online commerce advocates; they pioneered consumerism online and would prefer to buy on the internet than face to face. They use all the aspects of technology to help them in their work and play.

Gen X’s were there at the dot com bubble of the late nineties. But above all they are adept at research, are quite happy to investigate products and services in depth before making any buying decision.  Whereas Boomers will research but need the face to face, Gen X’s don’t and will stalk their purchases online before moving in for the kill, to purchase. And they’ll do this in their time, not ours.

Carpe Diem

The motto of Gen X is to live for today. They’ve lost all their belief in the future and what this will hold and instead they prefer to make the most of now.  The future may not happen, besides they don’t trust anyone to make the future happen for them so they enjoy the present, the now.

That’s the measure of Gen X’s. They are a prickly bunch when it comes to selling but well worth the effort to change the way you handle them.  So let me share with you some strategies that will work with Gen X’s

How do we sell to Gen X?

So how do you sell to a Gen X?  You don’t, not in the traditional manner, if you do, you’ll fail.  Instead let them buy in their terms and in their timescale.  Don’t push them along a sales process designed by head office, they’ll see it coming and back off. After all, they don’t really need you to help them; they can and will do it themselves.

Don’t sell

Find their buying process, which usually involves huge amounts of research and checking with their network, stalking the products, checking facts and features, visiting stores, online and brick and then when they’re ready, they swoop in for the purchase.  Use this buying process and sell alongside it.

They are in control of the buying process, let them keep control and don’t take over and above all don’t use selling techniques with them, they’ll see a phony salesperson very easily.  In fact, perhaps we should get rid of our sales in our titles because they want advisers, helpers, people who can smooth their buying process.

Last week I drove passed a new home development which said  “Contact our sales representatives for information”. As a Gen X this puts fear and dread into me, I want to be in control and don’t want to speak with a sales rep.  Urggh.

Let them research

Because they will as they want to be in control.  They will end up knowing your product better than you.  They may even know you better than you know yourself. Help them to educate themselves provide links, sites, online content about you and your service.  Videos, White Papers, Blogs.  You’ve heard it all before but we must do it, as they want to educate themselves before they approach you to close the sale.

However Gen X’s are loyal to a brand once they’ve done all this research.  After all they don’t want to do it again and once they’ve proven that the product is right for them and you are trustworthy, they’ll stick with you religiously. Brand matters most to Gen X’s.  Remember they’re trying to be sure about you and your company.

Give them proof

They have cynical sensors built into their heads and will need proof, cold hard facts about your offering.

No need to build a relationship

I met an IFA recently who proudly announced to me that he “does business the good old fashioned way, face to face and I spend time building a relationship first”

The IFA was in his mid 50’s and I bet most of his clients were too. Baby boomer to Boomer this strategy works, but not with Gen X’s

This goes against the grain doesn’t it, but it doesn’t matter with Gen X’s.   They’re approaching only because they have to; they’d rather close the sale online. Don’t take it personally, but they’ve stalked you and your product for a long while, they just want to get the closing over and done with.

No need for chit-chat, get to the point quickly. Take your time with them, have many meetings if you have to, remember they don’t trust you initially. They are reserved with you.

If you’ve been brought up with relationship building sales practices, don’t use them with Gen X’s

Involve them

Gen X’s want to be in control and learn to trust you. Involve them along the way. Let them see your computer screens, let them input the details, share the processes you have to go through, make the sales process simple, not cumbersome. They don’t want to be there longer than normal. Someone tell Head Office please.

Carpe Diem

When you’re extolling the benefit of your product or service, focus on the now not the future. They love the present and want the product to give them now value, not value in 25 years. 25 year benefits means nothing to them, they want to see value now.

Options and choices

Gen X’s foresee problems happening at some time in the future so present Plan B’s in case Plan A goes wrong. Also give them options, be aware of forcing them down an alleyway.  It’s ok to make recommendations of course, but have a second option up your sleeve.  “Based on our discussion this route would be idea for you both, but I also have some other ideas if you’re interested”

Don’t close them

Otherwise they’ll back off. Let them close themselves, they don’t want to be shoved into a corner by a pushy salesperson. Invite them to buy, give them space. Ask them if there’s any more information they need before you move onwards.  Give them thinking time, space to make their own decisions. They will.

Is it worth the effort?

It’s a different way of selling with Gen X’s, but worthy working on as they are a wealthy income generation, with top positions in companies and increasing spending power. Buyers of homes, family creators, they are a generation financial advisers need to court. Remember most of you are boomers, Gen X’s are handled differently, sceptical yes, cautious yes, mistrustful yes…but voracious consumers of our products and services if we sell it correctly.

A final idea. Automate everything and let them buy it online. Anything that can be commoditised, will be and Gen X’s will make this happen. Have you heard of the new toy?  Purchasing Agent Software which you programme your needs and it goes onto the internet to buy your solution. No people involved, right up Gen X’s street.  Google it when you get a chance, it’s scary and will hit financial services big time.

It’s their secret weapon but a subject for another article.  Beware.