The magic of asking great questions

This is the second in a series of three articles about changing the financial advice conversation, and was published in International Adviser magazine in January 2018.

In the previous article, I suggested that financial advisers are having the wrong conversations with their clients and, if we are to remain relevant, this needs to change. But what, specifically, needs changing?

Initially, I’d say two things. Our mindset and our questions.

Mindset

We need to shift ourselves away from an adviser-centric mindset to a client-centric mindset. I can hear you telling me that you’re already client-centric, but are you, really? What does it mean to be client-centric? It means that we exist to support our client and deliver value, and I’m sure that’s something we all strive for, but then comes the challenge of being in business.

Businesses need to make money. But which comes first, making money or finding a client with a problem to solve? Peter Drucker said “The purpose of business is to find and keep a customer” – which means the concept of finding a customer and solving their problem, is the starting point. That’s client centricity, and if you do that really well, you’ll not have a problem getting paid.

I believe that one of the biggest cultural challenges we face, is making the shift from ‘being in business to make money’ to ‘being in business to solve real problems’ (and getting well paid for it)

Soft Skills

When we learn sales skills, we learn to probe, disturb and ask questions. But most of the time, we’re doing that as part of a sales process for us, not as an advice process for clients. It’s about getting to what we really want, not listening to what they really want, and it has an enormous impact on the way it makes people feel.

I believe that a large part of the problem is caused by the incentives to shortcut the process that are placed in front of advisers, and the pressure that advisers feel to deliver on distribution. The industry says it wants to help advisers transition through this period of immense change, but only as long as distribution isn’t affected! – So what can advisers do?

Stop pushing – start pulling

I believe that advisers should stop pushing for more distribution. Although it may seem counterintuitive, in my experience, the less interested you are in distribution, the more distribution opportunities you’re likely to get. In other words, if you focus on what really matters to people, and pull them into great conversations, you’ll solve real world problems and get paid for it. The harder you focus on distribution, the more transactional the relationship becomes, and client engagement is invariably lower. You can’t fake this by the way. It has to be authentic.

Increase patience

We need to spend more time with clients. Lots of advisers tell me their clients don’t want to have long conversations, often using this as an excuse to get in front of more people. This is probably the result of industry training to prospect for as many clients as possible. Clients want to have good quality conversations. They have little patience for superficial conversations about things they don’t really care about, which are the things we normally talk about! I would encourage you to slow down, be patient and spend more time with people.

Ask better questions and listen without the need to reply

Over the years I’ve personally found listening without the need to reply to be the hardest thing to overcome. When someone is talking, we are often thinking about how we will respond before they’ve even finished, rather than listening with the intent to understand. That’s not client-centric, but adviser centric.

Get comfortable with silence

I’ve often found myself asking questions and then filling the silence with more questions. Silence can be uncomfortable, but remember, if you’ve asked someone a great question, they need time to process it. They need time to think about it and summon up a response. There might even be some emotion to deal with and it’s important that we don’t fill that space. Even worse, we might be inclined to try and answer the question for them, or give them some options. Part of our job is to hold the space while they think, not fill it for them.

Very often, our processes feels more like an interrogation than a conversation, and that’s not going to lead to highly engaged clients. Asking deep questions can be very uncomfortable for some advisers, but I think this is where the magic starts to happen and it’s worth going through the discomfort of learning how to do it well.

Most great questions are open rather than closed. They must not be loaded to be answered in a specific way, and whilst they should have a flow, they’re not delivered in machine-gun fashion. More than anything else, they require depth. We need to dig a little deeper to get the real issues, and in order to ensure that our proposition will be seen to carry the value it genuinely has.

What are great questions?

Next time you’re talking to a new prospect try asking some of these questions:

  1. Where are you trying to get to financially?
  2. Why is that important to you?
  3. Where are you currently stuck?
  4. What have you tried doing already (and why didn’t that work)?
  5. What else is going on that will likely impact on this?
  6. What concerns do you have about solving this problem?
  7. How would you feel if you couldn’t achieve this?
  8. What value can I add here?
  9. What would need to have happened in the next 12 months in order for you to feel like you’ve had awesome value?
  10. What would a great outcome look like for you?

 

Read Article 1 – 10 signs you are having the wrong conversation

Read Article 3 – Turning consulting into collaboration

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