In the crowded financial advisory world, clients have many choices when it comes to hiring the investment professionals they entrust to manage their assets. It’s therefore essential for advisors to do everything in their power to cultivate a deep dive understanding of prospective clients’ needs, in order to win new business.

Early in my career, I was a salesperson for an industrial chemical company. Fresh out of college, I was energetic, enthusiastic, and super knowledgeable about my products, which I fervently described at sales pitch meetings. But far too often, I left the building without closing a deal. I later learned that my biggest failure was talking too much and listening too little, which made it impossible to develop trust. I subsequently modified my approach, by making my interactions more conversational, to better understand a client's needs. This let me ask more thoughtful follow-up questions, which ultimately led to increased sales.

Key Takeaways

  • In the crowded financial advisory world, it's essential for advisors to do everything in their power to cultivate a deep dive understanding of prospective clients’ needs, in order to win their business.
  • Several routine questions can break the ice, when meeting with new people. For example, asking someone: "Can you tell me about yourself?", lets them articulate the most important elements in their lives. This gives you a window into their needs, and helps lay the foundation for meaningful relationships.

Here are four questions that can help you win over even the iciest prospective clients:

1. "Can you tell me about yourself?" This open-ended question puts clients in the driver’s seat, letting them naturally articulate the most important elements in their lives, whether it’s career, children, or hobbies. They may discuss things you have in common, which might organically lead to a deeper conversation. This should be an enjoyable exercise for you. After all, this is a customer service business, and if you’re not interested in learning what makes others tick, consider a career change. (For more, see: Advisors: Avoid these Common Mistakes.)

2. "How can I help you?" Now is the perfect time for potential clients to identify their chief motivations for seeking you out. It’s also an ideal time for you to explain your breadth of services, and describe how our skill sets differ from other advisors. (For related reading, see: Toughest Questions Clients Ask Advisors.)

3. "Are you currently accomplishing your goals?" This question helps you take a prospective client's temperature and manage their expectations moving forward. Spouses may disagree, which is perfectly fine, as it invites them to process their thoughts in a healthy and constructive setting. But no matter what their stated goals are, you should explain that you understand their perspectives, and that you're eager to help. It’s wise to parrot their concerns back to them, to let them know you were paying close attention. For example, you might say: "I understand your portfolio is underperforming its benchmark, and that you’re worried that you’ll be unprepared for retirement." Then give a hypothetical example of how you can help remedy their concerns.

4. "What would you like the next step to be?" No matter they say, you should complement their suggestion with an idea of your own—even something as innocuous as: "I'd like to suggest that we meet again and go over some details of ways I may help." And then book the next appointment, then and there. Finally, shake hands, hug, or do whatever feels comfortable, before you and your new client say goodbye. (For more, see: Financial Advisor Tips: Talking to Clients.)

The Bottom Line

Before you meet with prospective clients, you’re essentially a stranger to them, and trust must be built from the ground up. This can be achieved by engaging with individuals in a sincere and thoughtful manner, where both parties are given an equal voice.