It may surprise you that not all financial advisors are created equal, and this inequality is most often witnessed in the service provided. How well do you serve your current clientele? How best can you meet the needs of a prospective client? Relationships don't just materialize from thin air in the conference room. Let's discuss some key questions that will help you, the financial advisor, uncover the motives of your prospective clients and potentially win you the business.

Enthusiasm Is Great, But Not Enough to Land a Client

Early on in my career, I was an outside salesperson for an industrial chemical company in Jackson, Michigan. Fresh out of college, I was an energetic, wet-behind-the-ears ball of energy, and it showed in every meeting. I was extremely knowledgeable and possessed a broad enough vocabulary to flood any meeting room with product features, upon which I floated myself back out and into the parking lot. Sunken and disappointed, I had failed to grab onto a life-preserving, relational cornerstone: trust-building. It wasn't until later in my career, after I added the useful technique of listening to my repertoire, that I began to understand I hadn't been approaching this thing the correct way. I quickly changed my "pitch" to "catch." Serving takes understanding. (For related reading, see: Common Mistakes Advisors Make with Clients.)

Talent Alone Won't Win Clients

A prospective client is likely going to decide in the first five minutes whether or not you're a candidate to help them on their financial journey. If that's true, and to the best of my professional knowledge it is, it has little to do with what you know about your industry. It certainly has a lot to do with your ability to get to know and understand your prospective client. Here are seven effective questions you can use to melt even the iciest prospective client and potentially win you the business.

7 Questions to Ask Prospects

1. "Who are you?" Certainly, you wouldn't ask it so bluntly, but this is the question that drops their guard and allows the client to speak freely. More appropriately, you could say, "Tell me about yourself." Introductions are so important. Give the client a chance to talk. This is an opportunity to ask about career, children, work history, leisure activities, etc. If commonality exists, it will lead to other general conversation, and that's good. Getting to know someone should be enjoyable for you, after all you're in the people business. Be sincere or it will be very apparent you are not. If you don't have an earnest interest in becoming familiar with and understanding others, I'd suggest a career change. (For more, see: Advisors: Avoid these Common Mistakes.)

2. "How is it you'd like me to help?" They're in the room talking to you, so assume they think they need help. What is their motivation for being there? If you've not clearly explained what you do and how you do it, now's the time. Explain how your services differ from the other advisors in your area. (For related reading, see: Toughest Questions Clients Ask Advisors.)

3. "What are you doing now?" Don't move on to this question until you are convinced the prospective client is ready to talk some business—open posture, smiling, engaging. This should prompt a discussion about the who, when, what and where of the prospective client's financial picture. The next thing you know, you're in a full-blown, detailed discussion. That's good, but don't get sidetracked. Move on. 

4. "What are you trying to accomplish?" They are investing for a reason. If they aren't, there's a reason for that too. What are their goals, dreams and aspirations? If you're meeting with spouses (and I suggest you never meet one without the other), get them talking. Goals may be different between them. A tense discussion in your meeting room can be a good thing. If they sincerely don't know what they're trying to do, commit to helping them structure a plan focused on defining their goals, dreams and aspirations. (For more, see: Tips for Couples with Differing Risk Appetites.)

5. "What regarding your investment/finances/retirement concerns you the most?" Now you're getting to the meat and potatoes of the investor's intentions and the "why" of what they're doing. You've also just asked a question that their current advisor has likely never asked them.

6. "Do you feel like you are currently accomplishing your goals?" Take the temperature. Spouses may disagree on this one and again, that's good. If the reply is "yes," ask "Why do you feel that way?" You may get a blank stare or you may get a lengthy answer. This should reveal confidence in their plan or lack thereof. If it's "no," simply say, "I can help." In a few concise sentences, say you understand their current situation and explain why you are the advisor for the job. For example: "I understand you have a portfolio that is drastically underperforming its benchmark. Your biggest concern is you'll be unprepared for your retirement because you haven't saved enough or realized the return on your investments." Then give a hypothetical example of how you can help.

7. "What would you like the next step to be?" No matter the answer, you're going to suggest something here. "I'd like to suggest we meet again and go over some details" is a good start. Set an additional appointment right then and there. Objections? Go back to asking questions. Once you've got the approval for the additional meeting, shake hands, hug, do whatever you do and let them get about their day. (For more, see: Financial Advisor Tips: Talking to Clients.)

The Bottom Line

You're a stranger. Only trust will overcome that. In my office I have a six-foot-long painting of the Brooklyn Bridge. It serves as a reminder to me that trust—and only trust—will bridge the gap between you and your prospective client. You won't do that with a handshake and a smile. If you have a servant's heart backed with sincerity and integrity, you'll be successful at whatever career you choose. 

(For more, see: How Financial Advisors Lose Clients.)

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