Converting Prospects – Lessons From The Field: Asking Questions

November 3, 2015

by Dan Solin

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A critical component of my science-based protocol for converting prospects into clients is an emphasis on asking questions. One of the lessons I have learned from coaching many advisors is that, like sound investing, this is easy to state but difficult to implement.

The science

Have you ever contemplated the Facebook phenomenon? Why would billions of people be eager to share minute – and often excruciatingly boring – details of their lives?

The answer is quite simple and supported by research grounded in neuroscience. When we talk about ourselves, we experience increased activity in the mesolimbic dopamine system, the same area of the brain that experiences increased activity during sex.

We love to talk about ourselves because it feels good.

The urge to do so is irresistible. Participants in a Harvard study were offered financial incentives to discuss topics other than their personal lives. Those incentives weren’t strong enough to overcome the compulsion to share personal details.

Using the science

Upon reviewing this research, I saw how it applied to advisors engaged in converting prospects into clients. Instead of “educating” prospects or “presenting” to them, advisors should just get them to talk about themselves.

Before advocating this approach, I tested it extensively in both professional and social contexts. The results were immediate and transformational. Not only was it disarmingly easy, it had some unexpected benefits.

When people are sharing their stories, they project positive traits onto the person who gave them this opportunity. I have had many one-sided conversations in which I asked all the questions and the other person asked none. At the end of our meeting (or social engagement) it was common for them to tell me how “interesting” they found me or how much they enjoyed our “conversation.”

This makes perfect sense. Their brains were flooded with pleasurable neurotransmitters while they were speaking. For them, our conversation was immensely engaging.

Problems with the process

My original approach to using this research was too simplistic. My advice to advisors for the initial meeting with a prospect was to just “ask questions.” The only exception to this rule was if a prospect asked a question. When that occurred, I told advisors to answer it as directly and briefly as possible, and then to ask this question: “Have I answered your question or do you want more details?”

I also advised them not to take notes or to sit at the head of the table. The goal was simply to get to know their prospect as a person, not as a target representing assets they wanted to manage.

This advice was (and is) sound, but it didn’t take into consideration the difficulty many advisors have with showing a genuine interest in others.

I learned this lesson when I assumed the role of the prospect in coaching sessions. I asked advisors what questions they would ask me (the prospect) to start the meeting. Here are some representative responses:

  • You asked for this meeting. What are your goals?
  • Did you bring your financial papers with you?
  • What are you looking for in a financial advisor?
  • Tell me about your experiences with investing.
  • What is it about your financial situation that keeps you up at night?

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Converting Prospects - Lessons From The Field: Asking Questions