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The Question That Qualifies Prospects

The Question That Qualifies Prospects

May 19, 2015

by Dan Richards

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Most advisors qualify prospects by their net worth or level of assets. But there’s a better test of whether someone is a legitimate prospect; that is, whether they’re genuinely interested in hearing from you.

A simple question can determine if prospects who say they’re busy and ask you to contact them down the road are serious. After all, people might simply be trying to get off the phone and their agreement to talk in future is a “cop out.” But they may also truly be open to talking and are genuinely pressed for time right now.

The simple question that tests a prospect’s interest: “If I get back to you in three months, will you have more time to talk then?” The principle of human behavior behind this question is “the law of consistency.” It reduces the chances of prospective clients cancelling meetings, increases the odds of those initial meetings being successful and gets top clients to attend your events.

The law of consistency at work

I’ve written in the past about research by Utah State’s Robert Cialdini about the laws of influence that motivate someone to act. One of those is the principle of consistency. Once people have made a commitment, they feel the need to make future actions consistent with that commitment. Some examples of the law of consistency at work:

  • When homeowners in a Midwest city were asked to put a large sign on their lawn asking passersby to “drive safely,” only a small number put up the sign. But the numbers of homeowners in the same neighborhood who put this sign on their lawn went up dramatically if two weeks earlier they had agreed to put a small sticker in their front window with this message.

By making a small commitment first, people were predisposed to act consistently and to say “yes” when asked for a larger commitment.

  • Along similar lines, in an experiment the number of people agreeing to spend an evening going door-to-door canvassing for funds for cancer went up seven-fold. The only change was that in the experiment, a friend told prospective volunteers a few months earlier that he or she had been asked to be an area captain for the cancer fundraising drive. This friend said they’d agree to do it if the subject considered volunteering for one evening to help out. For subjects who said “yes” and felt committed as a result, the odds of their agreeing to volunteer when their friend followed up increased by a factor of seven.
  • My article Nine Words that Saved $600,000 described how a Chicago restaurant reduced no shows from 30% to 10% with one small change in its response when someone made a reservation. Historically they did what most restaurants do and said “Please call if you have a change in plans and can’t make it.” By changing the response to “Will you call us if you have a change in plans and can’t make it?” and waiting for guests to say yes, a small commitment had been made. That small commitment led to a dramatic increase in the number of people who called if they couldn’t make their reservation.

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