Most advisors have been through some sort of professional sales training. Many of those sessions espouse similar strategies for uncovering the need: Ask open-ended questions, get the prospect to talk, and find the hidden objections that can endanger the sale. These strategies work, and are important to learn. Still, I speak with many producers who struggle to master the art of effective questioning. They say things like "How exactly should I say that? Is there a script I can study?"
Do I believe in scripts? Absolutely. Many of us (including me) first learned the art of selling by studying a script and trying it on poor, unsuspecting prospects. If your experience was anything like mine you probably have a lot of painful memories. I still remember the first prospect that cut me off and said "I'm not interested," and I was, quite literally, at a loss for words; the prospect actually asked: "Are you still there?"
Well, there's a great technique I learned years ago that helped me form more effective questions and have meaningful, productive sales interviews. My manager told me to make a list of questions -- all of them open-ended -- that I should ask myself before each day of sales calls. In giving me this directive, she remarked, "Joe, you're telling me you're having trouble coming up with good things to say, or good questions to ask. Well, how about this? What information do you want to get out of these appointments? That's a productive way to plan. When you can answer that, you'll know what to ask your prospects."
At the time, I was averaging between 10 to 15 appointments a week. Some were full presentations to new prospects, some were meetings with existing clients to gain new business, and still others were simply "drop by" visits because I was in the area, and hoped to make an impression. Mondays and Fridays were pure telemarketing days, just calling prospects on the phone. In both cases, I had to talk to potential customers and uncover information.
Well, I didn't quite understand why my manager made me do this. It took me days to stop grumbling, sit down, concentrate and come up with this list. But once I did, it was a revelation! Here, with just a few minor edits, are the questions I devised:
1. What do I believe a prospect will find most attractive or beneficial about my financial advice?
2. What might they find least attractive or beneficial?
3. What questions are they likely to ask me?
4. What are the most essential questions I need to ask them?
5. What is the biggest single problem I can help them solve?
6. What significant changes, if any, are they facing in the coming months or years?
7. Why are we able to provide something of unique value to them that another advisor can't?
8. Why might they be resistant to my offer?
9. Who were their previous advisors? What were their experiences with them?
10. Why might my timing be good or poor?
11. What type of monthly budget/income do they have in mind?
12. Who is my competition for this business?
13. With that competitor: What are their strengths? Weaknesses? History with the client?
14. How long has the prospect been in the market for financial advice? Are they even aware that they have a need?
15. How strong a sense of urgency do they have?
Take a look at the list. If you could get even half of these questions answered in a client meeting, would you be satisfied? Can you, in fact, see how simply turning these questions towards your client could result in a productive appointment?
Some of the questions, like numbers nine and 12, can simply be turned back around on your prospects: "What other advisors have you worked with? How were your experiences?" Others, however, require more digging to uncover the answer. Take for example, question 15: How can you truly determine sense of urgency? What do you have to ask them? Some producers might prefer this route: "Given your financial situation, rate your sense of urgency to make a change, on a scale of one to 10." Others might probe for more background to get the answer: "Everyone is busy today. I'm sure you're no different. What prompted you to fill out the information/attend the workshop? When would you like to address that concern?"
In any event, this simple exercise proved invaluable to me. Indeed, it increased my production, eliminated a lot of wasted time in the appointment, and created better relationships with my clients. Try using this list, or better yet, devise your own, and watch your sales increase with every successful appointment!
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