How to use questions to sell financial servicesArticle added by Michael Lovas on April 8, 2010
Michael Lovas

Michael Lovas

Colbert , WA

Joined: December 10, 2004

My Company


*Co-written with Pam Holloway

NOTE: Pam and I are psychologists, so we know a lot about questions. As trainers and coaches, we teach professionals the right way to ask questions. This is truly a vital skill. Your ability to ask the right questions at the right time determines the degree of receptivity you'll get from your prospects. The key to your sales success is not your ability to explain your products; it is your ability to ask questions that engage the prospect!

Why use questions?

You want to use questions because they work! They work in sales situations, consulting situations, and even in your cold calls.

Asking the right kind of question at the right time can get people to listen to you, when they wouldn't otherwise want to. Learn to ask the right questions, and you can turn a negative situation into a positive one. And, while those are all positive outcomes, here's one even better -- the person who asks the questions controls the situation.

If you're starting your cold calls with statements, you're making a painful mistake. If you're only using the basic fact-finding questions in your meetings, you're losing a huge opportunity to improve results. If you're starting your prospect meetings by asking those big, open-ended questions, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. But, for now, let's look at why you should ask the right questions at the right time.

What do questions do for you?

1. Questions help build rapport and trust. They show people you're listening to them and are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Those are effectively the basis for any relationship that gets built. And, that's true whether you're a transactional producer, analyst, or true advisor.

Questions provide a perfect way to introduce yourself, your services, and to tie those services directly to what matters most to the other person.

2. Questions help people self-discover you. This is a critically important variable in the effectiveness of any communication. Simply telling me about a feature or benefit will have far less influence on me than if you set the stage for me to discover it myself. Questions enable the self-discovery process. They get people to persuade themselves, and research shows that approach to be most effective.

The bottom line: People believe what they say, not what you tell them. But, chances are slim that they'd say it (or even think it) unless you ask the right questions to gently put the thought in their heads.

3. Questions help keep you focused. Questions lead to quality listening. They make it easier for you to concentrate on what's most important in the situation, and they help keep you focused. When you focus on the answers, it's much easier to see opportunities to ask follow-up questions.

4. Questions enhance your credibility. They make you look smart, self-confident, interesting, and interested in who you're talking to. They give you an opportunity to show your wisdom, expertise and experience without pontificating or running off at the mouth.

How do questions work?

What is it about questions that make them so effective? In order to understand how questions work, let's look at what happens in our brains when someone asks us a question.

1. We are compelled to answer. There's something in our makeup as humans that causes a sort of automatic answering reflex to kick in the instant we hear a question. It's related to our compulsion to hunt and find game. That's the motivation behind our need for completion. A question is like a joke without a punch line. It's incomplete, and the other person is compelled to fill in the blanks to complete it.

Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk invading the prospect's personal space.

2. Questions stimulate the brain. Using PET scans, researchers have discovered that questions stimulate the neocortex (also called the "new brain"). Larry Wilson, author and founder of Pecos River Training, explains,
    "Our old brain that's been around for millions of years, is the part that runs by instinct. That's the part that animals have. They don't ask questions. The purpose of our `new brain' is to override and challenge our old brain and we do that by asking questions."
3. Questions get through a person's mental filters and defense mechanisms. Each of us has a unique set of mental filters through which we see the world and filter incoming information. That information is either retained, deleted or changed. Questions help you increase the odds that your messages will be accepted and retained. They accomplish this in two ways:

1. Answers to your questions help you determine the other person's mental filter configuration so that you can talk in that person's natural "language." How could you explain "alpha" to someone who did not appreciate a procedure? How could you explain an ETF to someone who trusted nothing new? Mental filters are the key, but you'll never discover them until you get that person talking.

2. Questions help you build rapport and trust, which directly affect whether you are received or deleted. How can you know which questions are best to ask if you can't read the other person? You can't. How can you tell if he wants to look at emerging markets or blue chips or something else? You can't. You can't until you ask the right questions and get him to start talking.

Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk getting deleted.

Dialogue vs. information

Given a choice between having a dialogue with that person or getting information, the dialogue wins every time. That's because the more open the dialogue, the better the relationship between you two. Without that, the information is meaningless. What good is information about someone who does not like or trust you?

People often ask us: "What's the question you want to ask your prospects?" Or they'll ask about a particular question. "What do you think about this question -- `What's important to you about _______?'"

There is no such thing as the one question that will cause your clients to open up or trust you. It doesn't work that way. Additionally, you cannot use a scripted set of questions with every prospect in every situation.

Asking questions in a business situation is truly an art and a science. It's an art in terms of knowing what to ask and when. That's always based on the other person. It's a science from the standpoint of why you use questions -- how they work and what happens in the brain.

Long-answer vs. short-answer questions

Most salespeople have been taught to use open-ended questions, the ones that elicit a long answer. The idea is to get people talking and involved. "What are you goals for your retirement? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to leave as a legacy for your heirs?"

Unfortunately, sometimes those long-answer questions are too open; too big; too invasive. Far too often, producers ask them too early in the conversation -- before they have earned the right to ask them.

Pam and I teach our clients to think in terms of adding points to an account. Call them "connectivity points." You have to visualize the new relationship with that prospect as a stone path. Each additional stone gives you a point. But, points can be taken away by asking the wrong question at the wrong time. For example, asking open-ended questions too soon can easily detract from your relationship and credibility, sending your account into the red. Open-ended questions definitely have a place, but the key is to ask them at the right time.

Before your clients will trust you enough to answer a question that starts with "What's important to you about ______?" they must perceive you as safe, credible and trustworthy. Opening your conversations with such an open-ended question does little to establish your safety, which is key to establishing credibility, which is key to establishing trust. You don't use that question to establish trust; you establish trust so you can use a question like that.

The strategy

If I come into your home as a stranger and begin asking questions, what questions would you feel most comfortable with first? They are questions that require a short answer. They're questions that elicit a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
  • Do you currently have any investments?
  • Do you know what investments you have?
  • Do you know what your monthly credit card fees are?
Once you sense that the prospect is freely and comfortably answering those questions, you've gained enough points to ask questions that require a longer answer. Those are based on "what" and "how."
  • How would you like to pay off your mortgage if anything happens to you?

  • What do you like about Medicare?

  • What have you been told about investment risk?
If you can methodically build your conversation to that point, you will have the highest probability of turning that prospect into a client.

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