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The Five-Question Interview

With five questions you can get the stories that will turn prospects into clients.

By Stan Hustad

You have to remember television back in the 1950s. The police show of those times, Dragnet, was about two detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department. One of the sound bites of the series was a line from Jack Webb who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday. When questioning people, he asked for “just the facts.”

Today, we in the financial services industry often do the same. For example:

  • We tell lots of “facts” about our products and how they perform.
  • We seek to gain as many “facts” as we can about our potential clients so that we can present our solution to their problem.
  • We then present a plan with all the “facts” about future performance.

The five-question interview
Could it be that we are as dated as Dragnet in the way we present ourselves and help our clients and prospects? If we are, we should make more use of the ancient art of storytelling. It is the most effective way to get clients and prospects not only to give you the facts, but also tell you stories.

People do not have strong financial goals; they have personal emotional goals, and money is just a way to help them achieve them.

Here are five simple questions that will prompt your prospects to think about their situations, share their stories and identify their real concerns. These questions will get you beyond the facts to the stories that lead to productive presentations.

What would happen to you if you were in the hospital for three days?
Here you help your prospects think about the risks of life and the potential costs. You will learn that most have life insurance already; you can congratulate them on that. You may also discover with whom they are insured, their coverage and whether it is a workplace benefit. You might ask them what their experience has been with health-care issues, coverage and service. Listen for the stories.

What would happen to you if you were without a salary or paycheck for three months?
Most people think wheelchairs when they hear the word disability. They don’t see that happening to them. The term “income protection” is better but has little emotional connection. Yet, when people have to reach into their throats and think about no pay for three months, they often tell some stories about their situations and apprehensions. Listen for their fears.

What would happen to your family and your business if you were dead for three years?
This question is a chance for some humor and serious conversation at the same time. Ask it with a straight face and a touch of a smile. It may produce a chuckle, a quizzical look or the question, “What do you mean, dead for three years? You’re dead forever.”

Here you lighten it up and say: “Well, I like to stick with the number three, so let’s just say you only have to be dead for three years. Would you have the resources and the means for your family and your business to get through that time until you come back?”

The creative advisor can ask lots of follow-up discovery questions. We discover that most people don’t have the resources to get through three years. Listen for the stories, the plans, the apprehensions and the confusion.

When do you think you will die?
This question has to be asked with grace, concern and intense listening. This is vital because people, in general, expect to live a long life. The speculations, the concerns, the health issues and the family histories can come pouring out. It is possible that the conversation will cross over to investment hopes from insurance issues. Listen—for their thoughts, their family histories, their expectations and their deep concerns.

What do you hope to accomplish before you die?
This final question moves people from fears into hopes, dreams and aspirations. You hear about children’s education, retirement plans, starting a business, buying a new home, a summer lake home, a vacation. Prospects tell you what is really important to them—sometimes without realizing it. People do not have strong financial goals; they have personal emotional goals, and money is just a way to help them achieve them.

When you get only the money facts, you simply have fears without vision. This leaves the door open for you. For example, a 35-year-old expects to live to 85 and retire at 55. The question then is: “How do you plan to do that?” With good prompting you discover the causes and charities he values. You discover the levels of generosity in his life. You discover what he hopes to do with his business. Without even directly asking the question, “What do you value?” you help him discover what is truly important to him.

The follow up
You are now in a position to make statements based on their stories.

  • “It seems to me that you are very concerned about you children’s education. Should we take care of that issue right now?”
  • “You really want to give a good deal of money to your place of worship. Would you like to make sure that we take care of that now at half the cost and save money on taxes, too?”
  • “You seem to be concerned about missing a paycheck due to a loss of income or your ability to work. Should we take care of that right now?”
  • “You want to make sure that your spouse does not have to work or lower her standard of living for at least 10 years should you die unexpectedly. There is a way we can take care of that right now.”

The financial advisor of the future is a storyteller and a story listener. Learn to tell your story in one minute and then ask the questions that allow your prospects to tell their stories. You will get the stories behind the facts—the stories that lead people to make their choices for improving their lives and insuring their futures.

Sorry Joe, you got it wrong. It’s not just the facts; it’s the stories!

Stan Hustad is the leader of the PTM Group. He can be reached at (612) 729-0420, or through his website at

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