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Sweat the Small Stuff

These little changes might significantly improve your bottom line.

By Paul Calendrillo

I ran across an anonymous quote that I feel has enormous significance for your business: “All great things are only a number of small things that have carefully been collected together.”

When I reflect on my years as a financial advisor, I have found that the smallest change in, say, a phrase I used or a technique I tried, significantly improved my production and professionalism.

Here are three small things you can do to make a big impact:

  1. Use better open-ended questions.
  2. Use silence.
  3. Rework your product introduction.

Truly open-ended questions
You have been taught in basic sales training to ask open-ended questions using “how,” “why,” “tell me about” and “describe,” which are designed to force a client to respond with more than one word. But I’m going to show you how to pose an open-ended question that is truly open. For example, instead of asking, “Mr. Jones, how have you planned for a comfortable retirement?” you say, “Mr. Jones, picture your retirement. Tell me what you see.” He must now reflect on his future lifestyle, maybe get excited and reveal how much travel he expects to do with his wife. As a result, you have tons of data you would not have gotten any other way. But more important, he is revealing how he feels about the future. Talk about a “buy” signal!

“When your client stops speaking, it’s not a clue for you to start.”

Another example would be to substitute the sentence, “Tell me about the life insurance you now carry” with the question, “How did you determine the amount of life insurance you now carry?” Again, Mr. Jones would be forced to think out loudly and would have to divulge more than just basic information.

Silence, silence, silence
Once you have engaged Mr. Jones in a conversation, do not fall into the trap of attempting to dazzle him with your knowledge about the insurance and financial-planning industry. You can be much more effective if you let him talk. This may be more difficult than you think because your instinct is to use your selling skills to persuade even the most reluctant prospect to buy. Usually that means you are the one who is talking.

When a client stops speaking, it’s not a clue for you to start. I suggest an approach that introduces moments of silence as a way to allow the client to assimilate, reflect and then speak on topics you might not have introduced. For instance, during one of these silent pauses, Mr. Jones might begin to tell you that his father is very ill, and prospects do not look bright for his aging parent. This is something advisors seldom ask for. But in such a situation, the client freely gives it. Mr. Jones may then be prompted to mention his need for a wealth-transfer strategy.

The “buy” signals
By this time in your conversation, Mr. Jones is comfortable with you, and giving you “buy” signals. At this point I suggest you change the way you introduce the product by doing something like this:

  1. Take a piece of legal-sized paper, and list Mr. Jones’ financial concerns in order, from the most urgent to the least.
  2. Circle a financial need or concern that you would like to address with him first.

Then you say to Mr. Jones, “As you can see, we have discovered several areas of concern that we must address. My role is to provide a financial solution for each of them. Today I would like to solve your most pressing financial concern, which is the need to adequately provide for your family if you could no longer work. Let’s start here. OK?” If he agrees, you have just closed the sale without talking about a product. Better still, you can tell Mr. Jones that you will schedule appointments with him to address his other needs before he leaves, thus building your business pipeline.

Paul Calendrillo, a former financial advisor, coaches advisors. He is the author of The Unrivaled Professional: A Financial Advisor’s Guide to Unparalleled Performance. You may reach him at


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