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A Little More Conversation

Understand your clients’ needs better by letting them do the talking during the factfinder.

By Paul Calendrillo

Asking the right questions is the first step to making the entire factfinding process a conversation rather than an interrogation. By doing this, you will increase client receptivity to your message, begin a relationship, enhance your credibility and know more about your client than any other advisor. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes; they may have more life experiences than you do. Try to identify with how they feel about their future.

So how do you get your clients talking? Here is a five-step communication process that will help show your clients that you want to understand their needs and offer them solutions:

  1. Begin with an open-ended question.
  2. Listen carefully to the client’s responses and jot down key points.
  3. Ask yourself, “What else do I need to know about that?”
  4. Follow up with the next logical question.
  5. Summarize by repeating the client’s key phrases.

Most advisors I work with tell me that they thoroughly understand how to use open-ended questions. However, when I ask them to demonstrate how they use them, I almost always get a host of close-ended questions sprinkled with a couple of open-ended ones. Your challenge is to turn the factfinding process around so most questions are open-ended. It takes practice, but those who do succeed in doing so experience a marked difference in productivity and client receptivity. Start by scripting out a set of well-formed questions that begin with:

  • How …
  • Why …
  • Describe …
  • Tell me about …

You can begin a conversation with a closed-end question if you follow up with one that will encourage conversation. For example, you might ask, “Do you have a retirement plan at work?” You can follow with the question, “May I ask you to describe how the plan works?”

It is also important to remember that the entire process should be conversational. True, the client should be doing most of the talking and you should be doing most of the listening. But if your client shows that he’s confused about a concept or totally sold on a poor (but popular) financial strategy, that’s an opportunity for you to weigh in. For example, if your client religiously watches CNBC for financial advice, you may want to provide a little education on why it is impossible to consistently make money or outperform market averages taking a short-term view. But don’t introduce a product discussion at this point. You are selling yourself, not the latest product. You are building a relationship, not your company.

Sample Open-Ended Questions

• Tell me, how did you determine the amount of life insurance you now carry?
• Describe the best and worst financial decisions you have ever made.
• Now that you are retired, how did you plan your finances to carry you into your 90s?
• How have you planned for a comfortable retirement?
• Who worked with you to create a succession plan for your business?
• Tell me about your investment experience.
• What major purchases will you be making in the near future?
• What costs do you think are involved in hiring a nurse or moving to a nursing home?
• Describe the steps you have taken to reduce your tax burden.
• How did you make your investment decisions?
• Why did you take that course of action?

If you make factfinding an art form, you will find that you can close the sale prior to mentioning any product solution. Your ultimate objective is to build trust and eradicate any hidden questions about your ability to handle your clients’ financial future.

Paul Calendrillo trains advisors and is the author of The Unrivaled Professional: A Financial Advisor’s Guide to Unparalleled Performance. Visit his website at or reach him at


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