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Bowen: Get Clients Talking More by Talking Less

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By and large, the people you encounter as a financial advisor want to be heard and understood. If you spend the majority of your time showing interest in them—their goals, their interests and their concerns—you will quickly start building the trust, loyalty and goodwill that is essential to landing clients and keeping them with you for decades.

Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, famously said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” That kernel of wisdom is one that all financial advisors should keep in mind whenever they strike up conversations with clients.

But stop and think about how financial advisors often act. When they sit down with a prospective client, for example, they tend to talk, talk, talk — spending the bulk of the time explaining their credentials and superior investment methodologies. Eventually they might ask the prospect a few cursory questions about their finances that do little to make them feel heard and appreciated.

If that scenario sounds like you, it’s time to turn the ship around. How? By focusing on the client instead of yourself. Studies show that the key factor in an investor’s decision to work with an advisor is the level of interest that advisor displays in helping the prospective client identify his or her needs. Obviously you can’t demonstrate that if you spend all your time hyping yourself.

Your job should be to ask questions designed to get prospects talking about the important issues in their lives — and then clam up and listen carefully to what they say.

Ask and listen yields two huge benefits:

  1. Prospects will feel that you are deeply concerned about their well-being — making it more likely that they’ll want to work with you.
  2. The information that you’ll gather will help you deliver solutions that are highly customized to each client’s situation — making it more likely that your clients will stick with you and send more business your way.


Once you commit to asking more questions and making fewer statements, you have to decide what questions to ask. The answer depends on whom you’re conversing with.

Say you’re in front of a prospective client. Of course you should ask about finances and get the data you need to create an investment plan. But it’s just as important to look beyond assets and discuss topics that few financial advisors cover. In our coaching program, we emphasize investigating client challenges and interests with questions like:

  • What’s important to you about money? 
  • What are your most important accomplishments? What would you like them to be?
  • What do you do for your children?
  • Which of your relationships are most important to you?
  • What pets do you have? 
  • What are your hobbies? 

When financial advisors go deep like this, they get extremely positive reactions. Those who show that they care about the whole person and not just the bottom line differentiate themselves immediately and demonstrate that they are a cut above the typical financial salesperson whom so many investors have dealt with in the past.
This often leads to some great conversations with people who could have a big impact on your ability to find and attract new business. If you ask them the right questions, they can offer you valuable insights. For example:

  • What are the major financial challenges faced by the community my clients most closely identify with? 
  • How would you alert the members of this community to how they can address their most pressing financial challenges?
  • Which industry events do the members of this community typically attend? 
  • Which social organizations do the members of the community typically belong to? 
  • What sports or activities do they enjoy? 
  • Which publications do they like to read?

Know your prospect

The information and comments that deep, probing questions elicit will also help you better identify the type of investor sitting across the table from you. We all recognize that different investors possess different money personalities. For example, noted psychologist Ned Hallowell has identified personas such as the Dodger (who feels anxious about anything money related and avoids the topic as much as possible), the Gambler (who gets immense pleasure from taking significant risk with his assets) and the Jock (who sees his level of wealth as a scorecard to be compared with everyone else’s).

There’s great value in understanding the financial personality of a prospective client. It can help you decide if the person would be a good fit for you and your team. If you are best suited to serve relatively conservative investors who are most concerned about issues like family legacy and education, then choosing to work with a high-stakes, risk-prone, performance-driven Gambler personality may not make for a productive long-term relationship. Learning whom you’re dealing with up front, before you take on a client, can save you a lot of headaches.

Knowing a person’s money personality will also help you tailor your communication style. A Dodger, for example, gets nervous when talk turns to specific investment methods — he’ll want to run away from the conversation and hide. What a Dodger most wants to hear from a financial advisor is a statement like, “You’ll be OK — I can help you and you’ll do just fine.” Knowing that, you can avoid going too deep into specific investment topics that will turn off the prospect.

But you won’t ever truly know whom you’re dealing with unless you take the time to learn about the prospect.

Of course, you can’t just ask questions. You’ve also got to be a good listener.

To be an effective, engaged audience, first eliminate any distractions. Turn off your phone, close the laptop and rid your surroundings of the things that will pull your attention away from the other person. This includes your own note-taking. I recommend that financial advisors record their client conversations. That way, they can stay fully engaged instead of writing or typing during the course of the conversation.

A great listener is also non-judgmental. Be prepared that the other person might say something that bothers or even shocks you. If it happens, try saying to yourself, “I’m having a strong judgmental reaction here, and I’m going to let it go.” Keeping a neutral face and not reacting when someone says something disturbing is key to great listening.

Everyone — your clients included — want to connect with the people around them. Instead of lecturing, create a feeling that you want to build a trusting and lasting relationship. That’s what people are looking for — it’s the value-add that investors say they aren’t getting from their financial advisors. If you can provide that connection, you will separate yourself from the rest of the field big time and win more than your fair share of business in the years ahead.

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