“Skills Pay The Bills”: Mastering The Art of First Meetings with New Clients

First impressions count so the old saying goes, and the first meeting with a new client is probably the most important interaction in the whole advice process. Get it right and you set up the rest of the initial client engagement; get it wrong and everything can go downhill very quickly.

Have you ever had a first meeting go just perfectly? Communication is easy, you feel comfortable charging appropriately for your work and the client agrees without fuss. A win-win situation all round.

I’m sure you’ve also experienced the complete opposite, at some point. You get sidetracked by the client’s agenda or their aggressive focus on one issue. This can lead to losing the potential client, or worse, running around in circles dancing to the client’s tune (which is no fun and rarely sets up a great ongoing relationship).

How can you ensure more of the perfect meeting scenarios

and less of the disasters? It’s all about the questions.

Asking Great Questions

Perfect meetings become more commonplace when you’re able to control the meeting using your questioning skills.

For example, think back to a meeting with a new prospective client who was focused heavily on investments and investment returns. The challenge here is twofold:

  1. Getting the client to be honest about their own level of knowledge and past investment experience.
  1. Getting the client to consider if their investments are structured appropriately to help them achieve their lifestyle goals.

Here are some questions you can ask prospects who come in focused on investment issues:

  • What is your philosophy on investing?
  • How do you evaluate investments before you buy them?
  • Why did you buy this one? (Pick one.)
  • Has it done what you wanted it to do?
  • Why/why not?
  • What about this one? (Pick another.) Has it done what you wanted it to do? Why/why not?

Asking this simple set of questions allows both you and the prospective client to gain a clearer understanding about their investment approach and to determine how robust it may be. It’s also non-confrontational. The questions allow the client to reveal any gaps in their investment knowledge without losing too much face. Rather than telling the client they don’t know much about investing, you get them to ‘fess up’ themselves, which allows them to gain clarity about their own financial habits and level of understanding.

These questions also start to help the client see that the investments they own have a purpose and to evaluate the success (or otherwise) of their portfolio against that purpose. This can be the start of your broader conversation about “Why are you doing all this stuff in the first place Mr/Mrs Client?”

Telling is not selling

If you’ve had any formal sales training, another principle you may have learned is:

“If you say it the prospect can disbelieve you, but if they say it, it’s true”.

This is simply reinforcing the need to control the meeting with questions.

Many advisers are always on the lookout for those ‘killer sentences’ they can say to clients to explain why they are worth the fees charged but the fact is, those sentences don’t really exist. Rather than telling the client about your qualifications, experience, technical skills, investment process and so on, it’s far more constructive to have them tell you what is important. With a sensibly designed proposition you’ll find that for most clients, you will meet all of their criteria.

Here are some examples of better questions for you to ask that really get the client to think about what they are looking for in a relationship with an adviser:

  • What value can I add?
  • What does good look like as an outcome here?
  • Is there anything we can’t do?
  • What are the implications of doing nothing?
  • What have you thought of already?
  • What concerns do you have about resolving this issue?
  • How will you measure our performance?

These types of questions will elicit many of the things you are dying to ‘tell’ your prospect or client.

By controlling the meeting with great questions, you help prospective clients think properly about their own situation. This is what skilled advisers do. They don’t debate, lecture or argue with clients.

Benefits on Both Sides

Mastering the questioning skillset allows you to really enjoy your job. When difficult clients come in, you can actually have a good time challenging them politely with questions until they see the real issues. Once they do you can work with them, should you choose to.

By mastering great questioning skills and retaining control of your meetings you get to have more fun. However, you also achieve greater conversion rates and can charge higher prices, helping you to maximise your return on effort. This has the double whammy effect on your profitability.

If you haven’t yet mastered this vital skill, or if you need a refresher then get to work!

It’s worth it.

Skilled advisers don’t debate, lecture or argue with clients. [click to tweet]


4 thoughts on ““Skills Pay The Bills”: Mastering The Art of First Meetings with New Clients

  • Brett,

    I very much like some of the questions you have suggested, particularly these two:

    How do you evaluate investments before you buy them?
    Has it done what you wanted it to do?

    These really do allow you to ask the client what you are after in a completely non-confrontational way and, as the first one is an open question, it will get the client talking which, in return, will save you asking some other questions you would have asked later anwyay.

    I first read the article last night and have knowingly used at least those two questions with a new client this morning. This client wasn’t one of those whose pride wouldn’t let him confess that his knowledge of investments is limited, but I wanted try the questions out and they worked really well. So, thank you!

    I must also say, having recently attended Jan Bowen-Nielsen’s coaching session, that as much as some of your suggested questions help you to avoid being confrontational, the ‘why?’ questions do the exact opposite.

    Jan taught us that ‘why?’ questions should be avoided; they should be worded differently and I definitely think he had a point there, because, even without meaning to, you can sound a little aggresive or defensive when asking ‘why?’.

    Anyway, a very good read, thank you.

  • Hi Eva, and thanks for your comments. Sorry for my seemingly slow reply. I did craft a response on a train last week but for some reason it had’t posted. I blame crappy internet.

    So here’s what I wanted to say:

    I’m really pleased you tried the questions at the coal face (which is always the scariest part) and had some initial success.

    I am also really interested in some alternatives to “Why?” questions. Perhaps you could share a couple here to give readers an alternative.

    As with all of these things there is a level of practice and eventual skill required to work effectively with clients. Practice makes perfect and over time you can build your own personalised list of “interesting questions” to use with clients.

    • Hi Brett,

      asking for alternatives to ‘why?’ seemed to be everyone’s first question to Jan and the answer was surprisingly simple. You can very easily replace ‘why’ with ‘what…’.

      So, for example, your question ‘Why did you buy this one?’ could become ‘What made you buy this one?’ or ‘What was the reason for buying this one?’. The questions have the same meaning and will get the same, if not better, answers, but sound a lot less confrontational.

      Your article and Jan’s training (to some extent) were about effective questioning and I completely agree that asking the right questions at the right time is incredibly important when dealing with clients.

      I’ve been advising for about six years and it has, of course, taken some time to find my own ways at first and then to ‘perfect’ them.

      By now, I have my own ‘tried and tested’ questions, examples etc., but because even these are far from perfect, the first client meeting I had after Jan’s session, I was trying really hard to follow his tips and to consciously avoid using ‘why?’, I ended up spending more time thinking about my next question than listening to the clients’ answers – dangerous!

      So, maybe there should be a follow-up article about how listening skills are as important as the questioning ones.

  • Brett and Eva,

    I agree wholeheartedly that great questions are so much more powerful than telling the client. It is a real mind shift for many advisors, going from focusing on telling the client how clever we are and how much we know, to showing a genuine interest in them as people.

    The skills of asking great questions (and then listening really well to the answers) is useful for many other types of advisors including accountants, solicitors, consultants etc. In the “Interpersonal Skills for Financial Advisors” course, that Eva referred to, we aim to take the financial advisors from selling products to understanding clients, their dreams and aspirations, and building strong long term relationships in the process.


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