Every business transaction (whether for a good or a service) moves both parties involved towards a desired state. A prospective customer or client needs something, and they also need someone to help them get it. Along the way, the person providing the good or service may or may not be successful in helping the customer or client reach their desired outcomes (whatever those may be), and one of the biggest determinants of their success is good questions.
In our 35th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication expert Carl Richards explore their favorite questions to ask in a first meeting with a prospective client in order to get to know them better, start to establish trust, and take the initial steps towards building what will hopefully develop into a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.
As a starting point, it’s important to keep in mind the path that the prospective client took in order to book their initial meeting in the first place (e.g., were they referred by an existing client or did they come in ‘cold’?) because that will help frame the initial conversation and give the advisor a confidence boost as the prospective client and advisor get to know each other.
Because asking good questions is about far more than checking off each box from a 17-point intake form or formulaically reciting from a predetermined script. In fact, the best questions are often ones that people have never been asked before, or are, at least, asked in such a way that offers someone a different perspective. While such questions can often create some discomfort (the best questions usually do!), they can also pave the way for some meaningful insights.
From there, perennial favorites include such questions as, “What’s important about money to you?” (which helps lay the groundwork for establishing what really matters to the client and what might help keep them on track later on down the line), Dan Sullivan’s “What would need to happen in the next three years for you to deem this relationship a success?” (which provides a more concrete time frame around figuring out what their ‘desired future state’ is), and George Kinder’s famous three questions about what someone would do given increasingly narrow time frames on their longevity.
Perhaps one of the most useful questions, however, is simply, “What brought you in to see me today?” Because the disappointing reality of this business of financial advice and planning is that people don’t spontaneously come to the realization that they really need to get a comprehensive financial plan as soon as possible. Rather, there has usually been some sort of triggering event that brought them in and there’s some immediate and pressing need that they have at the moment, and understanding the triggering event accompanying their pain point can be very powerful when building trust.
Ultimately, the key point is that, no matter which questions an advisor uses in their first meeting with a prospective client, building trust is about being open to having a conversation, being comfortable and confident, and being empathetic to whatever a prospect’s pain point may be. Because, at the end of the day, the real beauty of this business is helping clients get from what they want to what we all know they need.