Five Questions Can Change a Conversation

A client recently sent me the following email:

"I have used the five questions several times and realized that It has changed the conversation (for the better).  In many cases, after asking the five questions it has changed my approach in the conversation - which has focused it more on the need of the client.  I am also having better a conversation with certain clients that have been more difficult in the past."

Before you talk to a client or prospect, write an article or blog post, create a presentation, design a web page, or prepare for a team meeting ask the following Five Questions for better results.


Who are you addressing? Who do you want to influence educate, motivate into action, or help in some way? By first clearly understanding the audience you are better prepared to focus your thoughts.

Next Action?

What is the next physical action you would like the audience to take after reading, hearing, or seeing your information? If you do not have a specific next action in mind, it is unlikely that your audience will guess what you desire.


Knowing who you are addressing and what you desire them to do, you now know your purpose in creating this document, presentation, webpage, or agenda. Everything you include should support this purpose.


To motivate your audience into action it will be necessary to make the message meaningful to them personally. People are motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. What are the positive and negative motivators for the audience?

Main Point?

Now that you know the audience and what you want them to do and the purpose of your time together and why it is meaningful for them, identify the one main point that will move them into action and focus your document, presentation, webpage, or agenda around that point.

Download a free worksheet here.

True Advocates

What makes a person a true advocate? The dictionary defines advocate as "a person who pleads on someone else's behalf ." Simply it is someone who speaks positively about you to others. So we should ask ourselves who does that for our us?

I believe there are three criteria for an advocate: 1. they like us 2. they talk positive about us to others 3. they want to help us grow our business

List your top 50 clients and ask yourself how many of them meet all three criteria. If you want 100+ unsolicited introductions a year, your practice is going to need a number of true advocates. If you do not have enough then your work is set before you. Start with the Relationship Conversation and help them achieve their dreams.

Let's Talk: Partnering to Monitor Positive Change

We all desire positive change in our lives. As we discussed last week, positive change requires not just a desire or goal, but a next action. If you want to be a catalyst for positive change in the life of others you must partner with them in identifying their desire and next action. Then, with them, track the accomplishment of their next actions until the desired outcome is realized. You no longer sit on the sidelines of their life, but actively participate in the achievement of their dreams. Your conversations can now focus on what is most important to them and, as a partner, you share in their excitement and are valued by them in a unique way.

Remember refer-ability is not tied to your expertise or knowledge, which are usually assumed. It is not your unique solution that compels them introduce you to others. Your refer-ability is directly tied to your clients experience with you. Is their lifestyle maintained and enhanced by knowing you?

Partnering with those around you and monitoring the positive change in their lives connects you to the accomplishment of their dreams. The simple process of recording what they want to do and encouraging them in completing simple next actions will guarantee they achieve the dreams.

For each person or couple you partner with, record their next dream. Then note under that dream the next action they want to accomplish. Now each time you talk with them update the next action as they are completed. Occasionally drop them a line or call to check on their progress. This simple process changes your conversation and gently encourages them to complete what they desire. Now because of your partnering with them, the desired outcome is achieved sooner and a new desired outcome can be set. As a catalyst for positive change you can help others achieve substantially more than they ever imagined. Now you are value-added.

Let's Talk: How to Make Certain Your Dreams Are Accomplished

Why are New Year’s Resolutions stated on January 1st and not accomplished by December 31st? There is one simple reason. The goal was established, but there was no next action. Any project, desired outcome, or goal must have a next physical action to make it a reality. You know what you and those around you want to be true in the next twelve months. Now ask yourself and those you want to partner with, what is the next physical action necessary to make the dream a reality? You have just become a Strategic Catalyst in the life of another person. That is what an advisor should be in the life of their clients, Strategic Catalyst for Positive Change. People do not need a financial plan about how to manage their money, they desire a Strategic Spending Plan to effect positive change in their life.

Next we will discuss how to partner with those around you to monitor their progress toward positive change.

Let's Talk: What Do You Want To Do This Year

When you ask someone what they most want to do or accomplish in the next twelve months, it is easy for them to identify what they would like to be true. At the beginning of each year millions of people establish a set of New Year's Resolutions. We all know what we want to be true about our life. We know exactly what we would like to change, improve, or accomplish. In other words we all know what we want to spend our money on. We have a dream and we want to fund that dream. As we discussed last week, it is not the money that is important, it is what the money will buy whether that is a vacation, a new deck on the back of the house, a kitchen renovation, college education, or a comfortable retirement. Each of us knows exactly what we desire.

If the money is not what is important and what we want to buy is, do you see the disconnect in most conversations between an advisor and their clients? The advisor focuses on the money and how it is managed and the clients wants to focus on what they want to buy and how to make that a reality.

This week ask yourself what it is that you most want of have, do, or accomplish in the next twelve months and ask those around you what they most what to accomplish. Remember this is what is important to you and to them. Record that information. Next week we will discuss how to partner with those around you to make certain they accomplish what they want and it does not become just another New Years Resolution that is unachievable.

Let's Talk: What's Most Important to Clients

If you asked yourself and others the two questions from last week, you realized everyone has the same answer for number one. What do you first look at when you open your bank statement? When a person opens their personal bank statement, the first thing they look at is the BALANCE. As individuals we are concerned with what the balance is in our account. This is the first distinction between clients and advisors. The client looks at the balance and the advisor looks at the holdings. The advisor is concerned with issues like: is this something we like or not, is it properly allocated or not, is the portfolio diversified or not, is there something we need to adjust or not. These questions then determine the agenda for any conversation with the client. This is the First Cause of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

The second question, "Why is that item you look at important?" is where the second distinction is made between clients and their advisors. It is also where the relationship is derailed. Why do clients look at the balance? We discover it is for none of the reasons the advisors are questioning above. Everybody looks at the balance to know how much they have to SPEND, either now or later.

If you are living close to your budget then the balance represents whether or not you can pay your bills this month, if you are a little better off then you are wondering whether you can take the vacation you planned later this year. And if your are well off you are looking to see if you are still retireable and if your lifestyle will be maintained and enhanced in the future.

In every case the client is NOT concerned with the money, but with what the money will BUY.

This is the Second Cause of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

This is the biggest mistake in the financial service industry. The industry is concerned with the money. They want to create financial plans and grow the investments forever, while clients are concerned with what money will buy. Clients want a Spending Plan, not a financial plan. They want to maintain and enhance their lifestyle, not their investment portfolios.

These different perspectives create a large disconnect between the client and their advisor. One is talking about apples and the other is concerned with oranges. This problem is easily solved. Next week we will see how to step through a conversation to connect with the client's concerns.

Let's Talk: Two Important Questions

The following two questions identify a unique distinction between clients and financial advisors: 1. What do you first look at when you open your bank statement?

2. Why is that item you look at important?

Think about these two questions and ask others this week to gather their response. We will discuss the differences next week.

Let's Talk: Risk of Referrals

Less than 5% of clients give referrals on a consistent basis. Why is this number so low despite our efforts to deliver great service to our clients? I believe it is because of the inherent risk of referrals. When your client endorses you to somebody else, they put themselves at risk to loose two relationships. They have the chance of losing their relationship with their friend whom they have referred and they have a risk of breaking up their relationship with you. Not because of something they have done, but because of something outside their control. Because if the referral doesn’t work out with you, who are they going to blame? And if he loses his best friend, whom is he going to be upset with? You. That’s why people don’t make referrals, there’s too much at risk. But if you can find a stranger that they don’t know, and have them talk with the stranger about what it is like to work with you. This is a safe way for them to learn the Language of Endorsement™.

As the client answers the strangers questions he is building an endorsement script. So the more they are a reference with you, the more comfortable they becomes talking about you.

This is the simplest way to remove the risk of referrals.

Let's Talk: Peeking Behind the Curtin

Have you ever wondered why the client is so concerned with understanding what you do? It is as if the client wants to peek behind the curtain, to see what is going on behind the scenes. The problem stems from the fact that we have spent most of our time in the client relationship focusing on the backstage - the processes, the systems, and the services we provide and no trust is established. It is the front stage that should concern the client the most. The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore gives a detailed understanding of why marketing is like theater and the importance of understanding that the message is what goes on in front of the curtain. The front-stage experience the customer is looking for is a better understanding of having their needs understood and met.

Now as we consider this in more detail, keep in mind the difference between backstage and front-stage items. The delivery of your products, your services, the tools you have, the resources, the software, the technology you have; all of these are backstage items that assist you in delivering the performance on the front stage. Without them, the front stage performance could not happen. Likewise, you could have all the backstage in perfect working order, have the best service, have the best technology, have the best of everything behind the stage, but without the clients’ confidence that you know them and understand their situation, they will continue to peek behind the curtain. They will continue to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to better understand what it is you do and whether or not you are doing it well. The more comfortable they are in your understanding of them, the more they will relax and leave what goes on behind the curtain, behind the curtain and enjoy experiencing the relationship and the performance on stage.

This goes back to Peter Drucker's principle that the two most important functions of a business are marketing, i.e. knowing your clients more fully, and innovation, i.e. creating solutions for their problems and needs. If we knew our clients on a deeper level, we would be better equipped to assuage their fears of our being out of sync with their needs and desires. In many cases, I believe our clients feel insecure that we actually understand what it is that they want, both out of our relationship and out of life in general. For that reason, we entirely miss their main objective.

Developing a deeper understanding of the client easily solves this problem. In a coaching relationship, prior to the first session, a client is asked to fill out an in-depth questionnaire, often called the Client Intake Kit, which goes into extreme detail about his or her personal and family life, life story, business history and experience. This up-front, in-depth analysis of the client allows the coach to begin “right where the client is.” It is much like the relationship with an old friend who has grown up with the client. The old friend knows all the history, knows the traumas, problems and failures that have occurred as well as the successes and achievements. This knowledge of how the coach client handled things in the past is extremely valuable when it comes time to evaluate, consider or assist the person in looking at options that are ahead. Without this knowledge or without this understanding, we are strangers.

It is the same problem we have with our customers and clients. Because we do not know them at that deeper level, they do not have the comfort or assurance that we truly understand their situation and therefore, they try to second-guess us or double check that we have not forgotten something or missed what is most important to them. We have spent too long focusing our marketing efforts and selling our services in regards to our technology, our tools, our resources and all of the backstage items. How well the lighting is done or the sound system works is not of interest to the client or to the audience as long as they can enjoy the performance. We need to stop marketing our services and our technology and instead focus our attention where the clients’ attention is. In other words, focus on them, on their interests, on their goals, their fears, their tolerations, helping to alleviate the obstacles in their life and focus on the opportunities and strengths that they have. Assisting the client in building a better life.

Too often, we have spent too much time trying to solve the problem before we really even understood it. That is the significant flaw both in our strategy and in the solutions that we provide our clients, and, in the end, the clients understand that we have missed it, and we have focused on the wrong thing. We use our reports and our review with our clients in an ongoing way to focus on what we think is important and what we find exciting. In other words, we are focusing the client on the back stage and because of the concentration of our time and effort there, we think the client should be interested also.

Stop directing the client toward the backstage. Focus on the front stage, understand your clients’ real issues and go forward from there in a new exponential relationship.

Let's Talk: Relationship Model

For years, experts have maintained that, before you can build trust, you need to build rapport. But these days, everyone knows the basics of marketing and selling—a strong handshake and straightforward eye contact, for example. These techniques are now so overused that the stronger the handshake and the longer the eye contact, the more uncomfortable the prospect becomes, feeling they are dealing with a used-car salesman rather than a professional. Over the last decade, surveys of baby boomers have consistently yielded the same result: investors are chiefly interested, when dealing with financial advisors, in information that can help them make better, more informed decisions. They want an expert, someone who knows what they are talking about and can provide them with better knowledge. Rapport building is not the beginning of the relationship process— expertise is. This is even more important following uncertain economic times.

How should you approach the "head, heart, feet" relationship-building process? First, you'll need to identify whether a client or prospect is a thinker or a feeler.

Prospects who are feelers tend to process information in their hearts. Typically, a feeler will accept the advice or recommendation of a third party regarding your expertise. When attending a conference or workshop where the speaker has the endorsement of a larger group, for example, the feeler will tend to assume speaker is an expert, then spend the bulk of their time trying to see whether they feel comfortable with them. They will ask themselves, "Do I feel I can trust this person and what their saying?"

A thinker, on the other hand, will spend the bulk of their time trying to figure out whether the speaker knows what they is talking about. They will continually ask themselves, "Is this person an expert?" Once they determines that the speaker is indeed an expert, they will trust them implicitly, then move quickly to the "feet" stage.

Very rarely do prospects have enough information to understand whether you can truly deliver on the promises you make. This is why using references or advocates is a critical step in the marketing process. A solid reference will bolster a prospect's trust and reassure them about the quality of your performance.

As you review this relationship-building process, take a moment to answer these three distinct questions:

• Do you have advocates up-front to disclose your expertise on the topic at hand? • During the conversation, do you allow an exchange of dialogue where trust can be built? • Do you use reference advocates to help the client better understand your ability to follow through on your promises?

Using this approach to building relationships allows you to better understand and meet your prospects' needs. And by identifying whether a particular prospect is a thinker or a feeler, you'll be able to focus your time and attention on the area of your presentation that's most important to your prospective customer.

Let's Talk: Head, Heart, & Feet

Winning prospects' trust doesn't begin with building rapport—despite years of expert testimony to the contrary. To kick off solid relationships with prospective customers, you'll need to focus on one thing: positioning yourself as trustworthy. Suppose a couple, after spending an hour in your office, leaves thinking exactly the same way they did when they arrived. Somewhere in that hour, you've fallen short. To win new business and forge solid relationships, you need to change prospects' perspectives, build trust, and demonstrate that you can deliver on your promises. I call this three-step process "head, heart, and feet."

Let's start with "head." During your meeting with a prospect, you want them to undergo a transformation: to add to their knowledge base and change the way they views things. They may come in thinking one way, but they leave with greater knowledge, more information, and a new perspective that challenges them and demands that they respond.

The next step: "heart." Prospects are always on the lookout for evidence of whether or not you're trustworthy. To convey your credibility quickly and effectively, engage each prospect in a dialogue—a give-and-take that demonstrates that you understand them and their particular configuration of needs. Doing so will help you earn their trust and respect.

Finally, "feet"—the stage where the prospect contacts existing clients and learns that you've made a difference in their lives, that you do what you say, that you show up on time, and that your team follows through on what you promise. Now their ready to engage their feet and to build a relationship with you.

Let's Talk: The Aim of Marketing

Clients learn about us by what we do and not what we say. Our actions reflect what is most important to us. If our customer contact time is spent talking about our products, our services, and ourselves, the customer soon understands what is truly important to us and it is not the customer. As Peter Drucker says “the aim of marketing to to make selling superfluous, to so know and understand our clients that the products fit them and sell themselves.” The financial services industry even has the “Know Your Client” Rule and we all agree this is important. The problem arises when we start to work with the customer. Our need to close the business, to generate revenue, and to feed our families, forces us to speed up the process and “get to the close.” These motives reveal themselves in our initial contact, when we do not focus on the client and their needs but rather on our agenda. If this shift from the customer to ourselves is generated by what motivates us, are we realizing what we truly want? Or are we selling ourselves short and settling for something less than the best in our business. In the coming weeks we will look at what we really want as business owners. Before that we need to understand how relationships are built.

Let's Talk: Marketing Redux

Since 2000, the customer has changed and no one has informed Corporate America. Clients do not act as quickly on recommendations and many in the sales professions complained that clients are harder to close. What was once easy was now becoming difficult. Top producers in every industry are finding business complicated and less enjoyable. The problem is not with the client, it goes back further, to the beginning of the relationship. There was no trust established. Businesses do not know what motivates their clients, they know the facts of their client's lives but not the feelings and motivations behind those facts. A relationship follows trust and is enhanced as the trust grows over time. We learn early to trust people based on what they do and not what they say. This was overlooked in the go-go years of the last quarter century. Facts superseded feeling. Information was king and who ever had the information was the most sought after person. Client relationships were established on cold calls. Direct solicitation worked and seminars worked even better. But once the roller coaster ride of the 1990’s was over clients began to reexamine whom they worked with and how the relationships were established. Many businesses came up short in the accounting.

Trust is established after a meaningful conversation. We understand this in our own experience if we look back to our dating years. A casual conversation may tweak a person’s interest, but no more. We must move beyond the surface and focus on the other person, not ourselves. This is the heart of the problem. When we examine most business conversations eighty to ninety percent of the conversation is about the interest of the business, it’s products and services, or directly about delivering solutions. Less than ten percent of the conversation is about the client, their life, issues, concerns, needs, or problems.

The old axiom says the one thing a person most wants to talk about is them self. Amazingly, the one thing businesses rarely let clients talk about is themselves. Herein lies the problem. The clients learn more about a business by what it does, rather than what it say. If a company focuses most of their conversations on them self, the clients clearly understand that the companies agenda is more important than theirs.

Let's Talk: Is Your Business At Risk

For the twenty-five year period, beginning in the mid 1970’s and ending in 1999, the financial markets basked in the sunshine of client trust. An entire generation lived constantly in a buy mode, dealing with whoever had the best story or the most exciting advertising. Solicitation was the game of the day. Sale techniques improved an individual’s chances in capturing a slice of the consumer’s spending. A person’s ability to sell was the most important hiring criteria. The industry had products to sell, after deregulation, and customers were willing to be sold. There was little need to know the client, sales were easy and only a few facts were required to open a new account. Because everything was advancing, the relationships looked sound, everyone was happy. The selling celebration ended in 1999. In the early years of the new millennium the American consumer had several shocks from which they have not yet recovered. First is the breach of faith by several of the large accounting, law firms, brokerage firms, and corporations in failing to disclose the truth of their circumstances. This breech of trust hit at the heart of information. Following the bankruptcies, embezzlements, fraud, and high-tech meltdown in 2000-2002, the four trusted advisor groups: accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, and corporate executives had each lost the trust that had been built over generations. Never in history have consumers lost faith with such a large sector of advice givers. Trust was assumed in the years prior to 2000, clients just wanted information so they could make better decisions. That has changed. I repeat for emphasis, that has changed.

Clients today are not willing to trust carte blanche, a firm or an advisor. The solicitation that worked so well over the last decades now meets resistance. The baby boom generation has read all of the sales books and knows that a fixed gaze and a firm handshake hide a hidden agenda of solicitation. They have come to view sales techniques as manipulative tools to get closer to their money faster, rather than getting to know them better. Peter Drucker continued to declare for over sixty years that we need to stop selling and really get to know our clients. He said, “the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous; to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits [them] and sells itself.”

The business community has avoided for decades, the malpractice risks of the healthcare industry. As we become a more litigious society this escape will not continue. Too many advice givers have for too long, written prescriptions for their clients’ problems without proper examination and diagnosis. The financial service industry in particular, and all business in general, is at risk of being sucked into the vortex of litigation, if they do not immediately change.

We can eliminate malpractice as a concern, buy becoming competent advisors, understanding the difference between telling and listening, realize people learn more by what you do than what you say. We can reverse the impact of all the sales manuals of the last three decades that focus on getting to the close faster and have forgotten about the client along the way. We need to start with a proper focus on the customer and their needs. We can avoid the coming suits and litigation by not trying to force ourselves into their lives with sales techniques, we can build a relationship where they reach out and grab us and pull us into their lives as trusted advisors and confidants.

North American business is at a crucial turning point in history. The heart of marketing is a business’ ability to establish a trusting relationship with the customer. Without some degree of trust the consumer will look elsewhere for the product or service. Business is at risk. It is only a matter of who will be affected. In the coming weeks we will discuss how to make certain it is not you.

If you found this of value please forward it to others you value. Together we can create a change revolution.

The Conversation Works

Below is an email from the Manager of Advisory Services of a corporate client, following the Attract Clients workshop we did last month.

Lloyd, I just got off the phone with one of our Financial Advisors. He had a meeting with a $50 million prospect Friday. He used, as he called it, “the Lloyd approach” at the meeting and let the prospect talk about himself for an hour and a half. At the end of the meeting, the prospect commented on how his FA at another firm never gave him the opportunity to speak about things the way he was allowed to do that day and felt like the other FA was not proactive in coming up with investment recommendations that were appropriate for him. At the end of the meeting, the client agreed to move his account. Thanks for the inspiration!!!

Congratulations to the advisor. The one topic clients want to talk about more than any other is themselves. Give them the opportunity.