In recent years, financial advisors have increasingly recognized that making a personal connection with prospective clients early in the process (as soon as the very first introductory meeting) can make it more likely that the prospect will eventually become an engaged, motivated client. And so advisors often get personal with prospects early – in many cases asking them questions about their personal memories, attitudes, and psychology around money (e.g., “What is your earliest money memory?”) – with the aim of showing interest in the prospect as a person beyond the numbers on their balance sheet (which would theoretically serve to build an open, trusting relationship, and the kind of personal connection that the advisor wants to develop).
But in reality, asking such personal questions in an initial meeting (before any foundation of trust is built) can ironically have the opposite effect of what the advisor intended. Because diving into personal psychological profiles when the prospect may already feel anxious and vulnerable about meeting with an advisor could – from the prospect’s perspective – feel overly intrusive and ultimately put them off toward the advisor.
Furthermore, prospects also may have priorities on their minds going into the initial meeting other than their psychology around money. Often, there is a significant, concrete problem in their financial life that has pushed them to reach out to a financial advisor. And when solving this problem is foremost in a prospect’s mind, having the conversation shift to money psychology can feel to the prospect as though the advisor is not listening to what they have to say – the exact opposite of the feeling of open communication that most advisors hope to invoke in prospective clients.
In the initial prospect meeting, then, all that really matters is answering this question for the prospect: “Can – and how – will this advisor solve my problem?” The advisor can help the prospect answer this question by focusing on that problem for the entire meeting: first, by learning what caused the prospect to initially reach out and exploring that problem in depth; then by describing the advisor’s services and planning process as it relates to solving the problem. And by focusing solely on the prospect’s problem, advisors can hold an efficient initial prospect meeting – lasting around 30 minutes – that gets to what really matters for the prospect and gives both parties the information they need to decide how to move forward.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that prospective clients often want to talk about the problem that has caused them to reach out – after all, that’s what pushed them to overcome any fears and schedule a meeting with a financial advisor in the first place! And keeping the conversation centered around that problem helps to keep the prospect talking, continually reinforcing that they have a problem that indeed needs to be addressed (and that the advisor can help them solve it!). Letting the prospect talk freely about what is important to them in that moment – with the advisor listening empathetically and reflecting that information back to them – can establish the strong personal connection that many advisors seek, creating a foundation of trust to build on, which can – at the right moment – include discussions of money psychology… but only after building up enough trust and preparing the client for having those conversations!
When meeting with a prospective client for the first time, one of the main goals for financial advisors is often to establish a personal connection with the prospect. Being in a relationship-based business, many advisors understand intuitively that clients want to work with advisors whom they enjoy working with. An authentic personal connection, therefore, makes it more likely that a prospect would feel more comfortable moving forward and becoming a client.
As such, many advisors in their initial prospect meetings ask prospects a series of questions designed to get to know them better. And while asking questions can be a good strategy for creating a connection in the abstract (since asking good questions can demonstrate that the advisor cares about the prospect, a key component in creating a good connection), in practice, it can be challenging to know the right questions to ask.
The standard approach taken by many advisors has been to ask the prospect questions about their financial situation (e.g., their balance sheet details, income, and investment allocations) and/or their big-picture goals and psychological approach to money. But the initial prospect meeting may be too soon to dive into these types of questions, since the prospect and advisor are first getting to know each other and haven’t yet established a deeper level of trust or rapport. Which – if the prospect feels overly vulnerable or anxious at having to open up on such personal topics – can actually hinder the ability to make a personal connection that motivates the prospect to sign on as a client!
Getting Too Personal In The Prospect Meeting Does Not Build Connection Nor Motivate Onboarding
At one point not so long ago, part of the prospecting process for advisors often involved creating an entire financial plan for the prospect for ‘free’ before they actually signed on as a client. Naturally, creating an upfront financial plan required the prospect to provide a great deal of quantitative financial information about themselves (like investment statements, budgets, paystubs, insurance policies, etc.), and the initial meeting with the advisor often involved the prospect bringing in a file full of the requested financial data for the advisor to review. After the meeting, the advisor would plug the data into a financial plan, which they would present to the prospect during the second meeting and pitch their ‘solutions’ to close the sale.
This approach was common when the ‘product’ the advisor was selling was either a literal product (like a mutual fund or life insurance policy) or asset management services (focused primarily on handling the client’s investments) with little consideration of the other components of their financial lives—hence the “financial plan”, which was not the actual product being sold, being included at no cost.
As parts of the industry have evolved, however, to where the advice itself increasingly is the ‘product’ that clients pay for, “advicers” who focus their services on financial planning and advice have realized that asking for large amounts of quantitative financial data in the very early stages of the prospect process is no longer necessary (since it is more appropriately incorporated into the onboarding process once the prospect becomes a client).
Furthermore, many advisors understand that an early focus on the prospect’s ‘numbers’ – with too little regard for the story behind those numbers – can feel impersonal and transactional to the client, and get in the way of creating a real connection. So it has become increasingly common for those advisors to spend less time on collecting quantitative financial information in prospect meetings and more on qualitative subjects like the prospect’s values, attitudes, and beliefs – both as a way to broaden their knowledge of what matters to the prospect before diving into the financial side, and to quickly create a personal connection from which a strong and trusting relationship can be built.
“Money Memories” And Other Psychological Questions Don’t Create Good Connections In The Initial Prospect Meeting
One strategy that has gained popularity in recent years has been to ask questions designed to reveal some insight into an individual’s psychological approach to money. These can be questions around past experiences with money (e.g., “Tell me about your first money memory”), or the importance of money in one’s life (for example, George Kinder’s highly popular “Three Questions”, which are designed to deeply explore what matters most to an individual). It is often reported that these types of questions have a high degree of success at creating personal connections with clients and deepening advisors’ understanding of their money psychology, so it is natural to want to bring those questions forward, to the very beginning of the prospecting process, with the goal of establishing that connection as early as possible.
But in reality, focusing too heavily on money's meaning, memories, and psychology during a prospect meeting won’t necessarily build a quick connection with the prospect either. Because even though the advisor might mean well by trying to focus on values and behaviors rather than impersonal financial data, when taken too far, getting too personal too quickly before properly establishing the relationship can seem very intrusive to the prospect and leave them feeling vulnerable to judgment about their values and behaviors. As a result, an initial meeting where the advisor pushes too far into personal psychological subjects can become very uncomfortable for the prospect – the very opposite of the open, trust-building environment that the advisor wants to establish.
Part of the reason for this is that many prospects are already experiencing heightened anxiety going into their first meeting with a financial advisor, and their fear of being judged may already be in overdrive even before the advisor starts asking questions. So asking a prospect to show even more vulnerability – especially when the advisor offers up no vulnerability of their own in return – can intensify the already-heightened anxiety that the prospect may feel. Just as few people would appreciate a stranger asking them probing psychological questions after a few minutes of introduction in a social setting, it is not entirely reasonable for advisors to expect a prospect to open up with personal information before the prospect fully trusts the advisor about what they will do with that information.
Another reason is that the prospect is likely to have other expectations of how the meeting will proceed. While a new prospect might reasonably expect an advisor to ask them for a certain amount of detail about themselves during the first meeting, diving into emotions and behavioral issues could potentially catch them off guard – especially if the prospect has more pressing (to them) matters that they are hoping to discuss.
Imagine showing up at the dentist's office for a teeth cleaning. And they start asking you about how you felt about your smile when you were five. Sure, those things could be related. But that isn’t why you are here – you just want your teeth cleaned. Prospects might experience a similar feeling when advisors start too soon with money psychology questions: I came here because I am struggling with a tax problem. And sure, maybe what happened to me when I was five matters in some broader sense, but do we really need to go into that right now? I really just need to fix my tax problem.
Notably, these conversations (both in terms of the prospect’s financial situation and their behaviors and attitudes towards money) can still happen eventually, but they may be more appropriately held after the prospect has become a client. This is especially the case if life planning or financial psychology is central to the advisor’s approach: for those advisors, conversations around money psychology do not exist to entice prospective clients to sign up for their service; rather, they are part of the service. Put another way, just as it is not necessary (nor even particularly helpful) for advice-centric advisors to provide ‘free’ financial planning to prospective clients, advisors who focus on life planning or financial psychology have no need to give those things away during the sales process either.
Lastly, asking about emotions too early on can also be demotivating to a new prospect, making them less eager to sign on as a client. Ironically, opening up about psychological or emotional issues – which the prospect might not have even been consciously aware of when they reached out to the advisor – could leave them more depressed or stressed than they were before the meeting. When prospects (and clients) get too emotionally flooded, they can tend to feel overwhelmed and end out doing nothing. Although some level of stress can be motivating (e.g., the stress that prompted them to see an advisor in the first place), stress beyond a certain level can be counterproductive and can actually slow an individual way, way down.
Focusing On A Prospect’s Immediate Problem Can Help Establish Rapport And Motivate Them To Continue The Relationship
In the first prospect meeting, rather than divulging details about their financial situation or psychological background, prospects often simply want to know whether the advisor can solve their problem. Perhaps that problem is a longstanding pain point that has finally become unbearable, or a new development in the prospect’s life that has spurred them to seek help. Whatever the problem is, it is likely to be at the top of the prospect’s mind going into the initial meeting, and so focusing on that issue can help the advisor create the connection they are seeking.
Consider that many prospects decide to reach out to an advisor only after a problem has gotten so painful or burdensome that they feel the only solution is to ask for help. It makes sense, then, that the only question they need to have answered in order to decide to sign on as a client is, “Will – and how – can this advisor help me solve my problem?”
Questions around money psychology do not answer this question for the prospect. In fact, focusing on (or even discussing) any extraneous elements that don’t directly address the prospect’s problem will probably not motivate the prospect to hire the advisor, and at worst, could simply annoy and alienate them.
For advisors who want to establish a connection with the prospect and motivate them to sign on as a client, sticking just to the prospect's immediate problem and investigating that problem – and only that problem – is exactly the best thing to do. Because digging into the problem and examining what caused the prospect to make the effort to reach out helps the prospect feel as though they are being listened to. And that feeling of being heard and understood is what will ultimately build trust and create an authentic connection between the prospect and the advisor.
Prospects want to talk about why they reached out; their problem has been on their mind enough that it spurred them to take action to meet with an advisor. Unlike money psychology questions, prospects won’t feel off-put or caught off guard by questions about their immediate pain point – that’s why they are meeting with the advisor to begin with. As such, asking true follow-up questions that stay focused on exploring that immediate problem provides the advisor with deeper knowledge of the prospect’s situation, while illustrating the advisor’s responsiveness to the prospect (which also can be an important first step for broaching broader financial and emotional issues later in the relationship).
Additionally, asking multiple follow-up questions about the prospect’s pain point helps the prospect to acknowledge their need for professional help… which, in turn, motivates them to take action and helps them realize how the advisor’s services can fill their precise needs. Thus, by asking the right follow-up questions, advisors don’t have to convince prospects to engage in a relationship; rather, the prospects might spend the majority of the meeting convincing themselves!
Do prospective clients ever manage to get to an initial meeting without realizing that they really need help? Or tell an advisor they need their help, but then not sign up to get that help? Yes! They do this because the process of change (even if it is change that we want or believe would be helpful) is complex. Simply knowing we should save more or do something about our taxes, for example, does not mean that we are ready to take action.
For some prospects, depending on how ready they are to make a change, it can be very difficult to commit to any action. But by making it easier for the prospect to recognize and acknowledge that they can, in fact, benefit from the advisor’s services, advisors can help prospects to accept their need for change and to take the steps necessary to implement that change. If this recognition comes from the prospect’s own awareness of their need for change (versus from the advisor telling them they need help, when the client may not be ready to acknowledge that truth), the prospect will be much more likely to sign up with the advisor.
Understanding The Prospect’s Problem Helps Advisors Illustrate How Their Services Can Benefit The Prospect
Once the advisor has asked extensive follow-up questions and has a clear understanding of the prospect’s problem, they can then discuss their process, and specifically how it relates to addressing the prospect’s issue. In most cases, the advisor doesn’t need to review their services or the financial planning process in generic terms, because the prospect has probably already researched the advisor’s website and marketing materials to understand what they do. Instead, having a detailed understanding of the prospect’s problem, the advisor can get straight to the “How” – the actual steps the advisor will take to help solve the issue. This continues the focus on the prospect’s problem (despite the shift in subject to discussing the advisor’s services), keeping them more likely to stay engaged and interested in what the advisor has to say.
This is an opportunity for the advisor to highlight their services that are of immediate concern to the prospect. And because the advisor now has insight into the prospect’s particular problem, they can paint a very clear picture of how working together will address the prospect’s specific needs.
If the advisor uses a particular approach or system for financial planning (like life planning, for example), this can also be a time to describe that approach – but only as it relates to solving the prospect’s problem. Again, broad descriptions of the advisor’s financial planning philosophy are best left to marketing materials, where prospects can read and decide if the general approach speaks enough to them to merit further conversation.
Perhaps the best part about keeping the meeting’s focus on the prospect’s problem – first by exploring the problem in depth with the prospect, and then explaining how the advisor can help solve the specific problem – is that, when it comes time to actually ask for the prospect’s business, the request flows naturally as the next logical step from the preceding conversation. This way, even the ‘ask’ continues to address the prospect’s immediate concerns, rather than putting them on the spot to sign up for services they’re still not sure will meet their needs.
Consider the following two transitions:
Transition #1: Now that I’ve described my financial planning process, philosophy, and fee structure in detail, does this seem like a good fit for you?
Transition #2: Now that we’ve discussed how the planning process will help you solve the issue you came in with today, do you have any more questions about how this would work, or should we talk about the next steps in getting started?
Transition #1 requires the prospect to process a lot of information to distill into a single yes or no answer. It makes them do the work of deciding whether the advisor’s services can address their needs, and if the advisor’s approach and work style are agreeable to the prospect. This transition leaves the client feeling potentially exposed and under pressure. Ultimately, while many prospects might respond in the affirmative (simply because they have made it this far along in the process), it is possible that some might need more time to comfortably answer the question, losing any momentum that the conversation had prior to the abrupt transition question.
By contrast, Transition #2 makes a direct connection between the prospect’s problem, how the advisor will address the problem, and what happens next. This approach narrows the scope of the question from everything that the advisor offers to the one specific thing that will help the client resolve the problem that drove them to seek out financial advice.
An initial prospect meeting, then, really only needs to consist of two main parts: one for the prospect to describe what has immediately caused them to seek out a financial advisor, and one for the advisor to explain how their services will help solve that problem. Some time may also be devoted to answering any questions the prospect has brought into the meeting, and to lay out the next steps at the end, but a well-run prospect meeting can be held in 30 minutes while giving both the prospect and the advisor enough information to decide whether it makes sense to move forward.
How To Structure A Highly Motivating And Connection-Focused 30-Minute Prospect Meeting
Keeping prospect meetings on schedule and centered around the prospect’s immediate problem requires a structured approach to planning and following through with the discussion. 30 minutes goes by quickly, and keeping within the boundaries of the meeting leaves little room for straying off-topic. It can be tempting to linger with small talk to try to establish rapport with the prospect, but getting down to business early shows respect for their time and demonstrates that the advisor cares about what has caused the prospect to reach out.
Establishing An Agenda
A simple agenda is one of the best tools for structuring a prospect meeting. For many prospects, meeting with a financial planner is stress inducing, and part of that stress can come from not knowing what is awaiting them in the initial meeting with the advisor. Laying out what will be covered in advance can relieve stress and anxiety for the prospect, as well as give the advisor a roadmap for how the conversation will progress.
And because the agenda for every prospect meeting will generally be the same (given that the advisor will likely know very little about the prospect going into the meeting), the same standard agenda can be sent to every prospect along with a meeting reminder several days in advance of the meeting. Or, if the advisor uses a scheduling tool like Calendly for prospects to book their own meeting, it can simply be included on the scheduling page or confirmation email generated by the software.
Here is an example of a standard agenda that can be used for an initial prospect meeting:
Though short and seemingly broad in scope, this agenda nevertheless helps to keep the focus of the meeting on the prospect’s priorities. It can also prepare the prospect for the types of questions the advisor will ask during the meeting. For instance, they will now know (because no, it is not entirely intuitive!) that the advisor will ask about their main pain point, which may prompt them to think about what else the advisor should know about that pain point outside of simply that it exists.
Additionally, the prospect might now start thinking about how they want to be helped with their issue. Will they want lots of hand-holding, do they just want someone to talk to, or might they be after something in between? Again, to the advisor, this can sound like it would be intuitive… but it isn’t – especially if the prospect has never had a professional financial relationship before.
And finally, asking for the business is on the agenda – not necessarily in the form of an on-the-spot inquiry, but as a more natural discussion of the next steps. For the prospect, simply knowing (in advance) that there is a plan for what will happen beyond the meeting can be comforting and energizing since, having been motivated to hire a financial advisor, they may be excited about the idea of making progress!
If the prospect is ready to move forward, then the advisor can talk about the next stage of the onboarding process. If they need more time to decide, that is fine too: the next step can be a follow-up email to check in. If the prospect feels the advisor isn’t the best fit (or vice-versa), this is their opportunity to say so.
The 30-Minute Prospect Meeting Timeline
In the initial prospect meeting itself, the advisor is responsible for ensuring the discussion sticks to the agenda and maintains focus on the prospect’s issue that has prompted them to schedule the meeting. What follows is a hypothetical meeting timeline to complete the first prospect meeting in 30 minutes.
Minutes 1-3: Opening Introductions
The first few minutes are about setting up the purpose of the meeting before asking about the problem that caused the prospect to reach out. Often it is best to begin with a short recap of the agenda, in case the prospect has not read it in advance. Some small talk to start is fine, but as mentioned above, it is best to get down to business early; in all, this should not take more than 1 or 2 minutes of meeting time.
Example script for this section:
Advisor: Thank you for taking the time to talk today! Where are you calling from?
Prospect: I’m at my house in Atlanta. Have you ever been down here?
Advisor: No, but it’s high on my list of places to get to. The purpose of this meeting is to better understand what your goals for financial planning are, to tell you a little bit about how we work with clients, to answer any questions you might have brought in, and to talk about the next steps from here. Do you have any questions before we begin?
Minutes 4-14: Understanding The Client’s Problem And Goals
Minutes 4-14 make up the longest section of the meeting and serve to help the advisor understand specifically what caused the prospect to reach out, and how they envision solving that problem. It starts with the advisor asking the question that will become the focus of the remainder of the meeting: “Why did you reach out?”
Other versions of this question can include:
- What is it that brings you in today?
- What made you decide to talk to a financial advisor?
- What was on your mind when you reached out?
For many prospects, the answer could come easily, since they likely have recently reached a ‘tipping point’ in a problem that ultimately resulted in them scheduling a meeting, and that problem will be top of mind for them. In these situations, people often really want to talk about whatever it is that has been on their minds enough to spur them into action.
If they are less forthcoming about what their problem is, the advisor might need to be more proactive about asking follow-up questions to draw out the information. In either case, the advisor’s role during this section is to stay responsive and empathetic, asking follow-up questions as needed to get a clear picture about the issue (and have the client repeat – and reinforce – what has caused them enough pain to reach out).
Example script for this section:
Advisor: So what is it that caused you to reach out?
Prospect: Well, I have a number of stock options from my job that I’m really having trouble understanding, and I thought it would be best to talk to a professional to sort things out.
Advisor: I understand; it’s great that you’re getting stock options, but they can certainly be complicated. How long have you been getting these options from your employer?
Prospect: For the last five years.
Advisor: Okay. So what was it that made you decide now was the time to talk to a financial advisor?
Prospect: Honestly, I was hit with a big alternative minimum tax bill last year and I want to avoid that happening again when I file this year.
In this example, the prospect described the overall issue that caused them to reach out (employer stock options), but the advisor needed to probe deeper to understand the true pain point (a surprise alternative minimum tax bill). From here, the advisor can start to ask further follow-up questions to fill in even more details about the prospect’s problem.
Some great follow-up questions to ask during this section are:
- Why did you decide that now, specifically, was the time to talk to a financial advisor?
- What have you tried in the past?
- What questions do you have about your pain point?
- What would it look and feel like to have this problem totally resolved?
- How do you envision us working together to solve the issue?
Minutes 15-20: Connecting The Problem To The Advisor’s Solution
Once the prospect has finished explaining what has caused them to reach out, the meeting can shift to talking about how the advisor can help. A good way to transition is to start by summarizing what the prospect has just finished talking about to ensure that the advisor understands correctly (and to demonstrate that they have been paying attention). Then the advisor can explain what specifically they can do to help the prospect solve their issue. Because while there are many advisors who can deliver a financial plan or answer a tax issue, what matters most to the prospect is how the advisor they are talking to now can solve their immediate problem.
Importantly, keeping this part of the discussion as a dialogue provides many opportunities for the prospect to give input, which can keep them more engaged as the discussion moves forward. And by giving the prospect the chance to say “Yes” over and over again – such as by asking the prospect to confirm facts about their problem or agree with potential strategies the advisor lays out – the advisor subtly reinforces the idea that yes, they can help the prospect solve their problem.
Example script for this section:
Advisor: So I hear you that you have a great number of stock options through your company. Trying to navigate what to do with them to minimize their tax implications is tough for you, and not something you want to figure out on your own anymore. Is that right?
Prospect: Yes, I really do not want to do this alone.
Advisor: And having someone help you organize when your options vest and plan ahead for those years for tax purposes would be really helpful.
Prospect: Yes, that would be great.
Advisor: One of the things I often do with clients in this situation is to organize your stock option information and model the tax impact of exercising options at different times to determine the most tax-efficient strategy going forward. Does this sound like it would be helpful?
Prospect: Yes, yes. That would be REALLY great!
Minutes 21-25: Making Time For The Prospect’s Questions
It is possible that the prospect has brought their own questions into the meeting, or that questions have arisen during the meeting that they haven’t had a chance to ask yet. It is important to make space for these questions before talking about the next steps so the prospect does not feel pushed towards making a decision before having a final chance to speak their mind.
Because it is opening up to the prospect to talk about whatever they want, this is the first time since the very beginning of the meeting that the subject of the discussion might stray from the problem that has caused the prospect to reach out. This is why this section takes place near the end of the meeting: so it is already firmly established in the prospect’s mind that the advisor can help them with their immediate problem, before going on to other subjects.
Example script for this section:
Advisor: Before we start to talk about the next steps in the process, I want to make sure that you’ve had a chance to ask any other questions that are on your mind. Is there anything else that you’re thinking about that I can answer?
Minutes 26-30: Describing The Next Steps And Asking The Prospect For Their Business
At this point in the meeting, the prospect has spent the majority of the time thinking and talking about the problem that made them reach out to the advisor. They have reinforced why their issue is so important, and they have listened to the advisor explain how they can help and what the specific vision looks like of how they will provide that help. With that foundation set, the discussion can naturally flow into what needs to happen to get started.
This framework allows the advisor to invite the prospect to sign on as a client without feeling awkward or forceful, and more like a seamless transition to the next phase of the relationship.
Example script for this section:
Advisor: If you’re interested in moving forward with the plan we talked about, the next step would be for me to send a client agreement to sign electronically, and then to schedule our kickoff meeting in the next few weeks. How does that sound to you?
The actual next steps might vary depending on different advisors’ onboarding processes, but the idea is the same in any case: connect the invitation to sign on as a client with what has already been discussed about the prospect’s problem, and then give them a concrete picture of the next two or three actions that will happen if they want to move forward. Doing so continues the momentum created earlier by making the meeting about the prospect’s problem and ties the next steps in the process back to solving that problem.
While prospect meetings can be tough, part of what tends to make them tough is trying to put too much into them. But by streamlining the process and planning to keep the meeting short and focused, prospect meetings can really be quite simple, and can even help to improve the advisor’s close rates.
To start, providing the prospect with an agenda can help ease any anxiety they may have about the meeting (especially for prospects who have never met with an advisor before) by clarifying how the advisor will guide the discussion. And asking questions that keep the conversation focused on the particular issue that brought the prospect in to meet in the first place not only motivates the prospect to sign up as a client (by helping them realize how valuable the advisor will be in helping them solve their problem), but also establishes an authentic and natural connection, which advisors can build upon to deepen the relationship after the prospect finally does sign on as a client!