The Power of Questions

Dani Peer shares his observations about how the top-performing advisers use questions, and presents a model that he says will equip you to create your own great questions for your existing and prospective clients…

Great questions do much more than elicit facts. You can use them to build rapport, create trust and close the sale!

One of the defining characteristics of the most successful advisers is the appreciation they have for the role of questions in client conversations. They understand that questions are there to elicit much more than just information.

Whilst observing the uber performers, I noticed that they used questions for three key purposes in addition to simply seeking information to populate a Fact Find. I’d like to share these with you and then to take a look at a particularly useful model that will equip you to create your own great questions for your clients and your prospective clients.

Here’s a short extract from my book Powerful Words that sets out the case for making questions a major part of the way you engage with your clients:

Questions enable you to build rapport

It’s only natural in a conversation that the person who asks the questions does much less talking than the person answering. People love being listened to. But it happens so rarely. Next time you get together with a group of friends, observe how little listening we actually do. Everyone is so keen to contribute to a conversation. They wait until there’s a brief pause and then jump in with their ten cents’ worth. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “Listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone.”

Thorough, probing questions build trust

Questions enable you to build trust

Have you ever had the feeling that you haven’t been understood correctly? You’re giving a food order at a restaurant and requesting a few changes to the standard fare. The waiter nods a lot, scribbles furiously – and then heads off to the kitchen to place the order. And you wonder, “I hope he got that right”. You’re sitting in front of your doctor. He or she asks a few questions and then makes a diagnosis, and you think: “That was a bit quick. I’m not sure I explained exactly how I’m feeling and where it hurts.”

Thorough, probing questions build trust. We are left with a sense that the person who will guide us fully understands what we want to achieve, and we will therefore have more trust in the appropriateness of the solution they propose.

Questions engage emotions

The saying ‘people buy with their hearts, not their minds’ is attributed to many people. That’s not surprising, because it’s such a perceptive observation. As much as we’d like to convince ourselves that we make important decisions in a cold, calculating and logical manner, we don’t. While our mind grapples with a torrent of features, benefits, permutations, trade-offs and possibilities, our gut sends a clear signal – ‘run away’, or ‘go for it’. Sure, we rationalise afterwards: “That was a really good idea because yada, yada, yada…” But almost always we go by gut instinct. Constructing great questions enables us to engage with our clients on an emotional level. Trust and rapport opens the mind. Great questions engage with the heart.

What constitutes a great question?

Our profession has come a long way since life insurance agents were taught to ask questions like: “What would happen to your family if you got hit by a bus?”, or the more straight forward “What keeps you up at night?”

The intent of these questions is so obvious that all but the most wooden client would feel that they are being manipulated. “What keeps me up at night? The neighbour’s cat and my heartburn. What’s your next question?”

The secret to a great question is that it makes your client consider their circumstances in a new and relevant way. I have found the SPIN model particularly useful. Again, let’s pinch a few extracts from my book to understand how to apply this ingenious way of constructing questions:

SPIN is an acronym for four types of questions – Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-payoff. We ask these questions in that order, too.

The secret to a great question is that it makes your client consider their circumstances in a new and relevant way

Situation questions
‘Situation questions’ are the typical questions that you’d ask in a Fact Find. Situation questions are designed to obtain facts – how old you are, how much you earn, whether you have life insurance, the balance of your superannuation fund, etc. These are the bread and butter questions of every adviser. Situation questions simply extract content from your prospective client. Whatever you’ve asked, the client already knows.

In his book, SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham – the creator of SPIN selling – makes two interesting observations: “Buyers quickly become bored or impatient if asked too many situation questions” and that, “inexperienced salespeople ask more situation questions that those with greater selling experience”, presumably “because situation questions are easy to ask and they feel safe”.

In my work with advisers, I observe that the majority ask almost exclusively situation questions. Without knowing it, we are boring prospective clients by extracting information that they already know. While we need to obtain this information as it is critical to providing advice, the mistake made by many advisers is to stop asking questions at this point and start providing high level solutions.

We need to challenge our clients’ views of the world. We need to gently help them to become aware that things are not okay. And we do this by asking ‘problem questions’.

Problem questions
Having gathered factual information, you are now in a position to identify problems and weaknesses in your client’s current position.

So, a situation question might be: “How are your superannuation funds currently invested?” This question simply seeks facts – are your funds in cash, in managed funds, direct equities, etc?

By contrast, a problem question is: “What thought have you given to how you’ve invested your funds?” This question uncovers potential issues and often, your client has given very little thought to this question, or even none at all.

Good problem questions will enable your clients to view their decisions and circumstances in a fresh way. It’s not about what you want to sell them; it’s about what they need. You develop their awareness of their needs by asking well-crafted problem questions.

All selling needs to disturb or inspire. Problem questions are designed to disturb. Problem questions challenge and unsettle a client’s complacency and commitment to their status quo. ‘Implication questions’ continue this mental journey.

Implication questions
Implication questions are designed to help your client explore the consequences of their problems. Motivating a client to take action often needs more than just helping them to identify problems and opportunities. It needs your client to feel a powerful, emotional desire, sufficient to overcome the natural tendency to procrastinate and live with a sub-par solution. Implication questions move the mind from thinking, “I do have a problem, but I can live with it”, to “Dammit. This is serious. I need to fix this”.

Let me provide clarity by expanding the example I used for problem questions…

Problem question: “What thought have you given to how you’ve invested your funds?” If your client answers “very little” (as is often the case), your next questions could be:

Implication question: “Have you considered the possibility that your funds may be invested in completely the wrong assets?” or “Could it be that you are risking your retirement by not ensuring your money is appropriately invested?”

SPIN joins the dots. We move our client from the facts of their situation to its consequences. The final letter of SPIN closes the loop.

Need-payoff questions
‘Need-payoff questions’ contain a solution, but require your client to explain how the proposed solution would benefit them. They get your client to tell you the benefits of addressing the problem that was discovered in an earlier question.

Bringing it all together

Let me bring this all together by way of an example…

You’re sitting in front of a young couple who’ve just bought their first home and been lumbered with a hefty mortgage. From the situation questions you’ve established that the wife is pregnant (fact), and that they both believe they have adequate life insurance (perception) and aren’t sure what you can offer. They’re just here because their accountant, who they trust, suggested that they see you.

Adviser: You mentioned that you’re both comfortable with the level of insurance you have now. How did you initially decide on this amount of insurance? [Problem]

Husband: We didn’t really work out a specific number, we just felt a big amount like a million dollars each would be enough.

Adviser: Did you factor in taking out a mortgage at the time? [Problem]

Wife: Yes. That’s why we’ve taken out such a big amount.

Adviser: What would the impact be if it turned out that your cover was much less than was actually needed? [Implication]

Husband: Well, it would be devastating if that was the case and something happened to me.

Adviser: If that were the case would you (looking at the wife) choose to sell and move into a smaller house? [Implication] Or perhaps move in with your folks? [Implication]

Wife: I really wouldn’t want to think of that. I don’t really like either possibility.

Adviser: Is this something you’d like me to provide advice on? So that you can get some certainty with this? [Need payoff]

We’ll be publishing more thinking from Dani Peer’s Powerful Words in future editions of riskinfo eMagazine. In the meantime if you’d like to obtain a signed copy of Dani’s book, simply go to www.powerfulwords.biz

Dani Peer is a keynote speaker, facilitator, writer and business coach. He established his consultancy, danipeer.com, to equip financial advisers with the conversational and influencing skills necessary to motivate both referral partners and clients to take action.

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