For over a decade, I’ve been coaching financial advisers and insurance agents in a wide variety of facets of their business. One of the most important of those is sales; without the ability to sell, you would not have a client base. A common theme I’ve heard from individuals during coaching sessions is that selling is telling—if you just tell them what they need, they will buy. However, telling prospects what they “should do” could be a recipe for disaster. The alternative is a well-thought-out strategy of asking prospects what they think they “should do” to create success for themselves.
You may be surprised to learn that not all questions you ask necessarily create a connection though. For example, take Jake, a financial adviser client of mine whose boss hired me to help him increase his sales skills. During a coaching session we role played the first appointment process. Knowing that questions are important, Jake did his best to uncover my character’s situation and make a good connection, but instead he ended up pushing me away. After five minutes of me grunting replies such as “yes, no, I guess, I don’t know, maybe” I knew Jake didn’t fully understand what he was doing that was hurting him during the conversation; he was in a monologue-only delivery whereas instead, he needed to be in a two-way dialogue with me.
“Do you think I was connected?” I cautiously asked.
“No, but I asked a lot of questions. I guess they weren’t the right ones” he said with confusion in his voice.
It was the type of questions that was wrong.
“Most of the questions you were asking were closed-ended questions, which typically illicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. If most of my replies are words like, ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘I don’t know’ and so on, are we in a dialogue or are you in a monologue?”
He paused then answered, “So, to connect I need to get you to open up by using opened-ended questions. Let’s go over those.”
At that moment, I knew it was time to create a simple exercise to increase his questions-selling abilities, so I had him draw a vertical line on a piece of paper, labeling the left side Monologue and the right side Dialogue.
I asked him to write closed-ended questions under the Monologue heading, and open-ended questions under the Dialogue heading—one question for each line. I gave him a list of each and he wrote them down. Then we did a five-minute role play in which I was the adviser and he was the prospect. My goal was to get him to open up by asking open-ended questions.
After five minutes I asked him if he felt connected.
“Absolutely, I did all the talking and your questions got me to open up more than I thought I would,” he said in surprise.
That’s exactly why open-ended questions work so well; they get the listener to open up and that creates a dialogue, which creates a better connection. Then it was his turn to role play as the adviser, and it was amazing. Jake got me to open up.
Through this simple exercise, Jake understood how important it is to use the right types of questions. Since then, I’ve added elements to the exercise to turn it into a game and have played that game in several individual and group coaching sessions. Time after time it has improved the communication process.
If you’re unsure if you are connecting with your clients and prospects, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for The Monologue vs. Dialogue Audio (a one-hour live group coaching downloadable audio).
Daniel C. Finley
St. Paul, Minn.