Asking good questions is an essential tool for financial advisors. From building rapport with prospects, to gathering information needed to create a plan, and to offering support for nervous clients during market downturns, effective conversation skills – including asking good follow-up questions – can enhance not only an advisor’s value but also the client’s experience. But while advisors are used to asking questions of prospects and clients to get a conversation started, they might think less often about crafting follow-up questions once they receive a response. Which is potentially the most important part of the data-gathering process, as it turns out that effective follow-up questions can not only lead to more productive client conversations but also help make the advisor more likable!
One of the distinguishing features of a true follow-up question is that the question is asked with the singular goal of learning more about the speaker – there are no hidden agendas (intentional or subconscious) to talk about oneself or anything else, as tempting as that can sometimes be. For advisors, that means that good follow-up questions solicit information about the client’s experience from the client’s own point of view.
Another way to characterize a good follow-up question is to think of data-gathering questions. Advisors very commonly get surface answers from clients when they ask initial questions to open a conversation, but good follow-up questions can draw out the client’s deeper concerns. For example, an advisor working with a client who says they are worried about being able to afford retirement could ask a series of follow-up questions exploring issues such as when the client plans to retire and what plans they have for retirement that might be unaffordable. These follow-up questions dig deeper into the retirement picture and aim to understand the fear the client has expressed.
Not only can good follow-up questions help an advisor gather data, but they also demonstrate responsiveness to prospects and clients. In fact, a 2017 Harvard Business School study found that follow-up questions that are more responsive to the person being asked questions are generally more valued than other questions and statements that fail to focus on the person individually. So for advisors, follow-up questions can be an effective way to validate a client’s concern and show understanding without judging (positively or negatively) what the client has said. In other words, great follow-up questions allow advisors to connect with clients, gather information without placing judgment, and can create more likability even during tough conversations, regardless of whether the advisor agrees with the client.
Ultimately, the key point is that follow-up questions can be just as important as the questions used to kick off a conversation. Effective follow-up questions not only help advisors gather better client data, but also demonstrate responsiveness to prospects and clients alike. And because asking good follow-up questions is a skill that can be developed, it can be helpful for advisors to practice frequently, both inside and outside of the office!