Very early in the selling side of my career, I started using a written questionnaire. My first one was a monster. It was 45-questions long. I wrote it within two or three months of starting my company.
I had an appointment with a Lincoln Life general agent for a very important sales call. My plan was to sell an in-house seminar, get the money in advance, and go directly to the Los Angeles Times (I lived in L.A. then) and buy an ad for a public seminar with the money. I didn't have the $1,200 needed for the ad, and I needed my Lincoln prospect to pay in advance for my seminar so I could buy my ad.
By this time, I was already a big believer in profiling. I had just never written them all down. Because of its importance in my plan, I was nervous about this sales call. I wrote my questions down because I was afraid I would forget something.
The afternoon of my appointment I typed my questionnaire on legal size paper and plowed my prospect (victim) through it. As we rolled into hour No. 3, he bought, probably just to get rid of me. I spent another hour explaining why he needed to pay in advance.
When I got the check, I drove straight to the bank, made the deposit, got a cashier's check and then drove to the Times and bought the ad. I was afraid if I left the money in the bank I would spend it on something else.
After buying my ad, while the memory of my prospect's ordeal was fresh, I went to a coffee shop, reviewed the presentation, and cut out probably half the questions.
Over the next few months I followed the same procedure. Immediately after a presentation I would review it and fine-tune the questionnaire (as well as the rest of the presentation), re-wording, cutting, adding.
I finally honed it to about 15 questions. By this time I was completely convinced that the better my questionnaire, the better my closing rate.
Why Write It?
I was recently chatting with a client who brought in $40 million in assets in 2006. Obviously, he's no slouch as a sales professional. He had made the comment that when someone is having trouble closing, the real problem is most likely profiling. (I entirely agree with this statement.)
I asked him, "Is your profile written down?"
He said, "No. I memorized the questions. That way I don't forget them."
To which I replied, "If you put the questions down on paper, you will get even more and better information. There is some magic to a document you can refer to, and it's an organized way to take notes.
He will be giving it a try and will report back to me.
Here's why you get more and better information from a written questionnaire.
1. It's more professional.
2. People are used to giving true answers to a written questionnaire.
Consider your trip to the doctor's office. You first check in where they qualify you ("Who is your insurance carrier?"). Then they give you a questionnaire. It's generally a 10th generation photocopy. You fill it out, answering all kinds of questions about the vile and loathsome diseases that have affected you and your family members. You calmly discuss the family history of insanity. You give this questionnaire to a complete stranger, and then you go into a room, take off all your clothes and sit on a cold metal table.
3. You won't forget the important questions, which means you will get answers instead of the nothing you get to a question you forgot to ask.
Until you have done a few client interviews using a written profile, you cannot possibly know the difference.
Designing the Profile
Here are some characteristics of it.
1. It should start with closed-end questions that are very easy to answer.
Let me just confirm your street address. I have you down at 401 South Maple, correct?
And, Bob, you work at Acme Company. Mable, you repair brick in old houses, correct?
These, and other questions, which I'm sure you can think of by the bucket load, perform a very important function. They set up a pattern of you asking and they answering.
An FA should normally continue these types of questions until the question and answer flow is smooth.
2. The majority of the questions should be designed to reveal problems. People take action for two reasons: to achieve a positive and remove a negative. Almost always, people know they have problems. Perhaps "know" is too strong a word. They "feel" something is wrong, which is why they are talking to you instead of playing golf.
But they don't know what they are. A good questionnaire gets the prospect to drag the problems out from their hiding places so they can be solved.
For instance, your prospects may not have an investment strategy, or even know they need one.
You could certainly tell that by reviewing a portfolio. But you could alienate the prospect if you then said, "You don't have much of a strategy, do you?"
Now he or she gets defensive.
Instead, you want the prospect to come to the conclusion, "I don't have a strategy. I need help."
The way to do that is through a series of questions:
At what rate do your investments need to grow in order to meet your retirement objectives?
What is your strategy for keeping your purchasing power at least on par with inflation?
(After looking at a client statement:) What strategy did you follow to develop this portfolio?
3. Some questions should focus on positive accomplishments.
After looking at the negatives, you want your clients to envision a state of affairs better than they now have.
In 10 years (after retirement), where are you living?
How are you spending your time?
When everything is said and done, how do your want your estate distributed?
What is the one thing you most want to do in the "active" phase of retirement?
The Most Important Principle in Questionnaire Design
Have too many questions.
On this type of questionnaire, there is certainly no law requiring you to ask all the questions. But you need enough questions covering every possible area of interest so you don't run out.
It's always better to have too many questions than too few.
Author's Note: You are invited to participate in the Great Question Harvest. Point your browser to www.billgood.com/survey. Give me a little info about you and then give me up to three of your favorite profiling questions. I will take the questions and make a new Client Profile. Anyone who submits a question will get a copy of the questionnaire and a list of all the good questions. In case you want to make your own questionnaire, you'll have all the raw material I used.
Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see www.billgood.com.