jimI took the plunge and went out on my own in 2001. In the fall of 2002, I decided to focus on the retirement market, and in January of 2003 I conducted my first marketing event. I had some success in 2003, but I wasn’t capturing assets like I could and should have. I wasn’t having trouble bringing prospects into my office; I was simply not converting enough of them into clients.

Then, in the spring of 2004, I did some marketing in a retirement community in my area. I had well over $7 million of potential new business come into my office for appointments, and I converted one client with less than $100,000. I knew then that I simply had to figure out what I was doing wrong.

What I discovered has changed my practice. I learned that the first appointment is everything in converting prospects into clients. I now convert over 90 percent of the prospects that meet with me. While my marketing brand does contribute to this success, what I’ve learned about conducting the client interview has had a profound effect on my ability to capture assets.

In 2004, I invested a good deal of time and money into learning from other successful advisors about how to conduct a client interview. Here’s the most important thing I learned:

People don’t like to be told what to do.

Our job as an advisor is not to tell people what to do. Our job is to help them discover and understand their problems for themselves. Once they discover the problem, they will then own the solution to fixing the problem, which you are going to provide.

Ask the right questions

How do you get people to discover and understand their problems for themselves? By asking the right questions. Let’s say I have prospects with 90 percent of their money invested in mutual funds, and the funds hold predominantly stocks. So, I ask them, “If the market suffers another major market correction, do you think you could potentially lose 30 percent? On a $500,000 portfolio, that represents a $150,000 loss. At this point in your life, do you think you can afford to take that kind of risk?”

If they say no, they are telling me there is a big problem with what they’re doing. I didn’t tell them; I simply asked them a question so they could discover the problem for themselves. Now they own the solution to their problem. And I’m the one providing the solution.

Asking the right questions is the key to unlocking success with prospective clients. We must know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Learning how to ask the right questions will allow you to dramatically improve your client conversion ratio.

In future articles, I’ll discuss specific questions that have worked well for me.

“Our job is to help clients understand their problems for themselves.”

Jim Brogan is president and founder of Brogan Financial in Knoxville, Tenn. He was named Senior Market Advisor’s 2011 Advisor of the Year.