Do you ever wonder why some advisors are more successful than others? What’s their secret to success? It’s not because they’re the smartest, funniest or even the best looking advisors. The vast majority of them would tell you, however, that they use fact finders with their clients and prospects.

With very few exceptions, top-performing producers engage with a prospect and take the potential clients through a fact finder. In other words, if the prospective client does not want to go through the sometimes arduous task of completing a fact finder, guess what the advisor does? He or she walks. They literally walk away from potential business.

Why? Because more and more, the best advisors have come to understand that consistent success does not come from making the biggest sales. It actually comes from having the strongest relationships with what we call in our firm the “client family.”

I do not want a client who won’t take this time with me. I can’t do a great job if I don’t have the right information, so I’d rather walk away in a polite manner so I can leave the relationship open for the future.

sI often liken this situation to the doctor/patient relationship. When we go into a doctor’s office for the very first time, we don’t know the physician very well, especially if it’s a specialist, which are seen for only specific health concerns. Yet we don’t think twice about providing very intimate health and lifestyle information to a stranger. We trust that the doctor needs this information to help us. We trust that it is confidential. Advisors also need certain information to help clients, and without it advisors risk their reputation and ability to serve the client.  

Words do matter

Before I entered the financial services world, I was an editor for a publishing company and then later an advertising consultant. The words used with clients, prospects, business partners and home office absolutely matter toward success and growth. That’s why specific words used when talking a client through a fact finder are so important.

Fact finding is one of the only activities at the intersection of professionalism and profitability. This means that completing a fact finder is the right thing to do for clients, for your professional reputation, for your compliance requirements and for your revenue growth.

The process I’ve found to be most successful consists of two meetings, with the fact-finding portion taking between 90 minutes and 2 hours, and then a follow-up review meeting. The fact-finder time frame can be daunting for advisors. Some worry that this may take too much time and will jeopardize the sale, but it’s vital to realize that it’s not the sale that’s important. It’s the relationship and what can be found out about a client early on that can result in even greater success for everyone involved.

Some language to start with: “I am so glad (name of person) introduced us. I have been looking forward to meeting you. Let’s start with you telling me what you are looking for in this meeting.”

See related: 3 keys to successful fact-finding conversations

After listening intently, I offer three promises to the client:

  1. I will ask you questions, but this process is also designed to elicit questions from you. I promise to answer all questions. Sometimes, I may not have the answer right now, but I will always get back to you with answers.
  2. You control this meeting. At any time, if you are not comfortable or don’t feel I am providing what you want, I promise to end this meeting immediately. I will give you the incomplete fact finder and simply wish you well.
  3. My third promise involves the potential for a follow-up appointment. My hope is that once we have completed this fact finder, you will see the value of meeting again so that I may present the first draft of your financial needs analysis. However, if I have not proven the importance of that second meeting, and you decide not to proceed, I promise not to badger you. I will respect your decision and again wish you well.

It’s wise to have a support person in the room for the interviews. This person inputs data on a real-time basis, which is highly efficient. It also allows the advisor to focus exclusively on the client. I work through the fact finder page by page and step by step, and rarely veer from the format to avoid missing any opportunities.

Fact finding for multigenerational planning

Many newer advisors drop out of the business within five years because they’ve run out of new people to see. The fact-finder process offers many opportunities to secure names and leads for favorable introductions and multigenerational planning if you know how to use it. At a follow-up meeting, feed the client a name and ask for contact information or an introduction.

See also: Fact-find before you sell

For example, beneficiary and dependent information provided by the client is a great introduction opportunity. This area of the fact finder allows you to ask questions about people who are important to your clients: beneficiaries and dependents, as well as guardians of minor children. Once these names are secured, it’s natural to have the clients introduce you to the guardians who then become prospects. You should also inquire about aunts, uncles, grandparents and siblings. The more you know about a family, the more you can look at the client holistically and generationally.

When one of my clients, who was 89 years old at the time, sold his $1 million home in June 2012, he consulted his legal and tax advisors who both agreed that he was best served by gifting $500,000 to each of his two sons (beneficiaries) in case the estate tax laws reverted to a lower exemption amount this year. My client told his sons that he was gifting these amounts, but that they had to use the money to fund their own long-term care plans.

The reason? The client was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, he had purchased a long-term care insurance policy years ago. His plan was set, but he wanted to make sure his sons also had the means – and the motivation – to put their own plans in place. Today, both sons not only have long-term care insurance in place, but also sizable investment accounts that will supplement their retirement incomes.

Another example of how the fact finder leads to favorable introductions involves a realtor who introduced me to one of his clients whose mom had a long-term care need. By helping his mom downsize from her large condominium to a memory care facility, I was able to put together a $1.4 million investment strategy that pays for her care. And since then, he has become a member of my client family and has already introduced me to another client prospect.

These examples reflect the value of multigenerational planning. As you learn about families – getting to know parents, children (some minors, some adults), it’s always important to find out about the advisors who serve the client family such as caretakers, CPAs and attorneys. Bring the spouses and adult children to subsequent meetings. With this, the message you convey is: “I care about this client enough to ask you to meet me and feel comfortable with how we are taking care of your loved one.”

Yes, sometimes the parents don’t want their children involved, but it’s an important conversation to have. And, it can be as simple as, “I just want them to meet me and know that I have your best interest at heart.”

Once you meet the rest of the family, it’s natural to cultivate those extended relationships and motivate other members of the family to do their own planning with your practice. In addition, if the client is age 70 or older, it is valuable to position the other family members as advocates for the more senior clients because these clients may experience a decline in cognitive skills and not be as sharp as they used to be.

While it may seem elementary and a little like financial planning 101, using the fact finder is one of the best ways to start a client relationship in a very positive way. Being thorough, asking questions, actively listening, bringing in other advisors and encouraging family participation can not only lead to more sales, but will strengthen long-term relationships and result in multigenerational planning opportunities. 

Jonathan Nicolas is a registered representative and financial planner, offering securities and investment advisory services through Signator Investors, Inc.