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Relationship Selling Begins with Asking the Right Questions

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, May 17, 2024

According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, “Only 59% percent of the 32,000 global respondents to the firm’s 23rd annual trust and credibility survey trust financial services to do what is right, compared to 75% who trust technology and 71% who trust education and food & beverage companies — the top 3 most trusted industries. In the United States, 57% of consumers trust financial services, an increase of 9 percentage points over 2022 findings. 

These numbers show a huge opportunity for financial institutions and fintechs — who bridge the most trusted industry sector to financial services — to build greater trust.”

This is not new news to those who work within the industry. In fact, most organizations and advisors have been working long term to be more customer-focused. The challenge is for advisors to be focused on relationship selling, asking probing, sometimes assertive questions without coming across to customers as sales-driven.

Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others. These people care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the sale to ensure the prospect or customer makes good decisions. Does this describe you and your people?  

What does assertiveness have to do with effort and execution? If done properly, the early relationship building conversations and meetings will help to qualify or eliminate a suspect. If done well, this will streamline a salesperson’s efforts and pipeline, giving them more time and energy to focus on finding and building relationships with better prospects.

During initial conversations, a financial advisor, banker, or insurance agent is gathering information that leads to a next meeting and eventually to a presentation meeting. It is through the intelligence that is gained and utilized in building superior solutions that your presentation meetings will lead to decisions. This is the focus of relationship selling because any proposal or recommendation is built around the specific client’s identified problems, growth challenges, and revenue goals.

In the process of relationship selling, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way, at the right time is critical. In an effective selling system, for a prospect to qualify they must:

  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, to make a change, or do something different
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the necessary time, money, and effort
  3. Be willing and able to make the decision to fix the problem and be able and willing to make the money decision

Uncovering all of these issues requires that a salesperson asks many questions and some of these questions require a salesperson to be somewhat assertive. They could consider and use questions such as:

  • How will you go about telling your current broker / banker / relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?
  • If you don’t have enough money, how will you solve the problem?
  • The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?
  • What will you tell your partner/executive when they say they don’t want to make the change?

Are your salespeople prepared to ask these types of questions? And think about the relationship building aspect of these gutsy questions:

  • Based on our experience, expertise and knowledge about your business, your best action is this:  ______________.  If that doesn’t work for you, we might not be a good match.
  • If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated (by your current provider), I would expect to be fired.
  • When we finish our presentation, which will include budget-appropriate solutions to all of the problems you’ve identified and answered all your questions, I’ll ask for you to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.
  • Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”.  If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.

Imagine if salespeople were gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. They might fear that they would lose more business. But suppose that wasn’t the case. Suppose by being more assertive, salespeople eliminated the tire-kickers more quickly. Suppose this led to the elimination of think-it-overs and actually helped prospects to trust them and make decisions more quickly.  Imagine if salespeople stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”.  What would happen? Salespeople would sell more, more quickly at higher margins.  They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, and start building relationships built on trust.

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    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.


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