Mastering the art of client conversations — co-written with Rosemary Smyth

I’m co-writing a series of articles for financial professionals, along with my colleague Rosemary Smyth, an international coach to financial advisors.

Here is a recent article we co-wrote about client conversations…


Most conversations start off with innocuous questions like, “What do you think of the weather?” If you want to build rapport and trust with clients, you need to have conversations that go deeper than that.

The way you ask the questions will dramatically affect the quality and value of your conversation. Certain types of questions can expand the conversation and others can block it. The better you get at asking conversation-expanding questions, the easier it will be for you to build rapport with clients and the conversations will be more engaging and informative.

In this article, you’ll read about four invaluable conversation tools that can help you have more meaningful client conversations.

Conversation tool #1: Listening

Your conversations will only be as valuable to you as your ability to listen! Active listening is hearing what the other person is saying, evaluating it in your mind and then responding appropriately. Listening is the most important element in communication and a whole-being experience. It’s your ears, heart, eyes and mind.

It takes practice to be a good listener and it’s the way we listen that makes a difference in conversations. Bad listening behaviours such as daydreaming, finishing sentences, interrupting, selective listening and pretending to listen can all be improved with practicing active listening. Replacing old ineffective communication styles will help you to re-wire your brain to communicate more effectively with others.

Barriers that prevent us from listening effectively are distractions such as phones ringing, feeling tired or having other clients waiting on hold for you. The way to overcome these barriers is to focus. By focusing you will hear what the client is saying and will understand what their needs are.

Great listening techniques are to face the person that you are listening to and make eye contact. Non verbal listening uses your face, eyes and body. For effective non verbal listening, make eye contact, lean in slightly, nod and respond with the appropriate facial expressions. Body language is a powerful tool to use with your questions and tone of voice. Use a variety of listening cues to signal that you are paying attention. Common ones are “uh huh”, “okay” and “hmm”.

Paraphrasing is restating what the other person said in your own words. By paraphrasing it shows a client that you are paying attention and decreases the possibility of misunderstandings. To focus the discussion and summarize major concepts say, “If I heard you correctly, what we discussed was….”

Conversation tool #2: Broad questions

Broad questions are open-ended and ask for opinions and thoughts, and they leave the client with limitless replies. They allow the client to choose the topic and encourage them to think creatively. Examples of broad questions are, “What are you planning to do when you retire?”, “What did you think of your vacation resort?”, and “How was the process of getting your mortgage?”

Start by asking broad questions and then listen to the answers and build on those answers.

Conversation tool #3: Narrow questions

Narrow questions are direct and ask for yes/no answers of factual information. For example, “Do you have life insurance?”, “How many credit cards do you have?”, and “Is this a copy of your current will?”

Use narrow questions to learn more about specifics.

Conversation tool #4: Leading questions

Leading questions are opinions that also seek agreement. If you want honest answers, avoid leading questions. They usually start with a negative contraction such as: “aren’t”, “wouldn’t”, “don’t”, or “isn’t”. For example, “Isn’t this a great office?” and “Don’t you like the new portfolio?”

Transforming a leading question can create an open dialogue with clients and have you sounding less pushy and domineering. If you want feedback you can change a leading question to a statement and broad question. For example, “Wouldn’t it be great to have quarterly reviews?”, can be altered to “I think it would be great to have quarterly reviews. What do you think?”

If a client asks you a leading question, decide if you want to focus on the opinion, the question or both. You can rephrase the opinion and the question and check for understanding. For example if a client asks, “Don’t you think this is the best mutual fund?” you can respond, “It sounds like you think this is the best mutual fund and you want to know whether I agree. Is that right?”
Use leading questions to get “buy-in” from prospects.

Putting these conversation tools into practice.

Developing your skills at discerning between broad, narrow and leading questions and how to rephrase leading questions will improve your conversations and client engagement. With good communication skills you can inform, negotiate and influence people.

Before you engage a client in conversation, it’s important to relax and stay present. Pay attention to the body language of the client such as the tone of voice, facial expressions and body gestures that will give you clues to what there are really thinking and feeling. Try to speak slowly and briefly and if you are communicating something important, break down the information into smaller segments and then wait for the client to acknowledge that they understand you.

Invest all of your energy and attention into making your client feel important, understood and be confident in your ability to solve their problem. For clients that are angry or upset it is important to empathize with the client’s feelings and to take a break. For example, “I’m sorry to hear that. I can understand how frustrating the situation is.” Silence and pausing allows the client to gather their thoughts and for you to take a breath and refocus.

Taking notes will help you to effectively summarize the conversation. Good notes will highlight the key points and action steps. Transfer the notes to your CRM daily and be succinct so that you can review them quickly later on.

Rosemary Smyth, MBA, CIM, FCSI, ACC, is an author, columnist and an international business coach for financial advisors. She spent her career working at leading investment firms before pursuing her passion for coaching. She lives in Victoria, BC. Visit her website at You can email Rosemary at:

Aaron Hoos, MBA, has worked in the financial industry since 1997. Formerly a stockbroker, insurance broker, and award-winning sales manager, today he writes for the financial and real estate industry as an educator and marketer. His first book, The Sales Funnel Bible, helps advisors master their sales funnel. Visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @AaronHoos.

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.

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