Once you have a client in your office, what do you do with them? You want to convince them to engage you as their primary advisor and use your services if possible, but you also want to identify and weed out bad clients.

In the fourth episode of my five-part series with John Page, RFP, CFP, RFC of Wealth Enhancement Academy, and Chairman and Chief Adjudicator of the PlanPlus Global Financial Planning Awards, we’ll be discussing the details of that critical first meeting. What questions should you ask and what are the best ways to engage with potential clients? Tune in to find out.

Topics Discussed in This Episode:

  •      Why you should approach your first meeting by preparing before the meeting starts
  •      How to ensure your clients have the information they need about you before your meeting
  •      The importance of discovering a client’s values
  •      The most important questions you can ask during the first client meeting
  •      Signs that reveal that the client you’re meeting with is not a match for your services
  •      How asking the right questions can quickly build trust between you and the client
  •      Why you should record the first client meeting
  •      How to approach the topic of working together with the client
  •      Why you need to create a repeatable process


Email John Page at: JPage (at) mywea.net

Quotes by John:

“One of the interesting things I’ve found is that if you’re talking with somebody, let’s say, over the age 55, you’re often going to get the answer, ‘running out of money in retirement.’”

“There’s an incredible amount of trust that can build up, really in just a few minutes, by those questions.”

“Before I move into the next phase, I must emphasize the importance of sticking with goals and objectives until you sense that you’ve got them all.”

Now that we’ve covered transitioning to an advice-centric practice, articulating your value to clients, and pricing your services, we’re going to talk about that all-too-important first meeting with a potential client.

We hinted in the last episode that it’s almost impossible to recover from mistakes in the first client meeting, and now we’re going to show you a fail-safe process for learning everything you need to know about prospective clients to decide whether your business is a good fit for them. We’ll also show you how to engage those ideal clients.

Setting yourself up for success: Before the first meeting

Before you ever meet, your prospects should know a little about you, so they have an idea about whether you can provide what they’re looking for. John suggests sending them some information about yourself in an email or linking them to your website.

Prospects especially need to know if you’re a fee-based financial advisor. You should let them know right off the bat, so you can weed out clients who won’t pay no matter what and avoid any unpleasant surprises in the meeting.

To record or not to record?

People want to feel that you really want to know about them and care about what they share with you. In order to do this, keep a record of the meeting and share it with them so that you both remember what was discussed. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Write notes as the client speaks. Note the key information so you don’t forget, then fill in the details shortly after the meeting.
  • If possible, get a colleague to sit in on your meeting and take notes for you. John prefers this method so he can just focus on what the clients are saying.
  • Record the conversation on an audio device, then listen to it after to make notes.

Tip: However you do it, make sure to let the client know you are recording what they say and promise to give them a copy of the records. By doing so, you’ll be demonstrating transparency and trustworthiness.

Determining the purpose of the first meeting

The first thing that needs to be clear to both you and your prospects is the purpose of this meeting. According to John, the objectives of an initial meeting should be threefold:

  1. Understanding the “soft facts”: This includes the person’s values and objectives.
  2. Learning the “hard facts”: What is their overall financial situation?
  3. Determining if you should work together: This means that both you and the prospects need to evaluate whether you’re right for each other and if you will be able to provide value to them by helping them meet their goals.

Tip: Make sure the client understands this purpose right from the beginning of the meeting.

The four questions you need to ask to discover the prospect’s values

John always starts his meetings by asking questions that reveal his clients’ values. Why?

Instead of digging into their assets, insurance policies, and taxes right away, you’re engaging with them as people first. As he puts it, “There’s an incredible amount of trust that can build up, really in just a few minutes, by [these] questions.”

The questions are so powerful, in fact, that they can even help you start to identify whether the prospect is a good fit for your service (more on that in a bit).

Tip: When meeting with a couple, make sure both partners have a chance to answer each question individually. This way, you can get a sense of how their values align and begin to understand their dynamic as a couple. John likes to ask them who will speak first… and then he asks the other partner to speak first, instead. This usually gets a laugh and helps both partners feel at ease.

Without further ado, here are the four questions that will help you understand a person’s values:

  1. “What do you love to spend money on?” This opens your meeting on a positive note and helps you understand what the client values.
  2. “What do you hate spending money on?” The single more common answer to this question is, unsurprisingly, taxes.
  3. “What is your greatest financial concern?” John considers this the most important question. Interestingly, the answers to this question don’t vary that much, either.

As John puts it, “One of the interesting things I’ve found is that if you’re talking with somebody, let’s say, over the age 55, you’re often going to get the answer, ‘running out of money in retirement.’” This is true even when they have a large amount of wealth and are very unlikely to ever run out.

Tip: Watch the person’s expression to know if you’re getting an honest answer; the look on their face should reveal when they are truly sharing a deep fear. If you don’t sense that, try asking for a bit more information.

It’s not unusual for a meeting like this to be an emotional experience for the prospect, and this is the question that usually hits the hardest because it’s unearthing a genuine fear the person has. Be prepared to listen empathetically because the person will be sharing with you one of their greatest anxieties, and that may be very difficult for them.

4.  “What’s on your bucket list?”

If your prospect isn’t familiar with the idea of a bucket list, you might phrase this question as: “Tell me what experience you haven’t had that you want to make sure that you have.”

You should ask this question whether your client is 27 or 97 as it provides insight into their goals and ends this line of questions on a positive note.

John remembers one memorable experience where he was meeting with two sisters within a few days of one another. When he asked this question, they both told him they had always wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise, but hadn’t done it yet because they had no one to go with. Each had no idea her sister had the same dream… Talk about demonstrating the value of this question!

Tip: Your most repeated phrase in this first meeting should be “Tell me a little more about that.” The client should definitely speak more than you at this point; if you ask people to tell you more about a certain topic, they are generally quite willing to share their thoughts and give you valuable information that will allow you to help them.

Signs that you’re not meant to be

As you can probably imagine, people are generally very cooperative when answering these questions. John even says he can see prospects start to change and trust him as they share their answers.

However, if you can tell that you’re not beginning to build that trust at this point, you and the client probably aren’t a great fit.

Digging into objectives

Next, tell the prospects that after learning a bit about their values, you’d like to ask them a few questions about their financial objectives. At this point, you can let the couple know that they can answer these questions together rather than individually.

Here are the questions John asks at this stage:

  • “At what point would you like to have the option to stop working?”

Most people have an age in mind at which they want to be free to stop working because they’re not worried about income anymore, or to continue simply because they want to (and not because they have to). John refers to this age as the financial independence number. It gives you an idea of their timeline for achieving their goals.

  • “What do you think it will take based on today’s dollars to provide you with enough income to do what you want to do?”

If your prospects struggle with answering this question, you can adjust and ask how much money it takes to maintain their current lifestyle.

  • “What else do you want to achieve?”

Give them examples to show what you mean by this. For example, one common goal is buying a property or renovating a home.

  • “What’s important to you when it comes to helping your children?”

If they have children, this question may take some time. It will depend on the number of children the couple has, the stage of life the children are in, and their financial situation. People will often use this opportunity to share their difficulties with raising their children, and that’s a good thing. Listen carefully because they’re providing you with valuable insights into their goals and challenges.

  1. “Is there anyone else that is or may become dependent on you?”

Often they’ll indicate that they want to help their own aging parents. Find out about their parents’ situation, and your client’s obligation to them, in the same way that you ask about their children.

At this point, summarize the conversation for them, restating their values and objectives to ensure you’ve got everything. Make sure you don’t move on from these questions until you really feel you understand their situation. John is firm on this: “Before I move into the next phase, I must emphasize the importance of sticking with goals and objectives until you sense that you’ve got them all.”

Tip: If they indicate several potentially conflicting goals and responsibilities, find out their priorities by asking them “Which goal is most important?” For example, would they rather retire early or help their kids through school? You may be surprised by their answers.

The hard facts: Learning about their financial situation

Your next step is asking the prospects for an overview of their overall financial situation; some clients will start sharing information freely while others may require more prompting from you with detailed questions. John often tells clients that he needs to know “what you own and what you owe.”

You know the drill here ‒ ask about all of their assets and liabilities so you come away with a good idea of their current net worth. Make sure you have these questions handy so you don’t miss any information.

Engaging the client (or not)

Once you know the person’s values, objectives, and financial situation, end the meeting by telling them you’d like some time to pull all their information together to determine whether you will be able to provide value to them and whether you should work together.

John calls this the Initial Assessment and Evaluation ‒ a report focusing on the financial independence area that will show the clients whether they have enough money to achieve their goals, and how you may be able to help them. The promise of this information will hook your prospects and set up the expectation for a second meeting that they will truly look forward to.

Tip: Show them an anonymized example of such a report so they have a good idea of what you are offering.

What if you’ve determined that the client isn’t right for you? According to John, instead of offering the report, “make a very graceful exit.”

John’s #1 takeaway

If you’ve been listening to our conversation with John thus far, you know that he’s all about the repeatable process. (If not, you can go back now and find Episode 1: How to successfully transition from a product-centric into an advice-centric practice.)

His advice when it comes to your first meeting with a client is no different. Chances are you’re already doing something very similar in each initial client meeting. Examining your process, streamlining it, and writing it down so you can repeat it ensures that you are more efficient with your time and you don’t miss anything important.

Have questions for John? You can reach out to him via email.

Finally, you won’t want to miss the last episode of our series featuring John Page, Episode 5: Predictably Growing your Practice with Systems, Tools, and Referrals.

We’ll miss having John on the show, but never fear: we’ll be introducing you to many other amazing experts in the industry, so make sure you subscribe to the show on iTunes or Stitcher so you don’t miss their insights and strategies.

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