Big Questions vs. Little Questions

The ‘big questions’ versus the ‘little questions’

When you help your client to see beyond their ‘technical’ needs and encourage them to unearth their more ‘human’ needs, you begin to add real value.  This is because you’re helping them to work out what’s really important to them, where they want to be and how they can get there.

It’s about moving them away from what we call the ‘little questions’ in order to reveal the more important ‘big questions’.

But, what’s the difference between the two?

What do we mean by the ‘little questions’?

‘Little questions’ are the ones you’ll come across most frequently in your role as a financial planner.  More importantly, they are also the ones you’ll need to move your client away from as quickly as possible.  You’ll recognise them as the common ‘technical’ or ‘transactional’ questions that your client might ask:

  • “is this a good investment?”
  • can I get a 5% return on my investment?”
  • “should I drawdown on an annuity?”

They focus on specifics – like products, facts and numbers – and they tend to be unhelpful because they don’t really help your client to make a decision.  Instead, they just give them information.  They also lend themselves to binary answers and, because we are trained as Financial Advisers to answer questions, we are very tempted to give them that binary answer – even if it’s just to prove that we know what we are talking about.

If you do give them an answer to their little question, you’ll find your client simply asks you another.  And then another.  And here lies the problem:

  • By answering, we are simply training our clients to ask yet another little question.
  • We have no idea what’s behind their questions – the driver that’s making them focus on these specifics.

What the client really needs is to stop thinking about the detail – the facts and figures – and really think about some of the big questions.

So, what are the ‘big questions’? 

Nearly every decision we make is driven by some sort of emotional issue.  The ‘big questions’ are the ones that reveal that emotional, more ‘human’ issue.  It’s easy to recognise a ‘human’ issue because it’s all about how we feel.  But because they can be a little harder to coax out of your client, we need to dig through the layers until we help them to find and reveal their human issue.

‘Big questions’ are all about digging.

Revealing the ‘human’ issue

Rather than answering your client’s ‘little’ questions, we can encourage them to reveal more about their human and emotional motivations and drivers by challenging them instead.  For example, we might ask them:

  • Why is that question important to you?
  • Why did you ask it in that way?
  • Why is it important to you to know the answer?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • What would you do with the answer if I gave it to you?

See how we are digging deeper?

Sometimes as we delve through the layers, your client might ask a few more little questions.  But keep challenging them – eventually, a more human issue will emerge.

For example, your client might eventually reveal:

  • They feel tired and stressed. They want to pack in their job as an accountant because they are working very long hours and it’s having an impact on their health.
  • They also feel guilty because they’re not spending enough time with their children.
  • They’ve always dreamt of being a photographer – it’s where their passion truly lies, and they’re hoping some of their investments will enable that to happen.

Bingo – we’ve got to the human issue, and we’ve got your client thinking about the ‘bigger questions.’  They can now see that:

  • it’s not about a specific financial product.
  • it’s not even about numbers, or rates of return.

It’s about how they feel right now and the changes they’d like to make so they can live their best life.  And now we know ‘where your client wants to be’ we can choose from multiple different routes to help them get there.

Remember – very few clients will approach you from the outset and ask, “how can I make peace with myself, change careers, spend more time doing what I love and feel healthier and better for it?”  Lifestyle Financial Planning is about helping your client by challenging them to work out and reveal the big questions.

Because at the end of the day, the right answers to the wrong questions aren’t going to help anybody.

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