KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Today we’re going to talk about asking the right question of your client or customer. Thanks for being with us today, Bill.
BILL CHU: Thank you, Kevin.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
BILL CHU: Sure. In terms of my business, I’m a mortgage broker with Wintrust Mortgage here locally in the western suburbs; I’ve been in my business for more than a decade. A common question I get from either clients and/or business partners is what is your specialty, what is your niche. My niche, as I look back at my ten years of producing in this business, really is to help clients especially ones with complicated financials. So finance whether it be their first home purchase or their ongoing home purchases.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So if you come across someone who isn’t a picture perfect candidate for a loan at first blush, you can work with them to get their financials in order and try to get them qualified for them; is that basically what you’re saying?
BILL CHU: That is what I’m saying, yeah. Usually, my process starts with a conversation to better understand what is the client trying to achieve as part of the home purchase and along the way, of course, trying to understand the client’s household financials -- So whether they work for a company as an employee or someone like yourself who owns a business and have been -- and that kind of stuff.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Well, the topic that you brought up today -- asking the right questions of your client or customer. It’s really interesting, because I know a lot of times there’s probably situations where I’ve had clients with needs entirely different from what they came in to talk to me about that if I had gone through a checklist of making sure I completely understood their situation, I might have been able to service them in other ways. So what are the sort of questions you ask, or what’s your process for even knowing what questions to ask?
BILL CHU: Usually the conversation starts with a client either doing one of two things: They’re either calling to get a quote, or they’re calling to share with me -- Bill, I’m referred to you. I need a mortgage. Then my questions and my process begins. Usually I start with, “ Well, tell me what you’re trying to accomplish.” Along the way, of course, my goal is to better understand their current financial situation. So there will be some questions that I ask such as, “Well, do you work for a company? What do you do? Do you own a business? And along that topic, how long? And by the way, how do you pay yourself?”
In terms of the other aspects of other questions that I ask, some of them are very straightforward such as are you buying a home to live in, or are you buying to rent out. Because that makes a big difference in my world.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So other than just making sure that you get a loan that’s a right fit for them, what are some of the positives to having a good set of questions prepared?
BILL CHU: The positives of asking the right questions and having a good set of questions to ask -- Don’t get me wrong; there are times that you can’t ask all of these questions in the first conversation. It may be an ongoing conversation. But the positive, for myself, as a mortgage professional and for a client is really that of we make sure that their loan scenario, therefore their loan application, meets the loan that they need. Why is that important today?
It’s important today, Kevin and Jim, because one out three potential home buyers as they’re trying to secure financing for their home purchase get denied for a loan. It’s never they get denied up front; sometimes they get denied after spending money through home inspection. They’ve arranged movers et cetera, et cetera, and at the 11th hour the lender that they started something with pulls the rug from under them. The reasons are enormous.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So how can the principle of asking the right questions be applied to businesses other than mortgage lenders, because we don’t have an audience of purely mortgage lenders; we’ve got a broad business owner base. So how would you talk to your nonmortgage lender friends and say this is what I do; here’s how you can apply it to your own business.
BILL CHU: Sure. Absolutely. I fully agree with you. My business is just one small sliver of what makes the economy go round and round. I think along this topic of asking the right questions, having the right questions to ask. It’s so very important I think in a lot of businesses. The more complicated the product or the service, the bigger ticket item the product or service is. It’s important to ask the right questions because two things: By asking the right questions, you’re qualifying the opportunity; you’re qualifying whether you provide the solution the clients looking for; and third, let’s not forget by asking enough questions, you’re in a much better position to propose the right solution for the client.
JIM WASZAK: Maybe we should do a little role play. How about if I’m trying to sell you marketing services, and I’ll ask you some questions. You debrief on whether or not I asked the right questions.
BILL CHU: Okay. So I’m the buyer; you’re the --
JIM WASZAK: You’re the buyer; I’m the seller. How’s that?
BILL CHU: Sure.
JIM WASZAK: So Bill, how are you doing? I’m Jim.
BILL CHU: Jim, I’m bill.
JIM WASZAK: So, I understand you’re trying to grow your business.
BILL CHU: Yes.
JIM WASZAK: What kinds of things have you tried in the past? And what’s working? What’s not working for you?
BILL CHU: We’ve tried for example like many other small businesses, outsourcing various nonbusiness core focus areas of our business. Why? Because, hey, let someone else do what they do great to support us as a supplier of a product or service.
JIM WASZAK: Okay, and how has that worked you?
BILL CHU: There are times it’s worked well, and there are times where it’s a complete nightmare.
JIM WASZAK: Do you have a specific goal in terms of the amount of business you’re hoping to write this year.
BILL CHU: In terms of any business, I think when you’re sitting down writing a business plan for the next upcoming plan, of course what you’re trying to do is grow revenue -- either grow revenue or save money.
JIM WASZAK: So you think you’re on track for that plan?
BILL CHU: Yes.
JIM WASZAK: Good, good. So to go even beyond that plan, do you think you need better chances to quote, or do you need to be better at the sales process when you already have someone interested?
BILL CHU: In terms of driving revenue?
JIM WASZAK: Yeah.
BILL CHU: Of course more chances to quote.
JIM WASZAK: Okay. So you’re pretty comfortable in your sales process?
BILL CHU: Yes.
JIM WASZAK: Okay, okay. So have you considered having guys like Kevin and I come in front of your office with gorilla suits with a sign “get your mortgage here?”
BILL CHU: Now that you’ve asked I’ve considered it. Yes, okay. I’ve considered it.
JIM WASZAK: And what held you back from buying such an obviously great service.
BILL CHU: While that a gorilla suit concept is certainty a unique idea, the one thing that I know about my business is that that’s not always someone starts a conversation to try to secure financing.
JIM WASZAK: I see. Okay. All right. So that’s the role playing. So how did I do, Bill? I mean, how would you critique my question asking?
BILL CHU: You asked all the right questions.
JIM WASZAK: Really?
BILL CHU: Trying to qualify is there an opportunity and trying to qualify what you bring to the table fits what I’m looking for.
JIM WASZAK: Okay. Okay.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: You know what you did there, Jim? That was so important -- You weren’t so concerned about what you were selling: You were thinking -- trying to figure out what Bill, the customer, needed, wanted, was looking for, what had failed in the past. So, you weren’t going to try to sell them some outsource stuff that didn’t work that was a complete nightmare before.
JIM WASZAK: You know what somebody told me once -- actually a pretty sharp marketing guy -- is the way you really show your expertise to a prospect is not by what you say but by what you ask.
BILL CHU: Yes.
JIM WASZAK: And I think that’s a huge thing, and as an example, if I took my car in to be repaired. And I said something like, “It’s hard to start.”
And if the mechanic goes, “We can do a tune up, or we could change the oil or whatever.” But better would be for him to ask more qualifying questions like, “Does that happen in the morning mostly when it’s cold? Did you notice that your fuel economy is worse?”
And then, “Yeah, yeah.” Then you feel like the guy really understands you.
BILL CHU: Right.
JIM WASZAK: So asking the right questions is the best way really to demonstrate your expertise.
BILL CHU: Yeah. A lot of the times along this topic, Kevin and Jim, when I do speak with clients to help them understand a little bit more of what I do and why I’m asking questions, I use the example of when each of us goes to see our physician or specialist -- To do what? To solve a problem.
JIM WASZAK: Correct.
BILL CHU: Here’s what we all know: Every physician who has a white lab coat embroidered on the coat MD -- They are absolutely by all means a physician. But the reality is, in that respect, with each of us we’re looking for the right one that has the right chemistry with us, that asked all of the right questions.
JIM WASZAK: Yeah. Kevin, I would think this would come up a lot in legal business, or a person would come in and say I want to do this. And they might: A, not really understand their own problem; or B, misapplying a solution they’ve seen work in some other circumstances. Do you see that?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: That happens in estate planning all the time. Everyone comes to me and says I need a will. But, Bill, you know being in real estate you probably know that most people who own real estate need a trust. So everyone who comes to me says I need a will; they walk out after being educated deciding that they need a trust.
But I can’t even have a conversation about what a trust is and what it does until I’ve let them talk first about what their situation is. Even if I know -- them walking in I can ask them 3 questions: Do you own real estate? Do you have kids? And I could know most of the things that I need to know to say, “All right. Here’s what you need.” But no one’s going to be listening to me until they’ve had a chance to say their peace.
They come in wanting to tell their story. And until they’ve told me what they need to tell me, they’re going to be more thinking about what they have to say rather than listening to me to what I’m trying to educate them on.
So I have a pretty simple process when I’m meeting with an estate planning client, and this is the most transactional part of my business -- is find out what their goals are: who are they trying to take care of, what would they like to happen, what’s their financial situation -- just like what Bill was talking about. And only then once I’ve got it mapped out, then I can educate them in a more specific, tailored way. Rather than just saying this is what trusts do, but this is how a trust could help you in your particular situation.
JIM WASZAK: Since you bring up the example of wills and trusts, I just want to make a statement that I’ve seen this happen from time to time, but there’s a lot of young people who will feel I don’t need a will. I don’t have a lot of assets yet or anything, but one thing you don’t realize is if you have children, you should definitely have a will, because one, things you can specify in the will if both of you should decease unexpectedly, you can specify who could take care of those kids, which could be an important reason to get a will even if you don’t have a lot of money.
BILL CHU: Absolutely. And I think in the world that we live in today, where the whole concept of modern family blended families are becoming more of the norm, and as a result of that as it touches my business, that type of modern family with their complexity also means there’s some financial complexity.
So yeah, by asking enough and all of the right questions -- And sometimes the question to ask as it relates to Kevin’s business is asking why do you think you need a will or trust.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So in preparing these questions, I’ve seen two ways of doing it in my experience, and they’re both good in different circumstances. Some financial advisors I’ve worked with in the past will just have a checklist like when you take your car to the mechanic. They’ve got the checklist they go through, and they ask what is your estate plan situation, do you have a will or trust, and what are your goals. And they work basically through a worksheet.
I’m a little different. I basically know -- I have four or five points I know I have to hit. But how I get to those points is much more conversational and meandering, and I don’t really have a prepared checklist. And in some legal matters, I’d probably be better served to have a checklist.
How do you guys prepare the questions that you’re going to ask a potential client; is it something that I know I need to hit these points, or is it more a conversational thing like Jim was doing with you a second ago, Bill?
BILL CHU: Sure. I think to that question, Kevin, I’m probably a lot more like you. The questions that I and either in the very first conversation or a second conversation, maybe in person meeting, I do it in the context of having a conversation. And one of the things I’ve found to be a whole lot more productive for myself and the client in question is setting expectations up front for each conversation. Example: If I’m meeting John Doe today -- “John, I’ve time blocked 45 minutes for our first conversation. My goal is to understand a little bit more about you, ask some questions along the way, and also give you some time to ask some questions of me.” By setting that expectation immediately we start the process. There’s certain questions that I’m going to feel listening, responding to John Doe as to what I need to ask. The questions that I don’t have an opportunity to ask in this first conversation, of course then, our goal is to set up another meeting.
JIM WASZAK: Well, I just make a comment -- And obviously there’s other situations, but I think the notion of a conversational discussion is way better; and the reason I say that is -- Another expression somewhere along the way, and I think this is really important is people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
BILL CHU: Absolutely.
JIM WASZAK: And if you can through asking questions, show that you’re sincere, and you really want to do the right thing for them, then they’re usually more willing to open up to you as well as they’re more likely to hire you.
BILL CHU: Yeah. Absolutely. I think in every business -- law, financial services, complicated IT services, or even businesses that are just purely transactional, retail -- the one common thread that I think that cuts across all of those industries is this: Clients want to do business with someone that they like, right, can get to know and feel comfort with? If you’re working off of a checklist, you got your head down saying fill this out; I’ll come back in 10 minutes. You’re not going to get the warm and fuzzies from a client and vice versa.
JIM WASZAK: Right. And you know what? There’s a tool that people should maybe consider. I don’t know if you guys have heard of this, but it’s called the DiSC personality profile. It teaches you about the different styles of communication that different people have. You may have some people that are too conversational -- you want to rein them back in. Some people are more detailed-minded, some people are more focused on the relationship.
So as a tool to help you ask the right questions I would certainly recommend looking at the DiSC profile.
BILL CHU: Absolutely. I think it’s a very useful tool.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I think in talking about the difference between a checklist and just a conversation, I think really-- at least from my perspective in my industry -- the best way to go is to prepare a checklist for yourself. Don’t do it in front of the client, but if you do enough of these, you know what you’ve got to go through and the points you’ve got to hit. But if you can hit those points in a conversational way and make sure you’re not missing anything key -- When I was first starting out, there were a lot of consultations that I was, after the fact, I was like, “Man, I wish I would have asked about this sort of thing or that sort of thing.” Not that it impacted that particular service, but, again -- cross-selling, finding out what their other needs are, finding out if I can possibly refer them to someone like you, Bill.
In both of our industries referrals are important, and unless you ask do you have an accountant, do you have a financial advisor, do you have a mortgage guy, you’re not going to find that out. And that’s got to be something that’s internalized. And maybe it makes sense if you’re new at whatever you’re doing, meeting with a client, maybe come up with a list for yourself; review it a little bit; do the pre-meeting prep. And that list doesn’t necessarily have to change. You just have to make sure you hit it.
BILL CHU: Absolutely.
JIM WASZAK: And you make a good point, Kevin, because if you’re in a business where you get a lot of your business through referrals or through networking, that’s another environment where asking great questions can help. Usually if I meet somebody at a networking function, I just, “What are you up to? What are you trying to do? How can I help you?” before I talk about anything about what I might be doing or might be looking for.
BILL CHU: Very true.
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Kevin owns O’Flaherty Law, a general practice law firm with locations in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, and Naperville, Illinois. O'Flaherty Law's attorneys have expertise in many areas of law including but not limited to divorce and family law; civil litigation; estate planning; business and corporate representation; commercial and residential real estate law; elder services, probate and guardianship; immigration; bankruptcy law; and dui, traffic and criminal defense.
Jim owns Success Enhancement, Inc., which is geared toward helping you solve management problems in a way that is fun and engaging by using improv comedy techniques and role plays.
Participants will see how to behave differently in the type of situation identified as an area for improvement.
Please feel free to e-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (630)272-3895
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