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How to “Talk Business” Without Talking About Your Business

Ask the right type of questions.

Most advisors know they should build social rapport when networking. It’s “Social Prospecting 101” and the foundation for any new relationship. You ask people about themselves, their family, hobbies, interests, etc. You uncover commonalities and take a genuine interest in them personally. But if your ultimate goal is to add this person to your pipeline, what’s the next step in the process? It’s building what we call “business rapport.”

To be clear, this isn’t your attempt to go for a close. You’re simply opening business dialogue with a social contact and leveraging it for future interactions. You’re gradually shifting your conversations so that they are more business in nature. You’re discussing topics such as current events, general questions about their business, etc. and you’re avoiding coming across as invasive. Walking this tightrope takes finesse. It’s talking business without talking about your business.

This is achieved by asking the right types of questions. Questions that open the business dialogue, aren’t off-putting, and position you as a thoughtful and knowledgeable professional. Here are some examples broken into categories:

Current Events:

  • So, what’s your take on the new tax laws? Have you figured out how it’s impacting you yet?     
  • Have you been following all the commotion with the new fiduciary standards?
  • I’m hearing that a lot of people are working longer just to keep health benefits. They fear healthcare costs eat up their retirement savings. Have you heard of anyone doing this?
  • Have you been following the fallout since the musician Prince died without a will? It’s amazing to me, a guy that successful and who was so concerned about controlling his music, died without a will or any estate plan. Now his heirs are battling it out and his music is being released left and right.
  • Some clients tell me they’ve changed their workplace in order to attract talented millennials. Are you seeing changes at your workplace?

About Them:

  • How does the future of your industry look? Would you recommend the business you’re in to a younger person starting their career?
  • How has business been lately?
  • How long have you been in business? How did you get into that line of work?
  • Where do you get most of your new business?
  • Are you involved in any professional groups for [insert profession]?
  • Are you planning to [golf, travel, etc.] much in retirement?
  • Do you follow any investment publications: Barrons, Kiplingers, Bloomberg)?

Personal Stories:

  • I have a son who is a senior in high school. Do you know how expensive college has gotten? It truly shocks me. Have you started a savings plan for your kids yet?
  • I was wondering, since you have younger kids, do you have your wills and trusts in order? It’s not what I do, but we’ve seen some horror stories, such as the case of the musician Prince, and lately it’s made me think about it more.


  • I’ve been meaning to ask you, who do you use for taxes, estate planning, mortgage, etc.)? I ask because we’re always looking for professionals to whom we can refer our clients.   

Based upon their responses, continue to ask clarifying questions. You are gently probing. If you feel like you’ve overstepped your bounds, change the subject.    

Now that we’ve discussed the right way to build business rapport, let’s look at some poor examples:

  • Are you an investor?
  • Who’s managing your money?
  • Is your portfolio capitalizing on the moves in the market?

In reality, these aren’t bad questions if they’re used in the right context. But many advisors use them prematurely and they come across as a pushy sales person. Again, your goal is to smoothly ease into the conversation and create a foundation for future business discussions. Your first conversation around business should not appear as though you have a hidden agenda. 

Most advisors know they should initially build social rapport, but business rapport is just as important. By warming up the other party with some general business discussions, you avoid awkwardly forcing a conversation about their personal investments. After you’ve built a solid business rapport, you’re one step closer to transitioning this social contact into a true prospect, and that’s a topic for another day.

@StephenBoswell is President of The Oechsli Institute and author of Best Practices of Elite Advisors@KevinANichols is the Chief Operating Officer for The Oechsli Institute and author of The Indispensable LinkedIn Sales Guide for Financial Advisors.

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