You’ve probably heard the saying “garbage in, garbage out”. So, it should be no surprise that data and meaningful conversations go hand-in-hand. Or at least they should. But what type of data helps you have the most impact when working with your clients?
For decades, Consolidated Planning has been focused on an enhanced client experience by building meaningful relationships with each and every client. While building relationships is part of our planning philosophy, it’s also part of a thriving and sustainable practice. Gathering data and understanding its significance in the client relationship and planning process is paramount to this success.
Gathering the right data is a two-way street – the client needs to be willing to provide the necessary information and the advisor needs to create an environment to allow for the exchange of information to occur and ask the right types of questions. In what follows, you’ll understand the different types of data, their role in the planning process, and how you can build a better practice through meaningful conversations.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Are the Different Types of Data?
For the purposes of this conversation there are two types of data – Quantitative and Qualitative.
Quantitative Data is numbers-based and can be counted or measured. Quantitative data tells us how many, how much, or how often. Examples of these types of questions you might ask related to a client’s balance sheet include:
- How much do you have in your Savings Account?
- How much are you contributing to your 401(k)?
- How often do you receive a paycheck?
This information is objective and not open to interpretation.
Qualitative Data, on the other hand, is non-numerical information that tends to be entirely subjective. Qualitative data can include the client’s personal values, their relationship or attitude towards money, their goals, and objectives. It can help you to understand why, how, or what happened behind certain behaviors.
A good financial advisor who goes beyond the numbers and explores the details and the depth to understand their full implications. With this they’re able to better extract necessary information to provide true value and guidance for where their would like to be in the future from where they are today.
Qualitative Data And Its Role In Your Career
Data in its most basic form is useless. What matters is how that data is arranged, sorted, and most importantly used to tell a story. This is what creates understanding and context to conceptualize what you’re trying to convey to clients.
Client data works the same way.
Your clients need to share qualitative data for you to be able to make sense of the quantitative data. This understanding allows you to help align a client’s actions with what they’re telling you is most important to them.
So, how do you get this data?
ASKING BELOW SURFACE LEVEL QUESTIONS
Language is fascinating and something that we typically don’t give much thought to during our daily lives. Understanding the importance language plays in the way we communicate with one another though can have a profound impact on your relationships, specifically those with clients.
Generally, we go through life with a basic understanding of what words mean. Society has even tried to assist with this by providing definitions to the words we use. Unfortunately, what we often fail to recognize is that the dictionary only provides the objective version of a word while people use words in a very subjective way. Every single one of us has unique connotations associated with the words we choose to use.
What does that mean?
Take the word ‘home’ for example. If I asked you to visualize a ‘home’ what comes to mind? This might look like the home you grew up in, or the home you currently live in, or the home you aspire to be in one day. But what makes it your home?
It’s all the nuance and detail – the fact that it’s a 4-bedroom 2.5 bath two-story colonial on a 1.5-acre lot. It has blue shutters and a brown wooden front door. There’s a two-car attached garage on the left with a workshop on the back wall. It’s surrounded by woods where you could only see your neighbors during the fall/winter after the leaves have fallen off the tress and even then, you might need to squint. There’s a clothesline that runs from the back stoop to a large oak tree where your laundry is hung to dry. In the front there’s a small hill that’s just steep enough to provide hours of fun taking anything with wheels down it during the majority of the year and sleds down it in the freshly fallen snow during the winter.
Now if you envisioned the same home then we might just be related and probably grew up together. But aside from 4 walls, a roof, some windows and a door everything else about your home was pretty unique to you and doesn’t look anything like this home. There are thousands of words that carry that same subjective in our everyday vernacular.
While language has definitions and common meanings, they are also uniquely inherent to someone’s life experiences. But these meanings matter because they’re unique to who you are. And you can only understand the meaning of a concept to someone if you ask questions. The right questions.
So how does this relate to being a financial advisor and specifically gathering data?
Well, we’ve all asked questions of our clients about what they want to accomplish or what their goals for the future are. At CP, we call this our Emotional Blueprint and ask something to the effect of “If we were meeting here 3 years from today, looking back over those three years, what must have happened during that period for you to feel happy with your progress?” Now you can phrase it however you would like, but the important facets of the question are that it’s future based but not to far off into the future that the client may not be able to envision it and that it emphasizes what’s gone well during that time period.
It’s pretty fascinating to pose a question to clients that they often don’t think about or certainly never share outwardly with anyone, sometimes even a spouse or partner.
After asking that question you’ll typically get responses like “we want to buy a house”, “we’d like to save for retirement”, “we want to help pay for college for our children”, etc. Not to say these aren’t important to the client, but there generally isn’t a lot of emotion tied to these. Most advisors will write these down and move on to whatever they wanted to talk about in the first place and never give it a second thought. They stay at surface level.
Now think of your client as if they were your best friend. If they were to tell you that they are buying their first home, what would your response be? Likely not, “oh ok, cool,” and move on to whatever you want to talk about. You probably have a bunch of questions off the top of your head about the details of it. The same should be true for financial advisors and their clients. Whatever your client expresses as being one of the most important things to them – the breadth and depth of your questions matter. This is where the good stuff is – beneath the surface. So trying asking questions like:
- What does the house look like?
- How many bedrooms/bathrooms does it have?
- What style home is it?
- Where are you looking (state/city/town/neighborhood/school district)?
- When are you hoping to buy it/Have you started looking yet?
- Are you planning to buy or considering building?
- What size plot of land is it on?
- Is there a pool/fenced in back yard/workshop/gym/etc.?
A good financial advisor wants to picture their client’s dreams, goals, and aspirations exactly how they picture it. This might sound trivial, but we can assure you it’s not. So, why exactly does this picture matter? It matters for a few reasons:
- The advice you provide and the recommendations you make will not be accurate if you don’t have clarity around what your clients’ expectations are
- The attainability of the goal
- The necessary time to achieve the goal
- The specific actions needed to be taken to work towards the goal
- Where to prioritize a certain goal relative to their other goals
Without these below surface level questions, advisors can’t truly help clients in an actionable results-driven way. Think of it like this is when a client tells you they want to purchase a new home and you’re thinking of a modest home and they’re thinking of a beachfront property how would your recommendations differ.
CLOSING THE CONVERSATIONAL GAP
To get the most accurate responses to your below surface level questions, you need to create an environment that supports speaking openly and honestly. This type of environment should sprout from your unique ability around building relationships. Below surface level relationships, that is.
If you can help your client understand the importance of collecting qualitative data, you can help them to paint an accurate and complete picture of what they want to work towards in order to close the conversational gap. Closing the conversational does two things for your clients (well, most clients):
- Further develops the advisor-client relationship
- Provides actionable steps towards their true goals
Both of these factors are possible because of the other. When you create a conversation where there is less chance of misinterpretation and missed goals, you create a meaningful dialogue.
These meaningful conversations (where you’re also technically collecting data) makes your client more excited about the goals they’re working towards. This conversation and excitement that ensues makes these goals more real and more tangible.
While quantitative data is more easily obtained than qualitative data, it’s not more important. This is true because financial planning is tied to behaviors. And, qualitative data sprouts from behaviors, motivations, and emotions.
As a financial advisor, your goal is likely to deliver the best financial outcomes for your clients. Achieving these outcomes requires you to help hold your clients accountable. But, we all know that half the battle with accountability is self-realization. So, can you help your clients to hold themselves accountable?
You can and you should.
This is where alignment comes in. The alignment between what they say they want to achieve and the behaviors they’re demonstrating. For example, if your client says they want to do the following:
- Pay for an ivy league education for their two children in 6 years time
- Buy a beach home in South Carolina in 2 years time
What current behaviors are they demonstrating in relation to those goals?
Part of building that client-advisor relationship is to encourage them to work towards the goals they set for themselves. Your excitement and projections of what it will take to achieve these goals will fuel their fire to make it happen.
Getting from point A to point B in terms of collecting this qualitative data requires equal buy in and collaboration between both the client and the advisor.
Build A Better Practice Through More Meaningful Conversations
In a career as a financial advisor, there’s a difference between simply being good at building relationships and the desire to go above and beyond in the time spent with each and every client.
Collecting qualitative data through meaningful conversations will not only make for happy clients, but will also help you build a referral based practice.
If you’re looking to build on your skill set as a financial advisor in order to collect better data for the benefit of your clients and practice, reach out to a recruiter to start the conversation.
2023-155795 Exp. 5/2025
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