Invaluable Prospecting Skill I Learned After Getting “Choked Out” by a Grown Man


head lockIf you’ve never been “choked out” by the principal of your Alma Mater, I highly recommend it…

This happened to me. And it had me see why I was ineffective in my prospecting conversations over the past 2 months and what I needed to do to change that.

Just a few months ago, my “great” conversations with prospects weren’t helping them convert.

I’ve been redefining my service offerings over the past few months, detailing line by line how I can help new clients. As such, my “value add” benefits have been front and center in my conversations with prospects. This might sound great; who wouldn’t want to be able to rattle off the major benefits of working with his or her firm?

Here’s the thing. My conversion percentage dropped from 85% to 25% this spring…

Initially, it wasn’t obvious this was happening. The discussions were going extremely well for the most part. I started each conversation by asking questions like, “What is going on in your life that had you decide that you need a financial planner?” and “What adds the most stress to your personal finances today?” And these questions did the trick. They caused the prospects to open up… perfect!

The problem was that I wasn’t really listening to what mattered most to them.

Prospects were telling me all about their struggles, pain points, questions and concerns, but I wasn’t paying attention – not really. I was simply allowing them to open up, wait for them to finish speaking, and then jump into all the services I offer. The hope was that somewhere in my explanation they would see something for themselves and say yes. The purpose of my conversations was to produce a certain result… “getting” a new client.

This shot gun approach didn’t work.

The Jiu Jitsu philosophy changed my approach.

Back to the “getting chocked out” story.

A few months ago I began taking Jiu Jitsu lessons through a program sponsored by my high school.

I walked into the high school gym for my first day of training, feeling excited and ready to go. Little did I know what I was about to learn that day would change the direction of the conversations I had with prospective clients.

My first drill was to attempt to “pass guard” on my opponent. Basically, I needed to break free from my kneeling position between the legs of my opponent, who was on his back with legs wrapped around me.

I couldn’t do it. I exerted every ounce of energy trying to force my way out. I was breathing so heavily that I thought my lungs where going to explode.

After the drill I couldn’t stand or open my eyes because my head hurt so much from lack of oxygen. And let me add that I exercise often, so this wasn’t due to being out of shape. It had to do with the fact that I was attempting to use my force directly against his… which ended up feeling like I was trying to push a car uphill for 5 minutes straight.

After that day, I came home and started reading about Jiu Jitsu. I found out that this ancient form of martial arts wasn’t about force at all. The word “Ju” means “gentle, pliable, or flexible,” and the word “Jitsu” can be translated to mean “art or technique.” According to Wikipedia, “Jitsu” also “represents manipulating the opponents force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.” So if we look at this as a whole, we can see that this martial art form focuses on a very passive approach, allowing one to go with the flow and capitalize by using the energy exerted by another.

Don't use forceOnce I read this, the light went on! It made total sense why I almost collapsed that day in the gym. Not only was I looking to match the force of my opponent, but I was looking to overcome it with my own.

And this is exactly why I was also failing to bring on new clients.

I was trying to force these young professionals into my value proposition box, assuming that they would see the benefits of working with me after hearing all the services I provided. That translates into me being in my world and not in their world, and it does not work.

I am now winning back prospects I had previously lost.

My questions were actually working perfectly. All of the prospects were sharing about what really mattered to them. But I wasn’t paying attention. What I needed to do was become curiously engaged in what they were saying, being flexible and pliable in those conversations, and adapting my services to their needs.

Knowing this, I revisited a conversation with a woman who had come to me two months ago for help with her existing retirement  accounts, a Roth IRA that she maxed out each year and an old 401(k).

Originally, she told me that it was time for someone to manage her money. That was the key phrase that would have opened the door, yet I didn’t take advantage of it. I didn’t ask any follow up questions about this statement.

Rather than using her momentum, I proceeded to use my own force, explaining that I also provide financial coaching, and help my clients take control of their cash flow, set specific goals and take action in their lives.

Unknowingly, I had taken her down a separate path.  I pushed aside her initial needs and focused on the areas that were important to me and my business. Sure, I could make a good argument for why I did this (at her age (33), cash flow and goal setting are extremely important), but it didn’t matter. The momentum was lost, and once again, I found myself exerting more force than was necessary. It felt like my “financial planning lungs” were going to explode.

Although she did commit to becoming a client on my terms, it was a short-lived engagement. Within a month she told me that she had made a mistake and was not interested in my services at this time.  Of course not… it was all about me!

So when I spoke with her this time I was determined to support her needs, not my own. I thought to myself, “Eric, remember your Jiu Jitsu training.”

I led with this question…

“Jen, you mentioned to me that you need help with your retirement accounts. Please tell me more about that. What are your concerns?”

It worked! I quickly found out that she was worried that no one was watching over her accounts. She also needed help choosing the right investments. Overall, she wanted to know where she stood with her retirement goals.

Once I uncovered this, the rest was easy. I showed her how I could support her in this area. We were having the same conversation, but I had simply altered my technique. I used her momentum to close the deal. And, just like that, I had my client back… on her terms!

Although I wouldn’t recommend using actual Jiu Jitsu on your prospects, the basic philosophy may support the growth of your business. Where have you been using your own force and not the momentum that was already there? What might you be able to uncover simply by digging a little deeper and asking questions about the concerns that are right in front of your eyes? The effects will surprise you.


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Eric Roberge CFP® is a professional speaker focused on empowering young professionals to take control of their career, using cash flow as a tool to create a life that inspires them. He is also the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, a company that helps young professionals and career changers align their personal finances with a life they love. “My commitment is to inspire people to think beyond their current circumstances and achieve whatever it is they want in life. Many people are controlled by their career, and it doesn’t have to be that way.” Eric can be found at
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