The Heart of Selling
I did not buy life insurance for a long time because I never met a life insurance salesman (they were all men) who could effectively explain why buying life insurance would be a benefit to me. It was as if they thought I must already know why I would benefit and the only issue was whether I would buy it from them or someone else.
Then I read a life changing book on sales. It was a book written around 1954 and the author was long dead by the time I discovered it. I bought life insurance soon after reading the book and started joking that it took a dead man to convince me I needed life insurance.
The author of the book, "How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success by Selling" was Frank Bettger. If I remember correctly, he was the top life insurance salesman in the U.S. for several years in the 1930's and 1940's, maybe the 1950's too. The book contains just about every piece of advice I have ever seen or heard any and every sales consultant offer to producers ever since. Just read the book and save thousands on consulting fees.
Why was he effective and how did he convince me to buy life insurance? He made me aware of a need that I did not know I had. That is also why he was so successful. It was not that he had "the hot market" or the "best price." He made people aware of needs they had and how life insurance would solve their newly discovered need. The salesmen trying to sell me life insurance never stopped talking long enough for me to learn anything other than they wanted me to buy life insurance from them.
Most salespeople talk too much. As I read his book, I realized all the problems a relatively cheap life insurance policy would solve if I died before the policy expired. The benefit was not paying my wife $X in benefit proceeds. She did not need the money. The benefit was that the money would make my wife’s life easier after my demise. A dead man created that awareness.
The book changed my life because I saw for the very first time how insurance sales, done ethically, could make the world a better place while enabling me to make a good living. I did not want to go into sales prior to reading this book because I did not see how, by convincing someone to buy from me, I was not taking advantage of them. Once I read Mr. Bettger's book, I saw how, by convincing someone to buy from me, I could make client’s lives' better if I first helped them see the need.
Once that lightbulb turned on in my head, I lost my fear of asking for sales. This is not to say that I became fearless. Far from it, but I knew what I was selling would make my clients' lives and businesses better and that gave me conviction. Conviction goes a long, long ways toward sales success.
P&C insurance sales are different because people are going to buy that insurance from someone, regardless. It is not like life sales (excluding all the coverages people should buy, but don't--usually because the producers do not offer those other coverages). P&C producers know the purchase is a given and the only option is whether they win or lose to a competitor. Why take the time to learn a client’s needs or help a client learn their needs when the purchase is not optional?
The fact that people are going to buy insurance from someone is also potentially a key reason the vast majority of producers are so poor at sales and taking care of their clients. This certainty of a purchase, somewhere, is a key reason the industry possesses a less than stellar reputation and is a key reason internet sales work.
When someone is purchasing something that is optional, the salesperson has far more success if they really are a trusted advisor because they must make two sales: They must convince the client to buy the product and second, to buy the product from them. In P&C sales, only one sale exists. They do not have to become a true, trusted advisor. They do not have to truly learn the clients' needs and goals to make a whole lot of sales. This is why I see so many producers who do not know their coverages. They do not need to know their coverages to make an adequate living.
It is why cheap and useless CE is so popular. If customers are not used to buying insurance from a producer who knows what they are doing, buying insurance directly from someone or a bot that knows nothing is not that different.
This factor also partially explains why producers only ask for partial sales. They only know how to make the nonoptional sale. In other words, they sell the homeowners and auto or the comp and BOP. They do not work with the client to sell them adequate ordinance & law, or flood, or cyber, or EPL, or name the coverage, because they are afraid if they ask for the whole loaf, they'll lose the guaranteed half loaf sale. The other half of the loaf contains optional and very, very important coverages, but producers do not know how to sell optional coverages. They only know how to sell what the insured is going to buy from someone. This is why E&O claims happen.
If a producer has deep knowledge of coverages which enables them to truly make their client’s lives safer and more protected, they are not so afraid of losing half the loaf. A home that has the nonoptional coverage, but inadequate ordinance & law will be unlivable in many claims. Therefore, a producer who truly wants to make their client's lives safer and more protected will have the conviction to offer the coverages clients really need rather than just offering the coverages they know are not optional.
Is this a more difficult sale? Absolutely. You can't be lazy and make this sale. You need the conviction that you are doing what is right for your client rather than greedily selling what you know they will buy. You must enter the world of optional sales if you want to best protect your clients' lives. Few agents ever enter this elevated world because most of them do not really believe in what they are selling. I have interviewed hundreds if not thousands of account managers and producers and a huge proportion of each focus on price because they do not actually know enough and/or care enough about what they are selling to believe in what they are selling.
The job of a salesperson is to convince people to buy what you are selling and if you are to be a true, ethical insurance producer, the job is to convince people to buy the coverages they truly need, regardless of their incumbent agent never addressing those extra coverages. The job is not to make a sale, but to make the right sale. In reading Mr. Bettger's book, making the right sale is what propelled him to so much success. True, he had talent, but he worked on the talents required to learn what his clients really needed and that began with listening. You must listen.
You may think this piece is written from the perspective of a person who does not sell insurance and you would be correct. I sell optional services and a large proportion of what I sell involves helping clients identify needs they did not know they had. I do not get to sit on a renewal book either and neither do life agents. Neither should P&C producers because frankly, absolutely no one needs an agent who does not work renewals. By learning how a client's needs have changed, and therefore how the insurance they buy needs to change, you are truly helping your clients. The commissions for producers who do nothing should be 0% because they do nothing.
Insurance is one of the greatest financial inventions ever. Deeply knowing how to best protect your clients' lives, businesses, homes, and families and having the conviction that drives you to do what is right is priceless. Learning to listen and train clients as to what they need is priceless. Few careers offer the opportunity to be so beneficial while making such a good living.
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None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.