Prospects have more sales resistance training than agents usually have in sales presentation skill.
Prospect response to insurance agents is designed to get as much information as possible and be in control of the situation. Prospects often mislead insurance agents about their intentions, how much they’ll spend, who makes decisions, etc.
The prospect intent is designed to turn agents into unpaid consultants, lead them on until they have all of the information they need, and often use their quotes to compare with their current agent or a competitor.
When prospects have what they need, they stop returning the agent’s phone calls.
Does this make prospects bad people?
Of course not.
We all use this system for dealing with salespeople…it’s almost second nature.
Why do prospects do this?
The stereotype of an agent is not a good image for most of us, and prospects are afraid of being sold something they don’t want. In order to protect themselves, prospects feel they need a way to deal with agents. It is an instinctive reaction to the negative stereotype of agents that causes prospects to put up a defensive wall.
So how do most agents deal with the prospects system of defense? Most play right into it. Many don’t use a systematic approach to selling. They allow the prospect to take total control of the sales process. The agent eagerly:
o gives their knowledge
o makes commitments without getting any in return
o wastes resources on pursuing deals that will never close
o gives quotes to non-prospects who never buy
o misinterpret the ubiquitous “I’ll think it over and get back to you” as a future sale
How do most sales organizations contribute to the problem? Frequently they focus on product knowledge and overlook teaching what circumstances or concepts products fit best with.
The solution: Train agents on a systematic approach to making presentations so they have “a track to run on.” The training should balance both the prospect and agent’s best interest.
Spending too much time with prospects that will never buy.
A manager recently evaluated two of his agents like this: “Gary spends too much time with non-buyers, and gets too involved in non-productive activities. One root cause of this behavior is that he doesn’t ask the tough questions. Amy is strong with prospects, but both she and Gary have lost deals because the competition asks for the business while they give quotes to the prospect.” Why is this true?
Agents don’t ask the hard questions up-front for fear of making their prospects angry, they are afraid they will lose something they don’t have. Most agents think their job is to close everybody.
Over the years sales training has emphasized, “Don’t take NO for an answer.” Insurance agents are taught to be persistent…handle stalls and objections…trial closes…always be closing…and yes, even be manipulative. No wonder prospects need sales resistance to shield themselves!
Prospects realize agents don’t want to hear “NO” and that when they do, they’ll “hang in there” and try to turn “NO” into “YES.” When the poor prospect really means “NO,” s/he has found the easiest way to get rid of a agent is to tell them, “I’ll think it over, and I’ll get back to you.” How many “think it over’s” really turn into business?
The solution: Agents need tools to separate tire-kickers from buyers. They need an approach that obtains support early in the sales cycle. They need to learn the fine art of tactfully qualifying prospects in, not qualifying them out. The top agents learn to ask the hard questions up-front, saving precious resources for real opportunities. “NO” is an acceptable response from a buyer. “Going for the NO” requires a tremendous paradigm shift for most agents, but it can take all the pressure off the agent and increase productivity. This approach allows prospects to feel in control, this then relaxes them, and lets them buy instead of feeling like they are being “sold.”
Agents talk too much.
A manager recently said, “My agents’ listening skills aren’t where they need to be; someone says something and they don’t find out the real reason or intent behind the question, which leaves the prospect feeling like my agents don’t understand them or their issues.
Of course, when we sent them to the College of Product Knowledge, filling them with technical knowledge and then sent them out to make their quotas, we should have expected this result.”
So what’s the problem telling our story? First, people buy for their reason, not the agents reasons, not even their company’s reasons. Second, most companies’ presentations sound the same to the prospect, and when they sound the same, the agent just becomes another agent to the prospect, and then to the prospect, low price becomes the determining factor in getting the business.
The solution: Asking questions is the answer. Teach insurance agents to stop regurgitating to the prospect and start asking questions. Prospects should do at least 70% of the talking on the sales call. The only way this will happen is for the sales rep to ask a lot of questions.
Questions gather information. Ask questions to find out what the prospect’s “pain” is. This is the same thing your family doctor does during an office visit. They ask – they don’t tell you anything until they have made the proper diagnosis.
Weak Agents focus on price.
Price is never the real issue! Agents focus on price because it’s often the first thing the prospect asks about. Yet study after study confirms that quality and services are almost always more important than price. Price is never the main reason for getting and keeping business. People buy our products to either solve a problem they have, or improve something about their current situation or protect against future occurrences.
The solution: Teach agents to be more effective in asking questions and getting to real issues. Once they learn to do this, price will not be the determining factor in making sales.
Product knowledge is over-emphasized and misused. As a result, selling often becomes nothing more than “pitching and presenting.”
Most sales training focuses on product knowledge. studies show that 80% of training dollars spent annually are spent on product knowledge training. Agents, once filled with this product knowledge, are eager to share this information and become a Professional, Unpaid Educator. The focus then becomes totally on product, and not on the prospects problem, which is where it belongs.
The solution: Provide training in the strategy and tactics our agents need to help prospects clearly define their problems and co-build solutions that fit their needs. Product knowledge is important, but how it’s used at each phase of the buying process is the key.
Agents fail to get prospects to reveal budgets up-front. Many insurance agents are uncomfortable talking about money. Discussing money is seen as intrusive, and unpleasant. Many agents avoid talking about money, until the prospect forces the issue. This is one of the five most common weaknesses that agents have.
The solution: Knowing whether there is money upfront will help the insurance agent distinguish between a prospects who is ready to solve a problem from one who is not committed. Comfortably talking about money is a key to management, where resources are evaluated based on bottom line impact. Teach your agents to find out two things about money:
o How much the problem is costing the prospect; in other words the amount at risk.
o How much they’d be willing to invest to solve the problem.
Without a candid discussion about money, the agent is left to make certain assumptions. And we all know what happens when we make assumptions!
Agents fail to get firm commitments from prospects.
Insurance agents are often very willing to jump at the opportunity to do a quote, presentation, etc. This approach is incredibly time-consuming and resource intensive.
How many quotes has your team/distribution sent out over the last twelve months that resulted in nothing? How much does it cost your team/distribution on an annual basis to do quotes that go nowhere?
The solution: Agents must learn what motivates people to buy. They must master the skills required to help prospects become comfortable sharing problems, and they must learn to determine the prospects’ level of commitment to solve these problems before they begin to offer their solutions.
Lack of sufficient prospecting.
A quote from a manager: “They don’t do enough prospecting, even ‘when I use a long stick.'” All professional agents will eventually be faced with a bout of call reluctance. You know the story – they have so much paperwork on their desk they can’t possibly find the time to prospect for new business OR they’re so busy calling on existing customers (who incidentally aren’t buying anything) there’s no way they could add any new appointments. Getting ready to get ready. The BT club (bout to) Sound familiar?
o Over 40% of all veteran sales professionals have experienced bouts of call reluctance severe enough to threaten their career in sales
o And 80% of all new agents who fail within their first year do so because of insufficient prospecting activity.
The Solution: Insurance agents need to develop a realistic activity plan. Monitor the plan weekly and implement effective accountability.
The insurance agent has a strong need for approval.
It’s an easy and common mistake. “I love people, so I’ll be an insurance agent.” You end up with an insurance agent that would rather make “friends” with their prospects than conduct business. While developing relationships are an important part of the selling process, selling is not a place for people to get their emotional needs met. In fact, it’s the opposite: a tough and demanding profession, full of rejection. People who internalize the rejection end up getting out of the profession. Truth is, they should never have gotten in the business. Sales interactions are fundamentally different than social interactions. Successful professionals understand and accept that the bottom line of professionally selling is: MAKING MONEY.
The Solution: Evaluate yourself to determine if you have this need for approval. Managers need to ask pre-hire screening questions that helps to hire stronger people and teach them a system that helps strike the appropriate balance between developing relationships and getting commitments.
Insurance agents don’t treat sales as a profession.
Professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and CPAs’ all have one thing in common – they attend continuing education to maintain and increase their proficiency. Yet how many insurance agents are continually seeking new ways to increase their skills? Many have the attitude, “I’ve been selling for years, what more can I learn?”
The solution: Top performers in every profession are always looking for ways to sharpen their skills and gain the fine edge that leads to consistent success. Managers need to invest in top performers and help them grow their skills. Ego stunts your growth so managers have to be willing to set their ego aside and be willing to grow, modeling behavior that demonstrates it is more important to the manager to be effective than to be right. We can all learn from each other.
Hiring: Distributions, supervisors and managers must complete, step-by-step, a formal process for profiling, attracting, recruiting, interviewing and hiring top performers. Look to hire goal achievers not goal setters. Most managers hire goal setters and are surprised when agents never achieve their goals. The truth is the agent only had a wish list. Ask the agent when interviewing or coaching to describe goals they set and “how” they achieved the goal. If they didn’t achieve then it was it a goal or only a wish list?
Effective recruiting and hiring is the most important job of any manager. No amount of training, coaching or mentoring will make up for a poor hiring decision. Do it right the first time.
Managing: Implement a sales management process that emphasizes more effective recruiting, hiring, coaching, growing, and developing agents. Most of all quit accepting excuses for poor performance from yourself and your agent, raise your expectations and implement a rigorous accountability process. This starts with your team production-if you are not meeting standards. how can you expect to hold your agents accountable?. In management, you don’t get what you want – you only get what you expect and inspect. Remember, you manage things – you lead people.
Training: Tapes, books and one -day seminars are fine for intellectual learning or external motivation, but if you want to be a better golfer, pianist – or a better sales person, you must practice and develop new skills. Selling is a skill that can be taught, learned, and mastered over time.