Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

Listen Up

Successful selling: Hear more than weaknesses.

I know you have probably read in a thousand places that the No. 1 complaint of any buyer is that the seller does not listen. This, of course, is not limited to insurance. When was the last time you visited a car lot and had a salesman really listen to you?  Did the salesperson ask about:

  • The car you drove in?
  • The reason you are looking?
  • What you have looked at so far?
  • The pluses and minuses of what you have seen?
  • What brought you to their dealership?
  • Your budget?
  • What is important to you in your new car? 

I just went through the buying experience and the answer is, it did not happen; the seller actually listened to me. The result? I purchased the car I wanted at a good price and I am happy with my decision.

No one (including you, your clients and your prospects) likes to be sold. That always leaves a bad taste in the buyer’s mouth. He or she wonder if they could have done better. It leads to buyer’s remorse.

Related: Read Koehler's previous column, "Mission: Success."

However, we do like to buy. We like to be in the driver’s seat (no pun intended), make our decisions through the process and leave with a satisfied feeling that we were in control and we purchased what fit us, our family or our company.

To figure out where you are in your selling process and how you are doing, let’s begin with the way most producers were trained, with “features and benefits.”

When you meet your prospects, as a producer you seek the opportunity to quote or at least determine weaknesses in their current programs. Therefore you are exploring the four key areas where you are hoping to find the current agent vulnerable: service, pricing, coverage and relationship. If you are exploring, this is where you typically get off the prospect’s track and start going down your own.

The prospect will make a statement about an unhappiness he has with the current agent. The dialogue sounds something like this:

Prospect:  We had an incident a few weeks ago, and it was not the first time, where we had a crew at a job site ready to work. But our agent had failed to get the certificate over there the day before as we requested. As a result, we could not get on the job site for more than 2 hours and had a very unhappy client.

Agent:  At Amalgamated Insurance, our clients do not have this problem for two reasons. First, our clients have access to getting their certificates on line—they never have to wait for us unless, of course, there is something unusual about the certificate. In that case, we guarantee that our clients get their certificates within 24 hours of their requests. We can expedite the process and transmit not only the certificates to their customers, but also a copy to our clients so their crews can have it with them when they arrive at the job site.

This is feature and benefit selling. The feature is online certificates and the benefit is no waiting. The problem is the way the producer listened: The producer listened to respond. Unfortunately, this is the way many of us were trained. Listen for the weakness in the current program, tell the prospect how we are better and then hope we can build up enough of these to win the day.

Read another Strictly Sales column, "Round-Up Time."

The problems:

  • The producer never fully understood the problem
  • The producer made it sound very easy to fix—if it is that easy to fix, then what is the challenge?

The producer needs to learn to listen to understand. Let’s take the same scenario and try a different producer response.

Prospect’s story:  See above.

Agent:  How many men were on that crew?

Prospect:  Six.

Agent:  What was the value of that contract?

Prospect:  $25,000.

Agent:  How many man-hours would it take?

Prospect:  100 man-hours.

Agent:   Am I safe in assuming that labor was about 50 percent of the job costs?

Prospect:  More like 75 percent.

Agent:  So you incurred an added 12 hours of labor for which you were not paid, not to mention the bad relations with your customer?

Prospect:  Yes.

Agent:  Were there any repercussions from your customer?

Prospect:  Not this time, but he said if it happened again he could not use us in critical situations any longer. And that is bad!

Agent:  Why?

Prospect:  Critical situations are higher profit margins for us.

Agent:  So at the end of the day, the extra 12 hours you had to eat cost a lot of money.

Prospect:  That’s right. It basically made a high-margin job almost unprofitable.

Agent:  If you could work with an agency that could make sure that would never happen again, would that be a key factor in selecting that agency?

Prospect:  Absolutely!

Agent:  Let me write that down as something we would want to address if we offer a proposal.

Look at the two forms of questioning that took place. In the first scenario, where the agent listened to respond, there were no questions. All the producer did was tell the prospect how to fix the problem and that his agency could easily accomplish that, how they were going to do it, and made it sound as if there was little or no value to the prospect—or at least left it up to the prospect to figure out the value.

Related: Read Kenneth L. Fields' column, "Why New Producers Fail."

In listening to understand, the producer:

  • Tried to determine the cost of the late certificate
  • Brought back to the prospect’s mind the cost of that incident to his company
  • Brought forward again the damage to the relationship with the prospect and his customer.

We must learn to listen to understand, not just respond. This is no longer a world of selling someone something. This is a world of presenting yourself and your agency as the best solution to your prospects’ and clients’ problems. They want you to fully understand the problem, the cost, and the solution they want—not the solution you have to offer.

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