Major changes in the insurance field have triggered a dramatic weeding out of this country’s sales force. Five years from now, many of you will no longer be in the insurance business.
To succeed in the industry, you cannot be just an insurance agent or a financial planner, you must be a sales professional. Being a sales professional means knowing you are a salesperson, honoring your occupation and making the customer’s needs primary. Rob A. O’Byrne, president and CEO of Robert D. O’Byrne & Associates in Kansas City, Mo., put it this way: “A star producer gives without expectation of immediate return.”
My 16 years of training hundreds of insurance agents showed me that this business is appealing mainly because of the financial rewards. Yet the most successful people soon discover their focus shifting from money to the service they are performing. The late, great insurance salesman, Ben Feldman, pointed out how important this shift is when he said, “Most people buy not because they believe, but because the salesman believes.”
Do you need a passion to excel? Absolutely. Five ingredients are necessary to build a successful career in sales. Visualize each trait as a step on a solid and durable pyramid — a structure that withstands the test of time. If you build your sales career with these ingredients, your success also will last a lifetime.
First, you must have an interest in selling insurance. It sounds simple, but does it apply to you? Are you enthusiastic, diligent and willing to try a new approach or technique? Being truly interested in your career means you are excited to be an insurance salesperson. You have made the decision to develop, practice and apply all the information available to bring you the utmost success.
A common denominator of many great insurance salespeople, both past and present, is the right attitude. The famous philosopher, William James, observed that the greatest discovery of his generation was that people can change their lives by changing their attitudes. Perhaps that is still one reason why Barry Kaye, Joe Gandolfo, Peter Mullin, (and the late Bell Feldman), personally sell more insurance in a year’s time than hundreds of insurance companies. Those are men who truly understand that they are in the business of selling insurance, and they embrace their occupations.
Superior insurance agents have the attitude that expects and creates success. They opt for choices that produce positive results.
How is your attitude? Do you look for ways to improve negative situations rather than run from them? Remember that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who think they can and those who think they can’t. They are both right.
Energy is developing your capacity to succeed by improving a little everyday. Without it, you are like the car that remains in neutral — going nowhere. Successful agents often work long hours because they love what they do.
If selling insurance is reduced to “just a job,” then failure is right behind it. Why? Because insurance is not easy to sell. This business brings a tremendous amount of rejection, so the brave soul who sells insurance must truly believe in his or her product and service. If it were easy, it would not pay as well. And if it did not pay as well, people would not do it. That is why it is important to strive to improve your skills a little bit each day.
Salespeople are not born, they are taught. You must have a precise, step-by-step procedure that covers all the points in the selling process, leaving nothing to chance.
However, Earl R. Eastman, president of Eastman and Benirschke Financial Group in Del Mar, Calif., says that most salespeople do not have a system. “Most try to wing it,” he said. “When we meet with clients, they are not looking to purchase. We need to meet, establish a rapport, find their problem areas and demonstrate their need to them.”
For example, do you know your buyer’s hidden agenda? Before making a purchase, prospects consider five buying decisions:
- Salesperson — Do I trust this person? Does he or she have integrity and good judgment?
- Company — Will the company back up what the salesperson is telling me?
- Product/Service — Do I need it? Will it solve a problem?
- Price — Does the price represent a good value?
- Time to buy — Is this the right time to buy? Am I ready?
Your job is to guide prospects smoothly through those buying decisions. There are many more points to understand about selling, and your future depends on your knowledge of them.
Having abundant interest, a positive attitude and energy is great, but without the sales know-how, you will not find success. It is much like a million-dollar computer without the right software.
Most insurance people, however, spend little time learning how to sell. Speaking at a Life Underwriter’s Association conference, I asked: “How many of you have read a book on selling in the last 60 days?” Only two raised hands, yet top performers know that school is never out for die-hard professionals.
On another occasion, during a flight, I noticed a man reading a sales book with a yellow highlighter in his hand. I heard companion call him Bill, so at all opportune moment. I said, “I’ll bet you’re Ben Feldman.” He was indeed, and we spent the balance of trip talking about the fantastic life insurance business.
There is marvelous self satisfaction in accomplishing something that is important to you. When I began selling insurance, my goal was to make 40 cold telephone calls every day. That habit brought me incredible experience and much success. Forming the habit of doing what is necessary, although you might not like it, separates winners from the unsuccessful. Show me an insurance agent who runs from the phone in the morning and I’ll show you one who runs all day.
Rob O’Byrne calls it the “survival instinct.”
“These are people who are unwilling to fail; they will do whatever is necessary, within ethical and moral boundaries, to succeed.”
Selling is greatest profession in the world, and insurance has to be the greatest product in the world to sell. Sales pros know that the old hard-sell concept has been replaced by sales professionalism. To become a star producer, you must focus on building relationships and providing superior service, on setting goals, and on developing methods to reach them. The world would be better off with more insurance agents, especially those who proudly call themselves sales professionals.
Roy Chitwood is an author and consultant on sales and customer service. He is the former president and chairman of Sales & Marketing Executives International and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle. (800) 488-4629.