Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lessons From Ms. Charlotte

Lessons from Ms. Charlotte

I used to work for the largest Life Insurance wholesaler in the country.  I was recruited to be one of their directors and spent six years there working with agents and learning what happens behind the curtain in the Life Insurance business.  Early in my career there, I called on Ms. Charlotte (not her real name).  She was the owner of a small insurance agency in North Carolina.

The first time I met her, I was in her town for another meeting.  I noticed her sign and decided to just drop in and introduce myself.  When I say ‘small agency,’ I mean that it was just her and one employee in a single room of an old brick office building.  On her office door, there was a fake plastic clock that you can set to show when you’ll be back from lunch and a laminated piece of paper that said late payments were subject to a $15 fee.  

I knocked, hesitated for a second, and walked in.  As I began telling her who I was, she stopped me to insist I sit down.  She was a little white haired lady in her mid sixties.  In her 20x20 office, she was surrounded by 70’s era furniture and about a dozen tall file cabinets with plants on top of them.  On her faux wood desk was a computer, two old office phones, a big candy dish and a mess of paperwork.  

I had intended on trying to get her guard down enough to have a ten minute conversation.  This is where I would see if it was worth setting another time for a longer meeting.  The end goal would have been to bring her on as a wholesale client/partner.  I had done this many times before.  Well, that plan didn’t work.  

I barely got my name out before she started firing questions at me.  She was very charming and could have been an extra in the movie “Steel Magnolias.”  I didn’t have anywhere to be for a while, so I indulged her.  She had a very curious mind.  She asked things about where I was from, where I went to college, about my family, my career etc.  Her questions were very engaging and she listened actively, like she couldn’t wait to hear my entire answer.  She asked interesting follow up questions that really made me have to think.  It seemed like she couldn’t wait to get to know me.  While I was there, people trickled in to pay premium and ask questions.  She insisted that I keep my seat, though she could tell that I felt like I was in the way in her tiny office.  She knew personal things about all the people who came in.  She asked specifically about their family members and businesses.  It was like they were all very good friends.  It went on like that for about 30 minutes before I finally got a chance to get some information from her.  

I started asking her questions about her business.  She was happy to tell me all about it.  It turned out that she wrote mostly personal lines, medicare supplement, and life insurance.  Her business wasn’t that old.  She started it from scratch and had been doing it for about 15 years.  She was smart too, disarmingly smart.  She must have passed this down as well, because two of her three children were doctors and the other was a lawyer.  About an hour in, I got into questions about her client base.  Well, it turned out she had all those tall file cabinets because she had thousands of client files.  Since I was now very curious and I didn’t think it would offend her, I asked how much money her business was bringing in.  Whispering through a little grin, she told me a number that was well over half a million dollars.  At the time, I was almost stunned given where I was sitting (a faded green naugahyde chair).  

About ten years have passed since I first met her.  Ms. Charlotte is spending most of her time with her grandkids now.  Looking back, I know why she was so successful.  In a word, curiosity.  Ms. Charlotte was an insurance product genius because she wasn’t happy until she knew everything about the way her insurance products worked.  She questioned the carrier reps, read the policies and rooted out important information.  She was also a social genius.  She genuinely wanted to know people, but she also knew where this would lead.  She spent time learning about everyone she came in contact with.  Then she just matched the person with the product and asked for the business.  Unfortunately, I will never have her charm, but the curiosity is working out pretty well.  

-Justin Stainback

Insurance Professor

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Southern Charm and Getting Permission to Ask

Southern Charm and Getting Permission to Ask

By no fault of my own, I’m from the South.  I try to dilute the accent a little but people can easily tell.  I’m very lucky to have learned etiquette from my parents and grandparents.  Let me explain how some of the most important rapport building skills are a natural part of southern culture.  

I used to work for/with Tai Lopez, selling Life Insurance over the telephone and internet in one of his first business endeavors.  We had a large volume of opportunities due to his marketing genius.  Being less than a year into my career, I failed to sell many people who would be no problem for me now.  I was quickly however, far and away the best producer out of a company of 17.  The second best salesman at the time was my friend and business partner Brian Marshburn (also from the South).  For Life Insurance salespeople, we were very young.  We were in our early to mid 20’s at the time but we were doing very well, many times at the frustration of more seasoned and proven professionals.  I recall many of my interactions with these clients very fondly.  Sometimes people from up North would literally laugh at my accent and ask where I was from.  They would also ask my age.  Of course I would laugh along with them and continue to be nice.  I would talk about how the the person I spoke with 10 minutes earlier had asked the same questions and how I try to mask my accent, but it must be in the DNA or some other light joke about being from the South.  What I didn’t know at the time was that I was breaking down their wall with a very powerful and proven rapport building skill. Well, a couple, actually.

-Telling something embarrassing about yourself.
    I am not at all embarrassed by being from the South, but joking with my new prospects about my struggles with my accent works at breaking down barriers.

-Smiling, Which is an Accommodating Non-verbal.
    Though they couldn’t see me, if I was laughing, then I must have been smiling.  Smiling works, whether across the table or over the phone.  People can tell.  Smiling is a staple of Southern Charm.

Once we got the jokes about my accent out of the way, I would give a little more background on my work experience and areas of expertise.  I would typically tell them how long a call with me usually takes.  Then I would ask permission to ask them a question.  Like this:  “Mr. Smith, may I ask you a question about the insurance you have now?”  Two more things happened here.

-Establishing a Time Commitment.
This is a powerful and overlooked technique for putting your client at ease.  If you tell your client that the call will usually take 30 minutes and it ends up being an hour, then your prospect will be thankful for the extra time.

-Ego Suspension or Just Plain Being Humble.
    When you ask permission to ask a question, you are doing 2 things.  You are reducing or maybe eliminating the risk of intrusion.  Some questions can feel like an intrusion into your client’s private life, even when they’re pertinent to the conversation.  You are also demonstrating thoughtfulness, which is also a sign or trustworthiness.  

The next thing I would do is ask deepening questions.  How? When? Why? What if?  Then I would shut up and wait for the entire answer without ever interrupting, even if the prospect or client is off track.  Interrupting is rude.  In the south, we don’t like rudeness.  Most salesmen interrupt because they are trying to “correct” their client.  There is a better way to do that.  I would let the client talk as long as he or she was willing and take a note on everything that I needed to go back and address.  Then, only when they were done, I would go back to the key topic.  Like This:  “Mr. Smith, you said that your company is important to you, and you want your son to take your place in 5 years so you can retire.  What if you could accomplish that in 3 years?... What would happen if it took 7 years?”  You doing 2 more things here.

    People can tell when you’re really listening, and not waiting for a chance to talk.

    People want to be heard.  By repeating back to them what you are hearing and exploring the topic with more deepening questions, you are validating feelings and thoughts.  These things further build trust and importantly give you information you need to make a recommendation.   

After I had all the information I needed make a recommendation and ask for the business, I would then educate the client, using plain speech.  I would tell the client how insurance product worked and why.  I would tell them what others have done in their situation and pull back the curtain in the insurance industry.  I wanted them to feel like they knew more than any other consumer of Life Insurance.  Like this:  “Mr. Smith, most people don’t know how to do this this, but we have a way of finding out if your old policy has higher mortality rates than a new one.  We just have to call the insurance company and ask them to generate a report with that information on there.  I can get them on the phone and do it now if you like.”  Here is what you’re doing for the client.

-Gift Giving.
Gift giving is a way of thanking your client for their time.  In the South, “Please” and “Thank You” very important.  Gifts do not have to come in the form or something physical.  Educating someone is a good gift.  Getting material from a client’s current company as above should come across as altruistic, even when it helps you sell something to your client.

After all this, which may have only taken 30 minutes, I would have had enough to make the sale.  And the client was happy to offer me the business because they were getting a better experience from me than from any other insurance salesman they had encountered before me.  Thankfully, much of the above came natural and I was able to provide a good income for my young family.  Over the years, I have worked on these skills and many more that people in the insurance industry tend to ignore.  Having these skills will set you apart from the rest.  If these skills taken seriously and are well practiced, even a 25 year old country boy from North Carolina can outsell scores of successful suit wearing career agents.

One more thing:  All the stuff above works much better if you mean it.

Kind Regards,


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Curiosity Killed the Cat?

Curiosity Killed the Cat?

Often as insurance agents, doctors, home builders or any other kind of professional, we accept the wisdom of others and put it to practice in our own businesses.  This can be a good tactic if you have a great source of knowledge.  In other words, you can always learn from peers in your business.  You can especially learn from people who have been doing great work over a long period of time.  You can also learn what not to do from others who are not experiencing the kind of success you want.  

Why is this a good tactic?  Efficiency is the answer.  It is quicker to siphon off work skills from others, or plainly, to copy what other people are having success doing.  You can get a great base of knowledge this way.  A solid foundation of understanding is enough even to be able to get some good work done for your clients.  

You can’t stop there though.  In a changing world, you have to be curious enough to discover new things that work better.  We, as humans, have a natural curiosity.  It is somewhat suppressed by the education system (though not by individual teachers).  “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Albert Einstein  We have to push past the urge to stop learning just because we are having success.

What if, as an insurance broker, you have a good base of knowledge in sales skill and product design and you understand the need for insurance for most of your clients?  You could probably get business from as many as half the people you engage.  You could make a pretty good living this way.  Many agents do.  How would your life be different if you knew more about insurance than any broker in your town?  Your state?  Couple that with being able to understand your buyer better than anyone else in your area.  Now what would your life look like?  You would sell to almost everyone you engage.  This would mean more money for less work and professional satisfaction that is uncommon for any type of professional.  You simply cannot get to this level without curiosity.  That’s a good thing.  Most of your competition is not willing to ask those “Why” questions like a 3 year old information sponging toddler.  

Sometimes it takes a little reprogramming to get that curiosity back.  You have to start with an understanding that there’s a lot you don’t know.  Trust me, there’s a lot for everyone.  Once your curious mind starts working again, quality information starts getting easier to find.  When you start putting your newly acquired knowledge to practice, it can be incredibly rejuvenating, especially if you have had the same career for several years.

“Curiosity Killed the Cat?”  What a ridiculous proverb!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Customer is Always Wrong

The Customer is Always Wrong

Well, let’s just say “often wrong.”  And it’s your job to tell them why.  Let me back up for a sec.  In my years selling life insurance to a very diverse group of people, I can tell you that most life insurance buyers who have decided what they want, end up with something different.  The difference between what they wanted and what they bought might have been pretty subtle.  For example, the face amount or term length may have needed adjusting.  Often times, major changes needed to be made from the client's original wish.  These include ownership, product type, replacement or adjustment of old policies and discovery of business needs or tax saving strategy.  Listen, we aren’t talking about using some sort of canned sales presentation to get your client into the product of the month.  We are talking about being the kind of professional who is able to discover what the actual need is and then go to the insurance market and find it (for the right price) and present it clearly.  You have to be confident about your knowledge of insurance and the client’s need, so that you have the ammo to challenge the client to shift position.  Your client will appreciate it.  They really value the education.  Some agents would disagree with me.  Those agents fall into the “Order Taking Trap.”  The agents sell the client what they want because they don’t want to risk losing the sale, or it’s quicker, or they have very little experience or knowledge about life insurance.  What happens in these situations though is that your best clients will eventually meet a good agent who will point out the things done wrong.  Guess who’s getting the blame.  Worse, what if because of incorrect ownership or a bad beneficiary designation, those who were supposed to be protected do not get the death benefit or they lose part of it to taxes or a bad business deal.  A business partner of mine says that “the best way to kill a bad product is with good marketing.”  What this means is that even if you are otherwise a good salesman and you are getting in front of a lot of clients, you can goof up enough to get a reputation for it.  You start losing opportunities without even knowing it.

The knowledge I’m talking about takes a little while to engrain, but there are resources out there that make it pretty easy.  It just so happens that we’ve created one.  I would say that a typical agent can get beyond 90% of his or her local competitors in less than a year.  Wouldn’t you feel more confident challenging your clients if you knew you were in the top 10% of life insurance salespeople?  What about the top 1%?  At this level of expertise, you’ll find that your marketing efforts are much more profitable, so you can spend more time doing the kind of work you like to do and living the life you want to live.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When Is Your Best Really Your Best?

When is your best really your best?  Is it when you get the most possible commission on a case?  Is it when you sell your favorite product of insurance or get a bunch of referrals after a case has placed?  How about achieving a level of production that earns you a trip or doing more business than everyone else in your office?  Everyone has a different answer, but I think I have the answer that works for everyone.  Try this one.  Your best is when you blend the home life you want with the work life you want and clients who continually leave their meetings with you happier than they were when they got there.  Let's focus on the client for a sec.  A lot of people in insurance are good salesmen.  Some are good because it comes natural.  Some follow a proven process that ends with consistent positive results.  Though people are buying, are they really getting the best experience from you.  If only half of your prospects (who you ask to buy) are making a purchase from you, I say no.  Here's why.  If you are across the table from a client or clients, they are expecting that if they are presented with a solution that works for them, they will buy it.  If not, they wouldn't be there.  So what are the factors in play that are keeping your close rate under 50% or under 80% for that matter?  Here are a few answers in no particular order.

-Your clients do not understand what you want them to buy.  If it sounds complicated, you're probably not going to sell much of it.  You have to break it down into bite sized chunks and confirm their understanding of each part.

-It's not in budget.  If you cant make it fit into the budget, you aren't going to sell it.  This works both ways.  It may be as just as likely that you aren't asking them to spend enough.  Leave your biases at the door.  I've often seen agents try to sell their client $500K of insurance only because they think that's all the client will buy.

-You aren't listening.  If you find yourself talking more than you potential client, don't be surprised when they say, they'll have to think about it (typically a polite way of saying NO).  Ask the right questions.  Many of them begin with "why."  And gif your client the opportunity to tell you what they need.

-You do not have the right solution.  You may think you do, but you don't.  If you listened to your client, you understand their budget and your client understands what you are showing them and yet they don't buy it, it's because you aren't showing them the right thing.  Understanding the market and being independent is important here.  Telling your client that you are independent and explaining what means is important also.

If you are able to increase your close rate from 50% to 80% and you get more referrals, what would that mean to your home life?  If it's already great, you can have more of it because you'll need to see fewer people to make the same money or more if you prefer.  When your close rate is at 80% or above, this means that you are hearing your clients and showing them the right things for the right price and making sure they understand it.  When these things are happening, your clients will be sending you valuable referrals because they are happy with your work and they want you to succeed in helping more people like them.

We'd love to hear from you.  Tell us what your struggling with or what's working for you.