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 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.