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Winning Strategies

Moving the sales process up a notch

Savvy buyers want more than a commodity

By Larry Linne

Buyers hate to be “sold” and detest manipulation. So if they suspect that a salesperson is being disingenuous, unscrupulous or selfishly motivated, they will run for the hills!

This has become a real challenge for insurance producers because their customers are mostly business people who also purchase numerous sales training books, take classes and work with consultants to make sure everyone is up to speed on selling strategies.

The problem: Salespeople have to sell, which is tough to do without looking like they’re selling. That’s why so many of them completely avoid the “sale” and simply present pricing and a list of services, hoping that a buyer will connect. They don’t grasp that selling is a process—a process by which they can help a buyer identify and prioritize needs and solutions. Unfortunately, when producers don’t see the value of the process, they end up with a method of selling that creates a perceived commodity for the buyer.

So producers go to classes to learn positioning and closing strategies that destroy existing relationships and separate the client from the incumbent. When potential clients are not impressed and push back, the producer stops the process and goes back to selling product and price. The producer ends up in a competitive relationship with the prospect vs. a collaborative relationship. When collaboration is achieved, it becomes easy to reach a natural conclusion to do business together.

Getting producers out of this trap so they can do what they need to do requires agencies to stop selling commodities and start developing a valued client experience. Here are five strategies that can help.

Make the process valuable

The business world is becoming increasingly complex, thanks partly to a global economy and ongoing advances in technology. What’s more, countless concerns require the attention of decision makers, such as emerging management challenges involving next-generation employees and risk management issues.

Every decision maker I talk with about risk management says he would gladly pay a consultant to show him how to avoid and better manage risk within his company. Your sales process should help business owners understand the extent of this risk management problem.

Many agencies and brokerages have risk management and loss control services—but simply having them isn’t enough. If you hand a prospect a list of your services, you’re presenting a commodity rather than offering something of value. Brokers who can provide methods and systems to identify and address potential risk management issues are giving considerably more value to their clients than their competitors who cannot.

When your process is worth something to the prospect, you will improve your closing ratio.

Create a unique deliverable

No one wants to buy insurance. It’s something people have to buy and hope they never need. That’s why it’s so important to create a unique deliverable that is worth something to the client. As obvious as this strategy seems, it is one that few agencies understand.

Typically, agencies offer additional services that they believe will create a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, most buyers view these lists of services as “stuff”—just a commodity. Conversely, unique deliverables are something they would be willing to pay more money to receive, such as a measurement system or a strategic TCOR (Total Cost of Risk) or enterprise risk management (ERM) plan.

What is your deliverable? Is it insurance? Is it a service plan? Is it a list of value-added services? I hate to tell you, but all of these are commodities to a buyer. That’s why you must find something for which they’d gladly pay money.

Brand and package

Your company brand is the clear, powerful and positive thought that comes to mind when others think about you. What is your brand? Do you simply exist and let others tell you what they think about you, or do you proactively manage what others think?

Charles Schwab is one company that took control of its product and created a brand around it. Schwab created a new product based on investor education and investment products that individuals could purchase. They empowered the consumer in part by discounted trades. But they didn’t do it by saying, “Here’s all our stuff; go start buying.”

Rather, they packaged products and services to assist with customer education and decision making. They didn’t just give a “list” of services. They named their processes, packaged and named investment lists, and created a unique experience for clients that seemingly couldn’t be purchased anywhere else. Clients loved the concept and eagerly paid for the unique process and experience they could get by working with Charles Schwab. Everything they bought could have been purchased elsewhere. But the packaging created a perception that they could get the products only through Schwab.

An insurance agency can do the same thing. Brand and package yourself in a way that differentiates you from the pack and gives the impression that you’re worth more. Stop giving lists of services and create a unique experience. This means naming your process, naming your products and naming the experiences you bring to a client. An agency that can create a brand and communicate it effectively will be considered more valuable before and during the sales process.

Use vertical and horizontal product strategies

Horizontal products are products that help clients in different industries. Insurance agencies naturally provide products and services to horizontal markets. Risk management, loss control and insurance products fall under this umbrella. However, you can create new horizontal markets by specializing in niche industries.

Providing services that bring additional value to a niche market can increase an agency’s value proposition and decrease the need for aggressive selling. Examples are driver training for trucking companies, repetitive motion injury studies for manufacturers, or trench safety training for utility contractors. Unique horizontal product offerings will allow for a more collaborative selling model.

These days, real opportunity exists in vertical markets, which are groups of similar businesses and customers that engage in business together. Vertical markets for brokers and agents could include human resources services, legal services, perpetuation products, financial risk management strategies, aging population programs, wealth management and much more.

Although an agency doesn’t have to provide all of these products, verticals can create diversity in soft markets, enhance and initiate fee-based capabilities, establish differentiation and produce new income opportunities. In most markets, providing just one additional vertical will create enough differentiation to allow for open collaboration and natural conclusion sales.

Get wiki

Recently I suggested to a friend at an agency that he read Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. He bought the book and began reading it on the plane, enroute to see his son in college. He became quite excited because the book helped him understand new Web 2.0 concepts and exposed him to a variety of innovative insights and ideas, such as how mass collaboration can speed up industry transformation. He couldn’t wait to share information about these technological advances with his son.

Shortly after his son picked him up at the airport, my friend excitedly shared what he’d learned. His son rolled his eyes and shook his head as every teenager does when a parent seems so out of touch. “Dad, that book was written to show your generation what was on the train that left the station a couple of years ago!” said his son.

I have to agree. Wikinomics (based on the word “wiki,” which means “quick” in Hawaiian) is a long-gone train that bypassed our industry. While we spend thousands of dollars protecting intellectual capital, developing outdated products and building useless Web sites, we’re missing the technological or “wiki train.” And it’s a fast mover.

While it’s still not too late to get on board, all of us in the insurance industry had better do it soon if we ever hope to create a unique experience for our clients. Video technology for client interaction and training, social networking, informa-tion access, mass collaboration with an industry network (like Sitkins International) and much more is available to us, although everything is evolving daily. Web 2.0 strategies can create a unique experience with prospects that will eliminate competitors and the need for tricky selling strategies.

Summing up

Build a “wiki” strategy into your business model, be purposeful with your brand, create value in your deliverables, expand your horizontal and vertical capabilities, and “get wiki,” and you will give prospects and clients an experience that will have no competition. In turn, it will allow you to eliminate the “hard sell,” while encouraging your prospects to collaborate and come to a natural conclusion to become clients.

The author
Larry Linne is president of Sitkins International, Inc., which offers the Vertical Growth Experience™ programs exclusively to a private client group known as The Sitkins 100™. Larry’s background includes agency operations and sales management, CEO coaching, sales process consulting, performance management and leadership training.


Agencies [must] stop selling commodities and start developing a valued client experience.














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