One seminar leader opened a workshop for property and casualty insurance agents by asking this question: “Why do people buy insurance?” After the participants offered a variety of responses, he says there’s only one right answer: “To take care of claims.” What seems rather intuitive to most consumers may not be quite so clear to insurance salespeople.
How could they miss something that seems so obvious? It’s easy. Insurance salespeople are knowledgeable about analyzing and managing risk. This is their job; it’s what salespeople know. It’s ironic that the strength of knowledge shifts to weakness when they blindly approach solutions from their perspective. But today’s customers want their issues and their interests addressed by salespeople. They want to tell their story and expect salespeople to listen.
To be a salesperson today isn’t easy –– in fact it’s difficult. So, here are six ideas that will help you become a more effective salesperson.
1. Embrace a changing role. A recent Silverpop white paper referred to a study, one that directly affects salespeople: “83% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product or service if they feel a personal connection to the company, while 20% said they would spend up to 50% more if they felt the company put customers first.
While this may help explain the near fanatical customer loyalty enjoyed by such companies as Amazon, Apple and others, it also calls into question the traditional and cherished role of salespeople as intermediaries operating between a company and its customers.
However, this shouldn’t cause anyone to conclude the change diminishes the salesperson’s value. But it does suggest that salespeople now have the task of aligning a company with its customers in ways that result in ever increasing loyalty. Those salespeople who are most successful in accomplishing this objective, a role some call “customer experience facilitator,” deserve to be compensated appropriately for their efforts because of their ability to clearly understand customer needs and expectations.
2. Make ‘now’ the only acceptable response time. When business email recipients are asked who they should respond to first, the most common answer is “the boss.” And it’s downhill from there. Perhaps this explains why so many customer emails fail to receive priority attention or why “I’ll get back to as soon as I can” is insulting.
When Boston Business Journal asked Adam Kennedy, 37, the regional property manager for Peabody Properties, Inc., about his guiding management principles, he put communication at the top. “Response needs to be immediate,” he said. Those few words say it all. “Now” is the only acceptable answer. This is what customers expect and how they “score” those they do business with.
3. Always think strategically. “It’s absolutely appalling –– and I never use that word –– that there are large, public companies with CEOs who cannot tell what the company’s unique vision and value proposition are,” writes management consultant Steve Tobak of Silicone Valley-based Invisor Consulting.
If this is accurate, then is it any wonder that others in companies are focused on what they’re doing, but don’t have a clue as to the mission of the enterprise? Ask someone in sales their mission and chances are they will say, “Make the numbers.” On and on it goes –– no strategy.
“Tell me what your business was born to change?” asks Christoph Becker, Global CEO of gyro. “Who are the people? What is their dream? How is your business set to change the world?” He notes that this is what it takes to make a brand relevant to people.
4. Don’t jump to a solution before understanding the need. Sending customers the message that your goal is “making the sale” rather than “helping to solve a problem” is the most common mistake in sales. Today’s customers don’t want any part of “being sold.” What they’re looking for is help. Those salespeople who don’t understand the difference are headed for trouble.
The path to the right solution starts with asking questions –– taking time to ask lots of questions. “At first it bothered us that she was asking so many questions,” said the manager regarding a meeting with a salesperson. “It was irritating because we knew what we wanted.” Then, with a sheepish smile, he added, “It didn’t take long before we realized that we had been going in the wrong direction.”
If there were ever an overlooked truth in selling it’s this: Questions, not presentations, close sales. Why? Customers recognize the value of salespeople who understand what it means to help.
5. Make compelling statements that deliver the right message. Jim Corliss is the owner of Braintree (Mass.) Printing, a successful company that’s long been known as an early adopter of new technology. “Some things work better than others,” says Jim candidly. “But I feel it’s important to be on the leading edge.”
When asked about his new 3-D printing capabilities, Jim said, “It’s going slower than I would like, but people need to get a feel for what it can do for them and that takes time.”
It takes powerful, compelling messages to put a company “out in front,” to attract customers and to separate it from the competition.
6. Never stop engaging customers. This may seem so basic and obvious it’s not worth taking time to talk about it. Perhaps, but the evidence suggests otherwise. In effect, most companies don’t make engaging customers an ongoing activity; stupidly, they actively promote “anti-loyalty.” Customers conclude, “I’m not important to them.”
Customers are amazed that so few salespeople ever both to follow up after a sale, let alone as time goes by. When auto dealers fail to stay in touch with car buyers more than a few months or maybe a year, the customers fall off the database cliff, which then gives them “permission” to shop elsewhere the next time around. If salespeople want loyalty from customers, they must demonstrate loyalty as well.
Today, there are so many available buying channels for customers that continuing to engage them is a salesperson’s most important task.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617/774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.