Insurance Sales Lessons from the Masters
This post is excerpted from Ken Smith’s presentation at the 2016 National Medicare Supplement Sales Summit in Kansas City, MO.
In his presentation, author Ken Smith has outlined Five Principles of Success, which he says “works one hundred percent of the time, like a like a law of nature.”
- Principle 1: Enthusiasm
- Principle 2: Attitude
- Principle 3: Stop Selling Insurance
- Principle 4: System with Focus
- Principle 5: Make Calls
Principle 1: Enthusiasm
Frank Bettger was a major league baseball player before he got in the insurance business. He was playing with a minor league team and got fired. The manager thought he was lazy and he said “all I'm trying to do is hide my nervousness”.
So he got on with another team and made a vow that he would never have anyone call him lazy again. The first day on this other team he got out there and he was a ball of fire. He was all over the place, and in fact the local newspaper actually called him "Pep" Bettger just because of his enthusiasm.
And what he found was that the benefits of acting enthusiastic helped him overcome his fear, and it affected the other players around him and they became enthusiastic too. And then he felt better after the game than he did before it.
Later, Bettger got into the insurance business, and was failing miserably at it. His manager told him “You're not cut out to be a salesperson. I'm cutting off your draw, go look for another job.” Bettger left there that day and he knew he had issues to address.
It just so happened that Dale Carnegie himself was holding a course in Philadelphia and Bettger went that night. Carnegie was talking about the importance of enthusiasm. And as he sat in on the session he thought back to when he was a baseball player, and how he used enthusiasm when he played baseball. He went in the next morning, and convinced his manager to give him one more month.
Over the next ten weeks Bettger sold more life insurance then he had in the previous ten months - using enthusiasm.
William James was a Harvard professor and he's considered the American father of psychology. He made a great discovery - that feelings follow actions. Sometimes we think we'll do something if we feel a certain way, but it's it's actually the opposite. Basically you do something and then you get the feeling that goes with it.
For those of you who have been selling, has there ever been a time when you were hesitant to pick up the phone and make a call? But how do you feel after you make that call? You feel excited and you're ready to go on and make the next call.
So here's a secret. If you want to feel a certain way, all you have to do is act a certain way. So if you want to be enthusiastic all you have to do is act enthusiastic. Try it and see what happens.
Now have you ever been around someone who is really pessimistic, like a Debbie Downer? The only way they can brighten a room is by leaving! We all know we all know people like that, when they're around you they’re just pulling you down.
Think about when you're face to face, or even on the telephone. If you sound enthusiastic how does your prospect feel? Enthusiastic human emotions are transferable. So when we're enthusiastic our prospect feels enthusiastic too.
Principle 2: Attitude
W. Clement Stone once said “Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesperson, not the prospect”.
Back in the early 1930’s Stone had a new product with commercial casualty insurance. His agents were complaining they couldn't sell it because it was too expensive. Stone went out and spent four weeks selling the product himself. When his agents saw that Stone could sell the product, guess what happened? All of a sudden that barrier that it was too expensive was down - and they believed that they could sell it.
Another examples with Stone: There was a new agent starting and he came in and said “Mr. Stone, can you give me the names of some people I can call on and use your name?” Stone said “Come on in tomorrow morning and my secretary will have 10 prospect cards for you.”
The guy picked up his 10 prospect cards, and on Friday he came in all excited. He said “I sold eight out of the ten and I've got appointments with the other two. This is great! Mr. Stone can you give me some more prospects?” Stone said to him “I'm kind of busy right now, but the phone book is over there.”
The guy did not believe that he actually just took the names out of the phone book. Stone told him “I took one from the A's, one from the B’s, one from the C's, and so on. The agent tried it and the next week said “Out of the 10 all I could get was 2 appointments.”
Now here's the thing - when he believed that Stone had some influence over the prospect and had some credibility with the prospect, he was able to get appointments with them and he was able to sell them. But when that went away he couldn't get the appointment.
So are sales dependent on the attitude of the salesperson or are they dependent on the attitude of the prospect? This is a principle in that if you believe you're going to get the sale, you've got a much better chance of getting that sale than if you don't believe it's going to happen.
Many years ago when I took a computer programming course in college, there was an expression “Good stuff in, good stuff out and bad stuff in, bad stuff out”. I believe when it comes to attitude, our brain is like a computer. We put good stuff in we get good stuff out.
Why do you think attitude and enthusiasm are so important? They are contagious. No matter how you how you cut it. Your thoughts create your outcomes. You have to be excited about what you’re selling, and how can you get your prospect excited if you're not?
Principle 3: Stop Selling Insurance
Rail was the principal form of transportation in the 1930’s. What happened to the railroads by the 1970’s? The passenger railroads were bankrupt, and we got Amtrak as a result of that.
What happened? The railroads thought they were in the railroad business, and they were so busy running a railroad that they forgot that they were in the business of moving passengers from one place to another.
Think about this. Last year there were 20 million ½" drill bits sold. If you think about it, not one single person wanted to buy a drill bit.
They had a problem. They needed a ½" hole, and the only way they could solve that problem was to buy a ½" drill bit.
Very few people really want to buy insurance
But everyone has a problem that only insurance can solve. If there is one thing you walk away with, it's that we don't sell insurance. What we do is solve problems for clients and I believe we can forget everything else about selling, if we just remember that we that we solve problems.
Back in the 80's I had a friend who had a client who was as an auditor. The auditor had a growing family, and was looking for some additional ways to make money.
This auditor was so introverted he couldn’t lead a group in silent prayer. My friend asked him what he thought about mutual funds, and he said “well you know you're betting on the American economy and the future looks good. It's a good investment after you have your life insurance needs taken care of and you have at least 6 months of emergency fund.”
My friend said “Well we're bringing on some part-time people...” and he said right away “Sell? I can't sell!” and my friend said “Forget selling. You sit down with people and help them set up a budget, and then if they need additional life insurance, could you recommend that they purchase additional life insurance, and then if there's anything left over, recommend that they put some money into mutual funds?”
The auditor couldn't sell but he could sit there and solve people's problems by helping with their budgets, recommending life insurance and mutual funds.
Here's the amazing thing, this auditor who couldn't sell, was making as much money doing this after 12 months as he was making as an auditor.
How do we help our prospects see that they have a problem?
The secret is asking questions. Every great salesperson and every trial lawyer can thank Socrates. Think about a trial lawyer they get somebody on the witness stand. They ask a question, and they already know how the person is going to answer when they asked that question.
Socrates found that if someone disagreed with him, he could never convince them if he argued with them, but if he put together a series of questions to show the person how there were holes in their thought process, he could then convince them.
Four example questions
These are four questions I used with critical illness plans. Critical illness insurance basically pays a lump sum on the diagnosis of cancer, heart attack, or stroke.
- Who do you know who's been diagnosed with cancer had a heart attack or stroke? Everyone knows someone.
- Did they plan on it, or was it unexpected?
- Was there unplanned emotional or financial stress on the household or the business?
- Would cash have helped? Everyone answers yes.
So you see how it works with the four questions and using using Socrates’ approach. Those four questions basically take someone right through the need for a critical illness plan, and I haven't made one statement. All I've done is ask questions.
What our job is in the Medicare Supplement market becomes all about finding out what the other person wants and helping them helping them get it. You’ve seen this before - selling is 98% understanding human beings and 2% product knowledge.
How do we understand human beings? It's easy. All we have to do is ask lots of questions. If you're doing all the talking, your prospect is thinking “This guy is trying to sell me something”. But if you're asking your prospect questions, who are they thinking about? The most important person in the world - themselves.
Solve your prospect's problem
Frank Bettger, in the middle of the Depression, sold a $250,000 dollar whole life policy. He walked into the office of a manufacturer and man said “I've got eight proposals sitting on my desk. They're all over there. I'll just add yours and we'll make a decision next week.”
Bettger spent 2 hours ahead of time preparing a list of 14 questions to ask the manufacturer. He started asking the questions, and by the time he got to question 8, the manufacturer was ready to buy from him. Bettger was solving a problem and he got to the heart of the the man's problem with his questions.
Everyone else that had their proposal sitting there (and some of them were good friends of the man) was just selling insurance. So stop selling insurance and start solving problems for your clients.
Principle 4: A System with Focus
One thing that I have found out in in my writing and working with agents over the last 35+ years. Every successful agent is focused either on one product or one market. And I have known so many agents who go off and do other things, and they get sidetracked, and they end up in bad shape as a result of it. So it is so important to stay focused.
If you look at the 4 sales people that I wrote about in the book, Bettger was focused on the business market, Stone and his sales team were focused on one product - pre-issue accident policies. Feldman sold packages to business owners which were basically bundles of whole life insurance. Gandolfo focused on one occupation at a time. In the year he wrote the billion dollars worth of life insurance his whole market was BMW and Ford dealers.
Focus is so important - Stone turned $100 into a billion dollars because he had a system, and his agents followed the system. We would call it a sales process today, but they just hammered away at it and worked.
Here's something I thought was really interesting, and this can help everyone in business.
- 36% percent of sales people have no sales process
- 42% have a sales process but don't follow it
- 78% do not have or use a sales process
Why do you think it is 20% of the salesforce is writing 80% of the business? A sales process or system is so important!
Principle 5: Make Calls
You know what? We all have to make calls. Whether you're working on phone sales or face-to-face, nothing happens in this business without making a call.
Feldman said “there is no easy way”. The key is making calls, and nothing happens until you make a call. When you make calls, you’re building momentum. And in this business we're back to the 80% that's mental and emotional. When we're making calls we're working on that emotional side. I have talked to many agents through the years when they've been in a slump and said “I'm not writing anything”.
90% of the time, the slump is attributable to the fact that they stopped making calls.
Bettger was really impressed when the president of Fidelity Mutual came in one day and talked to the agency. The president had worked in every department in the company, and he had sold for 5 years.
He said “Show me anyone in this business who will tell their story to 4 or 5 people a day, and I will show you someone who can't help but succeed.”
Colonel Sanders made calls
My hero is Harlan Sanders and I'm not even a Kentucky Fried Chicken fan. Sanders had a restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, and in the 1950’s the government built Interstate 75, which bypassed Corbin and reduced traffic to his restaurant.
The business dried up, and he ended up having to sell his restaurant at auction. Sanders was 65 years old and collected his first Social Security check for a grand total of $105 a month. He said “I'm not going to live off the government, I'm going to do something about this”.
He thought about what he had, which was the greatest chicken recipe ever. Then he made up his mind that he was going to go out and start talking to restaurant owners about his recipe. He would go into a restaurant and get the owner and employees together and say “I've got the greatest chicken recipe ever”. He would cook a chicken dinner for them and if they liked it he would propose a deal.
Restaurants would pay him 4 cents for every chicken dinner that they sold. That was the basis for Kentucky Fried Chicken. At this point in time Mr. Sanders didn't have much money when he was out making these calls. He was actually sleeping in the back seat of his car, most of the time. But because he made the commitment and took action, Sanders became a wealthy man in the early 1960’s when he sold out for millions of dollars.
As a result of that he also became one of the most beloved figures of that generation in the ‘60’s and his image is so powerful that Kentucky Fried Chicken has even brought it back. He made the calls.
- Principle 1: Enthusiasm
- Principle 2: Attitude
- Principle 3: Stop Selling Insurance
- Principle 4: System with Focus
- Principle 5: Make Calls
Ken Smith is an experienced insurance sales and marketing executive who know firsthand the challenges of the sales profession. He speaks hundreds of time a year to agent and sales groups, and therefore he understands how many of today's agents are missing out on the accumulated wisdom of some of the greatest minds of sales. For these reasons, Ken has written Sales Lessons from the Masters. The "masters" who provide the lessons are Frank Bettger, W. Clement Stone, Ben Feldman and Joe Gandolfo. By reviewing their lives and the challenges they overcame, along with the success and sales principles they used to guide them. Ken passes along their sales wisdom to a new generation. Check out the book here.
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