How To Succeed In Sales Without Much Training Improving your performance in the current lack-of-training environment

By James M. Benson

Sales training was once considered essential to any financial services company. It was for me when I began selling insurance in the early 1970s.

We learned plenty about the business, but we also learned about connecting with clients, about the human drama of sales. My job was to empathize, to understand prospects’ fears and aspirations, and to guide them on a road that led to financial security and peace of mind.

My training also taught me that sales should never be relegated to the bottom of the economic food chain. Done properly, it helps others achieve their life goals and should be viewed as a noble calling.

I fear these admirable lessons are not being taught today, as most companies have dramatically scaled back, if not eliminated, sales training. The cutbacks reflect the bottom-line culture of corporate America, as precious dollars are now devoted to other areas, such as technology, that appear to yield more tangible benefits.

The training that does take place often focuses on individual product features. This, I believe, is a mistake for most any industry but particularly financial services, where competitors can quickly duplicate any product advantage.

It’s important, of course, to highlight why a specific product is right for a particular client, but most customers know that other sales professionals will have other products that meet their needs. Product alone is not enough to close a deal.

A sales professional can take many steps to improve performance, but I?d like to mention three. They alone will not replace the kind of comprehensive sales training I once received. But they will lead you in the right direction.

1. Take Control of the Sale. You are the professional in this relationship, and you should control every aspect of the sales process. If you lose control, your prospects will begin to doubt you and your efforts will be thwarted.

To avert that outcome, thoroughly interview prospects to learn about their financial goals so you can demonstrate how a particular investment opportunity or financial product will meet their needs. Support your recommendations with factual, neutral information (a Value Line report, for example, or a chart of a mutual fund?s returns compared to that of a well-known index like the S&P 500).

Provide a road map for the decision-making process. Let prospects know what to expect. And, as much as possible, you should ask for permission on how to proceed-about future meetings, about sharing information, about signing paperwork. These are all moves that will build trust with your prospects and minimize their fears of being manipulated.

2. Don’t Be Afraid To Walk Away. You have to know when to walk away from a prospect. I learned this, the hard way, early in my career. An accountant referred me to a successful 38-year-old family man who seemed an ideal candidate for buying insurance.

He agreed to speak with me over lunch. We met at an expensive restaurant, as I was willing to invest the time and money in the sale. We had a good meeting, but then he wanted to meet again for lunch.

I agreed to take him out again and then twice more. He always seemed interested but would never commit. He finally blamed his wife for his unwillingness to buy insurance, but when that story didn?t hold, he blamed the very accountant who had referred him in the first place.

I knew that he was being untruthful and, worse, that he enjoyed making me twist and plead for his business. I walked out on him, and it was the most empowering event of my entire career.

You should never grovel for a sale because it only diminishes the value of your work. When you remember the importance of what you do, you will project that value onto customers, who will reward you with their business.

3. Demand Objections. You should be nervous when prospects don?t have any objections to your presentation because the only objections you cannot overcome are those that are unspoken. Once you understand their reservations or concerns-and most prospects for any financial product will have some-you can respond appropriately.

Before asking for a commitment to proceed with the sale, you should ask, “Right now, are you leaning more positively toward my recommendations, or more negatively?” If the former, you can proceed.

If the latter, you can elicit their precise concerns; then you?ll have the information you need to ease those worries. If you don?t ask the question and your recommendations are rejected, your chances of overturning that decision, once made, are slim.

James M. Benson is president and chief executive officer-designate for John Hancock Life Insurance Company. You can e-mail him at 22KeysToSalesSuccess@jhancock.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, October 28, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.