Prospecting. Opening. Presenting. Closing. All these words have one thing in common: They are all part of the sales cycle. To succeed in our business, we must move effectively and efficiently around the sales cycle.

But consider: Our ability to move through the sales cycle is only as good as our weakest link in the cycle. If we can present well, but can’t close, our chances of a successful career in sales are dramatically reduced.

We need to identify our weak areas and take steps to make them better, just like any professional would. Professional golfers like Tiger Woods practice every aspect of their game. We need to do the same.

But it’s no surprise that financial advisors don’t think of their work this way. Our educational institutions have the same trouble viewing sales as a profession. Indeed, none offers a diploma or degree program in sales.

It’s no wonder, then, that we don’t always recognize the need to hone our skills and try new ideas to improve sales results. One such technique that can yield dramatic results is conceptual selling.

What Is Conceptual Selling?

Conceptual selling is selling what a product does, not what it is. Perfume companies, for example, don’t market their products’ ingredients, but rather their real and perceived benefits.

With conceptual selling, the seller creatively emphasizes the product’s benefits using simple stories, pictures, anecdotes and metaphors that have emotional appeal. To understand why the technique works, you first need to understand how your brain works.

Think of a company made up of just two departments: accounting and marketing. The left side of your brain is the accounting department: It’s the logical side that handles all the analytical work, including numbers-crunching and rational thinking. The right side is the marketing department, where all creative thinking–imagination, conceptual ideas and expressiveness–goes on.

Research indicates that most decision-making occurs within the right side of the brain, where people are better able to conceptualize and understand “the big picture.” When we appeal to a client’s emotions and feelings using illustrations or stories, we encourage right-brain thinking.

Selling conceptually also helps distinguish you from other financial advisors. If you can explain your products and services in ways clients can easily understand, they will better appreciate not only the products’ value, but also the value you bring by providing clear solutions to complex needs.

We will now share with you simple, yet powerful, sales concepts that our practice has developed for different products and different points in the sales cycle. Each idea involves a story, analogy or diagram that is easy to master and convey to a client.

Personal Timeline

Your knowledge and range of products easily can overwhelm prospects if not presented properly. The timeline, which identifies important life events and their financial impact, is an excellent way to initiate a discussion about the prospect’s goals while bringing together insurance and investment planning.

The personal timeline also emphasizes the importance of the role you play as a trusted advisor, helping clients achieve their short, medium and long-term objectives. With the stage set, you are now ready to move to the fact-finding and analysis stage of the sales cycle.

Hockey Team

Too many advisors shortchange themselves by selling their products and not themselves. The following sports analogy establishes your role as a key player on the client’s “financial team.”

“Financial planning is like a hockey team, Mr. Client. It’s made up of two key elements: offense and defense. The offense includes all the proactive steps you take to achieve your financial objectives, such as saving for a home or retirement.

“The defense is what you do to protect yourself and your family in case something goes wrong. This includes insurance planning to ‘defend’ yourself against premature death or a long-term disability.”

Using this idea during your initial meeting with a prospective client accomplishes two objectives. First, it establishes that your role is of equal importance to that of the client’s other advisors, such as the accountant and attorney. It helps the client see you more as a trusted professional rather than as a traditional “salesperson.”

Sailboat

This idea encourages the prospect to acknowledge the importance of insurance as part of a well-rounded financial plan. And it implicitly gives you permission to include insurance as part of your review.

Here’s how it works: “Financial planning is in many ways like a sailboat. Both have several components, with each part serving a definite purpose.

“The rudder represents your financial goals. Without a rudder, a boat has no direction. The hull is your savings, the reserve that keeps you afloat when things get rough. The sail comprises your investments, the resources to get you to your destination.

“And life insurance is your life jacket. If the boat sinks, insurance is the only thing that will save you and your family. Insurance is mandatory safety equipment on all financial plans.”

EstateBridge

Convincing clients to spend money on large insurance premiums isn’t always easy. This powerful idea can help to change their mind by vividly showing the benefits of life insurance as an estate preservation tool.

Example: “Mr. and Mrs. Client, I’d like to discuss an effective way that we can increase the size of your estate for your heirs. To do this, I’d like you to picture a creek running down the center of my office. On one side of the creek are the two of you. On the other side are your heirs.

“When the second spouse passes away, some of your estate will pass over the creek to your heirs on the other side. Unfortunately, a large part of your estate will fall into the creek and be washed downstream to the government in the form of taxes on your remaining retirement investments.

“Lawyers, accountants and others like me who specialize in estate planning recommend building an estate planning bridge over the creek. That way, more of your estate passes over the bridge intact and less falls into the creek only to be washed away.

“We build the estate planning bridge with life insurance, a planning tool that lets us create a bigger estate for your heirs. The additional money that will pass over the creek to your heirs is significantly more than the actual cost of building this bridge with life insurance.

“With that in mind, would you agree that we should investigate the benefits of building an estate planning bridge for the two of you?”

Some of you may say, “I could never use these ideas; they’re far too simple to be used with a sophisticated prospect. Accountants and doctors would laugh me out of their office.”

These ideas do work, even with affluent and professional clients. In fact, some analytical clients will actually thank you for relating to them in terms they can understand. They may be experts in their own field, but chances are they know next to nothing about insurance planning.

But there’s another reason to incorporate conceptual selling: If you don’t try new ideas to help you open, present and close more effectively, someone else will–probably one of your competitors. These simple ideas, combined with practice and skill, will improve your sales results.

Shoes of the Problem

When closing the sale, successful advisors know how to make clients feel vulnerable by putting them into the “shoes of the problem.” Using reverse psychology, we make clients feel what it’s like to be without insurance when they most need it.

To close effectively, when we ask for the sale we must make clients live, breathe and feel what it is like to not have insurance when they need it the most–so they fully appreciate why the product is essential to their future financial well-being.

Putting the client into the shoes of the problem by asking a pointed question is sometimes difficult, especially for newer advisors. You can make it easier on both parties by asking for the client’s permission first.

We believe that these ideas will contribute to your professional success. Used properly, they will not only ignite your insurance sales but also make your work more enjoyable. We also believe that the recipe for success in our business comes down to three words: purpose, passion and pride.

Brian A. Burlacoff, CLU, CFP, and Mark Coutts, HBA, MBA, RHU, are financial advisors for Clarica, a Sun Life Financial company based in Waterloo, Ont. You can e-mail them at brian.burlacoff@clarica.com and mark.coutts@clarica.com, respectively. This is an abridged version of a presentation they gave at the MDRT annual meeting in New Orleans.

A hockey team is a sales concept that establishes the insurance advisor’s role as a key player on the client’s “financial team.”

Paint a picture

? The personal timeline. This identifies important life events and their financial impact, and is an excellent way to initiate a discussion about the prospect’s goals while bringing together insurance and investment planning.

? Hockey team. This sports analogy establishes your role as a key player on the client’s “financial team.” And it helps the client see you more as a trusted professional rather than as a traditional “salesperson.”

? Sailboat. This idea encourages the prospect to acknowledge the importance of insurance as part of a well-rounded financial plan. And it implicitly gives you permission to include insurance as part of your review.

? Estate bridge. Convincing clients to spend money on large insurance premiums isn’t always easy. This powerful idea can help to change their mind by vividly showing the benefits of life insurance as an estate preservation tool.