Every sales professional has a selling process. The gap between success and failure is this simple question: Who should I talk to about insurance?

Obviously, you could open a phone book and have unlimited prospects, but few seasoned professionals do this. Why? Because they have developed other systematic methods for identifying prospects: direct mail, seminars, referrals, personal contact and so on.

Finding good people to talk to is the name of the game. But once you have a good prospect, what do you say? Suppose you are ready to hold an opening interview. First, you want to make certain you actually have a good prospect.

You want to qualify your prospect before you expend untold emotion and physical energy. This is smart and it sets the top producers apart from the rest of the crowd. Why waste time on the wrong prospects?

The Sales Process

Once you have identified your prospect you need a sales process. I think of it as my “magic box.” The magic box helps me appreciate the value of my organization and my resources. It also gives me the courage to discern which prospects will be the most profitable and makes certain I don’t put the wrong prospects into my selling process.

Most top salespeople will tell you to pre-qualify prospects by doing research before you go to the opening interview. The more you can find out about the prospect, the more likely you are to have a good opening interview.

That’s what a filter does. It helps protect you from time wasted. It gives you an objective way to determine whether your prospect is qualified to become a client.

What is this filter? It is an objective criterion you use to determine whether your prospect fits your skill set and your business model.

Now you might say, “This is all about survival. If they walk and talk, I want to sell them.” While survival is a big part of success, there comes a time when you will have to choose between two actions–one having a higher probability than the other of being successful.

From my years of research working with top producers, I have discovered that most top agents successfully close 95% of the cases they work on. Why? Are they better salespeople? Are they more smooth, articulate, better motivators?

I suppose there will always be differences in skill levels, but I have found these high octane agents sell a higher percentage for one primary reason: They are good eliminators. They only work on cases they know they are going to sell. They eliminate the rest before they waste time on them.

I learned many years ago that once you do a fact-finder, you will sell virtually 100% of your cases. But this is only true if prospects are qualified. And to qualify them, you need two filters.

Why? Without two, you’ll waste valuable time and resources. If you let just any prospect into your system, you run the risk of bogging down the process. You have to be discerning.

It is imperative that you profile the kinds of customers you want to develop into long-term clients. You need a business and marketing plan that will get you to your destination. Remember, it is best to do everything “on purpose.”

As you experiment with your filters, you may discover it is hard to turn away a potential prospect. But as time goes by and you develop your “on purpose” thought process, it will be easier to determine who is and who is not a good prospect. The key is having effective criteria.

Bruce Etherington, a Million Dollar Round Table member based in Toronto, Canada, has a criterion I think we all could adopt. He asks himself and his referral sources the following four questions.

Who among the people you know:

o is affluent?

o has integrity and character?

o can make a decision?

o is advancing career-wise?

If you can “load up your wagon,” so to speak, with prospects who fit this profile, you can never make a prospecting mistake. In addition to those four questions, you should ask about referrals’ circumstances. Do they own a business? How many employees do they have? Is it family-held?

This filtering process never changes. Unfortunately, few people take the time to assess the qualities of the potential buyer. As agents, we are so busy trying to be successful (or dealing with our call reluctance) that we easily forget the basics of success.

Now if you think back, I said there are two filters, both of which I use to protect my magic box. The first filter is your criteria. The second filter is the client’s criteria.

Suppose you had a magic box that accepted unlimited pieces of paper and dispensed crisp, $100 bills. If you had a box like this, what would you do?

Obviously, you would be very nice to it. You would protect it from harm. But you probably would put all the paper you could find into the slot, so that you could get those $100 bills to put in your pocket.

Unfortunately, one day your box stops producing bills. You wonder why. As you ponder the reasons, you begin to realize that maybe you got greedy. Perhaps you put too much, or the wrong type of, paper in the machine. Or you added paper at the wrong speed.

So, you tell yourself, “If this stupid machine ever starts working again, I will be a lot more careful about the paper I use and how fast I feed the paper.” You think, “What I need is a safeguard, a filter that can evaluate each piece of paper before I insert it in the machine.”

Fortunately, the machine starts to run again, putting you back in business. Your filter begins to work protecting your magic box and keeping it working.

This magic box, an allegory for our business, comprises the people and resources we use to produce the policies we sell. The people do the illustrations, process the applications, and facilitate the underwriting and the other services we rely upon. If you go through the drill and the policy doesn’t get placed, not only is this discouraging to the team, it also draws resources from other projects.

How do you guard against this? After you complete your opening interview, you ask the prospect a simple question, “If I can help you solve this problem, do you see any reason why you can’t do business with me?”

Now that is blunt. But truthfully, isn’t that the question? We all want to ask it, but we are afraid of the answer. You can’t lose something you never had. If they don’t want to do business with you now, they aren’t likely to change their opinion later.

Before you move on to the next step in your process, you need to give clients a chance to say ‘no.’ If they do so, then you dodged a bullet. But if they do want to move forward, it means you have a great prospect who will ultimately become a client.

Recapping the Points

In this article, we have seen that every salesperson uses the same process, that each step is a precursor to the next step and that you must sell each step.

We also learned that you need two filters: one that you use to make sure you want to do business with them and one they use to make sure they want to do business with you. These two filters protect your magic box from clogging up with bad paper and from not printing your $100 bills.

Guy Baker is managing director of BTA Advisory Group, Laguna Hills, Calif. You can e-mail him at guy@btagroup.net.

This magic box, an allegory for our business, comprises the people and resources we use to produce the policies we sell

Once you have identified your prospect you need a sales process–your ‘magic box’