No insurance agent in their right mind would intentionally sabotage their own sale. Nevertheless, self-sabotage — the act of undermining one’s own credibility and alienating the clients and prospects on whom we count for our livelihoods — occurs with dismaying frequency.

The many ways in which agents sabotage their own efforts range from obvious mistakes, such as blaming customers when their own products and services do not deliver as promised, to very subtle insults hidden in the things they say to customers. On the self-sabotage spectrum, it’s easy to recognize the obvious “I should have known better” mistakes that damage relationships with clients. The far more common and harmful situations occur when words and actions insidiously erode the client’s trust and the personal credibility that agents work so hard to establish.

Here are two sources of self-sabotage that cause agents to shoot themselves in the foot: “dangling insults” and the “old brain.”

The dangling insult
You would never insult a client by suggesting they are incompetent for not covering their family with life insurance or themselves with LTCI, or implying to an executive that they are negligent in not offering health insurance to employees. The very idea is inconceivable, yet it’s a common occurrence — in fact, agents unknowingly insult prospects and customers every day.

Here is a typical example. When an agent introduces their health insurance product by saying, “We save companies like yours from wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on employee health benefit plans,” it sounds innocuous on the surface. Statements like this are standard sales-speak and are often true, but they also contain “dangling insults.” After all, if you tell a client that they are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, aren’t you also suggesting that they haven’t been doing their job very well?

Dangling insults are unintentional. Agents are often unaware of the negative impact because such comments are built into their mindsets and the conventional sales training they may have received. The agent thinks they are delivering a compelling message and connecting with the customer’s pain. But to the customer, it can sound like the agent is interjecting or ending their sentences with “you idiot.”

The old brain
The manner in which agents react to their clients’ responses can either open the path to open and honest communication or become a primary instrument of self-sabotage. The “old brain” is not big on interpretation and analysis. It reacts to situations with lightning speed in six ways: attacking, submitting, fleeing, reproducing, nurturing, or being nurtured.

So how does the old brain affect sales conversations? Continuing the example above, when a client says, “We’re not losing anywhere near that much money,” an agent might counter with, “I’m sorry, but I think you misunderstood.” This implies it is the client who just doesn’t get it, and it often triggers an even more irritated retort. The agent is unconsciously engaged in self-protection at the expense of the client, who will often protect their self-esteem and strike back in turn.

Stopping self-sabotage
How can you stop sabotaging your efforts? The first step is awareness. You cannot solve a problem until you recognize it. The second step is to stop behaving like a sales agent and begin to behave more like an advisor who keeps your clients’ best interests in mind.

A good parallel is that of a doctor diagnosing a patient’s health. An effective diagnosis is made when the full extent of the patient’s problem is explored, measured, evaluated, and communicated.

Likewise, if you examine your client’s financial situation, the focus should be on the physical symptoms of the problems they are experiencing, which is their reality. The goal is to raise your client’s awareness and understanding of the problems they are experiencing and what it is costing them to manage the services you would provide.

When in diagnostic mode, you are dealing directly with your client’s reality. That is, you are working with situations these clients have experienced in the past, are currently experiencing, or will be exposed to in the future. In fact, your clients may not be aware that these elements or symptoms could represent significant problems that should be addressed. Through diagnosis, we can help bring clarity to problems and a way to make quality business decisions.

There are three primary objectives to keep in mind during a diagnosis.

  1. Uncover the reality of the customer’s situation (Do these symptoms exist?)
  2. Quantify the impact of the problem (How bad is it?)
  3. Create the “incentive to change” (Is it serious enough to take action?)

In the medical profession, a quality diagnosis builds exceptional levels of trust and credibility and a patient who is ready to take action. In insurance, it means greater differentiation and clarity, clients who respect and trust you, and more sales with profitable results.

Jeff Thull is president and CEO of the advisory firm Prime Resource Group. He can be reached at 800-876-0378 or 763-473-7529.