A year ago, my financial advisor started bugging me relentlessly to buy something. I mean he was all over me on this. It was like Chinese water torture.
At least until I actually started to think about what he was working overtime to sell me: He recognized that I was long overdue in having my will updated and revised to reflect changing circumstances in my life. And he was insisting I put it off no longer.
Still I didn’t act, preoccupied as I was with managing my business. So he did. He called my lawyer (to whom he had talked in the past) to set a date. He forwarded my existing will, had my assistant lock the meeting into my schedule and, to top it off, he too attended on the designated date.
Think about what really happened here: My advisor wasn’t selling me anything. He was instead giving up his time and energy to see to it that I did the right thing. In doing so, he took time away from making calls and attending meetings that could very well generate commissions. There wasn’t a dollar to be made in going through the elaborate process of dragging me into the lawyer’s office to create a new will.
Well, let me rephrase that. There wasn’t an immediate dollar to be made. But there was an important relationship to nurture: the one that bound us together not as salesman and customer but as advisor and client. This reveals an oft-overlooked fact: Most top producers never sell anything–not directly that is. They position themselves as the most powerful force they can be–as an expert and a friend–and the sales flow from the deep and genuine relationships this leads to.
So much of the Willy Loman sales playbook is so dated, off base and misguided, that it hurts rather than aids producers. It needs to be tossed out and replaced with a far more powerful way of building careers: Invisible Selling.
Case in point: the old school sales bible advises you to “Ask for the business.” In accordance with this axiom, when you take a prospect to lunch, you are advised to move quickly through the small talk and then unveil the big gun of your sales presentation. As the sell concludes, you are to zoom in for the kill, asking for the business and making sure you leave with a check.
That’s nonsense–and the top producers know it. In fact, they recognize that just the opposite is true. When they invite a client or prospect to lunch, they treat that person not as a mark but instead with the respect they deserve. They talk about family, sports, mutual friends, films–anything but a sales pitch. In their role as an expert and a friend, they may talk about ideas or insights on personal finance, but there isn’t a hint of “visible” selling.
And then the magic occurs. The lunch guest turns the tables and starts “selling” them. It sounds like this: “That’s an interesting concept. I’ve never heard about that before. Will that work for me? Can we go through the numbers?”
Invisible selling recognizes that many of the most powerful things in the world cannot be seen. No one has seen relativity. No one has seen Beethoven’s Fifth. No one has seen faith. Top producers recognize the power of the invisible and thus you will never see them selling in the traditional sense. No gimmicks. No elevator speeches. No fancy footwork. They simply position themselves as an expert and a friend.
In doing so they (and you can do the same) use 5 key principles:
1. Treat everyone they do business with as a member of their extended family. No one wants to be a customer. They want to experience the special attention and concern generally limited to family.
2. Make a personal guarantee. People know you can’t guarantee to go above contractual interest rates or that investments will outperform the S&P. But that’s not what they want from you anyway.
What they really desire, and take great comfort in, is that you guarantee to stand behind your products when and if problems occur with the carrier, the mutual fund, whomever. And that if you make a mistake–after all, we are all human–you will own up to it and make good on your error. When typical salespeople run away from problems, top producers step up to the plate and solve them.
Last summer, when I returned my car from lease, Mercedes Benz credit notified me that the car allegedly had excess wear and tear and I owed $3,200. I thought this was erroneous and asked the representative who had sold me the lease 3 years before if he could step in on my behalf. Before I could even complete my request, he came riding to my aid:
“Mr. Stevens, when you first leased from me, I promised you that I would always be there for you. No need to say another word,” he said. “I’m on it.”
Within 24 hours he solved the issue with Mercedes and told me I didn’t owe a dime. I didn’t know how he did it, only that he made good on his personal guarantee. I leased a new car from him that day and have referred more than a dozen friends his way.
3. Recognize that the provider counts more than the product. If you are an insurance salesperson, you have a zillion competitors. By showing your clients that you are both an expert and a friend, you distinguish yourself from the pack. Once you demonstrate this, there’s no one else they’ll turn to.
4. Remember that people buy trust before they buy product or services. If they don’t trust you, the sale is nearly impossible. This is another way the top producers establish themselves without selling anything.
A few years ago, I went house hunting with a real estate agent. It was our first day searching for the right home and it turned out to be disappointing. As we were about to call it a day, the agent advised me that there was one more home we could see. She hadn’t had the chance to preview it yet but if it was acceptable to me, we could view it together.
I said sure and as we drove up to the home, it was love at first sight for me. After a tour of the interior I was convinced this was the house for me and asked the agent to put in a bid that night. To which she promptly responded, “No. That house isn’t right for you.”
Given the way the home was situated and its unusual floor plan, it would, she advised, be difficult to resell. Given that I had advised her in advance that I might need to relocate in 18 months, her reasoning was sound … and more than that, extremely generous. She put my interests before hers. She gained my trust for life.
Amateurs have suggested to me that she talked herself out of a commission. Nothing could be further from the truth. She sold me a home a month later and has served a network of my friends and business associates. I would never work with anyone else.
5. Make people an offer they can’t refuse. Top producers don’t sell life insurance or annuities, per se. They provide a guaranteed way to protect clients’ lifestyles and ensure the clients never outlive their money.
That’s an offer no one can refuse. And like the trust and expertise and friendship you bring to the table, it’s invisible. And it is far more powerful than salesmanship.
Mark Stevens is CEO of MSCO, a global marketing firm based in Rye Brook, N.Y. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org