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It has often been said that people don’t buy life insurance; they’re sold life insurance. The buy/sell dynamic typically works this way: 1) the prospect mentions a need; 2) the producer pounces on it; and 3) the producer makes an all-out effort to convince the prospect that life insurance is the only thing that can address that need.

Whether the need is college funding, business continuation, disability income, long-term care, or something else, the seller’s immediate response is to explain to the prospect why this is a problem they should attend to. The close usually ends up being something like: “Don’t you feel it’s important to address this issue?”

Thus, the producer immediately attempts to sell both the problem and the solution. If we applied Pareto’s 80/20 rule to this scenario, the seller would probably be doing 80% of the talking and 20% of the listening. This approach might engage the prospect, but instead of promoting a sale, it tends to promote an image of a fast-talking, foot-in-the-door salesperson.

What the seller should be doing is engaging the prospect on an empathetic and emotional level, so the buyer can not only recognize the problem but also personalize it as a need. This internal perception is what gives the prospect the incentive to commit to the solution the seller is proposing — in other words, to become a buyer.

From a trainer’s perspective, one of the hardest points to get across to trainees is that identifying the problem is just the first step toward a sale. The most important part of selling is the sequence of events that, while not obvious to the prospect, are intrinsic to a successful close:

1) Understanding the importance of solving this problem from the prospect’s viewpoint,

2) Enabling the prospect to convince themselves of this importance, and then

3) Gaining their commitment to take action to solve it.

The prospect-to-buyer transformation is a chain reaction; it’s up to the seller to set it in motion. However, conducting a monologue about the problem is not the best way.

The inside-out approach

Joseph W. Jordan, author of “Living a Life of Significance,” says, “Inspiration is made of two components: one is your purpose. And so, what is your purpose? You have to recognize that you do something very significant — you are the most important person in someone’s life; a family continues or a business continues or a legacy is spawned for generations by your activities. You’ve got to not only know it, you’ve got to believe it and feel it.”

See also: Passion: You Just Gotta Have It

The book goes into more detail about the purpose of each of your prospects and how to communicate that to them. In essence, you’re approaching the prospect from the inside-out, by reaching inside yourself and offering your personal beliefs and experiences out to the prospect. You do most of the talking, so you need to draw upon personal experiences that get you emotional about what you do and convey these positive emotions to your prospect.

Making the inside-out approach work requires a lot of inside support. There’s a saying that if every new representative could deliver a death claim as part of their training, they’d “get religion” and become life insurance evangelists. The inside-out approach can help you convert a prospect into a buyer, but only if 1) you’re a true believer in your products and services; and 2) you can offer credible examples of how it will serve the prospect.

The outside-in method

Telling the prospect what you think they should do doesn’t guarantee a buying mindset. In the outside-in approach, the prospect tells you what they perceive as the problems that are important for them to address. Good salespersons are like good detectives. They’re keen observers and good listeners. They know the right questions to ask, and when and how to ask them. Getting a prospect to do this is akin to getting a witness to give a clear, albeit personal account of an event. It involves an effective interaction to accomplish one or more of the following:

  1. Uncovering the real problem.
  2. Revealing the “why” behind the facts.
  3. De-coding the throwaway remark.

Uncovering the real problem: First, flip your Pareto talking/listening ratio from 80/20 to 20/80. When you do speak, ask questions that elicit the data you need: “You mentioned you have a 16 year old? Is there college in her future? I know it’s early, but is there something that she wants to study? Does she have any idea where she would like to go? How important is it for her to go to college? How important is it to you that she go to college? How well are you positioned to help her attend college? If she wasn’t able to go to college, what would she do to prepare herself for the workplace?”

By the time your prospect answers these questions, you’ll have a sense of how important funding a college education is to them.

For each problem area (e.g., education, business continuity, etc.), you should have a prepared set of questions similar to these, so you can keep probing until you have a handle on whether this is a problem that is important to the prospect to resolve.

Revealing the “why” behind the facts: How often does your fact-finding session go something like this?

“How much is your house worth?”

“$500,000.”

“What is the size of your mortgage?”

“$250,000.”

“How is the house owned?”

“Jointly.”

You record each item and move on to the next. But what if you also asked: “Why did you decide to buy a house in this neighborhood?” What if the answer was, “We wanted a home near the kids’ grandparents. I wasn’t able to be close to my grandparents; I don’t want my children to lack that experience.”

Where could you go with this information? You might ask: “What do you want your children to gain from being close to their grandparents? If anything happened to you, how could you ensure that this closeness was maintained?”

As you develop your presentation, think about where you can go with this information. Insight like this may provide a reason for the prospect to buy as opposed to needing to be sold.

De-coding the throwaway remark: Morrie Shechtman, a respected expert on selecting top performers, talks about the seemingly insignificant “throwaway” remarks a candidate might make during a job interview. Comments like “I’m really looking forward to a fresh start,” or “Well, you know how bosses are” should be explored, not ignored. The underlying facts or attitudes they hint at could be crucial to the hiring decision.

Pay attention to throwaway comments your prospects make, such as: “I play some golf,” “I have an antique car I fool around with on the weekends,” or “We have a little cabin in the mountains.” Ask about the golf, car or cabin — you might discover that they represent a significant part of the prospect’s life and something that will lead them to buy your solution.

The bottom line

Turning a prospect into a buyer the outside-in way isn’t hard. It doesn’t take much more time or effort than the old way of pouncing on what you consider their so-called hot button and trying to talk them into addressing that problem. It’s just less about talking and more about asking the right questions and really listening to the answers.

In his book “The Game of Numbers,” Nick Murray says, “There is no higher, finer, more important ‘sales skill’ than asking great questions and listening intently to the answers — not just to what is said, but to what it means. And especially to what is not said.”

So what does it take to accomplish this? Here’s a three-step approach that works:

  1. Temper your sense of urgency to get to the close. Invest the time to ask questions and listen to the answers. Let the prospect tell you about what problem they are motivated to address and why they want a solution for it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Newer salespeople may find it difficult to ask the types of questions I am suggesting because they’re afraid of losing control or betraying their inexperience. Actually, the ability to do what we are suggesting increases control and implies a level of confidence that overcomes a lack of time or experience in the business.
  3. Be prepared. Preparation is a key differentiator in any position, but especially in sales. For every situation or opportunity, you should have a set of what, when, where, how and why questions you can use to get at the reasons why that person will buy. In effect, these questions will help ensure that by the time you suggest a solution for them, far from having to be sold on your solution, your prospect will be eager to buy.


For more on selling life insurance, see:

Ditch the Sales Pitch

What’s Working in Life Sales Right Now?

It should be bought, not sold