In her recent column in HBR, CEO of the American Red Cross, Gail McGovern talks about her journey from the private sector to a non-profit. In her new role, after assessing what changes needed to be made within the organization, she and her team first came up with a logical restructuring plan to present to the board. But that plan failed to capture the interest of or change the minds of the board members. So, they decided to take a different approach.
At the “make-or-break” meeting, she instead delivered an emotional talk that pointed to recent disasters, how local chapters responded and asked the board to join her in saving the Red Cross. As a result, she saw skepticism turn to belief.
In her words: “Now I look back on my career in the private sector and realize how I should have been leading all along. Non-profits don’t have a monopoly on meaning…Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical.
How are you leading prospects? Are you seeing skepticism turn to belief by tapping into the emotional drivers that cause people to make a change, or are you falling into the common logic trap?
In a first face-to-face meeting with a prospect, you usually have 20 minutes or less to move the sales process toward a business relationship; don’t let the prospect dismiss you by opening with information that requires heavy mental lifting right from the start. We’ve said it before—the most powerful way to lead and persuade a buyer to make a decision is by getting them to a point where they are emotionally engaged and can see and feel the value of moving forward.
But you have to see and feel it first. Ask yourself why you do what you do—what higher purpose or meaning is a part of your agency’s story? When you know it, and you believe it, you’ll be able to help prospects see it too.
Many of the agents we speak with believe that only the broker of record (BOR) is in the position to establish a relationship with an employer and gain new business. But when your sales process and approach is truly consultative, this idea doesn’t hold up. Insurance policies don’t always address every risk or problem an employer faces. In fact, many (if not most) times there are issues that have been transferred year after year to an employer’s policy that are still unresolved. What’s more, the road to obtaining new clients is more complex in today’s selling environment.
So, when an employer has a problem that is exposed during a conversation, why not be prepared to offer them a solution for a fee? Leading a prospect to recognize issues that exist and offering your specialized services, tools and capabilities on a fee-basis not only helps diversify your revenue, it also differentiates you and allows you to establish an initial relationship that could lead to engagement in the future.
For example, what if your agents performed an injury management assessment for a fee and helped employers uncover underlying issues with their reporting process?
If a business is implementing dangerous practices or is struggling to assess their risks, the opportunity is there for agents to step in and offer solutions. Don’t be afraid to put a price tag on the value that you bring to your client relationships—value based fees are directly related to serving their best interests.
According to a scientific study discussed in the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review, “dread—the anticipation of negative outcomes—is a powerful force.” How powerful? The study showed that 70% of subjects opted to receive a painful electric shock right away, rather than wait for a less painful shock in the near future. So, the feeling of anticipating pain was worse than the actual pain. And if the feeling of dread could be avoided, that’s the route that most chose to take.
What does this mean for you?
We often talk about tapping into employers’ emotions during the sales process, and finding points of pain or frustration is one of the best ways to do this—particularly when a prospect is unaware that they are facing a specific risk. If they are lead to self-discover problems and begin to anticipate negative outcomes, (just like the study participants that chose no-dread over dread) they are much more likely to decide to make a change.
Lets say an employer is being overcharged through the premium audit process, their experience mod is incorrect or mismanaged and its preventing them from bidding on jobs, or their workers’ comp claims costs are rising because their injured employees aren’t getting the right treatment by the right doctor at the right time. When they discover this during the sales process, and the negative outcomes are isolated in this way, the door opens for you to:
(1) Ask: “how confident are you that these conditions will get better if you don’t address them?”
(2) Paint a picture of a better future if they choose to engage with you
(3) Ultimately, work toward gaining agreements on how to move forward
What points of pain do you lead with in order to move prospects to make a change? Share your stories with us in the comments.
Many of the producers we work with push back when we talk about engaging in a consistent and consultative sales process with prospects—one that allows employers to delve into the real issues they’re facing and discover where opportunities exist to get better. It’s likely because leading, asking the tough questions, and offering innovative capabilities isn’t easy. So, even when they begin to believe in it, they are hesitant to jump in.
Then there are the producers who are satisfied with the status quo…rather than putting in the time and energy to break through existing boundaries to their own success, they are constantly on the go, moving from one transactional sale to the next.
Seth Godin explains this idea in an excellent blog post. He says, “Stalling is the last thing you need…[asking] why is often an escape hatch for people when they know what they should do, but fear doing it. The best answer for the stalling why is: Go.” But, “the best response to the impetuous, status-quo driven “Go” is to ask, “why?”
In other words, if you’re finding yourself on the verge of committing to a change that will enhance your success, rather than teetering on the fence, it’s time to forge ahead with belief and gumption. And, if you find that you’re still doing what’s worked in the past or you’re following the same flawed approach as most other agents, it’s probably time to take a step back and assess.
Last week we discussed the common reluctance to having sales conversations that push the boundaries of comfort and tackle big issues other agents likely aren’t addressing. But, creating positive tension during the sales process isn’t the only difficult task producers struggle to master in order to truly differentiate.
Another similar area is developing a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent with clients and prospects, which can help producers build lasting business relationships but is a point of issue for many. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of the business fable Getting Naked, “those who get comfortable being vulnerable are rewarded with levels of client loyalty that other[s] can only dream of….naked service is rare, which means it provides an opportunity for a powerful and tangible competitive advantage for those who embrace it.”
This means letting go of the fear of being embarrassed, asking questions or raising suggestions even if they could turn out to be wrong, and admitting to errors rather than hiding them. As James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” In return, those you work with will be attracted to your honesty, trust that your intentions are to help them achieve the best outcomes, and appreciate your directness.
Are you comfortable with both types of difficult conversations that we touched on in this two-part series? If not, there are big opportunities waiting for you.
In a great post on The Sales Blog, Anthony Iannarino says that in order to create greater value, you have to have difficult conversations—“You are going to have to talk openly about the big changes that are going to need to occur for your client to succeed, for you to succeed together… What makes you strategic is your willingness to deal with the biggest, nastiest, foulest issues.”
We often talk about the importance of producers leading the sales process during the first meeting and willingly stepping into tension filled moments to challenge and engage a prospect. Without a little discomfort, it’s unlikely that anything new is being brought to the table. And today’s buyers expect new ideas.
So, if you find that you’re reluctant to have difficult and probing conversations with clients, it’s important to assess where your fear is stemming from. Do you need to gain new capabilities in order to confidently address the issues a prospect or client is facing? Are you letting self-doubt or the need to “be liked” get in the way of your success? Do you know the impact you have on your clients and the outcomes you help them to achieve?
Getting comfortable with uncomfortable topics of conversation is a big step toward differentiation, as long as you do so with humility and without pushing away the prospect.
Iannarino asked: “Will you go there? Will you give the elephant a name and tame him?”
What strategies do you use to create positive tension during your sales meetings? Are you trying to overcome your fears around this issue? Let us know in the comments, and be on the lookout for Part 2 next week.