Seven is a lucky number, especially when it leads to closed sales and new prospects. It’s the number of steps that master sales coach Tom Hopkins says every salesperson must take for every sale they close.
You might think you know your products and processes, but Tom argues that if you don’t follow the seven steps, you are not only losing sales, but you are also forfeiting your next sale. Yes, this means asking for referrals, but you do it without asking for a referral. Tom explains that in step No. 7.
In last month’s interview, Tom, the author of How to Master the Art of Selling Anything and When Buyers Say No, talked about why you should love the word “no.” Without “no,” you can’t get to “yes.” Instead, you will end up at the dreaded dead end of “I’ll think about it.”
But that by itself will not get you the sale. You might end up against another roadblock of signing reluctance. Tom explains how filling out the application is part of the sales process, not the scary contract whipped out at the end of the presentation. Signing becomes a natural part of the process, as does asking for referrals.
In this month’s interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Tom breaks the whole process down into seven simple steps.
FELDMAN: How important is strategy to sales?
HOPKINS: Strategy is the key. So many salespeople wing it. They think, “I’ll just be a nice person and people will buy.”
First, they have to position themselves correctly. People who sell anything are in the word business, and they must work on how they present themselves. A handshake must be good and firm.
You need to have good eye contact with all parties. Too many people in insurance have a tendency during presentations to isolate their eye contact and their questions to one partner. Then the other partner starts putting up defenses, saying to himself, “I’m not even a part of this.” You must spread your questions and eye contact between all parties. And as fundamental as it sounds, all these little things are what will make you a great representative and salesperson.
FELDMAN: What are your seven steps to selling anything?
HOPKINS: No. 1 is finding the right people. No. 2 is making a good initial contact, where they first hear you and like what you have to say. No. 3 is qualification. No. 4 is the presentation. No. 5 is handling objections. No. 6, after handling objections, is the art of closing the sale. And No. 7 is getting referrals.
The closing of the sale begins the moment you make contact. Yes, an hour later, I’m going to end up going for the check and their signature. But all the stuff I do between the moment I see them and step No. 6 has to be done properly.
They have to relax with you in the original contact. If you walk in and you’re too abrupt or too pushy, which is what most people expect from a salesperson, they’re going to put up defense barriers.
You’re not pushy; you’re pully. Let me explain the difference. You’re pushy when you make a statement of fact. You’re pulling people and leading when you’re asking all the right questions.
Stop talking and start asking, and you’re going to get what you need to know. Because, in any conversation, whoever is asking the right questions is getting the information necessary to close the transaction.
FELDMAN: What are some strategies to transition through the process?
HOPKINS: Most salespeople don’t know how to bridge from one step gently to the next. I always like to preface everything. I think that you have to give people an agenda.
I would finish my introductory statement. If I’m beginning an insurance proposal, it might go something like this: “As we get started tonight, let me just thank you for the time that we’re going to share, and I hope you’ll relax, because I’d like to consider tonight somewhat exploratory. That means my job is to tell you about our dynamic company, what we’ve done for other families and hopefully what we can do for you.”
Then I would say, “Let me go over the agenda for what I think we should do tonight. First of all, I’d like to share with you the company I work for and how proud I am to be one of its representatives.” People need to hear you say that you are proud to represent this company. Most people work for a company but they never say they’re proud to represent this company.
FELDMAN: When you’re going through all of those steps, you should be closing the whole time. When do you recommend using “trial closes” in the sales process?
HOPKINS: Most salespeople don’t go smoothly through the steps from presentation to handling the nos and turning them into yesses, and then into the final closing sequence. The way it starts is you must totally cover the money. You can’t even make an attempt to trial close until they know exactly the financial aspects of the transaction. That means to end up with this much income, this is how much they invest monthly – that kind of detail.
Then you do a trial close. This is my favorite, and I’d be willing to bet I ask this little question thousands of times. I would turn to the husband and wife, and I might start with Mary and just say, “Mary, how are you feeling about all this so far?”
The reason I love that little test question is it will allow her to give me some input: “Well, I think, Tom, it sounds pretty good what you’re offering to us. John, how are you feeling about all this so far?”
“Well, it sounds like something we should really consider,” John might say. And then I can respond with, “You know what we might do? Why don’t we draft our feelings on the paperwork and see how it looks? Then after we look at that, we can see if it makes sense to go ahead. Is that all right?”
I don’t call it a contract. It’s paperwork. Then, of course, I ask for her middle initial: “Mary, do you have a middle initial?” “Well, yes, Tom, it’s B.” “Let me make a note of that.” And that’s when I move on to the application, the paperwork. I write “Mary B. Johnson.”
That’s when the husband usually will stop me: “Tom, now wait. Isn’t that a contract?” Then you smile and say, “Well, no, it’s really just paperwork until you feel it’s the right thing to do, and with your approval, yes, it is, but let’s not do that yet. Let’s just put it all down and see how it looks, OK? John, do you have a middle initial?” “Well, it’s D.”
Now, I love this. Right now is when they usually will say, “Well, Tom, you can put it all down, but we’re not going to sign anything.” When they say they’re not going to sign anything, just be very nice and say, “I know, John, and believe me, that’s the last thing I’m going to ask you to do.” Now, isn’t that totally true?
FELDMAN: Absolutely true. Signing would be the last thing you would ask them to do.
HOPKINS: Yes. And I come back to the fact that if agents know it’s right for those people, they cannot let them be denied. And the sad truth about insurance is if they don’t have as much or what they should have, and you don’t close the transaction, they’ll probably never let another agent come in and do the presentation and get what they should have – the coverage their family deserves.
FELDMAN: What are some strategies for Step No. 7, getting referrals?
HOPKINS: This is something that the average salesperson does not do. Once you close a sale, that’s when you simply smile and say, “You know, my company has asked that you let us know, if you’re happy, as obviously you are, if there are any other friends or relatives who could also use this service. I have three cards here and I would love to have just three people that you might know whom I can let know that we’ve served your family. So who might that be? In fact, Mary, you probably have an address book. Who are friends I might talk with?” And I would always get a minimum of three names and phone numbers of other people that we would then go to.
Now, the problem is the average salesperson is terrified to ask for referrals, because they don’t have a strategy. And you always have to, step one, isolate.
By that I mean that you can’t just say, “Is there anyone in the world you know? Is there anyone maybe that you might know, a friend or relative?” Now you’ve isolated the friends or relatives in their mind.
Try this approach instead: “I noticed that you bowl, John. I saw your bowling trophy on the mantel. You have folks you bowl with every week. Any of those friends you bowl with might need what we did with you tonight?” And I end up walking out with a minimum of three qualified leads because I went to step seven.
And by the way, you don’t ask for “referrals.” We call them “quality introductions.” A lot of people are turned off on giving referrals. But if you use the phrase “I was hoping I could get three quality introductions to other families we also might serve,” the words make it work.
FELDMAN: An “introduction” sounds much better than a “referral.” With a referral there is a commitment and an implied endorsement that might make some feel uncomfortable. An introduction, of course, allows the other person to decide for themselves if they trust the agent enough to move further.
HOPKINS: Yes, but it all comes back to how good they feel about the salesperson.
FELDMAN: In insurance, do you recommend asking for referrals or introductions when you’ve just closed the business, or after the underwriting? In our business, it could take 90 days for the whole process.
HOPKINS: In your business, I would consider bringing back a small gift at the end of the 90 days. I always believe a gift makes a difference, and I’ll tell you one of the gifts that you can do. The folks reading this could have fun with this.
When I was selling, I would go out with a very good camera and take a picture of the entire front of their home. Then I would have an 8x10 print put into a nice little frame. When I’d come back, I would say, “John, Mary, I want to let you know that our whole transaction is settled, and I brought something for you as a little gift. It’s amazing how many people live in a home they love, and I can tell you love yours, and you don’t really have a nice color photo of the home. So I framed this for you. This is a picture of your property, and I was hoping I could come in. I’ve got a couple questions I’d love to ask you.”
Then, of course, you give them the gift, you walk in and sit down and say, “Our company has decided to try to build our business not only on advertising, but on word-of-mouth introductions from people we serve. Now, you seem really happy with what we’ve done for you. Am I right?” I will assume they agreed. Obviously, you wouldn’t ask if they did not. “Well, I was wondering if I might take these three cards out and ask if you would know three friends or relatives who might enjoy what we’ve done for you, and let me serve them. Now, can we do that real quick?”
In fact, in most businesses, you don’t have an opportunity for a beat back. So, rather than just going back to get a signature and a check, why not go back and get more sales? You’ve earned it!