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Constructing The Authentic Salesman - An Interview With Michael Mcintyre

Anyone worth his or her salt in this industry knows well the sacrifice, dedication and hard work required to be successful. Michael McIntyre has been through it all and has come out on top in a real rags-to-riches story. His book, The Authentic Salesman, is a true testament to his perseverance that details some of the best sales techniques he taught during his 27 years in the insurance industry.

Michael McIntyre is a self-made man. Starting with humble beginnings in Flint, Mich., everything he's accomplished in life has been through hard work. He used his time in the Air Force to obtain a college education. After his honorable discharge he came to Dallas, where fate led him into the insurance industry. It was Michael's innate entrepreneurial drive that led him to start his first agency, which rapidly became the No.1 health insurance agency in the entire country.

In 1992, he branched out to start a new annuity-selling agency that produced more than $3 billion in premium. Then, in 2005, Michael founded Benefits America where he serves as the president and CEO. Over his career, he has recruited and trained more than 20,000 sales agents and opened offices in more than 40 states.

Michael broke down his winning ways into a system, that's so good, that it can get a newbie up and running or even propel an old pro to the next level. He spelled it out in his book, The Authentic Salesman, which probably should be on every producer's bookshelf.

In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Michael conveys his genuine love of selling and explains how anybody can look (and sound) like a pro with just a little bit of practice.


FELDMAN: Early in your insurance career, you realized that you could be more successful with people selling for you. What are some strategies you use to bring new people into the business and to keep them going?

McINTYRE: We have a nice system where an average agent could be successful. The stars loved it because we set them up like rock stars. I'd tell them I will treat them like a rock star; we will have the stage set, the venue packed and everything handled. But once you get on that stage, you've got to perform and bring the house down. All you have to do is sell; I'll take care of everything else.

We also really like to get the spouses involved. My spouse has always been involved in my 27 years in this business. I think it's really important to have your family behind you because the insurance business can be a very lucrative business, but it can be a very lonely business, especially if you're a 100 percent straight commission sales rep.

FELDMAN: Training is probably the most critical thing to getting salespeople to the next level. What are some components that you use for successful training?

McINTYRE: Training is extremely expensive if you do it, but it's catastrophic if you don't. We have people go through a training course to get indoctrinated in the company- kind of ‘onboarding' them to our system, our call center, and have the insurance carriers come in and teach them the products in a fast-paced, two-and-a-halfday training.

Then we have an experienced agent mentor them through the first two weeks. We call it "triage" because salespeople are so confident and sometimes when they go out there and get their nose bloodied in their first two or three days, they lose their confidence and we have to send them over to triage.

Triage is real simple. We talk to them daily. We want to make sure that they're running all their appointments. We want to make sure that if they had any problems, we can fix them. If they bring in some bad habits they haven't quite shaken yet, we want to help them get rid of them. The system has proved to be pretty good. We went through some people. Some just couldn't do it or didn't want to do it-I think more people didn't want to do it.

People always ask, "How are these guys so successful?" I say, "Well, they don't want to do the same things you don't want to do, except they do them." After you have your salespeople going for a while, about 90 to 120 days, you need to have what we call "resort training." This is expensive but it really solidifies your salespeople and the ROI is tremendous. It's about an eight-to-one ROI. It has to be at a resort. It doesn't have to be a five-star hotel. It can be just a nice Hyatt or whatnot. If you can't afford it, then you don't do resort training. Also, a lot of insurance companies will help out with that.

You pick up all the expenses for an indepth, three-day training with a celebration at the end; it's really a great event. It's expensive and time-consuming, but it cements your sales team-especially your managers.

FELDMAN: In your book, you refer to "experiential training". Can you tell us more about that and how it ties into resort training?

McINTYRE: Experiential training is the same thing you did when you learned how to ride a bike or drive a car. You experience it at the same time. So, you know, once you learn how to ride a bike, you always know how to ride a bike. At the resort training, you get into experiential training where we set up scenarios as if you were in a house making a presentation to Mr. and Mrs. Jones; here's the set-up and here's the scenario. Everybody has a script and then we have dyads-a dyad is when people sit across from each other and we have one person talk about one thing and the other person talk about other things. People get remarkable breakthroughs because, sometimes, they just don't think about how things look through their prospects' eyes.

We have one part of the training with people who are selling to seniors-which I know a lot of your readers do. Most have no idea about the vision impairments and/or the hearing impairments that clients and prospects have. So we try to replicate a scenario where the audience can experience what their clients might experience. It sheds a whole new light on it and allows our reps to look at things through their clients' eyes.

FELDMAN: That's probably one of the easiest things to forget, what your presentation looks like to a buyer.

McINTYRE: Yeah, it is, because we all have our own mind's eye of ourselves and until we listen to ourselves on a recording or we look at ourselves on a videotape then it's, "Egad, that's me?" Yes, it's you. We let them turn the mirror around a little bit so they can see themselves, and the results are really remarkable.

FELDMAN: Let's drill down into some sales tactics that you train. One of the really good takeaways that I got from your book was your five-point close. Would you explain how that works?

McINTYRE: When I first got into the insurance business, I was so excited and enthusiastic; sales came really easy for me.

But then there was a time when my sales were down and I was really kind of depressed for a while. So, I had a top-producer friend of mine ride along with me to see what was going on.

I gave a beautiful presentation, very eloquent with all the bells and whistles and great things about the product and what it did do and what it didn't do. At the end, the people said, "Well, I'll think about." I said, "OK, great," and I packed up my briefcase and walked outside. When we got in the car, my friend looked over at me and says, "What the heck was that?" (He didn't actually use that word.) "How did you overcome all these objections and make all those sales in the early days?" And I explained to him that people never said "I'll think about"-they just bought. He said, "Well, you need to come up with a system, because you have a great presentation but you have to expect to get an objection." So, over the years I came up with a system that works really well for me, and I found out that it was easily transferable for everybody else, too. First of all, if you have an objection, you have a sale. But you just need to be patient.

Point No.1-agree with their objection. You don't want to create an enemy and you're not there to prove how smart or eloquent you are, how great your company is or how wonderful a salesperson you are. You're there to help these people by communicating effectively so they can take advantage of your product and help them better their lives. So, whatever their objection is, agree with it and let them be right. People love to be right.

The second thing you have to do is overcome that objection. If you have any salt to you at all, as a salesperson, it should be easy. Especially if you've been married for any length time-you've overcome many objections.

The third thing is you need to give a strong selling point. This is very important to your client, because you give your client or prospect another reason to buy. People truly want to buy, but they need validation for their decision. The fourth thing you need to do is create a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency is really simple and a lot of people try to make up all these fantastic ways of getting people to make decisions. But there's a powerful three-letter word that you see everywhere in marketing; and that threeletter word is now, N-O-W. Use that a lot-it creates a sense of urgency. The fifth point is the hardest for most salespeople and that is to ask for the order. If you've been in sales for any longer than 90 days, you've learned many, many different closes. But this is truly the hardest one for most salespeople to get and this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you separate the people who make a deep six-figure income and those who just get by.

The beauty of this system is if you get to the fifth point and you're closing but you get another objection, you can go right back to No.1. This way, you're never making them mad, you're always letting them be right and you're introducing new information to give them time to make a new decision.

So, when I train salespeople and insurance agents, I've said, "If you use this close five times, there's no way you will not make a sale except for two reasons: There's no need or no money." And that's it.

FELDMAN: What are some ways of preparing for a client appointment?

McINTYRE: If you're going to a residence or business, make sure you have a clean automobile-washed and vacuumed. I've been embarrassed by this one time and that was it. I had to take a client to the bank, and she wanted me to drive, which I was glad to do. And I forgot that I had been on the road and I had probably three days-worth of empty McDonald's and Burger King trash bags all over my car and it was just embarrassing. So, I learned that lesson. Now I always have my car washed, vacuumed and ready.

If you smoke, quit. I'm a reformed smoker, so I understand it's hard. But there's nothing more disgusting than smelling smoke, especially walking that into a nonsmoker's home.

Also, make sure you're well groomed and appropriately dressed. I know that sounds kind of basic 101, but some of us forget because we get so wrapped up into our business. I used to always wear a coat and tie. I was selling annuities and life insurance and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of checks. I just felt I needed to be professional and look professional.

Getting ready for the appointment, you've got to make sure that all of your sales presentation material is ready. If you have a PowerPoint, make sure your computer is charged and also make sure your cell phone has access to important numbers.

I also like to bring a little something to the client's house or their business. It doesn't have to be anything fancy; it can be a USA Today, a Wall Street Journal. Generally, they don't receive those things. When I was selling out in the country, I used to stop at the farmers' markets and load up on vegetables and fruit to give. Sometimes people would think that was corny-at least most of my salespeople did. But when they saw the results, they started doing it, too.

Having your mind right is important. If you just missed a sale at the last call, get over it-whatever you've got to do. Listen to music. Listen to the latest sales tape. Pray about it. Just get over it and leave it behind so when you walk into that client's presence, your head's straight.

Make sure you have all your documents ready. It doesn't look good if you have to fumble and scour through things and everything's disorganized. It makes you flustered and it makes the client nervous.

FELDMAN: Presenting is obviously a skill that everyone in sales should master. What are keys to a great presentation?

McINTYRE: Practice, practice, practice. I practiced in front of the mirror for two or three days before my first sales deal. And I tape-recorded my voice, which was painfully awful to listen to. I practiced until I knew it like I knew my name, my home address and my Social Security number.

If you know your presentation and your product thoroughly, it won't appear to be canned and you can be authentic. It's also important in your presentation to gather information and listen. Most agents, myself included, like to talk. So it's a real discipline and really is a good thing to practice your listening skills. I think a great presentation is about listening.

FELDMAN: What are some good rules of thumb for after the presentation?

McINTYRE: In the book, I talk about the cool-down period. Your prospect, nowclient, will kind of tell you how much cool-down time they need.

I've had some of my agents walk in a house, give a great presentation and sell a $50,000 annuity or a $100,000 annuity and say, "Look, I'm late. I got to go. Thank you," and run out. About 10 minutes later, the client is calling the home office and saying, "Hey, who was that masked stranger that came to my house?" because they start getting buyer's remorse, and naturally so.

The agent might have been truly late, but I always tell my agents the old saying, "Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." So, if you make a sale, stay there and visit with them. You've made a new friend. They will tell you when you're done. They'll look at their watch and say, "Well, Mike, it's been really nice visiting with you. We've got to go and we've got a church social to go to," or what have you, and then you excuse yourself.

As soon as you leave the house or the business, have a postcard in the mail to them. It should be a handwritten note, the old fashioned way, saying, "Hey, I really enjoyed visiting with you and Betty Sue yesterday. Thank you so much for entrusting me in helping you with your estate planning," or your life insurance or annuities or whatever the situation might be. "Again, you have my cell phone. Call any time. And I hope things work out for your granddaughter's application at Princeton," or whatever.

Make mental notes while you're visiting to personalize the note. It truly goes a long way. But that's really important and it's the human touch. In this age of e-mails and Facebooks and Twitters, it's always nice to go back to the oldschool, handwritten note. Have that in before the mail runs the next day and it'll show up within 24-48 hours, which is impressive.

FELDMAN: Can you tell us some of the "Magic Buying Signals" that you've identified?

McINTYRE: First, sitting and positioning are extremely important; so you can see both of your clients, especially if it's a husband and a wife, or whatever the situation is. It's good to watch them and be intuitive to them.

The wife might say to the husband, "Well, what do you think?"-that's a magic buying signal. Or they might say, "You know, that sounds really good. I'm just not sure if I'm ready yet." What they're saying is, "I like what you're saying, but just give me some more information to make my decision a valid one, so I don't make a mistake."

Another one is when your prospect says, "I don't know, my wife wanted me to buy a $500,000 policy, but I think that's too much," and stops. They're giving you a direct signal to help them make a decision.

Most people don't want to make their decisions. They want you to make the decision for them, especially when it comes to insurance, whether its life insurance, Medicare supplements or annuities. That's because they have a lot of things going on in their life and this is not their area of expertise. So, they really want to trust you and have the decision made for them so they don't have to worry about the issue anymore.

The magic buying signals are there. You just have to watch for them and be attuned to them. As soon as you get those, don't pounce on them but slowly go through those and just do whatever they need to have done and make the decision for them. And if you do, your sales will increase dramatically.

FELDMAN: You also write about the importance of controlling one's emotion in a sales situation. What are some strategies that you could use to keep your emotions in check and not lose your patience with prospective clients?

McINTYRE: You need to realize why you're there. It's not about you. So many salespeople think it's all about them, their mortgage or car payment or child support or divorce attorney's payment or Ferrari payment or their sales contest to Hawaii or whatever.

But it's not. Once you focus on your clients' needs and not your own petty needs-yes, I said petty, I know, because I've had them-then it shifts everything. Once they can do that, even if a client calls them every name in the book, the salesperson knows it's not about that. They quickly realize that the client is either afraid, agitated or hasn't had a good experience in a similar situation. So you just have to drill down a little bit, and do the old Columbo, to figure it out.

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