The sweetest word in the sales process might be “no.” In fact, top salespeople know “no” means “eureka!”
That’s because it is next to impossible to get a “yes” without a “no,” according to renowned sales coach Tom Hopkins’ latest book, When Buyers Say No. When people buy something of consequence, they must start with an objection to help them justify the expenditure.
Tom has written or co-written 18 books on selling, including How to Master the Art of Selling and Selling for Dummies, and has spoken to more than 4 million people worldwide on the topic of sales. He learned the art of selling the hard way, working up from construction to a successful real estate career. His is an unlikely story showing that anyone with drive can get anywhere.
He noticed that although the word “no” exasperated even good salespeople, sales stars seemed to thrive on hearing rejection. That’s because they did not see “no” as a rejection, but as permission to begin the next phase of the process.
In the first installment of a two-part series with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Tom explains how sales experts turn “no” into “yes.”
FELDMAN: What does it really mean when a buyer says no?
HOPKINS: It means lots of things. The more people like and trust you as a representative, the tougher it is to say no and the nicer they are when they say it. This is why it is better to get the gentle “I want to think it over,” “We’ll get back to you,” or “We don’t jump into things like this.” All of those are nice, warm nos, instead of the blunt “We’re not interested.”
This is really when selling starts. In a way, if there weren’t nos, the world wouldn’t need salespeople. Companies could just send out the applications and all the insurance information, have the customers sign their names on it, and send the check. Well, we all know that’s not going to happen. And even though the Internet has taken a tremendous toll on some industries, I don’t think there will ever be a lack of people who want to do business with a human being in financial services or in insurance transaction, because it’s so critical and so important that it’s done right.
FELDMAN: You’re dealing with really big dollar amounts and it’s a bit more complex than simply clicking on a few buttons, ordering it, and getting free shipping on it. Isn’t selling essentially more than just a transaction?
HOPKINS: I really believe that people in the insurance industry have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that clients do the right thing based on their needs.
A financial doctor would diagnose and prescribe what is best for that individual, just like a medical doctor would. But it’s something that many people in this field don’t do. They have what they believe the person should have, but because they aren’t master questioners, they don’t get to the bottom line of what that person needs.
FELDMAN: How do you become a master questioner?
HOPKINS: Years ago, I started to understand that too many people sell what they want to sell instead of what the client needs. I decided to take the word “needs” and make it an acronym. But I changed it to N-E-A-D-S, with each of those letters meaning what type of questions you have to ask.
The first thing to do is spend more time on the “now,” meaning that you ask what your prospects have now, and then you must explore deeper into their past. That will give you a tremendous understanding of what they’re going to do in the future – unless they had a drastic change, such as winning the lottery. But for average Americans, show me their past and I can predict a great deal about their future. In the insurance field, that lets me know a lot about what products or services that person would need.
FELDMAN: What are some questions you must ask to get prospects into the “now”?
HOPKINS: You can ask this: “I found over the years that I can decide what’s best for the folks that we serve by exploring what they have done in the past. And because of that, I’d like to ask you a little bit about your experience in the insurance field –what type and how much you’ve had in the past. When I add up all these little things I’m going to ask you, it will give me a formula that will help you and your family reach financial independence. That is what you want, isn’t it?”
FELDMAN: Would you also ask them why they didn’t buy insurance in the past?
HOPKINS: Yes. The dialogue would go something like this. I would say, “I’m curious, John – based on your whole financial situation, what has prevented you from taking care of the health and life insurance needs of you and your family?”
John might reply, “I’ve never believed in insurance. My parents told me that it was a waste of money and I shouldn’t even do it.”
I would say in return, “Have they been brought up to the latest ways that we’re using insurance as a financial hedge against inflation and how we can build financial independence?”
He would say no, and then you could explore that. You could add, “And, by the way, we are an education company. So if you do not mind, I will share with you some examples of what we have done for others and what we can do for you. Would that be OK?”
Then I would get to the exploring questions to find out the best program for him.
FELDMAN: Let’s get back to your “NEADS” formula. What does the E stand for?
HOPKINS: The E stands for “enjoy.” When you chose a company in the past, obviously you enjoyed them or what they offered. What were those things that made you say yes to that?
They might say they liked the salesperson, who was a friend of a friend. And I get all their hot buttons as to what they enjoyed.
The A stands for “alter.” A better word might be change or improve, but alter fits into the acronym of NEADS. And alter means: What would you like to have different? What would you like to change? What would you like to improve about what you have had in the past?
The D is “decision-maker.” Many people have a third party whom they rely on for information in making investment decisions. I want to know that. That’s why I had this one little question: “John, Mary, if we’re fortunate to design a program to satisfy not only your insurance needs, but your financial independence needs, who other than yourself would be involved in the final decision?”
I want to know if they have a father who used to be in insurance, and he is going to look at everything we do first. I want to know if the person can write the check to say yes to what we’re offering.
Then, of course, the S in NEADS stands for “solution,” which means if you take Now, Enjoy, Alter and Decision-maker and add up all the information, you should be able to design a Solution.
FELDMAN: Most people think of a sales process as linear, and that’s not necessarily how it goes. Tell us about the Circle of Persuasion you described in your book.
HOPKINS: The average person hears a no and they don’t ask enough questions to find out what “no” really is. Is it lingering hesitation? Is it a defense mechanism to avoid coming up with a decision? Is it because of fear? Most of the first nos start from a fear, and that’s one of the biggest enemies that anyone in sales must overcome. The average American cannot say yes to spending money on almost anything until they have some type of “no” that they must come up with first. I learned this during my eight years in real estate. I found that the people who have no nos have made the decision not to purchase, but because they think you’re a nice person, they just gently get rid of you.
The people who are sincere and really are interested have to come up with an objection, which is a “no” that we must turn into a “yes” before they will purchase. The average salesperson is afraid of nos, but the top producers don’t mind getting them at all.
Is it because of fear? Is it only a stall? Is it a need for more information? Most of the time, that’s what it is. So the key is to do your best to soften any fear that they have. I used to love it when they’d say, “Tom, I think we have to say no.” And of course, I would always smile and say, “I can appreciate that. Our company asked me to always find out why a person would see the benefits that we have to offer and then say no. So would you help me with that and elaborate on why you feel you have to say no?”
Then I would get them talking. The next part of the circle is to get them to elaborate, to open up and to give me a hook, something I can convert into a “maybe.”
It always goes from a “no” to a “maybe” to a “yes.” Most salespeople don’t get them to the “maybe.” You can’t get to the “yes” until you get to the “maybe,” and that’s what you do with the questioning. I try to teach salespeople more of the art of questioning than anything else. That’s because the great listener and asker, a master asker, will isolate the true reason the prospect is saying no. Then you’ll know your strategy to overcome it. With the right phraseology, the right presentation of skill, you will lead them to agree that the yes is a better opportunity than the no.
FELDMAN: How important is scripting to a sales presentation?
HOPKINS: This has been a battle that I’ve had throughout my training career. Most people in sales would rather wing it instead of really knowing what they’re going to say. And I’ve found over the years that the top income earners eventually have almost everything scripted.
I have a script for when prospects say they want to think it over. I have a script if they say it costs too much. And if I deliver them, they will never know that it’s something I said 1,000 times.
FELDMAN: What is your script when someone says, “It costs too much” or “I need to shop around before making any decisions”?
HOPKINS: You just say: “You know, John, today most things do cost too much. Can you tell me about how much ‘too much’ you feel it is?” The reason for that is if a buyer is fighting the expense, they really want to go ahead but need your help to rationalize spending the money.
So if a buyer says, “You know, Tom, I think it costs too much,” I then start with a sentence of agreement: “You know, John, today most things do. Can you tell me about” – always use the word “about” – “how much ‘too much’ you feel it is?” Now I get an amount of money, which I can handle. I can’t handle “I want to think it over.” Once I get it to the money, I use different strategies to help them rationalize making the financial investment.
If they said, for example, “I think I should shop around and maybe I can get it for less,” I’d say, “You know, that may well be true, John, and we all want the most for our money. A truth I’ve learned over the years is that the cheapest price is not always what we really want. Most people look for three things when making an investment: the finest quality, the best service and the lowest price. And I’ve never yet found a company that could offer the finest quality, the best service and the lowest price. And I’m curious, John, for the long-term security for you and Mary, which of the three would you be most willing to give up? The finest quality, excellent service or a few pennies a day?”
FELDMAN: That’s a good line to get into the conversation using micro-commitments, because as you go through the process you can refer back to their statements and address the real objection.
HOPKINS: Yes, right. I’ll say, “Give me an amount that is monthly too much, and I’ll get it to a daily amount. That will help you and your wife understand why, if a tragedy happens where the husband becomes an angel, this will be the amount of money to let the wife enjoy the lifestyle that she is accustomed to until she joins her husband as an angel.” By the way, I always teach insurance people to say “becomes an angel.” You never say “death.”
FELDMAN: What are some key ideas that you think every insurance agent should know?
HOPKINS: Realize that you cannot let people feel you are selling. People love to own but they don’t want to feel they’ve been sold. So, it is critical that you don’t use sales jargon. Don’t use the words “sell” or “sold.” I never sold a home. I just kept getting people involved. I would never sell you insurance; I’d get your family involved in an opportunity for protection.
Another word is “buy.” For most people, when you come in as an insurance agent, they know what you’re there for and the couple has made a commitment. We call it a no-purchase pact, where a couple says to each other, “Bob is bringing this guy over who has helped him with his financial needs, but I’m a little nervous, so honey, we’re not going to buy.”
If you as a salesperson say the word “buy,” up go defenses. So the professional never says “buy.” They constantly say “own.” It’s not “when you buy our policy.” It’s “when you own the long-term benefits of our protection,” because people love to own. They just don’t want to buy.
Too many people say the word “contract.” You know: “why don’t we just look at the contract?” Well, people are terrified of contracts. I would never call an insurance proposal a “contract.” It’s “the paperwork” or “the agreement”: “Why don’t we look at the agreement that our companies come up with for you and your family?” People love agreements. They don’t want to get near a contract.
These are called fear-producing words. Another is asking them to “sign” something. I never ask them to sign. Mom and Dad said, “Don’t you sign anything.” I ask them to OK it, approve it, authorize it or endorse the paperwork.
The reason you need all four is because you’ll have to make at least four or five attempts at closing the transaction. The average person doesn’t say yes on the first attempt. So I might ask them to OK the paperwork the first time, then I’ll maybe get a stall: “You know, Tom, we’re not sure about this right now.” “Well, I can appreciate that, John. What might be holding you back from doing the right thing tonight?” And there again, I’m getting them into the agreement, the questions.
So all these little things added up make a person able to close lots of transactions. I’m a believer in insurance. I don’t want to even tell you how much I have, because I would have more than almost all of your readers. I have always felt it’s a necessary part of a good financial plan to protect your loved ones, to have your wife and children live the lifestyle, the dignity that you’ve created with your net worth.
FELDMAN: Do you think being passionate about the product or service is essential to being a great salesperson?
HOPKINS: I have said for years, people will say yes based more on your belief and conviction than on all your technical skills.
I think I did so well in real estate for eight years because I believed everybody should own a home. And back in those days, people would come in and want to rent a home. Two hours later, I’m getting a check from them to purchase a property. The reason was they felt my total sincerity. They felt my belief that you cannot rent and let a landlord take advantage of the equity in your property. You have to own it.
Many times on a talk show, I will get a question like this: “Tom, I’m thinking of going into sales. Where can I make the most money?” And I always say, “Do not look at what you’re going to do as a vocation in that way. Don’t look at the money. Look at what you love to do. Look at what you believe in. And if you aren’t burning with a huge amount of belief, then you ought to find something else.”
FELDMAN: Let’s talk about the presentation part a little bit more. What are some common strategies to increase your own persuasiveness when you’re doing a presentation?
HOPKINS: The first thing you have to do is find a way to make people comfortable. Most people do not spend money on anything if they’re not relaxed and comfortable. That’s why I always teach people to start off with a nice introductory statement to relieve pressure.
If I’m beginning an insurance proposal, it might go something like this: “Paul, 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. I want you to relax, because it’s OK for you to say no, and if this is not right for you, please let me know. Is that OK?”
I did what most salespeople would never do. I let the buyer know it’s OK to say no. But these are the things that bring down people’s defenses, where they start to get comfortable. Because they’re thinking, “OK, if I don’t like this, I’ll say no.” And, by the way, that also gets them to open their minds to what you’re presenting at the table.
FELDMAN: It also gives them a comfort level to tell you the reasons why they’re saying no.
HOPKINS: Exactly. They feel good about you. What is the real secret of being great in sales? I’d simply say develop a personality and a temperament whereby people rapidly like you, trust you and want to listen to you.
People will look at you as an expert advisor, not a salesperson. They will relax and say, “Man, this person has done well for other families. Let’s open our minds.” And once you get the mind opened, you can really implant the message properly.
FELDMAN: How do you handle a couple’s dynamics?
HOPKINS: One of the keys in sales is to get the couple talking. I’ve often had the wife sitting there quietly, and suddenly I get to that point where I ask why they’re saying no, and the wife jumps in: “Honey, I like what Tom has presented here. I don’t know why we’re saying no.” And you sit back and never interrupt the husband and wife bantering. You’d be amazed how the wife – who wants the death benefit, wants the financial independence, wants to have that monthly investment going toward her future financial security – will jump in and close the sale for you.
FELDMAN: What are some of your favorite closes?
HOPKINS: The “I want to think it over” is always one of my favorites. And the reason is because the average salesperson doesn’t know what to do with “I want to think it over.”
I am sitting with John and he has said, “Tom, we don’t jump into things like this. I think we’ll think it over.” You always start nicely with, “Well, that’s fine, John, and obviously you wouldn’t take your time thinking this over unless you were seriously interested, would you?” And what’s amazing about that first sentence is if you come across with sincerity, they don’t want to reject you, so they say, “No, no, we are very interested.”
Then you continue. “So may I assume that you’ll give it very careful consideration?” “Oh, yes, Tom, this is too important. This insurance is necessary.”
“Well, just to clarify my thinking, what phase of this opportunity is it that you want to think over? Is it the quality of the service I’ll render?” “No, Tom, we’re impressed with you.” “Is it maybe something I’ve forgotten to cover?” “No, I think your presentation has been impressive.”
“Seriously, John, level with me. Could it be the money?” And with this, you’ll be amazed by how many people will say, “Yes, I think it is the money,” and many of them will say, “I think it’s more than we can afford.”
Well, then you say, “John, I can appreciate that. About how much more is it than you think you can afford?” And now I get them to an amount of money, which I can handle, instead of “I want to think it over,” which I can’t do anything with.
Whenever I have a seminar, I try my best to get every person in the room to say they are going to master that close.