Why does the negative stereotype of a “salesperson,” and of “selling” in general, persist in our culture? The simple answer is that the general public does not trust salespeople. They don’t believe salespeople put their clients’ needs ahead of their own financial interests.
As a result, many people think that the only thing worse than having to deal with a salesperson is being called a salesperson.
Your career won’t progress unless you face this reality — and take drastic action!
The key question is, “How do you help your clients and prospects see the wisdom of your advice without coming across as ‘sales-y’ in the process?”
Do The Math
I am a mathematician by education and an actuary by training. I have been called a bean counter, math geek and quant jock. Although those labels may be true, I have earned more than $1 million in annual life insurance commission income multiple times. I have even been the top salesperson (out of 22,000 licensed and appointed agents) at a mutual insurance company — twice!
And, most impressively, I accomplished this feat while selling insurance part-time. I don’t share this to impress you. I share this to impress upon you that you can sell a lot more and you don’t have to work crazy hours to do it.
There are more than 1.4 million licensed insurance agents in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average life insurance agent earns $50,000 per year, and the average income for a more seasoned financial advisor with a life insurance agent’s license is closer to $105,000 per year. What allows one person to earn 10-20 times the average income in his field while working part time?
You don’t have to miraculously turn billionaires into your friends, employ dozens of people or even become an expert “closer.” What you do have to do is adopt three counterintuitive habits.
1. Give away your secrets. While earning my MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA in the late 1990s, I entered the business plan competition with my idea. What was it? I had started a physician-focused financial services firm that based its client development on education marketing.
Although I made it to the finals of the competition, I did not win
The judges said, “Your business model is based on a flawed premise — you believe you will be able to reach physicians. They have tons of people knocking on their doors every day and they have well-trained gatekeepers. You’ll never reach them.”
Twelve years later, I’d written 10 books for doctors, published more than 100 articles, and held more than 100 seminars. Most importantly, 15,000 physicians had called or emailed me asking for assistance.
Everything I shared in my educational materials was non-proprietary. Hundreds of thousands of attorneys, accountants, insurance agents and investment advisors could have handled every idea I shared with my prospects.
Why did so many doctors contact me instead of working with someone else? Why did doctors from all parts of the country fire their advisors and hire my firm, without ever meeting me in person? They did it because I delivered valuable information with no strings attached.
People would read my materials, self-diagnose and then make decisions about working with me before they ever met me. This happened hundreds of times every year.
2. Turn prospects and peers into partners. A mentor of mine, life insurance agent and best-selling author Hank Frazee, encouraged me to spend time with other advisors, learning what they do well. He taught me to ask questions like:
What is the most profitable transaction (service) you offer?
What types of clients are most difficult for you?
What is your ideal client and why is that so?
What is your favorite type of problem to solve?
Who is your most valuable referral source, and why?
My goal is to make 50 referrals to other advisors each year. I refer prospects and clients to other service providers, clients to other clients, and professionals to other professionals. It’s not important for me to be paid for these introductions. What is important is that I show clients and strategic partners that I am interested in their continued success.
Before you dismiss this practice as wasteful, consider that I’ve received handwritten thank-you notes for recommending advisors. I don’t get thank-you notes for completing large cases, but I do get them for making introductions. Why? I think it is because people really appreciate thoughtfulness, especially when there is no financial incentive for doing so.
A few years ago, I referred two clients to an attorney at a national firm. Total billings were approximately $100,000. Both clients mentioned this introduction in their holiday cards to me. Two years later, I’d earned more than $2 million in insurance commissions as a result of referrals from that same attorney.
To receive more referrals, make more referrals. Unsure who your clients need to meet? Make it a practice to survey your clients every year. Ask them what their goals are for the year, what they worry about most and what they want to finally check off their to-do list. The answers will keep you busy and gain your clients’ trust and appreciation.
3. Leverage your limitations. A common complaint from wealthy clients is the “yes” phenomenon.
Clients get frustrated when an advisor immediately says they can do something, then doesn’t follow through or spends a lot of time (and money) learning how to do it. Clients are willing to accept your honest answer of “no” or “I don’t know, but I will research the best solution for you.”
They don’t expect advisors, or anyone else, to know how to do everything. But they do expect — and respect — honesty and effort.
More Sales, Less Selling
By changing your focus from sales to education, you become valuable. By focusing on your clients’ needs, rather than on your products or services, you build trust. By going out of your way to help others in your field and in your community, you show that you care.
Instead of looking at customer service and the supply chain as threats to your profitability, you see these valuable interactions as invaluable opportunities to show others who you are and what is important to you.
When your prospects and colleagues see you as valuable, trustworthy and caring, you will never have to sell anything ever again.