If at First You Don’t Succeed: The Key to Answering Prospect Objections
In our business — the business of developing insurance agencies — our coaches work closely with agency owners and their teams to develop the business of the founder’s dreams. Along the way, they teach, coach and mentor, cultivating a variety of skills within agency team members. Recently, one of our coaches relayed a story about the work he had been doing with a new agency owner. The agency owner told him, “I just can’t answer the objections that prospects give me about some of the policies I’m selling.”
I was appalled but not surprised.
It seems that this professional salesperson (by which I mean she earns a living by selling things) had never mastered the most fundamental sales skill of all: answering objections. When a salesperson cannot effectively overcome a prospect’s objections, they have no alternative but to attempt to close the sale solely by leveraging lower prices. This agency owner and thousands like her face extinction if they cannot master the most basic of sales skills. Why? Because technology is relentlessly shrinking the price-based market.
How did we get here? In the last two decades, multi-company rating systems have dominated insurance quoting in personal lines in the United States. Though terrific tools, an unintended consequence of this software adoption and its widespread use is that many, if not most, personal insurance producers have become order takers rather than salespeople. By this, I mean they sell almost exclusively on price and when confronted with any sort of objection from a prospect, they don’t know what to do. Today, these rating systems are becoming commonplace in the small commercial space as well, and I fear that the same thing may happen to small commercial producers.
Taking Back the Reins
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the past, the most successful producers were highly effective salespeople. This needs to become the norm again. To be effective producers, agency owners must master selling skills, including how to counter objections raised by prospects. This mastery requires training, time, commitment and practice. In my experience, the salespeople who master this art are those who cultivate the most valuable books of business.
Consider those who sell life insurance. They are arguably the most accomplished salespeople in the insurance industry. They sell an intangible product — a product, which many view as a cost without benefit or as a means to recognize their own mortality. That said, life insurance salespeople have to be good to make a sale.
Early in my life insurance sales career, I was sent to our company’s home office for additional sales training. The assignment I was given ahead of my first day was to memorize the answers to 25 common prospect objections. When I arrived at the training in New York City, the instructors drilled us extensively on those 25 objections and their answers. If life insurance salespeople have mastered these skills and those in sales training recognize the importance of teaching this skill, then why can’t the rest of us master it?
Could it be that we have failed to train adequately, or do we simply need to practice more?
Practice Makes Perfect
Any agency, regardless of size, can improve its new business production results simply by setting aside time for regular, repeated practice in answering objections. Here are four steps to help you and your team develop a mastery:
- Make a list of the most common objections your salespeople face.
- Develop concise, convincing answers to those objections.
- Memorize the answers word-for-word. Practice regularly.
Though building the list may seem daunting, the task is actually fairly simple. Once you have listed the core objections, you can list a number of variations on the same theme. While some trainees may object to memorizing answers to objections — complaining they’ll sound canned, or scripted — this argument is ridiculous on its face. If memorizing a script made you unbelievable, no one would go to the movies or theater.
I’m sometimes questioned on the need to memorize the answers word-for-word but again, the reason is simple. Memorization promotes mastery. Once mastery is obtained, variations on themes can be experimented with and improvisation can be tried, similar to how professional musicians master their craft. Many play scales regularly, the most fundamental of all musical performance. They master and practice the basics of their instrument, as well as their repertoire, to maintain their mastery.
Fighting the Fear of Failure
As a pilot, I attend regular simulator-based training. Many of the pilots attending with me are professional pilots who fly every day. I am a private pilot. Despite this difference, all of us know how to fly and are masters of the intricacies of our planes. Even so, every training session starts with a repetition of the basics of flight.
Doing this training in a simulator is safer than in a real airplane just as practicing sales skills is “safer” in the agency office than in front of a live prospect. Sometimes, we screw up during training but the audience is understanding as they have made mistakes, too. Practice and the mistakes that come with the territory make us more proficient and ready for the real thing. The same holds true in sales.
Professional salespeople are like pilots. They master a skill and then they never stop practicing. I’ve been talking here about one skill that I find particularly lacking in our industry today, but there are many others. Prospect qualification, agency positioning, sales track development and use, etc., are all important skills which must be trained, mastered and continually reviewed.
Fear of failure is normal when we try to adopt new skills. The information may come at you quickly and seem confusing at first. Because it is challenging, this early training may be uncomfortable. But, as mastery is developed, clarity will present itself. Knowing exactly what to do and how to do it creates confidence, and the challenge before you becomes enticing – whether you are flying an airplane or closing a sale.