ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

WHEN IT'S TIME TO CLOSE THE SALE OR CLOSE THE RELATIONSHIP Part V of our PRODUCER'S ROLE series

Producers are, by nature, optimists. We sometimes see potential sales long after that ship has sailed. So when we have spent many hours over many visits trying to establish a relationship we sometimes don’t clearly see when a prospect has stopped being helped by us and has begun “using” us.

The process of the Asset Protection Model of Relationship Selling involves making friends, establishing trust relationships and displaying your expertise by providing value to the prospect before the sale. We follow the principal that the best and longest lasting customers are those that have a strong relationship with the producer and agency. If you don’t know a prospect when you begin the process – or if you only know the prospect casually or socially, you must build the relationship block by block, brick by brick, visit by visit. Each successive visit provides more value, builds more credibility, and makes you stronger friends. As you build the relationship with the prospect you are illustrating how much more valuable you will be as an insurance advisor and as an asset than the prospect’s current provider. That’s why the process is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We don’t quickly assess a client’s asset risk and provide a quote. Our role is to understand the prospect and to protect his assets, not to simply quote insurance and hope for a sale.

The process begins and ends with providing value before the sale. The sale is made only when the client has asked you TWICE to become his agent. If you don’t adhere to this principal, you will have ruined all the time and effort you have used to prepare the prospect. By accepting the offer to quote his insurance you will have reversed all you have built and proven to the prospect that you are, after all, just like all the other insurance salespeople that have pursued him, just with a different approach. The danger of quoting (and even selling) a policy instead of providing risk management consulting before the prospect is ready to become your client is that, after the sale, he will treat you like a vendor instead of like a counselor.

The concept of the Asset Protection Model, after all, is that our role and goal is to protect our client’s assets, not to sell him insurance. And this isn’t a matter of conversion – if you don’t subscribe to this tenet today, please don’t start the APM in expectation of becoming a believer once the results are proven to you. You will likely succumb to providing a quote the first time you are asked and will certainly fail to pursue the philosophy of the APM. In short order you will be using the 15 Step Marketing Program to aid you in quoting more prospects (it will work well for that), but your closing rate and retention rate will not improve.

Of course if we have done our job properly, the client will know what he needs and will trust us to provide those products because we are truly interested in his well-being more than in making a sale. The product delivery is simply the client’s way to compensate you for all the work you have done on the client’s behalf. Clients who are converted using the APM will trust you as long as you earn that trust and will stay with you forever.

When the time comes to close a sale you should have long established a trust and friend relationship with the prospect. If you’ve followed the APM marketing program you have visited the prospect up to fifteen times over as much as three years. During that time you have delivered value at every visit and have progressed your relationship to the point that the prospect certainly understands that you are significantly more valuable and trustworthy than whoever he has used for his asset protection needs in the past. He should have tested you several times with quote opportunities. Each time you have consistently responded with the same mantra;

“I’m here to make sure you are properly protected, not to quote your insurance. If my recommendations have provided you a guide to the protection you need, the cost of the insurance will likely be close to the same regardless of which company we choose. Some years my insurance companies will be lower than others and other years they will be the same or a bit more than other insurance companies. If you are ready to make me your agent I will only write your insurance IF I can get you a competitive rate. Otherwise I’ll recommend that we leave it where it is now. But my quoting against several other agents is a waste of my time. I’m much more valuable to you helping to build the insurance program that you need than I am competing on price for that program.”

But what happens when you have given the prospect enough that he is prepared to make his insurance decisions and you feel that you have a good, strong relationship with him?

The key to your closing a sale is separating the decision to adopt you as his agent from the quoting process. The mantra, above, stated in your own terms, should convince the prospect that he is selecting a doctor, not pricing the surgery he needs. Your ‘closing’ question should be, “Are you ready for me to be your agent,” not, “Can I quote your insurance?”

You will either ask that question prematurely, at the right time, or will learn that the prospect has no intention of converting into a client – he has used the information and time you provided but either found it of less value than you expected or never intended to consider you as his agent.

At various times during the building of your relationship you will feel that you are in a good place with the prospect and should become his agent now. Using the “Are you ready for me to become your agent” question is valid when you feel that the prospect is ready to become a client. Many times, the situation is even more blatant. It is not unusual for a prospect for whom you have spent many visits to educate him and identify his insurance needs will say to you (in his own way), “Why haven’t you asked me to buy my insurance from you? What do you get from spending all this time and effort with me?”

Your answer should be, “My concern is and has always been to make sure you are properly protected. Of course I want to be your agent. Providing the products you need is the way I earn my living. But when we met you didn’t know me. I need to prove to you that I am more valuable to you as your agent than whomever you are using now. If you are convinced of that, I’d LOVE to be your agent. If not, let’s continue until you know how valuable I’ll be to you now and in the future.”

You will either close the sale at that point or the prospect will understand exactly what you are doing and will continue the process.

If the prospect does not respond positively to your closing question or if he doesn’t ask the question above (paraphrased) you must determine whether you, in fact, asked for the close before the prospect was sold on you or if the prospect is not interested in converting into a client, just in using your time and efforts.

QUALIFYING THE PROSPECT

If a prospector is digging a mine he doesn’t just test the mine once to determine if there is value to be generated from the work – he assays the ore frequently looking for signs of value.

If a surgeon does exploratory surgery and doesn’t find the problem for which he was testing he doesn’t continue the surgery since he’s already opened up the patient.

During the entire APM sales process, taking from several to fifteen visits and from the better part of a year of effort to three full years of work on your part, you should QUALIFY THE PROSPECT several times. You must learn to identify whether the prospect is honest and has the need and desire for your services at the outset of the relationship. If not you will treat him courteously but will probably not re-visit and will replace him in your sales funnel* with another prospect.

In the case of the APM sales process, the qualification begins with the early visits. Initially you will ask the client whether he is most interested in proper protection for his assets or the lowest price for an insurance product that will give him minimal protection. Trust your instincts. If the prospect seems “off,” isn’t straightforward or is honestly seeking price quotes only and isn’t concerned with protection, provide him what help you can during your visit and leave any follow up activities to the prospect to make with you. But be warned. If the prospect calls you back it is likely to use you instead of to be helped with your process. Similarly, if you explain what you are intending to do (the process), the price-shopper will quickly excuse himself as being too busy to spend the time with you that is needed.

Being honest and straightforward is a part of the APM. APM practitioners will clearly tell the client that their goal is to convince the prospect that the Relationship Manager is a much more valuable asset as his insurance agent than the prospect’s current provider. The Relationship Manager will tell the prospect that he will see the prospect often, bringing him valuable information about his asset protection but won’t take a lot of time at each visit because he is sensitive to the prospect’s time.