The time spent early in the process of prospecting – even before you’ve picked up the phone to make contact - makes a tremendous difference in the results you see from the beginning of the relationship and continues throughout the selling process.

When I say proper planning, I'm talking about time spent researching the prospective business and learning everything you can about them through a variety of sources. Which should then lead you to targeting and only pursuing those businesses that value what you offer. In other words, letting the annual bargain shoppers go work with someone else!

There are several strong benefits to investing time early in a relationship to learn about the company strategies, objectives, and challenges.

  1. Right off, you are able to talk to them about their business, and you don’t have to ask them about it. You already know about the company, the products, their activities, and are able to jump into meaningful conversations from the first meeting.
  2. Knowing this type of information gains the attention of the executives. When you come into the first meeting and are talking to them about company strategy rather than asking about deductibles, you’re talking the language of the executives. And they are the ones who find or make room in budgets when the need arises.
  3. Knowing the business early on helps to shorten the selling cycle and reduces the risk of No Decision – a sales person’s biggest enemy. Research shows that sales reps who understand prospective businesses strategies early in the relationship close more sales than those who don’t.

Slowing down at the beginning is counterintuitive, but being patient and documenting client strategy early allows you to clearly connect your solutions to their strategic direction. If you can’t make that connection then you’re forced into a traditional insurance sales process of quoting and bidding.

It’s not always done that way

When I came into the insurance industry, I was shocked at what was considered “sales” and shocked at the stark division between sales and service teams. It was counterintuitive to everything I had learned as good sales and client management practices. Let’s take a look at the differences I encountered.

Traditional prospecting in the insurance industry

It starts with a list of company names within a defined radius and with a set number of employees, and then that list is given to a producer to start dialing for dollars. They make several attempts, and when they don’t make contact, eventually they move on. When they do make contact, they ask to offer a quote for consideration.

The way I learned sales in high tech

I had the great fortune of working for some people who had been trained in the ways of P&G – you know where everything is a process, done a particular way, and backed by research. They used these ideas for setting up our Sales and Marketing teams.

Before we got approval to travel or invest any money into a prospective new account, we had to justify the potential of the account, and the way we did it was with proper pre-call planning, which was a rigorous and disciplined process.

  1. Through research we had to learn about the company, their industry, their competition, their target audience, and their marketing plan.
  2. We had to know how much the account was potentially worth in revenue by forecasting. We had to set a budget to know how much we would need to invest in this account to make the amount of revenue we had outlined in the forecast.
  3. We had to know the company strategy - what they were trying to achieve with their clients and with their business - so we could help them achieve their goals, as well as ours.
  4. We had to know how to put all of this information in writing so it became an effective tool for developing insights and making recommendations.

Our leaders were sticklers on the discipline and documentation. They knew it was dangerous to allow the account information to simply be kept in memory because people come and go. They also knew that good decisions are made with information.

So by the time we sat down with a prospective client, we were intimately aware of their operations and were ready to talk seriously about partnering together.

It took a team to be a true sales operation

The companies I worked for were sales organizations, but not like you might imagine based on the typical insurance agency structure where the producer is the center of the sales process. Instead, we were sales organizations that had people in various disciplines that all participated in the sales and client process: sales, marketing, engineering, accounting, leadership. Everyone got their chance to pitch into developing the strategy and managing the projects.

Why does this make sense?

Agencies should strive to be so valuable to their clients that not only does the client not go out to bid to “keep my broker honest”, but they should be volunteering referrals to other great companies that would value the same services. The only way you can get to this kind of relationship with a client is to earn their business based on bringing them exceptional value and helping them develop into better businesses.

Traditional insurance selling methods of quoting at renewal will only get you clients who believe that the cost of the policy is the only way to influence the budget of an organization.

Your opportunity is to teach your prospects a better set of criteria for making buying decisions. And that begins by establishing an alignment between your business solutions and their business goals. Which, of course, has to start by understanding their business and their goals.

If you can’t do this, then you’re selling a commodity. And let’s face it; if you’re doing the same things as the guy down the street, then you are no different in the eyes of the prospect, which means you have nothing to offer that’s worth talking about.

To be different and worthy of talking about, you have to look different and be different from the very beginning. From the first conversation. Because if you sound the same in the beginning, you will be lumped into the “insurance sales guy” category forevermore with that prospect.

If you truly want to be selling consultative services, then you need to adopt a team mentality and employ discipline in your pre-approach with prospective clients.

The biggest obstacle to this approach is that the industry equates busy with productive. But doing more of what you’ve always done will not get you different results (or even the results you used to get). Instead, try focusing on quality prospecting to jump-start your conversations with a prospect, and see how much farther it takes you. If it’s productive you’re looking for, this might be just what you need.

Photo by antonioguillem