A focused needs approach saves time and aggravation

By Jim Ruta | February 21 2012 08:58PM

Do all professional sales really have to be two interviews or more?
“He sells on the first interview”. It's today’s ultimate putdown. But is it really?

It isn’t. The multiple sales interview approach in life insurance sales developed from the fear of being too pushy. Organized, targeted, polished and professional sales presentations were replaced with long planning processes that don’t work as hoped anyway.

A new advisor I know wanted to sell a family member a large term insurance policy. The trainer said the only way to do so was with an elaborate 3 interview system. Never mind that the client wasn’t interested in it, that’s what had to be done. The interview never happened and the prospect bought from someone who made just one call.

The multiple interview strategy also forgets that time is more precious today for prospects and advisors than ever. Some situations may require multiple interviews – say complicated corporate-owned insurance for complicated tax purposes. But is that what the majority of consumers want? Do you suppose they would spend hours over multiple interviews in their limited spare time working things out if they had an alternative?

When I trained advisors we would make this offer: “Mr. Prospect, we have two approaches to determine your insurance needs. One is an in-depth 3 to 4 hour process over two interviews. The other is a 30 to 40 minute summary approach that usually comes up with similar numbers. I will do either one. Which would you prefer?” Almost always, the prospect chose the shorter one.

Truly, most insurance planning is not rocket science, despite what you might hear. People with similar backgrounds and in similar situations have similar needs. That’s why we can know in advance what their needs might be and attract their attention with it. This “focused needs package approach” can save everyone a lot of time and aggravation and get the same results. You just have to know when to use it and when not to.

Like in medicine, there are primary, secondary and tertiary financial needs. “Primary” is for basic family and small business needs. “Secondary” is for the estate planning and corporate market. “Tertiary” refers to highly specialized tax-related and complicated product situations. The shorter approach is particularly useful in “primary financial needs” situations. This is where the vast majority of prospects, some 50% of all consumers fall today.

Something else might help alleviate some of the horror over one interview – the “one and a half interview” sale. The first, the “half interview”, is over lunch or a long coffee break to sell the prospect on the general problem and us as potential solvers of it. The second, but full interview was set with all decision makers to figure out the specific problem and solve it. This worked very well in primary situations. No one was being brow beaten to buy but they did and insurability risk was addressed.

Consider your prospect’s needs first when deciding on your interview approach. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.

I’ve heard that an advisor should only speak about 20% of the time in an interview and the prospect 80%. How does that work?

“Rules” like these are thrown at us from time to time but you don’t want to be “thrown” by them. This one would be confusing if it applied to every new communication. Fortunately, it doesn’t apply to every interview. It applies more to the whole of your relationship with a prospect and not to every single communication opportunity.

Each new communication has its own time share split. During a fact-finding interview, you want to get a prospect started about their situation and then let them talk. Get the “hard” and “soft” facts about the client – their facts and feelings – out on the table. You might do some active listing (That’s interesting, can you tell me more about that...) to help them stay on topic, but clearly they have to talk. They might do 90% of the talking. Your job is to pay attention to what they say, what they don’t say and how they say it so you really understand them as people.

When you are asking for the business is another time when the prospect needs and wants to be involved. They will likely talk as much as you do. Maybe that’s a 50/50 split here. But this is very dependent on the actual situation, the nature of the sale and the personality of the client. If you get a ton of questions, what are you supposed to do? Keep asking them more questions? I don’t think so. You have to be responsive.

There is also a time when you will likely do most of the talking – the initial approach. This is when you are selling yourself and your service to the prospect so they will work with you. There is no way that they can judge who you are, what you stand for and how you can help them unless you are talking. That’s OK.

In addition, with compliance and disclosure being what it is, initial interviews must entail a fair bit of “boilerplate” that you just have to say. This is a new reality that you have to make work for you and that the old proverb didn’t contemplate.

Finally, at the beginning of a relationship you have to declare what you stand for and say enough to get a prospect’s attention, interest and desire. Sure you can ask a few questions in the process and so can they, but at the beginning, you must say something to get them interested in working with you. Again this can’t come just from asking questions and listening. It takes talking. Talking is communication too. In this initial interview, you may very well do 80% of the talking. But after all, you are an advisor. You have to give advice.

Don’t be paralysed by proverbs without perspective. These are rules of thumb that may apply overall but not to every part of your relationship. Strictly sticking to these rules can make for clumsy and forced communication. It won’t help you help prospects. Don’t be afraid to communicate.