A sales pro who unsettles his clients

By Alain Thériault | February 26 2010 06:02PM

André Cyr speaks frankly with his clients and his prospects. He uses images that make them think, make them uncomfortable, and push them to action. "Learn how to ask unsettling questions. You have to unsettle the client," he says.

Mr. Cyr has been an advisor for thirty-nine years during which time he has insured about sixty business clients for more than $1.6 billion.

He is a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), and it's obvious that asking clients difficult questions works for him. His favourite question: "Are you one of the people who spends more time getting your hair cut than planning your estate?"

Mr. Cyr shared several other good lines with his audience at the Sales Champions session of The Insurance and Investments Convention in Montreal. But first of all, he wanted to explain that, before becoming successful, he had to learn the ropes the same as anyone else.

In the 1970s, Mr. Cyr started his career with Metropolitan Life and then passed to the now defunct Confederation Life. In his fifth year, he asked to be transferred from Sherbrooke to Montreal in order to work with the top salesperson of the time, Emile Michael. "I can open doors, but I have trouble closing them. Every time I open a door, you can have half of my commission and you can do what you want with the client," he suggested to Mr. Michael. After working with him for a year, Mr. Cyr became one of the company's top sales persons.

Winning ideas

In 1976, Mr. Cyr joined the ranks of MDRT, and picked up ideas that would bring him to the top. The first: "We have four competitors: death, disability, sickness and old age. Our job is to see our clients before them!"

He also learned to invest at least 10% of his gross revenues in marketing and public relations. One of his first prospecting activities was to gather together six clients at a wine and cheese tasting session hosted by the Quebec provincial liquor control board. The $2000 event takes place three times a year.
"I always leave with a sale or two," he says.

In 1996, he purchased a box at the Bell Centre where the Montreal Canadiens play (then the Molson Centre) at an annual cost of $175,000. "Since I have had that box, my income is in the seven figure range and has stayed there."

Entertains clients

Mr. Cyr invites potential clients to his box to entertain them and to introduce them to each other, not to talk about insurance. "A client asks me what I do for a living? I never mention the words life insurance. I reply that ‘I insure money making machines like you, in case they break.'"

Another way he describes his work to clients: "André Cyr does not sell life insurance, he helps partners buy back shares in the event of death for 0.5% to 3% of the cost of the business. No bank can compete with me."

Other job descriptions: He does not sell life insurance, he creates and protects fortunes. He helps his clients plan their dreams so that they become a reality. He helps entrepreneurs avoid being taken over by invisible partners. He builds products that insure years of profitability for a business in case a key person dies... "Do not sell life insurance to a client," he insists. "Sell what life insurance can do for them," he advised.

Through his involvement with MDRT, Mr. Cyr found a role model. This person was the legendary Ben Feldman.

Mr. Cyr learned an interesting sales strategy from his role model that involved asking his business clients to see him as another person on their payroll and envision the benefits he could bring: "If you had an extra employee, would that complicate your business? No? So pay me $5 an hour and I will guarantee that $1 million dollars, after taxes, will be paid to your company in the event of your death. And if you can afford $25 an hour, I'll bring $5 million. If you don't want my services in ten years, I'll pay you back all of my salary, plus interest."

Called in by a colleague to help close a sale, Mr. Cyr accompanied him and the prospect to a restaurant. He quickly unsettled him. This man, divorced and father to a 6-year-old son, owned rental properties and collected 700 rents every month. His business was worth $30 million and he owed a $13 million mortgage. He paid himself a salary of $70,000. He didn't pay much in taxes because he was writing off the maximum capital cost allowance on his buildings; he had written off $5 million up to that point.

So Mr. Cyr put him in the hot seat. "Who are you working for?" he asked. "For myself," replied the prospect. To which Mr. Cyr responded, "No, no, listen to me here. Why are you collecting 700 rents when you are putting your 6-year-old son at risk? There's going to be a garage sale if you die tomorrow," he told him. "You owe the bank $13 million, and you owe the government $2.5 million to recuperate the capital cost allowance, $5 million in capital gains..." The prospect was flabbergasted.

Mr. Cyr then asked, "If your mortgage went up by one-third of a per cent, would you be able to pay it?" The prospect replied that he would. "Well then, leave your problem to me. I'll sort it out for one-third of a percent. I will pay your $21 million debt, and the buildings will be your son's one day, clear of taxes." The insurance sale was made in half an hour.