Master sales techniques: Focus on selling, relationships, and value-added service

By Stéphane Desjardins | January 01 2005 05:57PM

Three conference speakers. Three champions. Three unbeatable salespeople revealed their secrets of success at this year’s “Sales Champions” conference at the 2004 Insurance and Investments Convention in Montreal this November.

“The recipe for success is quite simple,” stated the first speaker of the conference. “Regardless of your personality or your methods, you have to strive to focus all of your energies on selling,” said Diane Gagné, president of Services financiers Diane A. Gagné.

Easier said than done? The conference speaker revealed the secret: record your work time and analyse the results at the end of each week. To crunch these numbers, you need tools that are practically as old as the insurance industry itself: activity reports.

Ms. Gagné explained that this system provides an accurate picture of what was accomplished in a given week: the number of appointments made, those that turned into presentations, sales made, potential clients referred during interviews, total sales generated during the week, etc. “Some colleagues smile when I tell them that I have never stopped compiling this data,” she said.

This technique has enabled Ms. Gagné to better target her appointments to her choice clientele. The ones she considers most profitable: clients age 45 and up, with annual income of at least $250,000 and liquid assets of between $500,000 and $1 million. This method has helped her carve out a piece of the lucrative medical professional market.

She also keeps close tabs on expenses. “Advisors are above all entrepreneurs. Your company must report profits at the end of the year. If all of these profits go toward salaries, the survival of the company is in jeopardy. You have to limit outflows of funds and especially rein in your personal lifestyle.”

Ms. Gagné confirmed that advisors must ensure that their company bank account always contains liquid assets corresponding to 20% of income, regardless of the variation in commissions depending on product type.

“Advisors are often afraid to invest in their own company. Particularly in computers. But when a client calls, I have all their documents on my screen virtually instantaneously, including background notes. You need an adequate infrastructure to serve clients well.”

Ms. Gagné never delegates any kind of contact with the clientele to her secretary, from making appointments to a simple address change. “That’s the way I have developed my business relations. And I do not let my secretary make my prospecting calls.”

The second conference speaker added that choosing which clients to focus on is equally important. “Advisors must be able to manage their resources, which are limited,” explained Michèle Holland, vice-president and portfolio manager at RBC Dominion Securities.

“Time and energy dedicated to sales must be focused on clients who are worth the effort,” said Mr. Holland. “Many advisors are bedazzled by clients who have enormous assets but who do not generate much income for them. The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to establish an affinity with your clients. And put the cards on the table.”

Ms. Holland focuses on managing her clients’ investments over the long term. She doesn’t fall for hot stocks people talk about at cocktail parties. “You should try to keep things simple in a field (stock investment) where practically nothing is under your control. You’re better off cultivating the relations with your clients. That way you can get a better handle on what you allocate to their portfolio.”

Ms. Holland claims that most of the problems that advisors experience originate from their relations with and particularly their evaluation of their clients. “When you first start out in this field, you’re ready to take on anyone as a client. As long as you’re making money. But if you have 1000 clients, it’s tricky to provide personalized service. Talking to your client only once a year is simply not done. That’s why it’s important to accumulate clients with similar styles.”

Ms. Holland insisted on another point that she considers crucial: when a client calls, you have to return the call the same day.

The third speaker of the conference agreed whole-heartedly. “Advisors should stop thinking about their products constantly. Products are much less important than the relationship they forge with their clients. And this relationship must be one of trust,” said Tony Guzzo, mutual fund representative and financial security advisor at Horizon Vertical.

“Advisors must first and foremost present added value to the client. It is more difficult than simply sticking to product sales. But it also pays more.”

Mr. Guzzo’s clientele consists mainly of entrepreneurs. He sees himself as their coach. “The owner of a small business is a complex creature. He must manage a company, have a rudimentary knowledge of sales, management, production. Most of the time, he hates or simply doesn’t have time to think about his investments or the financial aspects of his professional life. That’s where we come in. We are the maestros, we orchestrate the joint actions of several professionals to see the entrepreneur’s financial planning process through to completion.”

Mr. Guzzo believes that he has a duty to convince his clients to think strategically, especially owners of SMEs, who primarily focus on short-term challenges. “Whereas some advisors simply talk about products, very few of them ask their clients to plan two, three or even five years ahead. Where are the business opportunities? What are their personal financial concerns or those of their company? These questions must be asked.”

“Before talking about products, I make sure that all of the financial avenues have been maximized for the company,” he continued. “For example, many entrepreneurs will pay too much tax because they did not properly plan the exemption of the first $500,000 in capital gains on the sale of the company.”

But before analyzing tax and financial angles, the advisor must compile a precise picture of the person inside the client, he added. For instance, which strengths are not being fully capitalized on? He assured that clients certainly appreciate this added value!

Stéphane Desjardins