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The Most Important Business Building Questions

Posted By John Chapin, Wednesday, December 4, 2019

If you’ve read many of my articles in the past, you’ve undoubtably come across my statement that the biggest key to business-building and sales success is activity, or, more specifically, activity that leads to sales: prospecting, presenting, and closing. It’s simple, the more people you talk to, the more business you’ll do. Even a blind pig finds corn. If you talk to enough people during the day, you’ll eventually bump into someone who says, “I need what you have”, or “I know someone who needs what you have.” Below are some questions you can use to direct your days activities.

What will I do today to grow my business?

This is the most important question to ask first thing in the morning. Your answer should revolve around proactive activities to grow your business. Ideally that activity consists of lots of in-person calls at best, and phone calls at the very least. Cold e-mails are one of the worst, if not the worst, forms of initial communication unless accompanied by a phone call or in-person visit.
I tell new salespeople, “Your number one priority in life is to go out and talk to new people about what you do. Everything else comes after that.” The only exception is if they have kids. In that case, the kids come first and the second priority is sales calls. It isn’t paperwork, cleaning your desk, spell-checking a letter, or answering a call from a client to tell them something basic like what address to send their paperwork to. Those tasks are done off-hours and ideally, most of the time, by other people.
One of the primary goals of your activity is to talk to and meet new people. This is one of the challenges I have with networking groups. You’re talking to the same people over and over again whose number-one priority is to sell you something as opposed to the other way around. I don’t have a problem with you going to Chambers of Commerce and BNI groups as an add-on, or for fun because you like the people, but you only go to these after you have your 50 cold/semi-warm calls (or whatever your number is to generate the new business necessary) done first. If you haven’t hit those numbers, you don’t go to the comfortable networking meeting and waste your time. That’s like eating candy so you don’t have room for dinner. Same with social media. That is done after your proactive marketing. Networking groups and social media aren’t proactive, they’re reactive because you have to rely on other people to contact you or give you leads. You can’t control your numbers that way. When you go out and knock on doors and ring phones, you control the numbers. I’m not saying don’t do other networking and social media, I’m saying you do them after your in-person calls and phone calls.
Note: A variation of the above question is: “What will I do tomorrow to grow my business?” You of course ask this question the night before. Come up with one, two, or three ideas and then set some goals around those. For example, 10 in-person cold calls, 30 follow-up phone calls, and 30 follow-up e-mails. You might even add sending out five handwritten notes. In blue ink of course.

What am I doing right now to grow my business?

Use this question to stay focused on your sales numbers during the day. If it’s currently prime time (the time in which you can reach prospects), you should be prospecting, presenting, and closing 80% of the time, or more. I recommend you make two signs in the largest font possible on your computer that say, “Am I prospecting, presenting, or closing right now?” Put one at your work desk and the other in your car if you make in-person calls. If it’s 5 a.m. and the answer is ‘no’, that’s fine. If it’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and your prospects work a typical 9-to-5 day, and your answer is ‘no’, that’s a problem. Granted, some of this time might be travel time but, the focus should be on driving to make a cold call or follow-up call with a prospect. Also, you of course want to use your time wisely by grouping calls together.  

What did I do today to grow my business?

 What are your results at the end of the day? Did you hit the numbers you needed to hit to be successful? How many people did you call on and how many did you actually talk to? Based upon your annual, monthly, weekly goals, and daily activity, did you get done what needed to get done? All of this leads to the ultimate question, the answer of which best determines sales success or failure: How many new people did I make aware of my business today?

Also remember how important persistence is. 81% of appointments are made after the fourth contact. 80% of salespeople don’t make the initial four contacts. The average executive gets 400 e-mails a day and has 52 hours of unfinished work on their desk. It’s not that they aren’t interested or don’t want to hear from you. When they have a to-do list of 76 items and you show up as number 77, it’s most likely going to take some time to move up the list. Either way, on the day they do wake up thinking about doing something related to the product or service you sell, you want to be the next thought in their brain.

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How to Expand Your Book of Business Through Existing Clients

Posted By Rosalie Donlon, Wednesday, November 6, 2019


According to Investopedia, the “Pareto Principle” states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection in 1896, showing that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

Fast forward to 2019, and we’ve all seen that rule play out in a variety of businesses and industries. In order to maximize opportunities with existing clients, then it stands to reason that insurance industry professionals should follow the 80/20 rule faithfully.

But are there other things you can do to increase the book of business you have with your existing clients?

Staying connected

Susan Toussaint, principal with Oceanus Partners, a ReSource Pro company located in St. Petersburg, Fla., says that “Staying connected to existing clients is critical, particularly the 20% of accounts that drive 80% of your revenue. These are the accounts that are most likely to be targeted by your competition.”

In addition, she notes, although retention rates in the industry hover around 87% to 92%, those numbers are drastically reduced when a new buyer in the client’s company enters the picture. New buyers want to know: “Why should I continue to do business with you and your agency?” If you haven’t been actively involved in helping your client identify and address newly emerging and escalating risks, they’re likely to look for a new partner.

“It’s a proven fact that word of mouth is the best advertising,” says Kitty Ambers, the chief growth officer for Aurora, Colo.-based Avyst, a provider of sales and risk management solutions. “Being intentional and proactive in contacting your current clients keeps you and your value top of mind.”

She explains that communications that help to educate about possible risks insureds’ may face (cyber, for example), how coverages might apply to them (long term care, for instance), and how life and business changes should be communicated to their agent to ensure protection is in place (possibly adding a pool at home or a business location), can lead to helpful conversations that clients will mention to their friends and colleagues.

Patrick Kelahan (also known as the “Insurance Elephant” on Twitter) makes sure to contact clients to let them know of changes that might affect them, for example, changes in staff or carriers being represented. “It sounds obvious, but it’s important to let clients know that your address is changing,” Kelahan notes. He also contacts clients to follow up on a question or a claim.

Clients that are already aligned with a company — either with its products, services or deliverables — provide frequent opportunities to foster and strengthen relationships, observes Brian Rawlings, practice leader for fitness facilities, health clubs and spas coverage from Venture Programs, West Chester, Pa. “These deep relationships can then lead our clients to serve as ambassadors for our company,” he explains.

Depending on the depth and strength of the relationship, Rawlings generally looks to have touchpoints with key clients weekly, monthly or quarterly. He and his team use phone, email and personal visits to provide clients with updates on claims trends and risk management practices that are key to their industries.

Timing is everything

As for how often you should get in touch with clients, there are no hard and fast rules, says Toussaint. She believes that the frequency of contact with your existing clients depends on the work that you’re doing together to identify and mitigate risks. “We recommend the use of action plans that speak to the collaborative work to be done over the course of the year,” she says. “Typically, larger accounts require more touches than smaller ones.”

Ambers finds that with current technology, there are many client contact strategies to consider. These might include automated, personalized messaging that’s triggered by some type of event (buying a new car or having a baby, for example); regular monthly or quarterly educational newsletters; and seasonal promotions regarding inherent risks around the holidays, for example.

“One of the best things I ever saw an agent do was a postcard with a smoke detector battery at daylight savings change time,” Ambers notes. “All can have a positive impact on the valuable knowledge the independent agent brings. Keep in mind that any content can be repurposed on an ‘FAQ’ section or blog area on the agency’s website for future use with electronic communications.”

The frequency of contact differs for each customer, but it should be at least once a year. “During a claim, that tempo picks up to an almost daily level of review and contact,” Kelahan adds.

Year-round process

Renewal season is probably the time of year when brokers have the most contact with their insureds, from renewal application requests to questions about the application, new operations the insured may have undertaken, and then negotiating the renewal. Too often, agents only connect with their clients at renewal, and that can put the relationship at risk.

“Business owners make the mistake of thinking of insurance buying and risk management as an event instead of a process,” notes Toussaint. She believes agents would be wise to work with clients throughout the year, not just at renewal.

“This limits the risk of losing the account,” she says, “and it ensures that the business is addressing issues before they present a significant risk.”

Tory Brownyard, president of the Brownyard Group, a program administrator based in Bayshore, N.Y., advises agents and brokers to keep in touch with the insured periodically over the year, so there are no surprises at renewal. “Check in every couple months to see how business is going,” he suggests. “For example, if payrolls or exposures are up, you can help the insured avoid a large accounts payable at audit by making changes during the policy term. Also, check-in about new operations to make sure the insured has the proper coverage in place for new risks. Keeping a constant stream of contact with the insured helps build a more solid relationship.”

Ambers has found that, so often, the renewal date is the only thing that might trigger agents to proactively reach out to their customers. “By adding value throughout the year, agents can minimize the risk that their customer will entertain other quotes when their renewal notice or invoice shows up,” she says. “Agents tend to have a pretty solid account review and renewal process for larger commercial accounts, but strategic decisions should be considered for all lines.” You never know when an opportunity to provide more coverage will appear.

Rawlings agrees that “Renewal is obviously a key time to work with the client — presenting us with a scheduled opportunity to get updates on their business and insurance needs.” However, he looks to provide touchpoints throughout the lifecycle of the relationship based on each policyholder’s unique situation.

New products or coverages

Toussaint observes that risk assessments are an important but under-utilized tool that can inform the decision of which products, coverages and limits should be offered to an employer to protect their business, employees and ability to remain competitive.

“Agencies that have built a pre-renewal questionnaire or client check-in into their processes are able to effectively recommend coverages that apply to changing situations,” Ambers notes. She finds that another powerful tool can be reports run from the agency management system to identify potential coverage gaps or cross-selling and account rounding opportunities. These might include reports that show, for example:

  • Auto and home but no umbrella;
  • Auto but no home or tenant policy; or
  • Commercial liability but no employment practices liability or cyber coverage.

Marketing communications and client outreach strategies can then be created according to the various coverage types. “Often, it can be as simple as training the customer service agent to say something like, ‘I see you have your home and auto insurance with us, but I don’t see that we’ve ever discussed the benefits of an umbrella for you,’” Ambers explains.

Rawlings believes that products and coverages should be tailored to meet the particular business needs of the client, which requires thoughtful and comprehensive individual assessments. “As consultative risk managers, we look at emerging trends within the industries we serve and offer relevant coverage to meet the changing marketplace, as well as educational risk mitigation support where appropriate,” he adds.

Brownyard finds that the primary time he hears from brokers with their security clients’ concerns is when the insured is bidding on a new contract for its business. At that time, he says, they’re seeking advice from the broker, so Brownyard asks whether a new type of work is acceptable and whether they have the proper coverage to bid on a contract.

“This is a good time for us to help our brokers solidify their relationship with the client by counseling them on the contract being considered and whether it will affect the availability or cost of their insurance,” Brownyard says. His team can also help brokers navigate the required coverage. “This is generally an opportunity for the broker to add lines, as many contract specifications call for additional coverage, such as higher limits of liability, employee dishonesty coverage or cyber liability coverage.

A receptive ear?

Although clients need the advice and help that agents and brokers can provide, they may be resistant to listening to what many would consider just another sales pitch. How do you ensure that your clients are receptive when you propose revisions to their existing policies or new coverage? “When these initiatives are approached with the mentality of wanting to do the best job for the client based on their unique situation, vs. a high-pressure sales call, success rates seem to improve,” observes Ambers. “Think of it as nurturing and educating your clients.”

Rawlings has found that his clients generally are receptive to frequent check-ins, though they vary in how often they want to hear from their insurer. “Not everyone wants you to personally visit with any frequency,” he says, “but clients, in general, appreciate a gesture demonstrating that they are more than just a transaction.”

Agent and broker tips

When asked what advice she would give other agents and brokers, Toussaint recommends that they focus on the selection of right-fit clients. “The great benefit of being an agent is that you get to select your clients,” she says. “If you spend time identifying the right-fit client for you and your agency, then focus on developing relationships with those prospects, you’ll have a more rewarding career and profitable book of business.”

Brokers can grow their business by aligning themselves with a strong program manager in the field that they can lean on for advice, Brownyard says. “This helps brokers themselves become better versed in the field, and insureds will spread the word to others in their industry of their experience with that broker. Hence, the broker’s business will grow.”

“Treat each client as if they are a valuable, key client of your firm, regardless of premium size or referral possibilities,” Rawlings advises. “The fading art of genuine interpersonal interaction is still the most valuable sales tool.”

Kelahan believes it’s important to know the customers’ unique needs and do more listening than speaking on a call. “Always return calls, emails and texts,” he says, “and always end the contact on a positive note.” Make sure to leave your name and contact information. The client likely has your phone number, but make it easy for them to call you back without hunting up the number or email.

If you’re an independent agent: “Have multiple markets to shop, and present the client with three best options” during the quote, Kelahan adds.

Ambers strongly recommends that agents and brokers create proactive communication strategies that address potential client needs and provide education on a regular basis. “Remember, agents who are purchasing leads or who have called on your clients previously are likely working the renewal lead aggressively. As the incumbent agent, you need to have ‘face in the place’ more frequently to reinforce your value.”

Thou shalt not …

Are there things not to do when trying to expand a book of business? “Don’t allow a client to think they’re not a valued partner or that they receive less consideration than any other,” Rawlings says. “You never know when their business may grow or who they know!”

Kelahan has strong feelings about one thing not to do: “Don’t start into the business as a full-time venture. Begin on a part-time basis to build your skills, client base and knowledge.” He also believes that many agents make the mistake of ending a claim inquiry with a sales pitch. The focus should be strictly on the claim, remembering that “customer needs come first.”

“Don’t allow business owners and decision-makers to commoditize the insurance buying process with bidding and quoting,” Toussaint stresses. “Agents must lead buyers to a more effective process that’s focused on identifying risks and threats to the business. Bidding and quoting are ineffective, leaves the business at risk, and favors the incumbent agent. Don’t do it!”

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Hire Correctly or Drive Yourself Crazy

Posted By John Chapin, Thursday, October 31, 2019

It happened again last week… I was brought into an organization that did a poor job of hiring and had a bunch of salespeople who weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing because they either had a poor attitude, poor work ethic, or both. Some difficult conversations ensued and afterwards I was asked what could be done to make sure the salespeople were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Here is my answer.

The most effective way to ensure people do their job is to hire correctly to begin with. If you hire the right people, you don’t have to hold their feet to the fire to get them to do what they’re supposed to be doing. If you hire people with the right attitude and work ethic, they will do the work. And while you do have to guide them and, as Ronald Reagan said, “trust and verify”, for the most part, you can rely on them to do the job you hired them to do. If you hire people with either the wrong attitude or no work ethic, they’ll do as little as possible to fake people out that they’re working in order to stay on the payroll as long as possible. You’ll go crazy trying to hold them accountable but at the end of the day, you’ll be worn out, they still won’t be doing the job, and you’ll have to let them go after spending a bunch of time, effort, and energy, not to mention money. So, step one is hire correctly. If you want me to send you my Rules for Hiring, just e-mail me and I’ll be happy to do so.

Next, reward your workers and punish your non-workers. Give people doing the right things plenty of praise. Also, reward them with gifts, bonuses, and other items that will motivate them. Use the stick with the people who don’t do what they’re supposed to be doing. So, rewards for people doing the right things and consequences for people not doing the right things.

On a related note, if you’re one of the organizations that require salespeople to do call reports to ensure they are making enough calls, stop doing this with your good people. If someone is doing lots of good, clean business, and it’s obvious they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, don’t punish them by adding this task. It takes valuable selling time away from them. On the other hand, if you have people who aren’t making the sales and you know aren’t making the calls, then force them to document who they’re calling. Have them include: the company name, name of the person, and contact information: phone and, if possible, e-mail. Then check up on them. You do this two ways: one by calling the contacts, and two: by going on the road with these salespeople. One of my favorite techniques is to call them during the day, ask where they are and where they are headed to and say, “Great, I’ll meet you at your next stop.” When it becomes clear they aren’t making the calls, which you already know, it’s time to either let them go immediately or give them one final ultimatum. By the way, the latter usually doesn’t work for long, if at all.

All of the above said, you probably know within a week or two whether or not you made a good hire. I discover this very quickly when I start working with a new organization. One of the first things I do is to ask each of the salespeople to give me the number of new-business calls they’re willing to commit to on a weekly basis. I do this before I meet with them in person. The salespeople with the right attitude and work ethic are usually realistic or high on their number. Also, they are usually already making that number of calls, or, if they aren’t, they immediately start making that number of calls. In other words, they don’t wait for me to tell them during our first in-person meeting. The bad-hires either say they are too busy to make new-business calls, give me a low number, or give me a number they think I want to hear, even though they have no intention of making the calls. In addition, they always wait until the in-person meeting to start making calls as opposed to proactively making the calls as soon as they commit.

The bottom line is: if you hire correctly, your people will require very little accountability and hand-holding, but if you hire incorrectly, you’ll have to do massive amounts of accountability and even then, you still won’t end up with the results you want. 

Important note: I find that executives with a background in sales usually do a poor job of hiring salespeople. Most of them see the best in people and they are designed to connect with and get along with people. This can be a detriment when hiring. You only see what people are really like when you move them out of the relatively comfortable interview seat and put them through a rigorous, well-thought-out hiring process. Look, most salespeople are great interviewers, especially the ones that go on lots of interviews (ones that jump from job to job for a number of reasons). If you don’t ask difficult questions, put any heat on them, or, have any real hurdles in your hiring process, anyone is going to look good. You’ve got to test people and see how they respond and react.

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The Foundation for Top Sales Achievement

Posted By John Chapin, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

As the saying goes, “A house is only as strong as its foundation.” It takes a strong foundation to ensure sales success. Following are the six high-achievement ingredients necessary to build that strong foundation.

Ingredient 1 for high achievement: Be in sales for the right reasons.

The first thing I look for in a potential new sales rep is people skills. In order to have long-term success and become a top achiever, you must be able to understand and communicate with people while also having a great capacity for empathy. Genuine caring and a desire to serve and help people is a must. In addition, one must also have a burning desire to succeed. A desire to make a lot of money is a good place to start. But it’s also important to know why making a lot of money is important. These reasons should be ones that enhance both the life of the salesperson as well as the lives of those around them and the world as a whole.

Ingredient 2 for high achievement: The right attitude and beliefs.

What is your daily attitude like?  Do you always see solutions when you face problems?  Do you stay positive in the face of all challenges? Looking for the positive side of a situation is a habit, and, like most good habits, it can be developed. I’m not saying you need to have a smile on your face 24/7 and believe issues never arise in life.  What I am saying is: Don’t allow yourself to go to the other extreme of complete negativity and get overwhelmed to the point where you can’t act.  When you see a tough situation, recognize it, try to find some positives, keep a good attitude, and ultimately resolve the situation as quickly as possible. What is your motivation level?  You need to be highly motivated and ready to work as hard as you have to in order to reach the top and remain there.

How about self-confidence?  To get to the top in selling requires high self-confidence and high self-esteem. Are you a self-starter or do you need someone to give you a push?  To get to the top in sales, you must be a self-starter.  You must be motivated from within rather than needing someone to keep pushing you or keep you driven to succeed. To get to the top, you must also be a consummate professional and exude integrity—at all times. Finally, do you see yourself as a person who is completely responsible for your life and what happens in it?  This kind of responsibility is the cornerstone needed for great achievement.

Ingredient 3 for high achievement: A willingness to pay the price for success.

How far are you willing to go in order to be successful?  There is a price for success and top salespeople have chosen to pay it.  Are you willing to do whatever it takes, ethically, to get to and stay at the top?

Ingredient 4 for high achievement: “Hanging out” with the right people.

Who do you hang around with and where are they going?  You must hang around with successful people who are growing personally and professionally and who support your goals and dreams.  Birds of a feather do flock together, and the wrong group of people can drag you down quickly.  This doesn’t mean you need to immediately discard your friends and family if they aren’t completely supportive of you.  However, as you progress toward your goals, you may find yourself gathering a new, different group of friends and hanging out with certain negative people less often.  Let friends and family know the track you’re on and ask them to help or even to join you in the adventure.

Ingredient 5 for high achievement: Good health.

How is your health?  It isn’t possible to operate at your highest levels both mentally and physically if your health isn’t good.  If you are tired, run down, or frequently ill, you will not be motivated, and you will not perform well. You need to get plenty of sleep, eat properly, and exercise on a regular basis in order to be a consistently top salesperson. Good health also includes your overall mental condition.  While sleeping, exercising, and eating right will help your mental state, you must also develop the ability to handle stress, unexpected problems, and other similarly negative things that may affect your emotions.

Ingredient 6 for high achievement: A life with balance and growth.

While the beginning of your sales career, or a new job, will be heavily weighted toward your career for the first three to five years, you don’t want to go all-in on your career at the expense of everything else. You must still make time for health, the people in your life, and other things that are important to you. Considering you have 168 hours in a week, there is time to spend 70 hours, or more, at work, and still take care of the other areas your life. But it’s going to require that you be a master of your time. For short periods, you can devote an inordinate amount of time to one area of your life and neglect the others.  However, if you do that for too long, your attitude will suffer tremendously, along with your health and relationships. You may not get to each area every day, but in the course of a week, be sure each area of your life is getting its share of attention. Finally, you must be passionate about what you are doing, and you must always be growing personally and professionally.

The six ingredients above are necessary for consistent, long-term top performance. If you don’t have these six essential ingredients in place, you will face some daunting challenges.  The good news is that all of these ingredients can be learned.  Granted, few of them are mastered easily if you haven’t already developed them.  However, if you are truly committed to becoming a top salesperson, you can develop them.  There is always hope.

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The Difference between Success and Failure in Selling

Posted By John Chapin, Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Several important factors separate those who succeed in selling from those who fail.  Although some of the following items are arguably more important than others, they are all critical to a salesperson’s success. When I talk about top salespeople, I’m referring to people who are not only great at the profession of selling, they are also great human beings.

The Twelve Success Factors

 1) Great attitude

Top salespeople have a positive, can-do, winning attitude.  Specifically, they have enthusiasm, drive, competitiveness, and confidence. Top salespeople are highly motivated to succeed. They see selling as a competition, and they love competition. Top salespeople do whatever it takes to win—ethically—and they do not quit.  They are extremely persistent.  They are always moving ahead, changing, growing, and pushing through the bad times until they make it.  They never give up on themselves and their dream of success. Top salespeople have a win-win attitude.  They are genuine and truly like and care about other people.

2) Action oriented

Top salespeople are people of purposeful, focused, well-thought-out, massive action.  They are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it.  They don’t procrastinate.  They are protective of their time and use it wisely.  Top salespeople have a plan and they work their plan every day.  They know what actions lead to their success and that’s where they spend their time.  They follow the 80/20 rule.

3) Preparation

Top salespeople are prepared for anything and they over-prepare for everything.  They never wing it.  They have prepared scripts, presentations, answers to objections, and proposals.  They practice, drill, and rehearse.  They never rest on their laurels and are always looking for ways to improve. They are ready for anything and expect the best, yet they have a plan if the worst, or anything else, shows up.

4) Businesslike and business-savvy

Consumers are smarter and competition has increased. Top salespeople partner with customers and build a compelling business case based upon what’s best for the customer.  They know their customers’ business and problems intimately.  They ask intelligent questions that both set them apart from other salespeople and, more important, let the customer know they thoroughly understand the business. Top salespeople know and embrace technology, but not to the point where they distance customers and/or remove the human element. 

5) Ability to stand out from the crowd

Top salespeople differentiate themselves from other salespeople.  They don’t sound or act like other salespeople.  They are original. A top salesperson doesn’t come across as someone trying to sell; he or she comes across as an interested and informed party that’s there to help. Top salespeople have an aura of respect around them.  The way they walk and talk demonstrates to others that they are professionals and in turn, they are treated professionally.  Top salespeople are real, human, and down to earth, and people like them for this reason.  Their caring, sincerity, and helpful dispositions stand out.  They are memorable.

6) Likeability, trustworthiness, and the ability to build relationships

Selling is about doing everything necessary to build solid, loyal, long-term relationships. Top salespeople develop and nurture customer relationships and consider most of their customers to be friends. They have the ability to put people at ease and win others to their side, to establish a connection, and build rapport quickly and effectively.  They build trust and credibility.  Top salespeople can walk into a room and emerge fifteen minutes later having made a new friend.  They are genuine, open, and honest.  They convey a sincere interest in other people, what makes them tick, and what interests them. They truly like to serve people.

7) Effective communication

Top salespeople are great communicators, knowing what to say and when to say it.  They actively listen and are able to hear people well and read between the lines.  They ask good questions, listen well to the answers, and take notes. Top salespeople don’t confuse people by giving them more information than they need; yet they give them enough information to make a well-thought-out buying decision.  Top salespeople have frank, direct conversations with people.

8) Empathy

Top salespeople have empathy for their customers and prospects.  They are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.  Top salespeople genuinely like people and people feel their understanding and compassion.  Top salespeople enjoy helping people and they believe, with every fiber of their being, that buying and owning their product or service will help people.

9) Professionalism, integrity, and work ethic

Top salespeople are complete professionals with complete integrity. They have a great work ethic.  They are always on their best behavior because they’re aware that they never know who is watching them. Top salespeople are honest.  If they don’t know an answer, they admit it, find the answer, and follow up promptly.  They are straightforward. Top salespeople work both hard and smart. They don’t rest on their laurels when things are going well. Top salespeople recognize their top clientele and focus closely on nurturing those relationships and finding more people like them. Top salespeople go the extra mile and always deliver more than they promise. They return phone calls and reply to correspondence promptly. Top salespeople take 100 percent responsibility for everything they do, both professionally and personally.

10) Team player and leader

Top salespeople look for ways to contribute to the team.  They share information and success stories that may help the other salespeople in their company.  They pull for their peers and colleagues.  They use a big sale by another person in the office to motivate them.  They are focused on becoming better as individuals and believe that by doing so, they help the people around them improve and make their company stronger. Top salespeople work well with other departments and develop strong professional relationships with co-workers.  They get along with everyone, including the person no one else can relate to. Top salespeople are leaders. They expect to be at the top and they are comfortable there. They do not look down on or see others as inferior.

11) Continuing education and training

Top salespeople are always getting better at selling. They read sales books, listen to sales information at home and in their car, watch videos, and talk to other successful salespeople.  They constantly look for ways to improve.  They know selling and they know their business, yet they also know there is always more to learn. They study their competition inside and out. Top salespeople stay up-to-date on all new developments in their industry and everything that could affect business.  They are constantly looking through trade publications and magazines.

12) Company product and support

Top salespeople cannot remain at the top without reliable products and support.  They pick companies and products in which they can believe 100 percent, and they continue to look for reasons their product is better than any other.  

While twelve factors may seem like a lot, the keys are: having a great attitude, a sincere interest in helping people, and a burning desire to succeed. 

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Free...and Worth It!

Posted By Louie Castoria, Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Should Insurance Professionals Provide Free Advice?


Oh, you’re a doctor!” the party guest gushes. “You see this blotch on my wrist? Is it something to worry about?”

“Well, I’m a podiatrist, but it looks fine. If it’s still there in two months go see a dermatologist, okay?”

This exchange gets played out daily in thousands of parties, chance meetings and business offices. Sometimes the person offering a polite response, which in reality is advice, is a lawyer, psychologist, accountant, insurance agent or other licensed professional, but the pattern is the same: An acquaintance or relative asks for free advice, and, not wanting to seem impolite, the professional puts the errors and omissions liability policy on the line.

An internet search of the phrase “the high cost of free advice” finds examples from varied professions. Many describe the risk to the advice recipient, such as the party guest with the wrist blotch. Fewer describe the risk to the advice giver, the podiatrist, which is equal and opposite to the recipient’s risk, as Isaac Newton might have put it. 

Is there a legal duty?

Should a professional person have a legal duty when giving a non-client free advice? There are several legal duties in this seemingly casual situation:

  • Duty to the firm: Professionals who practice in a firm owe fiduciary duties to one another. A lawyer giving off-hand advice at a dinner party puts the law firm at risk, and not just the risk of a malpractice suit. If the lawyer advises the guest on a point of law an implied attorney-client relationship can be created — usually with the benefit of hindsight after the advice has gone wrong. That’s one reason why lawyers who do pro bono work must first run a conflict check using the firm’s client ID system. From a business standpoint, taking on the implied client might prevent the firm from taking on a paying client who is averse to the “freebie.”
  • Regulatory or licensing duty: As a lawyer admitted in California, I’m licensed to give legal advice. Well, not always. I can advise people about California or federal law, but if the inquisitive party-goer is visiting from Florida and is asking about a child-custody problems back home, I’m not licensed to give that advice, and would be practicing without a license, from Florida’s point of view. Also, one needs to be cautious about states in which the unauthorized practice of a profession can implicate criminal repercussions, and in securities matters, where disclosures and other safeguards may be required before advice is given.   
  • Duty to stay within scope of expertise: In the same child-custody scenario, if the party guest was from Sacramento rather than Sarasota, I’d still be incompetent to answer his question. My state bar license allows me to give that advice, but my experience does not. Here’s the problem with “dabbling” in an unfamiliar area of practice: The dabbler is held to the same standard of care as the expert. And let’s not forget the firm’s “silent partner,” its E&O insurer, which may have limited the scope of its coverage to the firm’s core practice areas. The same can hold true for insurance professionals. If you only sell and service personal lines policies, are you knowledgeable enough about commercial auto, for example, to provide reliable advice on coverage? The person asking you certainly thinks so.
  • The contractual duty: Professionals enter into contracts all the time. Captive insurance agents agree to only offer one company’s products. Distributors sign exclusivity contracts. Thankfully, these subjects rarely come up at parties, sports events, or bar mitzvahs, but when they do the novelty of the question should set the professional’s spider-sense a’tingling — particularly if the din of the crowd, band or barker limits your ability to clearly hear the question.  

What’s a businessperson or professional to do when cornered at an event by someone posing pointed “hypotheticals” about “a friend’s” problem? At this point, the marketing urge may trample your spider-sense. It could be a sale, a client, an account. Or, maybe, borrowing another pop-culture meme, “It’s a trap!” If the advice is outside your licensing or expertise, the most helpful advice is a referral. 

Walking the tightrope

There is a tightrope across this abyss. There’s no need to be rude or to give up a potential lead. Here’s one way to reply — I hasten to add that this is not legal advice: “I’ll be happy to give you some general ideas, Mr. Hodges, but can’t provide advice without a more in-depth discussion. How about this, you give me your business card or email address and I’ll contact you tomorrow to set a time to talk.”

The follow-up is an email saying, “It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday. We discussed your situation in very general terms, and I’m writing to ask if you’d like to meet to see whether I can be of help.” The subtext: “We have no agreement for me to provide services, yet.” 

And if you then meet and decide to offer free services, it’s a reasoned professional decision, not a sudden impulse or ambush — and may result in a worthwhile encounter that yields a new paying client. 


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Mental Toughness and Sales Success

Posted By John Chapin, Monday, August 5, 2019
In an article two months ago, I mentioned the five foundational personality qualities necessary for sales success: people skills, mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and character (honesty and integrity). If someone is missing any one of these, they won’t make it in sales over the long haul. Of the five, I find that the one that is most overlooked is mental toughness. Not just in the initial search when looking for a new sales rep, but also after the person is hired. When someone comes to you, they either have good people skills, work ethic, attitude and character, or they don’t, you can’t teach those. They also come to you with some level of mental toughness. It may be high, low, or somewhere in the middle, but they at least have some. That said, mental toughness is a skill that can be, and should be, developed after they’ve been hired, similar to sales skills and product knowledge. This is where many companies miss the boat. While almost all companies have some form of product and sales training, very few do any mental toughness training, and mental toughness can make or break a salesperson. 

Why mental-toughness training?

There’s a saying that 90% of life is mental, or as Yogi Berra reportedly said, “90% of life is half mental.” Whether or not you like math or Yogiisms, one thing is true: sales, like life, is pretty much 100% mental. Think about it, 100% of our waking hours, and most of our sleeping hours, are done through our brain. With the amount of rejection required to be successful in a sales career, one needs to have a high level of mental toughness. When people fail at sales 99.9% of the time it’s due to a lack of activity: they didn’t make enough calls, to talk to enough people, to get enough qualified prospects, to make enough sales. What causes the lack of activity is either fear of rejection (addiction to the approval of others), complacency (the comfort zone), or an inability to persist and persevere when they encounter repeated failure and rejection. The cause of each of these is a lack of mental toughness.

What is mental-toughness training and how do you do it?

In short, mental toughness training is training people to overcome the mental hurdles they encounter in sales and in life. Essentially, it’s developing someone’s grit and determination. You do it by discovering what they’ll fight for and what they’ll die for and then helping them use those emotional hot-buttons when they are down or otherwise unmotivated. This requires a deep dive into the psyche via targeted questions that cover the past, present, and future in all the major areas of life. What you’re after here is their WHY. In other words, why do they do what they do? Why do they get up in the morning and go to work? Why is it critical that they succeed in their career? A powerful WHY is the key to having a high level of mental toughness. As Nietzsche once said, “He who has a [powerful enough] WHY to live, can bear almost any HOW.” In other words, if the why is powerful enough, a person will go through almost anything to achieve their goals. That means they’ll push through rejection, won’t allow themselves to get complacent, and even when they are feeling down and beat up, they’ll still have the persistence and perseverance to keep moving forward.

While finding someone’s why involves some extensive questioning over several weeks, in short, you discover someone’s why in two areas: pleasure and pain, which is the language of the brain. First, on the pleasure end, what are they running toward? What do they want for themselves and the people in their lives? Do they want a house on the lake or a new sportscar? Do they want to send their kids to school wherever they want to go to school? Do they want to take a trip around the world with their family? Do they want to retire and travel? So, on the pleasure end, what are their goals and dreams, and how much money do they need to make those goals and dreams a reality? So, start with goals, but keep in mind, for most people positive goals aren’t enough to keep them motivated long-term. As a result, we need to leverage pain. Pain is a more powerful motivator than pleasure for humans. What “pain” is someone running from in the present, hoping to avoid in the future, or striving to overcome from the past? What has happened to them that motivates them? Did they get fired from a job? Did someone tell them they’d never amount to anything? Is there an ex-spouse or ex-boss that they’re going to show that they made a mistake? Are they afraid of not having enough money? Are they afraid of how they’ll feel if they don’t provide for their family? Where are the issues, or the pain, and what are the motivators or demotivators behind those? When you think of motivation, think of the 3 Ps: people, possessions, and proof. What do they want for the people in their lives, including themselves? What possessions do they want and what values do those possessions fulfill such as: peace of mind, security, love, and excitement? And what do they have to prove to themselves and others? Do they need to prove they are worthy, important, capable of taking care of their family, or that they’re good enough? 

When you discover what’s truly important to people, what they are willing to fight and die for, then you and they will have the necessary emotional hot-buttons to push in order for them to get through fear, step out of their comfort zone, and get back up after they’ve been knocked down.

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Stereotype of Salesperson as Liar

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Too Often Accepted as Sign of Competence


Everybody says they don’t like liars. But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out people tolerate those who stretch the truth, and even expect it.

New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that the ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling.

In the study, Deception as Competence: The Effect of Occupational Stereotypes on the Perception and Proliferation of Deception, Chicago Booth Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Emma Levine and Johns Hopkins University’s Brian Gunia find that people don’t always disapprove of deception. In fact, they perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in “selling orientation.”

“Deception, in the form of fraud, embezzling, and corruption, costs the economy a great deal of money and undermines the economy’s underlying moral fabric,” Gunia and Levine explain. “Companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers.”

In two pilot studies, the researchers asked participants to rate 32 occupations as “high” or “low” in selling orientation, reflecting the degree to which occupational members persuade others to make immediate purchases as part of their jobs. In four subsequent studies, the researchers honed in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation—sales, investment banking, advertising—and three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation—consulting, nonprofit management, accounting.

The researchers then ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for example, when reporting their expenses after a business trip or when completing an economic game in the laboratory). Finally, participants judged how successful and competent a liar or honest individual would be in occupations that were high or low in selling orientation—and, in two of the studies, whether to hire them into those occupations.

Among the key findings: Participants believed that liars would be more successful in high-selling orientation occupations (such as banking, advertising, and sales) than low selling-orientation occupations (such as nonprofit management and accounting). Furthermore, participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations.

Indeed, when participants had the opportunity to hire individuals to complete selling-oriented tasks, they were more likely to hire deceivers for these tasks, even when their own money was on the line.

“We found that people don’t always disapprove of liars,” Levine says. “Instead, they think liars are likely to be successful in certain occupations—those that do a lot of high-pressure selling.”

The paper is published in the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

According to the researchers, the findings may help to explain why deception persists in certain occupations: because hiring managers and other organizational actors see deceivers as more competent for high-pressure sales roles, and hire them at an elevated rate.

High-pressure selling occupations, which include investment bankers and advertisers, are some of society’s highest-status and highest-paid occupations, so prospective employees and employers should worry “if deception is a prerequisite for employees to get hired and rewarded,” Levine says.

Organizations intent on reducing deception should avoid framing occupational tasks as requiring high-pressure sales tactics to succeed, the study says. Instead, they would do well to align their job requirements with a customer-oriented approach to selling that emphasizes how the employee can help fulfill a client’s long-term interests. Such a shift could reduce hiring managers’ tendencies to see deceivers as competent and reduce the temptation to recruit deceivers into key roles.

“Armed with the knowledge that deception is perceived to signal competence in high-pressure sales occupations,” the researchers write, “companies may want to explicitly deem deception as incompetent.”

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Sales Success: Are You IN or Are You OUT

Posted By John Chapin, Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I was recently speaking with a manager at a real estate office about what makes some agents successful and others unsuccessful. He told me, “John, I can sum up the difference between the successful agents and the unsuccessful agents with one quick example: during a major blizzard when everything is shut down and everyone is at home, my top agents are making phone calls to prospects because they know they have a captive audience, and the rest of my agents are posting pictures on Facebook of the cookies they’re baking.”

I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon when I speak. Afterwards it’s always the top salespeople who line up to buy my book. The mediocre and poor salespeople, on the other hand, always give me one of two excuses for not investing in the book, either that they don’t read or, that they can’t afford to buy the book.

Here’s another example that outlines the difference between success and failure in sales. Several years ago I worked for the largest banking equipment distributors in the world. The top salesperson at the time was a guy by the name of Pete. One day while Pete was out making prospecting calls, he got in a car accident. In fact, he totaled his car. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt too badly. He ripped his pants, got some cuts on his nose and forehead, but for the most part, he was okay. When the paramedics showed up and they insisted he go to the hospital and get checked out, Pete adamantly refused. Regardless of the car accident, he was determined to get the rest of his sales calls in. After pleading with Pete for a while, they finally gave him some butterfly stitches to close the facial wounds and sent him on his way. Pete then jumped into to a cab and completed his calls for the day. While that’s a pretty good story on commitment, it doesn’t end there. Like most top athletes, and people who are among the best in their field, Pete was determined to find the advantage in wrecking his car and it didn’t take long to find it. He remembered two hard-to-reach prospects that he simply could not get through to. He’d call, stop by in person, e-mail, send items through the mail, and use any and every trick and technique to get through, but he simply wasn’t able to get to these two prospects. He now saw the car accident, and his current condition, as an opportunity to change things. Pete took the cab to both offices and when he arrived, he walked in, torn pants, bloody face, butterfly stitches and all, and said to each receptionist, “Hi, I’m here to see Mr. Prospect. You have no idea what I’ve been through today to see him.” Now these gatekeepers, who had bullet-proof teeth and had been shutting Pete down for months, instead of stopping him this time, were now off making a sale to the decision maker as to why they had to see Pete. I can imagine it sounded something like, “You’re not going to believe this. There’s a guy out in the reception area with torn pants and blood on his face. I mean it’s not Halloween, right? You have to see this.” The result was that Pete got in to see both prospects that day. They both laughed as he told his story. The best news is that three months later Pete ended up getting one of them as an account and it became his fourth largest account.

While that’s a great story about commitment, there’s another point to be made here. Both of these prospects were owners of medium-sized businesses. As such, they undoubtedly have some slackers that work for them. You know the type, the ones who take every sick day, holiday, vacation day, family day, and look for every excuse to take days off and work as little as possible when they are actually there, and here’s a guy who got in a car accident, who had a perfect excuse to take the rest of the day off, and he’s still out working. Do you think that gives Pete some instant credibility? You bet it does. Do those owners know that if Pete says he’s going to do something, they can’t count on it? Of course.

Now let’s compare Pete’s story to that of a low-performing salesperson at the same banking equipment company. This guy showed up to the weekly sales meeting on Monday morning with a coffee stain on his shirt. I said, “Wow, tough drive into work, huh?” His response, “Yeah, luckily my appointment was able to reschedule.” I then asked what a coffee stain had to do with rescheduling an appointment. He said, “Well, obviously I can’t go out calling on prospects looking like this.” While missing an appointment because he had a coffee stain on his shirt was bad enough, also notice that he said ‘appointment’ versus ‘appointments.’ That one appointment was his one for the day, and probably his one for the week.

So, on one hand, we have the top sales rep that gets in a car accident and actually makes two more calls than he had planned on versus the lowest performing sales rep who uses a coffee stain as an excuse to make no calls. I think the difference between the successful and unsuccessful is pretty obvious. One is committed and determined to make the calls and do whatever it takes to be successful, the other is simply going through the motions and trying to stay on the payroll while doing as little work as possible. One’s all-in, the other, for all practical purposes, is out.


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How Many Hours per Week = Sales Success?

Posted By John Chapin, Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Recently I was speaking with an insurance agency owner about the lack of success of his two most recent hires. When I asked how many hours they were putting in, the answer was, “About 45 or 50 per week.” Keep in mind, these agents are in their 20s, are new to the industry and relatively new to sales. In other words, not only do they have to spend time learning about an industry they know next to nothing about, they also have to learn how to sell, in addition to learning the ins and outs of the new company they work for. Taking all of that into consideration, I gave him my estimate of how many hours they should be putting in. His response? “Look, you can’t expect Millennials to work more than 40 or 50 hours a week.”

How many hours should a new agent be putting in?

When hiring a new agent, I tell people to look for five things: people skills, mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and character (honesty and integrity). You give me a person who’s positive and upbeat, is good at connecting and communicating with people, is able to persist and persevere through rejection, will always do the right thing, and is willing to work their butt off to be successful, and I’ll show you someone who will be successful in sales, and pretty much anything else for that matter. The number of hours someone is willing to put in, though most closely related to work ethic, also ties into attitude, mental toughness, and character (they’re taking money from you to do a job which requires putting in the effort necessary to get the results and pay you back).

Ultimately there are four factors that determine how much time someone needs to put in, one: how good their sales skills are, two: how well they know the industry, three: how large, loyal, and influential is their network, and four: whether or not they are new to the company they’re now working for.

Factor #1: Sales skills

In order to be successful at the highest levels, the new agent will need great sales skills. If they were in another industry previously, and already have great sales skills, that’s good but they’ll still have to adapt their skills to the new industry. Either way, developing great sales skills is a job all by itself and a significant amount of time needs to be spent here.

Factor #2: Industry knowledge

If they’ve been in the industry for the while, this can be helpful. My sister was basically the equivalent of a dental hygienist for seven years before she began selling dental equipment. Because she already knew all the products and what was important to the people she was selling to, this cut down significantly on the time she needed to put in to get up to speed on the industry and product knowledge. That said, most new agents are new to the industry and as a result, this is another area in which a significant amount of time needs to be invested.

Factor #3: Network

Typically, a new agent doesn’t have a large, loyal, influential network that they can rely on for tons of business. If they do, it tends to be the exception versus the rule. For example, if Rob Gronkowski decided to be an insurance agent, financial planner, or sales rep for almost anything, he’d get tons of business based upon his network, or in this case, the number of people who are familiar with him and would like to be connected with him. Similarly, if a well-known and liked member of the community in their 60s decided to switch careers, they’d likely be able to do a large amount of business simply based upon their network and centers of influence. Again, these two examples are the exception, not the rule. The rule is that most new agents will need to spend a lot of time building their network by pounding the pavement, making phone calls, doing other forms of marketing, and following up.

Factor #4: Are they new to the company?

This is the least of the factors in the equation and is a short-term consideration, but if an agent is new to the company, they have to learn the tools, systems, procedures, and processes of the new company they work for. This includes how the CRM works, the e-mail and phone systems, who to go to for certain questions, what paperwork is required when, and how to fill it out, relationship building within the organization along with learning some of what everyone else does, and a plethora of other details about the inner workings of the organization, the business, and the industry as a whole.

All of the above said, if an agent is new to an industry and company, they have average, poor, or few sales skills, and they do not have an extensive network that they can rely upon for massive amounts of business, they should be putting in a minimum of 67 hours a week, and probably more than that, for their first three to five years.

Oh, and by the way, there are plenty of Millennials willing to put in the hours in order to be successful, you just have to dig to find them and know how to paint a picture of an exciting future in your industry. Also, their generation does not have a monopoly on people who don’t want to work.

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