By David Duford
Having trained more than 1,500 insurance agents since 2013, I have learned that one of the best strategies to improve the outcome of sales is to improve an agent’s ability to have better sales conversations with their prospects. Simply put, the more significant our conversations are with prospects, both in building rapport, fact-finding, and presenting our opportunity, the more sales we are going to make.
In this article I’m going to share five of my favorite strategies for improving sales conversations with prospects that will help you improve trust and close more deals.
1. Adhere to the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule—making sure you only talk 20% of the time and your prospect talks 80% of the time—is always a good acid test for making sure you are paying attention to building rapport, asking good questions, and otherwise having better sales conversations with your prospects.
Hollywood has accurately described salespeople as fast talkers and conversation dominators. However, like many things Hollywood portrays, this is not 100% accurate, especially when it comes to experienced salespeople. The best salespeople ask quality questions that facilitate deep conversations with their prospects—so much so, that the salesperson does very little in the way of talking, and the prospect carries most of the conversation.
How can you figure out if you’re talking 20% of the time? Simply record yourself during your next sales conversation and see how much time you are actually talking. If you notice that you’re dominating the conversation, cutting your prospect off, or not giving others a chance to respond, it’s likely that you’re not listening well enough or asking the right questions.
2. Good sales conversations include open-ended questions
Building on strategy number one, the best strategy for allowing your prospects to talk the most is to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no; instead, they must be answered with context and description.
Open-ended questions are the best way to gain an understanding of why prospects think a certain way. When it comes to selling anything in life, you have to understand the underlying motivation of why a prospect would make the purchase.
Adding open-ended questions to your sales conversations also builds tremendous rapport and trust. It makes you a better conversationalist and prospects will appreciate the attentiveness you show by asking quality questions.
One of the easiest ways to turn your questions into open-ended ones is to add ”How do you feel when…?” or “What are your thoughts on…?” to your questions, versus saying something like “Do you feel good about this?” or “Do you agree?”
3. Capitalize on emotionally charged statements
All salespeople do some sort of rapport building or prequalifying. You will find sometimes, especially with rapport building, an attempt to ask questions to learn more about a prospect gets a flat, unemotional response. It can be very frustrating, but it’s the normal course of any kind of small talk conversation.
At least one of your questions, however, will usually get a completely different, emotionally charged reaction. It’s imperative when you get an emotional response that you capitalize on the emotions and go deeper by asking additional open-ended questions that will facilitate more emotion, thought, and concern.
For example, I was reviewing a sales presentation from an agent of mine, and a client gave an emotionally charged response, something along the lines of how horrible it was that he knew many people who had died without life insurance. The agent did not follow up with more open-ended questions around this response; instead, he proceeded on to the next phase of his script.
This was a tremendous lost opportunity. The agent could have dug deeper into what was horrible and why it was horrible. Perhaps he would have heard stories about loved ones, which would have made the reality of not having life insurance more raw and real.
Never miss out on these opportunities because they make a big difference.
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4. Picture the hearse backed up against the front porch
When coaching insurance sales reps, I commonly use this phrase to better help them understand exactly what we’re trying to accomplish in our sales conversations with clients. In other fields, you will want to paint a picture of the real life urgency of what can happen if the client does not buy from you.
Obviously, with life insurance the picture has to be presented more deliberately, because life insurance never pays out the death benefit until the insured dies; there’s no way purchasers can actually get any sort of instant gratification.
In most sales situations people believe bad things happen only to others, so they may not purchase your product until their situation becomes dire. Understanding that it’s human nature to only react and not be proactive, you will have to deliberately explain to prospects what can happen if they don’t buy from you.
5. For better sales conversations, be sure to show rather than tell
If you want to have better sales conversations, it’s not enough to tell someone how something works, or to tell a prospect what the benefits are. You must show them the benefits, too.
There’s a great story about a glass salesman who had his company develop a highly resistive glass that would resist breakage tremendously well.
The way he sold it to manufacturers needing glass was that he would take a sample of the glass along with a hammer to his sales meetings. He’d put the glass on a table and hit it with a hammer; prospects would be shocked when the glass didn’t break. And you can imagine, if the prospects saw with their own eyes that the glass didn’t break, they were instantly sold and wanted to know how they could buy it. This type of demonstration of showing the benefits outweighs talking about how great the product is.
Think about ways you can show your prospects how your product works—don’t just tell them. Showing deepens the effect of the sales conversation because they will actually see it for themselves, making it real, rather than an intangible concept.
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