February 11, 2019

February 11, 2019 | Broker News

Get back to basics: 5 sales tips for a stronger 2019

Being successful at any endeavour requires focusing on the fundamentals. Try incorporating this sales advice from Bart Shachnow, Sales Performance Director, into your 2019 strategy.

The beginning of a new year is always a great time to take stock of what we’ve accomplished, where we’ve fallen short and what we are hoping to achieve. As we embark upon 2019, I am sharing five sales tips that I think may help you as you build on your successes of last year.

1. Build, execute and monitor your plan. 
As the saying goes, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” To be successful, you need to strategize for the year ahead. How many prospects will you see? How many accounts will you retain or open? What people will you add to your network? What are your financial targets? Now take your annual goal and divide it by 52 to distill it into a weekly goal. Your manager or supervisor will hold you accountable, but more importantly, you need to hold yourself accountable. Don’t look merely to meet your targets, look to exceed your targets — consistently. This will help offset the inevitable downturns (and related frustrations) that accompany any professional salesperson’s routine.

2. Constantly build and refresh your pipeline. 
My 15-year-old daughter is starting to look at colleges (the adage “planning is everything” applies to her as well). So she’s looking at universities that are safety schools as well as those that are reaches, which are those schools that range from “hard” to “really hard” to get into, but are worth shooting for. 

The problem that I see with the pipelines of many salespeople is that they are only filled with safe prospects — those with a high probability of closing. Of course, everyone knows the rationale: This will make your closing rate look that much better. But you’re shutting yourself out from situations that, while possessing a lower probability, can still be won. Stretch a little. Go after the hard-to-get prospects for at least two reasons: First, the only way to improve your skills is by stretching and developing them. That means you need to challenge yourself with harder cases. Second, the fuller your pipeline, the more opportunities you’ve created, and some of them will materialize, even if only by the law of averages (or raw luck, which is also a perfectly acceptable way of winning accounts). The best professional salespeople embrace all opportunities, especially those involving simply being in the right place at the right time.

3. Engage in purposeful networking. 
Pretty much everyone agrees that networking is a good thing. The key is to engage in purposeful networking. Your networking activities should be objective-driven. What are you trying to accomplish? Who will help provide you with the access, insights, information and/or knowledge to get you there? Just as important, seek to be of service, help or guidance to those from whom you need help. Personally, I’m a big believer in the “favor bank.” I like to help others because I get a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment by doing so. At the same time, I’m in a much stronger position to ask for help when I need it if I’ve done something to help someone else. 

Establish a networking goal. Identify three people per week who you need in your network. Reach out to them and explain why you would both benefit by being in each other’s network. Then find ways you can help that person before you ask for the help you need.

4. Always ask for referrals. 
As a professional insurance salesperson, you are constantly in situations where you offer your advice and guidance, either to your clients or prospects. That guidance is critical to helping clients address their most important financial planning priority: risk management and protection against catastrophic loss exposure. Embrace the attitude that you deserve to get paid for that work, either in the form of financial compensation and/or referrals. 

Whether you win or lose a piece of business, always ask your client or prospect if they know of someone or some organization (it could be your client’s customer, supplier, vendor, etc., but define what you want in a quality referral) who would benefit from your services, if only for the opportunity to discuss their needs and share your expertise. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure, they could say no. But rest assured that you won’t endanger your relationship. Most people will respect and even be flattered that you asked. Even better, you might get an unexpected yes and a few quality referrals. Keep building that pipeline.

5. Find a trusted sounding board. 
The commercial insurance sale is typically complex, involving multiple stakeholders from whom you need buy-in at not only your own company, but also at your prospect’s or client’s firm. This creates fairly long sales cycles. It’s crucial that you get feedback on the tactics and strategies you’re considering, including subtleties and nuances that can be difference makers in terms of winning or losing a sale. I’m referring to things like how to effectively craft an email to capture not only the right message, but also the emotional tone; how to handle a difficult conversation; and/or when and how to ask for the business. 

Seek out guidance from those whose opinions you trust. That could be your manager, a colleague, mentor, friend and/or even someone in a completely different line of business. For example, my wife is a real estate attorney and she often is involved in client retention or development issues and activities that are analogous to what we face in the insurance industry. I highly value her insights and perspectives on a broad range of influential and persuasive strategies. For difficult sales challenges, get a second (or third) opinion.

Read more from Bart Shachnow.