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Forgotten Fundamentals

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To build a successful sales career, you must be strong with the fundamentals. After a producer focuses in on, learns, and gets better at three often overlooked but key fundamentals, the sales approach, confidence level, and results always improve.


Let me just say it up front: I believe that one very important reason we are struggling as an industry is that we have become so focused on the products we sell that we have forgotten basic sales fundamentals.

The world of sports provides clear examples of the importance of sound fundamentals in winning championships.

Vince Lombardi is considered to be one of the greatest coaches ever in the NFL. In 1959, he took over a Green Bay Packers team that had only won one game the previous season. In 1960, the Packers were in the NFL Championship game. In 1961, they were crowned the NFL Champions.

In his book, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” author David Maraniss explains Coach Lombardi’s approach:

He took nothing for granted. He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentlemen,” he said holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

Coach Lombardi’s Packers became the team of the 1960s because of his focus on fundamentals.

John Wooden is considered by many people to be the greatest college basketball coach in history. Among his many outstanding achievements, his UCLA teams once won 10 national championships in a 12-year period.

At the first team meeting every year, Coach Wooden would start with having his players put on their socks and tie their shoes. He didn’t want his players to have blisters or have their shoes come untied during the game.

The same underlying importance of fundamentals applies to sales success just as it does to athletic success. After the salesperson or advisor focuses in on, learns, and get better at the fundamentals, his or her sales approach, confidence level, and results always improve. There is an undeniable direct correlation between fundamentals and success in sales just like in sports.

I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I believe in the power of fundamentals. In fact, when a training prospect asks me what makes me different from other sales trainers, one thing I point to is my belief in sound fundamentals, and I talk about the evidence that shows how too many of our current sales teams have been drilled and drilled and drilled on product education to the detriment of sales fundamentals. My clients tell me I’m unique in that regard, and as I consider the sales crisis our industry faces, I would have to agree that I probably am.

Here, in my view, are three often overlooked and key sales fundamentals:

  1. Attitude

Have you ever seen a successful salesperson over a significant period of time with a negative attitude? I haven’t. I have seen a lot of salespeople with negative attitudes come and go. The right attitude is the starting point for long-term success.

I recently saw a survey that focused on the reasons salespeople fail. Here are the results:

  • 15% failed because of improper training in both product knowledge and sales techniques.
  • 20% failed because of poor communication skills.
  • 15% failed because of an ineffective supervisor or bad management.
  • 50% failed because of poor attitude.

Do these results surprise you?

Selling is challenging. There are a lot of negative factors to deal with, contrary to what most home office executives believe.

There’s an old computer programing expression – GIGO, or “Garbage in Garbage Out.” It simply means that bad inputs will always produce bad outputs.

The same is true for our minds.

If you put negative thoughts into your mind, you will get negative results. If you put in positive thoughts, you’ll get positive results.

Napoleon Hill wrote it in “Think and Grow Rich”: “You become what you think about.”

Attitude is one of the first issues I work on with my clients’ sales teams. Let me give you an actual example with one of my clients. One particular salesperson sold three times the amount of business in 2017 than he had sold in 2016. He had been in the insurance business for 15 years when he made this jump in production. The only change we made was that he stopped listening to the radio and started listening to audio that was focused on sales ideas and motivational content.

 

  1. Presentation

I recently spoke to a group of property/casualty insurance agents. Many in the group had never thought about the importance of their presentations and the difference a good presentation can make in the numbers of sales they would close. We discussed the impact of a solid presentation and how, even with selling property/casualty insurance, a solid presentation could become a significant differentiator.

What do a great actor and a great salesperson have in common? A great actor continually rehearses his or her part. And the great salesperson continually practices and works to improve his or her presentation.

Ben Feldman, the greatest life insurance salesperson in history, built his career on selling packages. His packages focused on a problem the prospect faced. Life insurance was the best way to solve the problem.

Feldman always practiced his presentation on his office staff, his wife, and his sons. His son, Marvin, told me that if Feldman’s presentation was simple enough that a high school student could understand it, then it should be simple enough to be understood by a business owner.

Another of my client companies increased its life insurance sales by 150% over a 10-month period. All I did was implement a sales process that featured a simple needs analysis presentation. The sales team practiced that presentation until they had it down pat and were confident in presenting it. It made all the difference.

 

  1. Stop Selling Insurance and Start Solving Problems

In another recent training project, I did some work for a call center with several locations. It was one of the best-run call centers that I have worked with. One of the reasons for their success, in my opinion, is that not one person in the organization saw themselves as a salesperson. Their objective was to find the best health insurance plan to meet their caller’s need. They found the best plan by using a needs analysis, which involved their asking a series of questions.

Let’s face it, no one wants to buy insurance, but almost everyone wants to solve a problem.

Our objective should be to help the prospect see that they have a problem and present insurance as the solution to that problem.

For example, no one really wants to buy disability insurance, but they certainly want to be able to pay their bills if they are sick or hurt and can’t work. Disability insurance solves their problem.

If you look at successful salespeople in the insurance industry, you’ll soon see that they spend a lot of time asking questions and only a little time talking about products. The questions help the prospect clarify his or her thinking and understand that he or she actually does have a problem.

In the 1930s, the principal form of transportation was by rail. By the 1970s, the passenger railroads were bankrupt. Their problem was that they were so busy running the railroad that they forgot they were actually in the business of solving the problem of helping people move from one place to another.

Frank Bettger, in his book, “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling,” tells the story of how he sold a $250,000 Whole Life policy to a manufacturer in the middle of the depression.

Before meeting with the manufacturer, Bettger spent two hours putting together a list of 14 questions. When Bettger arrived to meet the manufacturer, the manufacturer told Bettger he was wasting his time. He said he already had 10 other proposals, one of which was from a golfing buddy. He told Bettger, leave your proposal and we’ll make a decision in a couple of weeks.

That’s when Bettger started asking his questions. By the time they got to question No. 8, he and the manufacturer were completing the application.

What did Bettger do differently than the other 10 salespeople who had provided the other proposals? Bettger used questions to help the manufacturer clarify his thoughts, and Bettger was solving a problem. The others were selling – or at least trying to sell − insurance.

When you look at what you do every day as solving problems, your attitude and your perspective about yourself and your role completely changes, as do your results.

To build a successful sales career, you must be strong with the fundamentals. Quite simply, your sales success comes down to consistent execution of those fundamentals. It always does. There are no shortcuts. In both sales and sports, fundamentals drive success.


Ken Smith, FIC, CLU, has 40 years’ experience both in field and home office positions in the insurance industry. Prior to starting Ken Smith Sales Training & Consulting in 2016, he was Director of Health Product Sales with Assurity Life for over 12 years. Prior to that he was with Mutual of Omaha over 11 years as first vice president. Ken is the author of “Sales Lessons from The Masters.” His book is the result of his many years of sales training and is the basis for his presentations and training. He works daily helping the industry to grow sales. For more information visit www.kensmithsales.com.

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