The emotional connection
Use the tools of a storyteller to boost your sales success
By John Love, CPCU
Three producers walk in to a prospect's office, one at a time. They work for similar agencies. They represent the same markets. One of them wins. Why?
Two reasons, absent other factors like the buyer is a brother-in-law of the winning agent: One producer demonstrates outstanding technical skill and the ability to get the buyer to emotionally buy into his or her value proposition.
For the past several years, the training trend in commercial property/casualty insurance has been to develop technical knowledge and a risk management process or service. However they are labeled and wrapped, these systems are designed to help you develop a reliable approach to the sales process based on the technical knowledge, skills, and services you propose to provide.
Most, if not all, producers should learn and develop a technical approach to designing an insurance program and customizing a set of services to fit each client's needs. But every producer who wants to close more sales must also develop and refine the communication skills of a storyteller to help the buyer answer his or her own question: "How is this going to benefit me?"
As a product, process, and service, insurance is intangible. Furthermore, it addresses an event that is unlikely to happen for any one insured. Here's what's really being said in the average agent-prospect dialogue:
Producer: "Mr./Ms. Buyer, I want you to purchase this promise from me for something that you are not likely to use nine out of 10 years in a row, and you are not going to read the promise, nor will you develop a deep understanding of how it is priced and delivered."
Buyer: "Thanks, Mr./Ms. Agent; that's exactly what four other agents told me, but since I have to buy it anyway, I guess I'll buy it from you—even though I really don't understand what you mean by risk management services, audit support, claims monitoring, and loss control."
In the race to develop a competitive advantage, the entire sales forces of many agencies focus on (1) specializing in a niche or product and (2) developing their elevator pitch for buyers about their risk management approach. They stop short, however, of consistently tying in a value proposition about what all of this means for the buyer. To be highly effective, you have to create, repeat, and reinforce at multiple points during the sales process how the buyer will benefit.
A powerful way to achieve greater sales success is to develop the ability to create for the buyer a heightened emotional awareness of the potential impact of your services on his or her situation.
It's not about selling on fear; it's about creating a more intense experience for the buyer by engaging the full gamut of his or her faculties, which includes emotion.
In your delivery, I suggest that you focus on the positive emotions the buyer, and his or her company, will experience by choosing you as their partner. Sell the "positive" of what they will feel if they make the right decision. They shouldn't pick you just because you are an expert in their industry—they should pick you because the benefits to their company of your expertise will be:
• lower administrative costs so they can focus on tackling other problems
• better protection against previously untreated risks so they can breathe a little more easily and not feel distracted by worry
• an integrated, outsourced partner who will help their management team prepare to take on the next challenges while feeling informed about risk issues
• long-term prosperity for their company
What are the tools of a sales professional who is an effective storyteller? They are:
• identifying and creating protagonists and antagonists in the story
• plainly explaining the dramatic conflict and associating it with the buyer's needs
• resolving the conflict with your agency's assets and capabilities
Being a storyteller doesn't mean delivering a monologue. Remember that the way you are going to get the buyer to emotionally connect with the protagonist, antagonist, and the resolution of the conflict is to lead the buyer into creating those characters and the drama for himself. Engage the buyer in the process and tell your stories in short bursts based on the buyer's input. For example:
Producer: Mr./Ms. Buyer, is the location in Topeka your only manufacturing facility?
Buyer: Yes, 100% of our products are produced and shipped from there.
Producer: How much time have you been able to spend to develop a disaster recovery plan if a tornado flattens the plant?
Buyer: Well, we're pretty busy, so we've talked about it a little bit, but nothing is in writing.
Producer: So there's some level of awareness internally that it's an issue hanging out there?
Buyer: Yes, that's right.
Producer: I can understand why. We took over the risk management advisor role for a manufacturer similar to you five years ago. They were coming off a year when a fire shut down their main plant for 80 days. Mr./Ms. Buyer, their CFO looked like he had aged five years during those days. They had never taken the time to develop a written contingency plan, and their previous agent was not only unable to help with it, but he had not taken the time to meet with them about their business interruption limits and property values. So not only were they shut down, their insurance claim was a nightmare with inadequate limits for the business interruption and a co-insurance penalty on the property. Mr./Ms. Buyer, can you imagine what it would feel like to be that CFO?
Buyer: Gee, I hope that doesn't happen to us!
Producer: I agree. Here's my mission: I focus on middle market manufacturers like you. I work with the professional in your position to take on the burden of making sure all this stuff is done right. You want my help to make sure your plant is protected, that the insurance is set up correctly. And if there is ever a claim, it won't be a nightmare. Right?
Buyer: Sure, that's what we're looking for.
Producer: Am I on the right track to take on that problem of developing a contingency plan for your plant?
Buyer: Yes, that's one of the things we're looking for; that would help a lot!
Producer (leans forward for emphasis): Mr./Ms. Buyer, I think you have a great company, I'd be honored to work with you, and the first thing I want to do is work on protecting that plant so that you and I are never sitting here, all stressed out, in a meeting about all the things that went wrong when it was hit by a tornado. In fact, I want to get started right away taking this worry off your plate and turning it into a non-issue.
Buyer: What do we need to do next?
Obviously I've condensed and simplified this fictional role play, but here's what I want to point out:
The producer asked leading questions, based on knowledge, experience, and research, to get the buyer to reveal a specific thought or concern. Get the buyer to really concentrate for a minute on one specific risk exposure or issue.
Now build the drama of that issue with a story that creates a protagonist (the CFO of the manufacturing plant that burned) and an antagonist (the previous agent who didn't do a good job), and build the conflict or problem (the inadequate insurance program and absence of a contingency plan).
Make it real
You have to get the buyer thinking of himself or herself in the position of that protagonist and identifying with that other insurance buyer. You can use language that creates a scenario in which the buyer is the lead character.
Invoke images of the setting. Guide the buyer with phrases like "picture yourself," or "imagine if," or "put yourself in this situation." Use pauses to reinforce that you expect the buyer to follow your instructions for imagining the situation.
A powerful statement like, "That CFO aged five years in those 80 days," reinforces the emotional impact of the situation. Make one powerful statement about the negative impact on the protagonist of the conflict and let it sink in.
Then use your body language to connect with the buyer at the peak of his or her emotions and speak from your heart, saying something like: "I do not want to see this happen on my watch, and I want to get started right away addressing this situation so you don't have to worry about the consequences."
Of course, you should use this approach only if you really believe that you can and will sincerely tackle and solve the buyer's problem. That's why I tie storytelling into the current, common, approach of leading your sales process with risk management services. If you are taking the time to develop your technical skills, you must want to use them—and if you want to use them, you must win to have the opportunity.
The buyer is sitting there prepared for you to go through the "same old, same old" she has heard from other agents. Engage her in a dialogue about realistic, practical situations of risk exposure or other concerns and then help her imagine what it would feel like to experience an epic failure in that situation.
Finally, always remember that words have much less impact than images. In fact, your brain really does not remember letters as having meaning. Those letters spell a word and the image of the word is stored in your brain, usually with image attached.
We developed as human beings for thousands of years with no printed text. Language was learned and passed down by memorization. Your mind stores information in images, not as letters that form words on the fly. Emotions are also frequently attached to those images.
Create images; help the buyer imagine himself in that image (scenario); and you will have begun the process of helping him understand both logically AND emotionally why you are the best solution for his needs.
Good luck in your next storytelling session, er, I mean prospect meeting!
To learn more about techniques for using storytelling in your sales process, please use the QR code below to watch a video from the author on this topic.
John Love, CPCU, is president of Cazador Associates, which provides Web sites, video and other forms of Web site content for insurance organizations. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments. John has been a producer and agency principal for more than 20 years and serves as executive director of TechAssure (www.techassure.com).