What's your buyer's preferred learning style?
Here's how to unlock the doorway to your prospect's mind
By John Edward Love, CPCU
As an insurance professional, you are selling a product and service your customers neither understand nor, in most cases, are thrilled to be buying. They have to buy it, so they look for an agent who makes it as painless as possible. You get paid to (a) educate and (b) communicate while (c) delivering a technically superior program at the lowest possible cost.
I worked as a university instructor for two years, a loan officer for two years, an insurance producer for 18 years, and as an association executive for three years. The most important thing I've learned from all of those roles is that to be an effective communicator, you have to communicate using the buyer's preferred learning style (PLS) and make sure they are helping to solve their own problems (using your solutions).
What is preferred learning style? It's the natural, mostly subconscious mode of information transfer that a buyer is pre-programmed to prefer. Basically, people want to learn primarily in one of three styles: (1) visually, (2) aurally, or (3) kinesthetically. A person feels most comfortable learning about something by seeing it, hearing it, or touching it.
Even before they are born, babies have already started to develop certain ways of interacting with their environment. In the blind, immersive environment of the womb, their primary sense is tactile. After babies are born, they automatically want to grab things, touch things, and put things in their mouth to experience their new world.
Babies quickly learn how to use their eyes and ears to process stimuli and make sense of them. By the time they are two or three, they have already developed a pattern of which sense they tend to use for processing all of the activities and information in the world around them.
Are you a bookworm or a reality TV junkie? Do you shop on the Internet or feel the intangible "need" to go to a store and touch something (try it on) before you buy? Most of this is hard-wired by the time you start school. By the time you are an adult, it is set in stone!
Buyers will give you clues as to their preferred style. They may say something like, "That looks good to me" (visual); or "I like that sound of that" (auditory). Or a person with a tactile preferred learning style might take the proposal from your hand and begin to page through it. I find that most tactile learners also have a strong visual sense and often combine the two styles to experience whatever they are being sold.
Putting it into practice
So what does this mean for you, the super producer? You should not assume that everyone wants to see a 100-page text proposal (does anyone, for that matter?). A copy of a testimonial letter from a happy client may not have the same impact on an auditory learner as would a sound clip of the customer talking about you.
In the interests of efficiency you may be using a variety of templates for your proposals, relying on the "same old, same old" that you do not customize for an individual prospect. So why do your results vary? You may be trying to analyze the buyer's personality profile (fitting 7 billion people into four neat little descriptive squares), but do you consider his or her innate preferred learning style?
Think of PLS as the doorway to a person's mind. Everything about your senses and how your brain works is designed to process stimuli as quickly and accurately as possible. Arising from basic survival instincts, your mind seeks to quickly assess every form of input. But there is one sense that each of us tends to prefer. This can vary a little depending on the situation; as noted above, we sometimes use a combination of senses as the most efficient way to process what's going on.
Ever had a roommate who could do her homework with the stereo or TV on? Were you like her, or are you the person who needs absolute silence to read a claims-made professional liability policy? Your mind is telling you what it needs in order to operate at maximum efficiency. So is the buyer's brain—are you giving them what they need in the way they want it?
PLS plus personality
I recommend layering a buyer's preferred learning style on top of his or her underlying personality (introverted vs. extroverted; analytical vs. emotional, and so on) and developing a more customized strategy for each presentation. For the vast majority of insurance buyers, there are three levels of influence:
1. The culture and short-term issues of their company or family. Is money tight? Did they just have a big claim? Are they stressed?
2. Their overall personality style and how they have to adjust that to fit into #1 above. Some "warm and fuzzy" buyer personalities have jobs in purely analytical companies, and to survive they have to adjust their decision-making style.
3. Their preferred learning style.
You can lose some sales (when, objectively, you were otherwise in the running) by misunderstanding those three layers and how they work together to control the buyer's perception of your proposal and value.
Colored charts, video, and 3D models can earn the business from a visual buyer. A commanding speaking voice, client testimonials (or a client joining you for the proposal), and clear organization of your oral presentation can win an auditory buyer. Putting a copy of a disaster recovery plan in the buyer's hands or having the buyer log in to your client service portal with you right there can sway a tactile person.
Engage your buyer
The next step is to engage the buyer's PLS and overall personality in the process of arriving at the conclusion that you are the right choice for his or her needs. Talking everyone to death won't do it (I know, I've tried). You need to connect with buyers' PLS and then engage them in the logical steps of resolving their own issues.
The difference can be transformational. As a parent, I thought I would tell my teenagers what to do in every situation—share with them the wisdom (and mistakes) of my lifetime. Then I realized that they couldn't remember everything I told them, or even understand everything I was saying, and I had to switch to bouncing things back to them and asking them how they proposed to solve their dilemma. I put the development of the resolution of their problems in their hands, and they began to own the process. One of my sons is very visual, and I will sometimes draw a representation of what he is telling me and give it to him to stimulate his thinking.
I've experienced this with insurance buyers. I show up at the meeting excited to tell them all the great things we've accomplished on their behalf, and they are just sitting there staring at me. A more effective approach is to make a statement regarding a decision-making point they identified, ask for their affirmation that they said it was important, and then introduce the solution and engage them in rationalizing how it solves their problem.
Example: Mary is the CFO of a warehousing company with lots of mid-range workers compensation claims. She wants a broker who will help her change the work environment and reduce those claims. She is very kinesthetic (she hugs people she works with; gives warm handshakes; reaches out and takes things from your hand when you are presenting).
You suggest Safety Bingo™ as the solution. You ask Mary for affirmation that changing the attitude about safety in the warehouses is important to her (it is). You put the Safety Bingo game package in her hands. You spread out a couple of cards in front of her and give her a few bingo chips. You call out a bingo number for each day the warehouse goes without an accident—and she puts the chip on the card. Your voice builds in excitement as you illustrate that for every day there is no accident, the prize amount grows and the workers (all of whom participate in playing) begin policing each other. No one wants the game to end because of an accident.
Mary has defined the problem; she has confirmed your understanding of the problem; you've researched a solution; and you've put that solution in her hands (she's tactile) and helped her "own" the solution. Case sold.
By the way, I won a $110,000 commission income account in the actual story above— just keeping it real!
When you are preparing your next proposal, think of new ways to engage the buyer with your solutions through their preferred learning style and engage them in the process. Your success rate will go up, and you will have fun. Don't "sell" the way you want to sell—let people "buy" the way they want to buy. n
John Love, CPCU, is president of TechAssure, an elite trade association of specialists in insurance for technology companies. He is also CEO of Cazador Associates, an insurance industry Web marketing and sales training firm. His book, The Greatest Broker You Can Be, is available on Amazon.
Safety Bingo is a trademark of www.safetybingo.com.