Customer Service Focus

Soft selling

CSRs can use their strengths to build relationships with clients and offer insurance products

By Linda Faulkner, CIC

I think it’s about time to revisit the definition of “sales.” I doubt that many people spend considerable time yearning to be a salesperson and then pursue that goal single-mindedly. When asked if they’d be interested in a sales position with your agency, most people would squeal in horror, “Me? Sell? No, sales is not for me.”

How many CSRs turn pale and clutch their stomachs if you suggest that they might want to be involved in the sales process? Many of them don’t have a clue about what selling really involves. Let’s correct the record.

First, what’s your definition of the word “sales”? We all have a specific and personal definition in mind, determined largely by our past experiences, relationships and perceptions. Here is Webster’s definition: The act of selling; specifically: the transfer of ownership of and title to property from one person to another for a price.

How does your personal definition compare with Webster’s?

How much time do you think the average insurance salesperson spends in the act of selling—based on Webster’s definition? I figure that the time I spend actually discussing coverages, completing applications and exchanging premium dollars for binders represents about 10% of the total time I spend working in my agency. Yet I’m a producer—a salesperson—successful in my chosen occupation.

Let’s get back for a moment to the image of CSRs shuddering at the thought of selling insurance. Don’t you think that’s a bit of an overreaction, considering the amount of work time that is really spent selling? I do.

Sales, and especially soft sales and cross-selling, is so much more than “the transfer of ownership of and title to property from one person to another for a price.” To correct the record, here’s what I do with the other 90% of my time. Technically speaking, I prospect, direct mail, make cold calls (or canvass) and telemarket. But in reality I don’t do any of these things—because I hate them. I quit doing them years ago.

Instead, I focus on two basic activities: meeting people and explaining insurance. These are things that most CSRs are good at as well.

I vary the ways I meet people, so it never gets boring. Here is how I regularly get to know prospective customers:

• Eat breakfast at the same restaurant several mornings a week

• Take clients and business associates out to lunch several times a week

• Regularly attend Chamber of Commerce and other local business meetings

• Volunteer for the Safe Kids Safe Community Coalition and DUI Task Force

• Work out at the gym

• Attend weekly Kiwanis meetings

• Chat with other people in line at the grocery store

• Ask friends and business associ-ates for introductions to new people

Nine times out of ten, when I meet someone and ask them to tell me about themselves, I find out that we know some of the same people and often have common interests. Many times they tell me about their job—an occupation I never thought about or even heard of. (Logging comes immediately to mind.) Meeting people is fun. Can you say that about the major duty of your occupation?

Always a new audience

I also enjoy explaining insurance. To explain all the great things about insurance—how it immediately takes a huge burden off your shoulders or how in a time of crisis an insurance check comes when you need money more than anything else—I need an audience. Hence, I need people. Do you like hearing the same story over and over again? Neither do I. Neither does anyone else. So, since I’m always meeting new people, I always have a new audience.

Technically, I suppose, I’m prospecting and canvassing when I’m attending all those meetings and chatting with people in line at the grocery store. But I choose not to think of it that way. I prefer to focus on relationships. I choose to be generous with my time and effort, ever vigilant to find the new and appropriate insurance audience.

I hear opportunity knocking when I hear someone say, “I can’t believe what the insurance company offered me for my car. When I called my agent, she told me there isn’t anything she can do—the insurance company handles the claims.”

My heart beats a little faster when someone says to me, “I know you sell car insurance; can you give me the name of someone who sells home insurance? We’re buying a house in July.”

The best thing someone can ask is, “What do you do, Linda?” Because when someone wants to know about me after I’ve encouraged them to talk, it proves that I’ve built rapport and established a connection, and in some fashion they trust me. The audience doesn’t get any better than that.

CSRs can do precisely the same thing I do. True, they’re stuck in the office more than I am and won’t be meeting as many new people in person. But what about all the people who can’t wait to talk to them each day? The people who have claims to report, questions to ask, changes to make? People who visit the office to pay their bills? CSRs can ask about their lives, their wants and needs, and offer to explain something new and wonderful about insurance. Every time a CSR does something for a client—whether or not the client expects it—the CSR is building rapport, establishing a connection and encouraging trust.

People don’t want to be sold to—they want service. People won’t transfer their money to you if they don’t want and understand the benefits and value they’re receiving in return. Clients are a ready audience for CSRs to explain those benefits and values and to cross-sell the agency’s products.

Soft sales, by my definition, is just the opposite of the perception most people have of the typical insurance salesperson—a loud-mouthed guy in a pricey suit, driving an expensive car, carrying a leather briefcase in one hand, and holding a baseball bat behind his back in the other hand, ready to knock some sense into you if he can’t persuade you to buy. Soft sales can be a CSR sitting in her office with a wealth of information at her fingertips, talking smoothly about possibilities and sharing ideas, caring about the client’s needs.

Soft sales is all about relation-ships—understanding your prospects and clients, helping them reach the point where they want you to explain insurance, then completing the application and giving them a binder in exchange for their hard-earned dollars. They’re also happy to introduce you to new people. Beyond selling insurance, soft sales becomes an act of establishing trust and confidence. *

The author
Linda Faulkner, CIC, has performed every function within an insurance agency. She has founded two agencies and recently started Faulkner Education Services. Linda is also a faculty member for the Dynamics of Service program. For more information on Dynamics of Service, the CISR program or the CIC program, go to or call (800) 633-2165.