Death of a(n) (Insurance) Salesman

So, I’m sitting in the ivory tower of a Fortune 100 company, waiting on the VP of Sales to arrive for my final interview for a prestigious new sales leadership role. It was earlier in my career, so I sat quietly nervous, a little sweaty, and a bit overwhelmed at sitting behind the frosted glass doors that separate those of the perfectly quaffed hair and the rest of the population…footsteps echoing down the hall, this is it, this could be a big deal for myself and my family…then, swirling out of the ether, I was flooded by everything I had ever thought/heard/absorbed about sales and salespeople, followed by a brief moment of panic…I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be “that” guy, even if it would be a huge step forward for my career and my family financially, who actually wants to be “that guy” …cue the panic and perspiration…

I was greeted by a smiling face and was asked to enter his office. Basic pleasantries followed; “would you like coffee/nice weather/do you golf? /etc.” and then down to business. The conversation generally went as follows:

VP: “So why do you want to be in sales?”

Me: “To be honest, I’m not sure I do.”

VP: “You do realize this is the last interview before you get this job?”

Me: “I do, I’m just scared of becoming ‘that guy’, I don’t want to be ‘that guy’, and if this job will turn me into ‘that guy’, do me a solid and give it to someone else.”

VP: “What guy?”

Me: “The guy that follows you around the car lot, won’t leave you alone, says it comes in any color I want, calls me at home on the weekends during dinner, always trying to sell me something I don’t want or need….you know, ‘that guy’.”

VP: pauses for a moment to process the jumble of words I just spewed out in a single breath…

Jonathon, that’s not what this is. I don’t need salespeople, I need people who care about their clients. I need people who are consultants and want to do the right thing. If it results in sales, great. If not, you’ve left them in a better position than when you found them.”

Me: “Oh, well I’m your guy for that, that I can do.”

VP: “Right, well then, you’re hired.”

 

I ended up with the position and it launched my career in sales where I’ve been ever since. Unfortunately, it didn’t end all roses and rainbows. His message of wanting a consultant, not a salesman, didn’t trickle downstream to the people under him who still reveled in the old school “we eat what we kill…and you better kill a lot” mentality. Sell, sell, sell….The Wedge, Challenger Sale, Spin Selling, etc…the list goes on forever on methods to get people to “see things your way and get them to buy.”

Even facing this pressure, I never strayed from the mentality of being a consultant, not “that guy”, and most of my sales leaders never understood it. The difference in the sales vs. consultant mentality has caused quite a bit of friction and stress in my work life with those who control my paycheck. They still had the mentality that it’s the thrill of the kill, the sale that counts, hit your numbers by any means necessary. And in that sentence lies the death of the insurance salesman.

 

They don’t need you anymore. This can be said for most of the major insurance products pushed on TV, you know, the ones we’ve commoditized and crushed the margins on so we can only make money on them if we automate the process and take out the human element….Home, Auto, Toys…even Small Commercial…answer a few questions, get your quote, bind/pay online and print your COI. There is no place in the modern insurance/risk market for a salesperson. There are a few places left in our world for actual human beings…mid to large commercial, benefits, financial planning, etc…but those places are quickly becoming filled with “specialists” who live and breathe their subject matter. The days of the generalist insurance salesperson are over. You are the dinosaur watching the bright ball of light streaking down from the sky…it’s only a matter of time.

Let me be perfectly clear in my message here…. the only thing that can and will kill the human element in our industry, the only thing that will kill the insurance agent is the insurance agent. Not tech disruption and automation, not Big Data and IOT, not even Flo and the lizard…the only thing that can take out the insurance agent is the insurance agent themselves. We control our destinies…smile, that’s a good thing.

Take a look at what you bring to the table. Are you trying to sell a product or are you doing the right thing and being a consultant? Don’t trick yourself into saying “It can be both, I recommend products the client needs” …that’s an excuse to stay the same, to remain in the safe salesperson bubble you know. Are you working with a client and trying to find a way to sell them something new and pull them away from their current broker…or do you have the cajones to tell them they are in a pretty good place and let them stay where they are? I teach all my people to do the latter. As an agent you are no different than the client’s banker, attorney, tax person, investment advisor. You are a third party who is there to help them cover their exposures, streamline their revenue stream and increase ROI. That’s it. You are not there to sell them anything, you are there to help them. One is for you; one is for them. Understand that it’s a black and white situation, no shades of gray. Simply, are you there for them or for you?

If you come to terms with the fact that there is simply nothing left to sell, you’ll be okay. Not only will you be okay, you’ll prosper. Your lexicon should not contain “salesperson” anymore. Take a mental crayon color of your choice, scratch it out, and write in Risk Consultant. Write the R backwards, dot the I however you want, make the O a smiley face – have fun with it. The goal of the exercise is to exorcise Sales from your persona. Try it, doesn’t it feel better? Say out loud “I’m a salesperson”. Then say out loud “I’m a Risk Consultant.” Which feels better? I told you.

This simple shift in mentality takes you from the land of “What can I get you to buy” to “How can I help”. Now, as life/career altering as this step can be for you, realize the clients/prospects you are chatting with haven’t been on this journey yet. They still see us as simply selling insurance by “taking their order”. And frankly, they should. We’ve done this to ourselves. Historically we’ve commoditized our intelligence, our worth, and our value to this person and their company. We need to reinject this into our conversations, to get people to view us and our industry in a new light. The only way for the human element in insurance to remain, grow and thrive is to represent value in every interaction we have. Your worth in this industry lies solely in the worth you bring to it. People can buy insurance without you. They need help, information and guidance to make the right choices. They need to be consulted, not sold to. I’ve never once asked a client to hire me. I’ve never once asked a client to fire their current broker. So how do I get paid? By showing value, by being a consultant, and, if needed and true, by having the cajones to tell them their current broker is doing well by them. More times than not it results in a “sale” …but every time I leave them in a better, more educated position than when we met….VALUE!

That big red fiery ball streaming down toward you is a combination of disruption, IOT, big data, changing marketplace and outdated business models. You can stand there watching it and become the dinosaur. Or, you can make the change, grow and prosper in the new insurance market. The choice is completely yours…exciting huh? Who knows what the future holds, what’s over the horizon for those brave enough to make the shift? One thing is for certain though, at no time in history has someone not been appreciative of someone wanting to help them out. It’s a model that should have always been in place and will never go out of style.

Be the Consultant, don’t be “that guy”.

 

About Jon Pyle

Jon joined Assured Partners as the Great Lakes Hospitality/Restaurant Practice Leader following a 12 year career with Nationwide and Hanover Insurance where he oversaw the Small Commercial division in Pennsylvania. Jon’s experience spans from Loss Control to Underwriting, Claims to Sales and this vast experience has proven extremely valuable to his broad client base. Jon’s specialty is designing client-specific Risk Management plans that turn the insurance spend from the traditional, transactional process to a proactive, strategic plan. Jon specialized in Manufacturing, Agriculture & Food companies, but can effectively provide Risk Management solutions to any industry. Jon resides in Chagrin Falls, OH with his wife Susanne and their three children.

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