How to Embrace Soft Skills and Reduce Rejection in 2021

It kind of sounds like a come-on for a dating site, doesn’t it?


It isn’t. It’s for readers in sales and advisory professions—and may have a unique application to insurance and investment advising. It applies to both veterans and novices, those who have books of business, streams of referrals, legions of people coming to brick and mortar stores or offices, and countless clicks on their URLs. It is also intended for people considering an insurance career and those just starting and have none of those things.


As I think about it, most of this also applies to people who are not “in sales” as the term is usually used. One needn’t directly sell goods, services, or advice to be in sales. Everything is sales; life is sales. Sales include selling oneself (legally, that is) in circumstances that include getting a job, meeting a mate or partner, staying married, getting promoted, borrowing money, and in virtually every other transaction of life. Just knowing everything that there is to know about an insurance product, a service, or in my case (when I practiced law) where to look for precedent or how to interpret a statute for what would hopefully be a compelling legal argument doesn’t cut it all of the time.


What to Do?

Maybe the answer is a new paradigm. I’ll call it “soft skills.” I don’t claim to have invented the term, but I’ll use it.


Now might be a good time for a confession. I’ve never sold insurance. I’ve never given financial advice for a fee or commission (I call my CPA for that). I’ve never actually never sold anything of much tangible value. Of course, there were flower and vegetable seeds when I was around 8, pots, pans, and brushes door to door several years later, and men’s clothing at about 18. The last one was especially interesting. When all I had to sell was a sports coat that was too big, and the prospect tried it on and looked into the mirror, I could pinch in the sides to make it look like it fit. In the scheme of things, especially compared to insurance, it didn’t make too much difference as the coat could always be altered later. You decide if those count as sales. They certainly didn’t involve the skill or carry the importance of insurance.


As a lawyer, in my later adult life, among the keys to (relative) success were listening skills, identifying and uncovering stated and unstated needs, and trying to attain them for clients. Reaching client goals involved identifying the background facts of a dispute or transaction, identifying controlling law, and assessing a client’s finances to help determine how far they could reasonably go before the law of diminishing returns set in.


In insurance and financial advisor-speak, I guess at the first meeting, the people would be called prospects, not clients. But whatever the terminology, the keys for me were not a volume of people through the door or cases settled (many lawyers work like that). The corollary for you might be policies sold or premium written, or for an advisor, having $X under management.


I understand that selling insurance or managing investments is the way you decided to earn a living. I also know that it is a tight job market; many people with similar skills may be after the same job. And everybody who has a job wants a promotion or a raise. Too, many people seek mates or partners and are finding, if they never knew, that they may have to kiss a lot of toads. That’s sort of like prospecting.


Yet, there are ways to reach your goals other than by the common “how to overcome the objection” route, sucking up to a prospect, or by changing your essence for the sake of another (sorry for sounding metaphysical on that last one) to make a sale. Rather, helping to identify prospects’ long and short-term objectives and helping to find ways to achieve them is what’s needed and important. In the preceding run-on sentence, the operative word is helping.


How Not to Do It

Let’s define soft skills as the manner in which you listen, comprehend, express yourself, and emote. Hell, it includes your posture, how you dress, how you smell, and whether your hair is combed. Overall, it is a package of appearance, communication, and knowledge. Do you ask the right questions and hear what is being told to you?


Some people are born with a good set of these skills, while others develop them over time. In either case, but especially when they must be developed, it is important that they are not developed just for the moment—whether that moment is defined as trying to make a sale, an interview, a job review, a date, or a court appearance. Otherwise, it shows through— just another fleeting sales tool. It’s disingenuous.


We all have friends or acquaintances who feign interest in a subject, conversation, or life event, stare us in the eyes, purse their lips, nod knowingly, and then move on with their agenda. Despite the behavior, we may keep them as a friend or acquaintance if only by inertia. But, especially for insurance representatives, because you’re a stranger to the prospect (and are tainted by the UGGH factor of insurance), that approach will be even more transparent. You are unlikely to get the time of day, much less effect a sale.


Another Approach

Here’s the paradigm that I mentioned before.


Most of you have never been trial lawyers, much less picked a jury. It involves selecting people from a pool summoned from voting rolls. Sort of like cold calling. The lawyers choose people from the pool who they think may be favorable to their client’s position, or at least not opposed to it. Sort of like finding a warm prospect. At the least, they want to eliminate from the pool those who may decide against the client.


To decide whom to select as jurors and whom to jettison, the lawyers give a broad overview of the case. They ask questions of the jury pool, some general about the potential juror and some specific to the facts of the case, listen carefully to the answers, and ask follow-ups. The point is to see if any people have experiences, feelings, or prejudices that could prevent them from being impartial. People get eliminated until there are enough left to impanel a jury.


A similar approach can be used in getting insurance clients, clients for a financial advisor, even a mate. I realize the last one may seem unromantic, but divorce rates are high. The nature of insurance sales, for example, is that you would meet with each prospect. While some will reject you right off the bat, some won’t. The meeting is ultimately intended to result in further interest. Like a date is hoped to lead to a second one. It’s OK if it doesn’t—just like not everyone becomes a juror.


Your odds are likely better if you use soft skills in your presentation. Just like the trial lawyer asks questions of the people in the jury pool and listens carefully for answers that may disclose a particular bent, you have to do the same thing. Now is the time for listening: genuineness and listening. You might hear that the prospect’s father died relatively young, left her mother with kids, and the mother had to work three jobs to support them. That’s a segue to a discussion of life insurance and maybe disability insurance. Identify the strains that it must have placed on her mother and how those products can help this person. She’s a person as well as a prospect.  Identify facts and help with solutions. Don’t focus on a possible sale and have the commission dancing in your head.


Please, although insurance production is a numbers game, you have sales goals to meet, and you do this for a living, don’t lose your humanity for the sake of a sale and a commission. Don’t shove whole life down a prospect’s throat when term insurance may be all that she can afford and will serve the purpose. You are far more likely to create a repeat client that way. Discuss options, don’t push. Don’t get teary-eyed to make the sale when you hear the story about her mother. Instead, show a genuine understanding of the need and a genuine desire to help. The operative words are genuine and help.


Merely overcoming objections is sales, regardless of the context. Don’t consider yourself to be only in the sales business. Insurance is a solutions business. You are in that business, too. You are mostly in that business. Be proud of it.


Best for 2021 and for your insurance career.

About Luke Brown

Now that I've retired, my goal is to make the complicated understandable, to get your insurance questions answered, and to help solve your insurance problems...without lengthy and costly litigation. If you have a question concerning your own insurance, message me and I'll answer it or show you where to get your answer. If you have an insurance problem, contact me via my website to schedule your free initial consultation. If I can help you, I assure you that you'll save money compared to hiring a practicing lawyer--but if you need one, I also assure you that I will tell you so. I have been writing and teaching on the topic of insurance for more than 30 years.

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