Insurance agents can’t make a living without closing sales. But are canned techniques or strategic collaboration the better approach? Only you can decide.
As an insurance agent, you know the importance of closing a sale. Since your products are intangible, and since prospects often avoid addressing their risk exposures, you must nudge prospects to secure the coverage they need. Closing is the process of moving them off the dime. The question is how best to do it.
For decades, experts have advocated the use of canned techniques to motivate prospects to act. Others have suggested strategies that are less overtly artificial, based instead on collaboration and trust-building.
Traditional vs. contemporary selling
What’s the best approach? Let’s compare a traditional and contemporary selling style. Traditional selling was confrontational—with you doing something to a prospect that often triggers resistance—the modern way is collaborative, based on your working with your prospect to achieve mutually beneficial goals.
Traditional selling often involves a series of discrete steps, culminating in the close. You start by putting the prospect at ease. Then you explain the benefits of your recommended product and try to get the person to buy it. If necessary, you counter any objections and then try to close again (repeating the process until the person agreed to buy).
With this approach, you often need to break through logjams. Although some prospects will buy in, many will not. This leads to buyers having second thoughts and non-buyers generating negative word of mouth for the agent.
By contrast, the collaborative or modern approach relies on building trust and rapport. The sales technique focuses on uncovering people’s problems, helping them to acknowledge them, explaining potential solutions and securing agreement to buy an appropriate one.
In contemporary selling, agents favor the discovery process over on one-way communication. The approach is more educational and helps people better understand and appreciate the nature of their problems. When you educate clients on the best way to address risk problems, presented as various insurance solutions to consider, the selling (or closing) naturally evolves from there. You and prospects work together through potential solutions and select the right one. By helping people understand their risks and available insurance solutions, you no longer need to pressure them to buy. With your guidance and gentle encouragement, they often “close” themselves.
Where should you position yourself between these two styles of selling and closing? It depends on how long you’ve been in the business and your personal preferences. If you’re early in your sales career, you may decide to build a toolkit of several older closing techniques, picking the ones you believe will work best with the prospects with whom you work. But as you develop more experience, you might opt to use a more collaborative, trust-building approach that strives to position you as a trusted advisor. Remember, too, that your closing approach might not be an either/or proposition. You can mix and match between old and new styles based on your reading of a particular prospect or sales context.
The “Questioning” technique
One technique that transcends old vs. new selling styles is called “Questioning.” Rather than wait until the end of your presentation to see if the person is ready to buy, check continuously throughout your meeting. Five questions will help you “always be closing:”
- Ask if they understand what you’ve presented: “How does this sound so far?” or “Is this making any sense?” Don’t just ask the question, though. Listen carefully to the answer and the tone in people’s voices? Do they sound confident or hesitant? Are they dubious or critical? Also, what are they leaving unsaid?
- Check to see if they understand the policy benefit you’ve offered: Probe their understanding of your proposed insurance coverage. If not, explain it again using different words. However, even more important is checking to see whether the benefit is meaningful to them. Ask: “Do you see this working for you?” or “How specifically would you use this?”
- See if they have any questions. Before you move from one topic to another, always identify areas of potential doubt or confusion. Ask: “Are we on the same page?” or “Does everything make sense to you?”
- Launch a trial close. This involves testing the waters to assess a prospect’s readiness to purchase what you’re proposing. Say: “Do you see how you can benefit from this?” or “Does this policy address the risks you and your family face today?”
- Probe to see whether they have other concerns. Assuming they agree to buy your product, don’t leave without confirming you haven’t left other needs on the table. Ask: “ Do you have financial risks or worries I haven’t addressed?” or “Is there anything we should discuss today that we haven’t already?”
Questioning is a staple of both old and new selling styles. But explicit closing techniques, the canned language that insurance agents used to memorize, may still have value today. If your instinct suggests a certain technique might resonate with a particular prospect, by all means, give it a try. Here are five classic closing techniques you may want to keep in your back pocket (or tucked away in your purse).
- The assumptive close: After you finish your presentation and do one or more trial closes (that go over well), simply assume the person is ready to buy. Say something like: “If everything still sounds good, shall we start filling out the application?” A prospect who is inclined to buy may go along with this. But one who’s on the fence might begin raising objections. Some might even take offense that you tried to “pull a fast one.” So always recognize that with this close, you’ll balance greater efficiency with the potential of antagonizing the prospect. Furthermore, the more sophisticated the person is (business owners vs. kitchen-table prospects), the more you’ll want to avoid using the assumptive close.
- The summary close: With complex risks and insurance products, you might want to review the main features and benefits of the product before asking for the sale. Say something like: “As we’ve discussed, this policy addresses your risk of (dying too soon, living too long, becoming ill, injuring a customer, etc.). It does this by offering the following types of protection (tick off the major benefits as precisely as possible). Are these benefits still of interest to you? If so, does it make sense for us to begin completing the application?” The trick here is you don’t want to rehash your entire presentation, especially for a complex product. Just zero in on the high points that most resonate with the prospect’s self-expressed needs. Then after your finish summarizing the product, pivot to the close.
- The Ben Franklin close: This is another suitable technique for complex products or for when a prospect seems to be having a difficult time making a decision. It involves drawing a T on a piece of paper and then putting a + and a – on the left and right of the crossbar. Then prompt the person to list all of the pluses and minuses he or she can think of. If the advantages far outweigh the advantages, then you can simply ask for the sale. If there are more negatives, then you’ll need to probe to uncover the issues. Perhaps they stem from misunderstanding the product, which more education will resolve. Or maybe something else is bothering the person: a lack of funds, a weak need, no urgency, competing priorities or some other issue. Discussing the negatives may resolve the person’s concerns and allow you to close the deal.
- The now or never close: This technique hinges on stoking the prospect’s urgency to get the coverage in place. It’s frequently used in the life insurance industry, where agents stress the importance of getting people insured while they’re still healthy. Once they develop a chronic illness, they may no longer qualify for coverage or have to pay extra for it. To use this technique, say: “Assuming you still see the value of this coverage, it’s important we move quickly while you can still qualify for it. Shall we begin completing the application now?” When using this close, be prepared for the prospect to ask, “Why wouldn’t I quality?” A brief discussion of the underwriting process will help the person see the importance of striking while the iron is hot.
- The soft close: Rather than ask directly for the sale, just ask whether the prospect would be willing to buy if the product resolved a major need or concern. For example, for a life product, you might say: “If I could show you a way to clean up all your debts in the event you die too soon while creating an education fund for your children and retirement funds for your spouse, would you be interested in learning more?” If the person answers yes, then you’d structure your presentation around demonstrating “the way.” After you finish, you’d pivot to the close saying, “Do you see how what I’m offering does what you said you’re interested in? Is there any reason not to get started with it today?” The challenge is to select the person’s most compelling need. If you use one that isn’t as important, you run the risk of driving your sale into a brick wall.
These closing techniques are merely five of the dozens, if not hundreds, of standard closes insurance agents have used over the years. Should you add them (and others) to your sales tool kit? Perhaps. However, be aware that contemporary prospects are much more sophisticated today. They don’t like artificial techniques or the feeling of being sold. What do they prefer? A more collaborative, consultative sales approach. This involves the open-ended discovery of their needs, education about their options and gentle guidance on how to make a wise purchase.
In this style, closing is not about laying a technique on them, but rather about assuring they are ready to buy. In fact, in new-style closing, you might not have to close at all. If you do a good job uncovering needs and explaining solutions, prospects will often close themselves.
To move your sales and closing efforts toward collaboration, here are some things to try:
- Speak less and listen more. Delivering elevator talks, canned presentations and clever one-liners can seem out of place in contemporary selling. Instead, focus your efforts on needs discovery. Learn how to frame both open-ended and pointed questions to uncover what your prospects’ insurance and financial needs are and how they feel about those needs. Then don your educator’s hat to explain their purchase options. Finally, guide them through the decision-making process. At the end of this discussion, prospects will be motivated and well informed to act. Your closing challenge will be to determine when that point has arrived. And here’s the best part: prospects will often let you know when they’re ready to buy.
- Shift from being a product salesperson to a solution provider. Try to spend less time talking about product features and more discussing the benefits you deliver. A related transition is to get prospects to acknowledge their needs emotionally rather than just logically. Achieving product understanding is important, of course. But you’ll never get to yes if you don’t engage with your prospects’ emotions. They must feel the need to take action, not just understand rationally the importance of doing so. Closing the sale should be the emotional high point of your work with a prospect.
- Sit on their side of the table, not on yours. You want your prospects to understand that you are serving their interests, not your own . . . that you want what’s best for them and their loved ones, for their business partners and employees. This gives you license to practice “tough love”—urging them to make important decisions before it’s too late and to not procrastinate when doing so might have tragic consequences. Most prospects will appreciate gentles nudges toward doing the right thing, as long as they sense you are “on their side.”
- Take the long view of the client relationship. Don’t view insurance sales as one-offs. If you view each sale as an all-or-nothing proposition, you’ll often find yourself applying too much pressure to close the deal. Taking the long view means striving to create a long-term relationship that will bring many future sales and referral opportunities. If you fail to close this transaction, you will likely close another one with this person soon. Of course, closing a case and earning a commission is important, too. But never sacrifice a long-term client relationship for a single sale. That is not how to create a sustainable insurance sales career or business.
In short, if you want to grow your insurance business, don’t try so hard to close, especially with antiquated techniques. Work on becoming more collaborative with your clients, more effective at understanding their needs and better at educating them about their options. If you do those things well, prospects will often close the sale for you. This, in turn, will set the stage for future sales and a highly productive long-term career. What’s not to like about that?
PLEASE NOTE: These sales techniques covered within this article are not intended to replace any specific product training and product delivery requirements set by insurance carriers, state departments of insurance and/or other regulators. The above content is provided solely for informational purposes only.