The Customer Sets the Pace

Richard Perrott
November 17, 2017

You don’t like the feeling of being sold to.

You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you can sense the pressure in the salesperson’s voice. The misplaced urgency is palpable.

The thing is, they know it too.

If you’ve ever been in a sales role, then you’ve probably been the culprit of this unease. You might even be self-aware of its warning signs.

You’re talking faster than necessary. Or over-emphasizing words that you don’t need to.Your tone isn’t natural. You adjusted it to something that you think sounds “persuasive”.You find yourself talking about solutions to problems that don’t exist, or answering questions that haven’t been asked.You catch yourself asking a leading question, but you ask it anyways.You feel pushy.

The “Oprah Winfrey” rule of communication is that it isn’t about what you say, it’s about how you make them feel.

If you’ve inadvertently made your prospect feel uncomfortable, then they’re less likely to be honest with you. That’s not good.

Why Does This Happen?

It’s not merely the fact that a sales call is taking place. The buyer and seller both accept that.

Instead, this tension arises when a salesperson is ahead of the prospect in the buying process. They’re still in the information gathering phase (or earlier), while the salesperson is pressing the agenda beyond that. Hence, tension.

I learned this lesson early in my time as a Group Insurance Sales Rep. While discussing a proposal with an insurance broker for consideration by one of his clients, he stopped me and said this.

“I can’t make your priorities their priorities.”

What he meant was: slow down.

And he was right. I was trying to pull him (and his client) at a pace faster than they wanted to go. In reality, the customer sets the pace.

How You Can Avoid It

I was recently listening to a podcast that’s quickly become a go-to resource for me. It’s called Inside Selling and the host Josh Braun is among the best I’ve heard at breaking down buying behaviors, and overlaying a sales process that’s natural, logical, and tactical. In this episode, Josh offers techniques to stay in lockstep with your prospect, and avoid skipping ahead of them.

Here’s a few ways you might use his techniques to sell more.

Set a Verbal Contract Up Front

As a Group Rep you work hard to identify the best opportunities, grind through the underwriting process, send out your proposal, and then… do you follow up immediately? Or do you wait? Is 24 hrs enough time? Or is 48 better?

You’re often uncertain of what the best next step is, but ultimately what you’re after is the truth: are you in the running for this deal or not.

Josh suggests a pre-emptive measure to getting to that answer faster by setting a “verbal contract” up front. If I were a Group Rep I could imagine it sounding like this:

“Hey Jim, I understand you have a lot of carrier relationships to manage. At the same, I hope you can appreciate that I have a lot of broker relationships to manage too.
Since we both have to figure out how best to spend our time I’d like to see if you’d be open to agreeing to something up front…
If at any time either of us feels this RFP isn’t a fit can we just be straight with each other and say so?

This is simple, but effective for a few reasons.

First, there’s one answer to this question: “Yes, I will be straight with you.”

Second, your broker wants to be honest with you. They just need you to provide a safe environment for them to do so. The discipline required is that if they tell you that you’re out of the running, then you have to respect the “contract”. Leave them alone and move on to the next one. You’ll save time and build credibility.

A final hidden benefit is that this helps you continuously qualify the opportunity as time passes. Because if you’re not out of the running, then you’re in the running. The opportunity remains in the warm pile.

Follow Up Without “Checking In”

I know, I know. You want to be more than just “in the running”. You want to win the deal. But as a reminder, you don’t set the pace. The customer does.

Since group insurance doesn’t just sell itself, you feel compelled to do something. Maybe you’ll bring muffins and coffee to their office?

There’s probably a better use of your time.

As Josh puts it, you should follow up without “checking in”.

Sending an email to “check in” is one sided. You’re not offering anything to the other person. It may feel like action to you, but it creates work for them. Is that your intent?

Instead, help them be smarter about something. If you’ve been listening to them, then by now you should know details about the customer that you can use to be relevant. Press yourself to help the broker be smarter, faster, or stronger about a topic that matters to them. It’s harder, but they’ll think of you as one of the good ones.

Rope in a Trusted Third Party

So far you’ve allowed progress to happen naturally instead of advancing your own agenda. At a certain point, though, if the other party engages, then it’s appropriate to reciprocate.

Again, Josh crafts a natural technique to find out if the deal is progressing while ensuring you don’t pull ahead. As a Group Rep, it might sound like this:

“Usually at this point in the conversation it makes sense to get the Producer involved so I can help them brainstorm how best to position our proposal. Would it make sense to rope them in just to get their perspective?”

This is a great trial close question because it creates social accountability. It’s one thing for your contact to spend their own time talking to you, but a much bigger deal for them to take time from their colleague. You get to the truth faster.

Of course, you should replace the word “Producer” with the job title that’s most appropriate for your situation. If you’re far enough along that may even be the client’s HR department that you ask to rope in.

The intent is to get to the truth of where you stand by making a low pressure nudge.

Then rinse and repeat.

You‘re working on dozens of deals right now.

Why not try this stuff out on one?

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