Back the hearse up to the door and let your prospect smell the roses. Dramatic? Sure. Effective in closing a sale? Probably not. First, hearse-rental companies are few and far between. Plus, with gas prices the way they are, it’s virtually cost-prohibitive to take one to every sales call. Besides, today’s consumers have become quite immune to such scare tactics. So, what’s an advisor to do? If not a hearse, what works?
We asked some experts that question—well, the second part anyway—and found seven closes they say work, and work well. But they all advised against the use of confrontational tactics that fueled caricatures of pushy insurance agents of yesteryear who teamed up with funeral directors to boost sales.
Why hard closes don’t work
Research shows that hard sells don’t sit well with consumers. “I’ve been reading a lot of LIMRA research, and I’ve found customers really fear confrontation with a high-pressure agent,” says Andy Martin, CLU, ChFC, president of First Protective Insurance in Birmingham, Ala. “They want to avoid pressure tactics.”
Martin goes out of his way not to bully his prospects because even a small amount of pressure confirms every stereotype they’ve ever had, he says. It does more than just tick off prospective buyers, though. The Birmingham-AIFA member has seen it backfire. “You show me a strong ‘closer,’” he says, “and I’ll show you someone who’s going to have persistency problems and customer complaints down the road.”
What really works
That said, Martin does employ some tried-and-tested techniques to nail the deal when needed. Two he uses often are what he calls his procrastination closes. The first comes into play during a second visit, after he makes his presentation to a prospect. He sometimes hears, “Well, I want to think about it” or “I need to talk to my advisor.” Martin welcomes these comments. He’ll pause, look the prospect in the eye and put his first procrastination close—the underwriting close—into action. He’ll say, “I understand you want to think about this insurance. Now I probably didn’t do a very good job here. There’s something I need to make clear.”
Then he explains how underwriting works by saying that there are people in the home office called underwriters, whose job it is to look at a prospect from a medical risk standpoint to determine if they want to be on the hook for a half-million or a million dollars. The prospect may look healthy to the advisor, he adds, but the advisor is not the final decision-maker.
Then he suggests that while the prospect is thinking about it, the underwriter should have a chance to review the document, too. Martin recalls one situation in which this worked like a charm. He was meeting with a CPA—his old college roommate. The CPA was torn between his personal allegiance to a friend, Martin, and an advisor the CPA firm used for its insurance. The friend listened to the close—that he and the carrier could consider the policy at the same time—and agreed to proceed.
Actually, he more than agreed—he was relieved. “He told me, ‘This is great. It’s exactly what I needed,’” Martin says. The former roommate took the policy, and as he recalls, purchased extra insurance from the firm’s agent.
Martin often adds another step at this point: He offers an option for temporary coverage during the underwriting process. More often than not, he gets a refundable deposit, and in the end, he usually makes the sale.
What will you do?
In other situations, Martin presents the options and then the client starts to hem and haw. Without missing a beat, he’ll say, “I’m a bit puzzled. We went over all of this before. I have one question: If you don’t do this, what are you going to do?” Then he keeps quiet. He’s confident in asking that question because he’s been through the qualification process, he’s handled objections along the way and he’s shown the prospect exactly how the proposal meets the needs that both of them identified.
devise ways to help prospects decide and then help them implement changes.
Sometimes the silence is difficult to take. “It could be 15 seconds, but it feels like 15 minutes,” he notes. At that point, the client might say he does not know or needs to think about it. Martin will respond, “We’re both here together. We have the data. The time to make a decision is now.” If that doesn’t work, he simply moves into his underwriting close. And more often than not, he comes away with the business.
Cheer and steer
Anil Vazirani, LUTCF, CSA, a self-described one-appointment closer, shares a similar disdain for adversarial closes. “A lot of advisors, when they do a factfinder, use scare tactics,” says Vazirani, president and CEO of Secured Financial Solutions, LLC, in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They always tell people how many things they’ve done wrong.” Not Vazirani.
He prefers a close that could be referred to as cheer and steer or pat and push, in which he affirms his prospects’ past successes and guides them to even better results. “When I do a factfinder, I always compliment people on what they’ve accomplished,” the NAIFA-Tucson member says. The compliments are genuine. And what’s more, they help break down barriers and get both client and advisor on the same side.
Then he moves to step No. 2, during which he recommends repositioning. “When I give them advice, they’re open because I’ve complimented them on the good things they’ve already done,” he explains. Vazirani finds this so successful that he uses it with every prospect. It must be working—he’s on target to do more than $14 million in personal production this year.
How do you feel?
Another close Vazirani uses is to focus on the prospect’s present situation and satisfaction level. “When I do my factfinder, I ask individuals about their investments or products,” he says. He gets copies of their statements, jots down the balances, along with the names of the brokerage house, mutual fund company or insurer/broker, and organizes them in front of the prospect.
Then he asks them how they feel about each account. “You close by understanding how they feel about their mutual funds, their stocks, their bonds,” he says. “If they feel good about something, I’m not going to get it.” At least not right away.
“If they say they’re not sure or they are not happy, then you’ve got them. You’ve got the thread of discontent,” Vazirani says. Recently, while working with a client, both closing tactics came into play. He started by reviewing the prospect’s current financial positions. “As I was sitting there, every five minutes she would come up with a new account,” he recalls. “At first, I thought maybe she had a half million dollars. It turned out she had more than $1.5 million.”
He sorted the accounts into piles: variable annuities (VAs), mutual funds, stocks, Ginnie Mae accounts, etc. Then he complimented her by saying: “Do you know what? You should be commended. You’ve realized the American dream; you’re a millionaire.” He cited her portfolio diversification and told her that she could put some financial advisors to shame.
That tickled her, and right there, her defenses fell. They talked about the accounts, and the woman probed him for his thoughts. He shared some, but quickly turned the conversation around. He began asking the questions—the question, actually, “How do you feel about this account?”
They discussed the accounts she thought were the most vulnerable and those that gave her the most satisfaction. As it turns out, she was uneasy about the VAs, which Vazirani focused on. She was also dissatisfied with a mutual fund account that had been losing money, which he again focused on.
By combining the closes, Vazirani won over the prospect and identified products ready for repositioning—which translated into how much money she was ready to move. The prospect signed on the dotted line, and Vazirani got the sale.
Commitment in hand, he often starts prepping for the next sale. “I might sow the seed about an account that really concerns me,” he says. For the Tucson prospect, it was bonds. Vazirani told her that when he returns to deliver the annuities, he would like to talk about them. Then he sent her articles outlining some vulnerabilities with bonds. When he returns, he’ll dig more deeply. “It will be a natural conversation to bring up,” he says. And it may just lead to some additional repositioning.
Help them commit
Lou Cassara, CLU, ChFC, and CEO, and founder of Downers Grove, Ill.,-based Cassara Associates and The Cassara Clinic, says successful closers focus on helping people make commitments in their lives. The way to close a sale, he says, is not to back prospects into a corner and not to use limiting, exploiting and manipulative processes.
He believes advisors must experience a mindset shift. They should stop focusing on just closing and devise ways to help their prospects make decisions and then help them implement changes. “I think many advisors today understand this intuitively, and they might still call it a closing meeting, but they understand they’re really helping people make a decision,” says Cassara, author of From Selling to Serving: The Essence of Client Creation.
Make it real
It’s within this context that Cassara, a NAIFA-DuPage member, employs a couple of what he calls strategies or processes designed to deliver a successful close. In one process, he gets his prospects to visualize how decisions they make now will affect their future. “People must be able to see it in their mind’s eye before they’ll take action,” he says. “If they can’t absolutely see themselves doing something, for example, owning a million dollars’ worth of insurance or retiring on a quarter-million dollars of income a year, they’ll never do it.” Instead, they’ll reject the notion or recommendation internally and fail to act.
In effect, Cassara offers them a dress rehearsal of the future. “I let them ‘try on their feelings’ about the solution at hand,” he explains. Here’s how it works: As he meets with a prospect, armed with recommendations, he reiterates what the prospect told him his intention was—perhaps being financially independent at age 65. He then asks him to picture exactly what that will look like. It might entail having a certain amount of retirement income or, perhaps, being debt free.
Cassara, an executive coach and professional-development specialist, has the prospect actually visualize sitting in the backyard on his deck sometime down the road, watching the grandkids play, smiling in the knowledge that planning that was done 15 years ago lets him enjoy this moment worry-free. Cassara asks the prospect, “How would that make you feel?” Having the prospect actually experience it creates a natural next step to getting a commitment from him—which might be to set aside money or purchase more life insurance. “I have them see it and then vocalize it,” he says. “Then I can energize them and mobilize them to put the plan into action. It’s no longer just a superficial idea.”
Best, worst, most likely
His second closing strategy involves a hybrid logical-emotional discussion. “I ask my prospects: ‘What is the best thing that could happen if you make a certain decision? What is the worst thing? And what is the most likely thing that would happen?’” he explains.
With these questions, Cassara frames a strategic-thinking process that helps his prospects work through possible solutions and apply recommended strategies. “The best case might be that it solves all their financial challenges,” he explains. “Worst case—say they invested $10,000 a year for 15 years for life insurance—might be that they got their money back plus interest, and they’ve been covered for a million dollars of insurance in the duration.” Ordinarily, he says, “worst” is still better than doing nothing at all, and the “most likely” thing is often something in between.
Lock the gate
Mark LaVine, CLU, ChFC, president of Professional Planning Corp., in Woodland Hills, Calif., uses a technique he calls “locking the gate.” It’s the second of a two-part process. First, he meets with a prospect, conducts the interview and gathers information, zeroing in on exact goals. During this time, the NAIFA-San Fernando Valley member takes careful notes and incorporates each of the prospect’s goals into a presentation he prepares for the follow-up visit. This makes the second meeting relatively easy. When he goes back to see the prospect, he repeats his goals and gets the prospect to agree that he understood him correctly and that what he wrote down is what he wanted to accomplish. Then he closes.
He ties each recommendation to the agreed-upon goals and uses a four-step process as he reviews each. He helps prospects see where they are now, where they want to be and how they can get there, and then helps them accomplish these objectives. “I think if anyone follows that particular process, the close becomes automatic,” LaVine says.
He augments this process with what some might call a “stockyard close”—or making it difficult for prospects to change their minds, once they agree to something initially or during the close. This doesn’t mean they never do. But more often than not, once they assent verbally, they’re less inclined to turn around. LaVine finds this agreement to be critically important. “I need to be certain the information they gave me is correct, because my solution revolves on that,” he says.
For example, when LaVine started in the business 45 or so years ago, agents used to ask prospects for a budget. “Suppose the prospect said he could set aside $50 a month,” he says. “When I go back for my second interview, I repeat that amount to him. If he agrees, it’s pretty difficult for him to go back and say he can’t afford it.”
Dave Willis is a New Hampshire-based insurance and business freelance writer and frequent Advisor Today contributor.