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When Is the Sale Made?

Focus on the relationship, and the product sale will naturally follow.

By Lee Clarke

A few years ago, a researcher asked me about the sales process. His question was, “At what point do you believe the sale is made?” The researcher prompted, “Is it when you ask the prospect if he wants to go ahead, or when you ask him to complete an application form or when he actually signs the check?”

My answer then, as it is now, is that the sale is made when the prospect first arrives or at the factfinding meeting. After all, the prospect would not have been interested in discussing financial matters with you unless he was prepared to do business with you. In fact, I believe that once you are in a meeting, face to face with a prospect, the only thing that can go wrong is that you talk yourself out of a sale!

The late MDRT member David Greenstone said in his famous “Broad Concept” presentation, “Our job is to help our prospects discover, define and understand the problems they face in reaching stated goals.”

Putting it into practice
To illustrate how important this is, I’m going to talk about a client of mine named Chris. He confided he had recently taken on a fee-based financial planner. My reaction was predictably uncomfortable. “Relax,” said my client, “I value your tactical and strategic advice. I know you would get someone in your office to crunch the numbers, so I got the numbers crunched for you. Is that OK? Have a look at his report.”

The planner had fed all the data from his questionnaire into a computer and come up with a recommendation for $750,000 of life insurance, based on needs. There were a few other recommendations, too, regarding savings and investment, many of which Chris and I had previously discussed, although implementation had been held back pending him moving residences.

I suggested his life insurance should be twice that amount. Covering what he “needed” was not enough.

I asked him how he felt about the suggestion of $750,000 of life insurance coverage, and he replied that he knew he needed it. My response was that I didn’t think it enough. I suggested his life insurance should be twice that amount. Covering what he “needed” was not enough. Chris was at a vital stage in the growth of his business. I suggested to Chris that he should have around $2 million of life insurance. He didn’t flinch and simply asked how much he’d have to factor into his business cash flow.

Finding the money
Now I also know that absolutely no one has any spare money and that I would have to find the money for him from his cash flow. Doing this I could see where Chris could trim his expenditure enough to allow for the $1,000 a month premium. I knew, whereas the financial planner did not, that Chris had recently spent $5,000 on an air display with a World War II Spitfire just for his own private BBQ, (not something that appeared on the financial planner’s questionnaire) and that he had spare capacity in his business’ cash flow. I also knew Chris was diabetic, a smoker, overweight and had suffered a pulmonary embolism a couple of years back while recovering from a relatively minor operation.

Chris asked me to go ahead and set up the insurance. I asked if he thought his fee-charging financial planner should do it. “Certainly not,” he retorted. “I paid his fee of $750 for the report.”

The commission on this sale was $8,700. This reinforced my belief that solving problems pays better than writing reports. It also confirmed two things for me: The business goes to the person with the primary relationship, not the primary software and that the key facts to the sale are soft facts, not hard facts obtained from a questionnaire.

This is an excerpt from a speech given at the 2007 MDRT Annual Meeting. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

For more selling tips from Lee Clarke, be sure to read  “Top of the Table Through Telling Tales.”

Lee Clarke is a 17-year MDRT member with eight Court of the Table and two Top of the Table qualifications. Contact him at


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