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Don't Make Blind Assumptions

Don't Make Blind Assumptions

By Dan Seidman | Monster Contributing Writer

In this tale, an experienced sales pro, Tim, learns a lesson about the value of asking questions before blindly making assumptions. He pays a steep price for the lesson, since it costs him 85 customers. Here’s Tim’s story:

Cecil was an older man about to retire. As president of his company, he was determined to see that his insurance needs, as well as those of his 85 employees, were met.

As a sales manager, I was working with a new sales rep on this “orphan” account. Our company specializes in insurance benefits through payroll deduction. No one had enrolled this group in any new insurance programs in more than five years.

My new agent and I could hardly believe it! We were just days away from receiving significant commission checks. As the new agent and I were opening our calendars to schedule a group seminar for the 85 employees, Cecil asked us if we offered long-term care (LTC) insurance. Pumped with excitement and thinking I could perhaps even write his LTC policy that day, I said, “Of course we do. In fact, I believe we have one of the best in the industry. I also believe that everyone over 50 should seriously consider purchasing LTC.”

I will never forget the look on Cecil’s face. It was as if I told him that his grandchildren were fat and ugly. After about what felt like three hours of silence, Cecil told me that he had explored LTC with several companies and thought that type of insurance was a bunch of “crap.” Furthermore, he told me that if I thought LTC was a good idea, I obviously didn’t know my head from a hole in the ground, and there was no way he was going to do business with me. The intensity of his language and the feelings on his face made it clear that there was no way to recover from my mistake.

Needless to say, we never did meet with the rest of the employees, and that meant no commission on that account.

Postmortem

“The obvious lesson here is to never assume anything,” says Tim. "Just because Cecil was older did not mean he was in the market for LTC insurance.

Tim’s best bet would be to respond to a question with another question. This is a safer play than risking your commission by firing away with your advice. Tim was at the finish line and used his final breath to talk about his feelings. This final breath precipitated the death of his sale. If he had only avoided a chance to offer his opinion and spent his energy determining his prospect’s concerns (i.e., the reason why the prospect asked his question), he would have crossed the finish line.

Tim could have maintained control over the interview by asking a clarifying question like, “Do you have some concerns or thoughts about LTC insurance?” Then if the buyer went into a tirade against LTC, Tim could have downplayed his company’s involvement with it, stressing the programs that Tim had learned were important to the buyer.

The ability to ask the right questions at the right time distinguishes mediocre salespeople from masterful ones. Don’t try to read your prospect’s mind. Ask questions, and let those prospects do the talking.

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