5 Questions for Understanding Your Prospect’s Buying Process

When you walk into a first meeting with a prospect, two processes are often in play: how you want to sell, and how your prospect buys.

These two processes are frequently at odds, which begs the question: Whose process will be followed?  

It’s your job to identify your prospect’s process, determine its effectiveness and be prepared to lead them toward your approach—and a new way of thinking and doing.

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting, prepared to close, only to find out that the person you thought was the decision-maker really isn’t, and they need to “run your proposal by someone else”?

Or perhaps you felt great chemistry between you and your prospect, but then they decide to stay where they are because your price is higher.

These are just a few of the risks you face when you don’t take the time to explore and understand your prospect’s decision-making process. The good news is you can greatly reduce the likelihood of these scenarios playing out if you focus on asking the right questions early in your first meeting.

Remember, it’s probable that your prospect has been making decisions in a manner that is harmful to their business, typically by bidding and quoting their insurance every year or two. This approach favors the incumbent and can leave the business at significant risk. It’s your job to lead them away from their old, flawed process, toward your more effective one.

If you don’t create contrast between the two processes and fail to help them see the risks associated with their approach, you’re going to end up falling into the commodity trap—and, ultimately, losing.

To gain an understanding of your prospect’s approach, it’s important to ask the right probing questions, in the right sequence, and address potential conflicts immediately.

The first question is comprised of three parts, starting with: “Can you share with me what your process for making insurance buying and risk management decisions looks like?”

Your goal here is to understand their process. Do they seek quotes every year? How many different agents do they let quote their insurance? How do they assign markets? Do they utilize an RFP process?

The second part of the question is: “In addition to yourself, who is part of the decision-making process, and who in your organization would be impacted by a change?”

This line of questioning will help identify additional buyers and influencers who may not be currently visible to you. Are they using a consultant? Is there a board that will be evaluating different proposals? Would employee stakeholders feel disrupted or threatened if a new relationship developed?

Third, ask, “What is it that you are hoping to accomplish?”

Many prospects begin meeting with agencies before they’ve even thought about what they’re trying to achieve. Influencing the goal and recommending strategy helps put you in control of the process. Your prospects won’t share this, but they’re often seeking leadership and guidance in achieving what they really want to protect their life’s work, employees, reputation and ability to compete.

But not all prospects will initially be interested in learning about your approach or ready to follow your leadership. With respectful persistence, you may want to ask, “What if you were to discover that your current approach could actually put you and your business at risk?”

This question can be a game changer for both you and your prospect by helping you reinforce why bidding and quoting is a dangerous way to make insurance buying and risk management decisions.

To close, ask your final question: “Are you curious about an alternative approach?” Your prospect doesn’t have to be sold at this point—only curious.

If they answer affirmatively, you’ve made big strides forward. You’ll have plenty of time in subsequent meetings to build upon the momentum you’ve gained in this one area.

Susan Toussaint is co-founder and partner at Oceanus Partners, a firm dedicated to helping insurance professionals working in all lines of business insurance improve sales and client retention.