Here are the three different selling approaches—and why only one is effective.
In my experience conducting sales and prospecting training with agents across the country, I frequently ask the question: “What kind of seller are you?" The answers are always interesting, and frequently aspirational in nature. They typically focus more on how how they want to be perceived rather than the approach they actually use.
I'll frequently hear some variation of “I want to be viewed as a trusted advisor" or “I focus on risks and how to address them." Occasionally some will respond with “I'm consultative" or “I'm a relationship person." These types of responses say little about the agent's philosophy or how they engage with their prospects and clients.
A quick Google search will reveal hundreds—if not thousands—of articles, videos and books on selling and selling styles. If you are curious, you can easily learn more about collaborative, insightful, needs-oriented and substantive selling styles with a click of a mouse.
These styles and others can be categorized into three main selling style buckets: transactional, value-added and consultative selling. While there may be some nuances, these three styles are representative of the three most common selling approaches.
1) Transactional selling. This approach bases the seller's value on their ability to negotiate the lowest price on behalf of the buyer. It's a common approach.
Most agents recognize the harm in transactional selling. Win an account on price and it's likely you'll lose it in the same manner.
More importantly, a transactional approach does little, if anything, to ensure the buyer's risks have been identified or addressed. Because upfront risk assessments are typically not conducted in a transactional sale, the agency can also be left exposed to potential error & omissions risks.
Agents frequently share that they disdain this commoditized approach. Yet, they struggle to lead buyers away from it because they don't have the skills or strategies to do so. As famed management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “In a commodity market, you can only be as good as your dumbest competitor."
2) Value-added selling. Value-added selling is similar to transactional selling. Although price is the primary consideration, the buyer is often showered with additional services and tools to sweeten the deal. Of the three sales approaches, this one is perhaps the most detrimental. In the value-added sale, agents often lead with their features and benefits. Service offerings such as claims reviews, safety and loss mitigation, and human resource programs or support are positioned as value-added resources.
The problem is the risks these offerings address have not been identified up front. Buyers faced with a value-added approach typically don't utilize the resources that have been positioned because they don't appreciate or understand the value of the offerings.
In addition, this approach presents a challenge for agencies as these offerings require a substantial investment and can create a financial burden to maintain.
Value-added sellers are really just transactional sellers who lead with their features and benefits but do little to help the buyer self-discover the business risks they are intended to solve.
3) Consultative selling. In this style, the seller is considered a source of business value to the buyer. While most agents aspire to be perceived as consultative, few genuinely practice the art of engaging buyers in this manner. Consultative sellers in the insurance industry recognize their role is both to lead and facilitate change.
Consultative sellers help buyers make better-informed decisions by helping them recognize that bidding and quoting can prevent from them from achieving their primary business goals: to protect the business, its employees, and the personal and professional assets of the owners and officers. Consultative sellers have the insurance acumen and selling skills necessary to position and lead buyers through an alternative approach that helps them self-discover business risks and provide insights so they can make intentional risks management decisions.
You Choose Your Approach
Most agents determine their approach based on their buyer's approach. But the truth of the matter is the buyer has little to do with the approach the agent uses.
Agents are either consultative or they're not. They either believe businesses will be better served by helping buyers to make informed decisions—or they are willing to gamble they can get the lowest price, disrupt the incumbent relationship, and win the deal.
Consultative sellers believe there is a higher purpose in what they do. They know a business will be left at risk if they follow a transactional approach. Because of this, they either help the buyer embrace a different approach or they walk away from the deal.
In a world where new risks emerge on what seems like a daily basis and buyers are faced with complex decisions on how to protect their business, only the consultative seller will be a true source of business value.
Susan Toussaint is vice president, Growth Solutions, U.S. with ReSource Pro. For over a decade, Susan has been training, coaching and developing programs to help insurance professionals overcome barriers to organic growth. In 2006, she started Injury Management Partners, and in 2009, she co-founded Oceanus Partners with her partner, Frank Pennachio. Today, she is a full-time trainer and consultant focused on developing products and training that help clients attract, acquire and retain profitable, right-fit business.