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Agent to Agent: Proposals that Win

David Connolly Photo - 200x250px.jpgBy David Connolly
Founder, iQ Consulting

As insurance agents, what we sell is an intangible. I've often heard it said that we sell peace of mind. Quite frankly, we sell insurance protection. And unlike the products sold by manufacturers, distributors, or retail businesses, our clients cannot see, touch, smell, or taste our product. The only time our clients truly use our product is when there is a claim, or a need for evidence of insurance. Our final work product is our proposal, and it is the only representation of the quality of service we intend to deliver in support of the products we sell.

Consequently, the proposals we build, and the presentations we deliver become of utmost importance in the sales process. Ironically, few agents give proposals the level of attention they deserve. The very best producers in our business understand this, and build exceptional proposals and practice their delivery, and as a result, win more business.

For any piece of business worth winning, the goal of our proposal should be to make all others pale by comparison. Our proposals should stand out, and leave a lasting impression to create desire on the part of our prospects and clients to do business with us.

So what are the ingredients of an exceptional proposal?

Since proposals are the only tangible product we deliver, and they represent us personally and our agency, they should be of the highest quality possible. We must devote significant attention to detail not only to what's in the proposal, but its outward appearance. Every proposal should be bound with a high-quality cover, should be written on high-quality -heavyweight paper, and should include images, and both our agency logo, and our client’s logo.

Content: What's in the proposal, and how it is laid out is just as important. I believe every proposal should contain a short history of our agency. Proposals should include a page devoted to our customer service team along with their pictures and contact information. Each should include a summary of coverages contained in the proposal, and the pricing upfront. Because the average vocabulary for insurance technical ease is at a 7th grade level, we must pay particular attention to ensuring that our proposals are written in plain English and can be easily understood. In addition, for all insurance language a glossary of terms should be present. A sign of intelligence is the ability to translate complex subjects into simple language, not the reverse. The goal of every proposal should be to create a strong understanding on the part of our buyer.

Style: We all understand that there are a variety of personality styles. I call these buying styles. Each has distinct characteristics which must be must be considered in both the design and delivery of every proposal. Each must be tailored to the individual buying style of our buyer.

I believe there are 4 distinct personality styles, or buying styles, and each of us falls into one, with shades of the others. For example, a type A, aggressive personality style is often seen in entrepreneurs. This style is characterized by words like aggressive, assertive, business like, driver, controlling, task oriented, professional and unemotional.

Contrast this style with what I call a facilitator or supportive personality style. This style can be described by words like warm, friendly, emotional, people oriented, and supportive.

Would you build the same proposal for these two distinctly different buying styles? If your answer were yes, you would miss the mark and have to manipulate them into purchasing something that does not appeal to their true nature. It’s much easier to appeal to their buying style and give them exactly what they want

Example: When developing a proposal for the type A buyer, it is critical to make sure it is very professional, black and white, short and uses summaries and bullet points to make the case of delivering the best possible business solution. When developing a proposal for a facilitative or supportive buyer, a more creative, colorful format is appropriate. In addition, the language should be geared towards relationship, teamwork, and support with verbiage that appeals to a more emotional buyer.

Delivery: Our delivery should mirror the contents of the proposal and the personality style of our buyer. When delivering to a type A, aggressive style our approach should be all business, unemotional, short, direct and focused. Delivery to a supportive style should be slower paced, personal, friendly and emotional. In addition, practice, practice, practice makes perfect. It is difficult to switch gears from buyer to buyer. But, if we can tailor our proposals and deliver them in the manner that they will be best received by our audience, this will go a long way in building confidence, trust and desire on the part of our buyer. In working with my agents, I spend a great deal of time coaching them on different personality styles and on mirroring and matching those styles during the interview, information gathering, and proposal stages of the sales process. There is a great deal of information available on personality styles, and I suggest all of us gain a better understanding of the distinct styles and their individual characteristics.

Positioning: When you have competition, where do we want to position ourselves? Do we want to propose first, last, or somewhere in the middle? Does this really matter? It does. I believe that being first has advantages. We can become the point of comparison, and standards, requirements, and comparisons that the rest must meet or exceed. However, the incumbent typically has a huge advantage because they reserve last look. This is a game changer, because frequently they change the rules of the game. My goal in establishing position is to negotiate first in–last look. It's not always possible, but when accomplished this helps to nullify the advantage of incumbency. I typically try to accomplish this by asking, “When do you typically receive your renewal proposal?” If the response is “usually last-minute or just before my renewal” it gives me an opportunity to ask, “When would you like to receive your proposal?” I then offer to come in 1st well ahead of the competition so that my prospect or client has plenty of time to make this important decision. I then ask for a small favor in return which is “I would just like to come back after you've received all proposals so I can answer any questions that come up during the process. Fair enough?” The worst they can say is no. At least, I've asked, and you will be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Building high-quality proposals, using language your prospects understand, delivering proposals that appeal to their buying styles and negotiating first in-last look, significantly improve our chances of winning. Practice giving proposals several times to other producers or CSR's, and have them ask questions so we can effectively prepare answers. This will greatly improve our performance when it counts.

Good luck on your next proposal.

David Connolly is the founder of iQ Consulting. They work with the top 100 agencies and brokers in the US and Canada and have trained thousands of insurance professionals.

PIA and iQ Consulting have recently created a sales-focused, e-learning program available to insurance professionals in CO, DE, IL, MA, PA, RI, SD and WV. Join us on April 15 as we extend the topics discussed in this article so that you can create winning proposals. To learn more about the PIA Agent Success Acceleration Program and to register for the next webinar, please visit www.piaasap.com.