If there is one way to put your sales abilities to the test, it’s selling car insurance. Car insurance is an intangible “product” that people are forced to have, don’t want to spend their money on, and never want to use. Car insurance isn’t a sexy product with cool packaging. It won’t help you become more successful. It’s not something you can show off to your friends to make you look cool. Not only does buying car insurance suck, but most people have a pretty nasty opinion about insurance “salesmen.”

Despite all of these challenges, I managed to become one of the top-selling auto insurance agent in all of California for one of the largest insurance companies in the nation (think talking lizard). In this post, I’m going to show you the three most important techniques I used to sell millions of dollars worth of an invisible product that no one really wanted.

But before you assume I’m bragging about my natural master sales skills, let me tell you that the way I got to this point was anything but glorified!

Selling Insurance Seemed Better Than Begging For Money On A San Diego Intersection

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the husband and I, along with our two kids under the age of two, jetted from Oregon to California with pretty much no money in order to get away from soul-sucking relatives.

When we arrived, we had a couple hundred bucks in our pocket and nowhere to go. A friend of ours was kind enough to give us money for a hotel room for a few days. When that ran out, we made use of a state program called “emergency homeless assistance” which paid for one more week in the hotel as well as about $600 to put down a deposit on an apartment.

We spent the entire week scouring the town for apartments and jobs and hitting the food shelters for free food. When we couldn’t find anything to rent in San Diego with the $600, we ventured down to Tijuana to find a cheap place to live. The week of paid hotel stay ran out before we could move in and we had no way to pay for the hotel. The morning that we had to either pay or get out, I actually held up a sign at an intersection begging for money.

I felt like such a loser. I had a college degree. Just months earlier we had been living a very comfortable life. I was a stay at home mom while my husband brought home the bucks during the dot-com boom. Now I was standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign begging for money. I just fixed my eyes on the horizon to avoid making eye contact with anyone in the cars.

During that first week in San Diego, I also managed to get an interview with the insurance company. I didn’t particularly want to work at an insurance company, but they advertised a decent salary in their newspaper ad. I actually applied for a customer service position because I never imagined myself as a salesperson – let alone an insurance salesperson. But after learning during the interview that the sales job paid $2 more per hour and offered bonuses, I changed my application immediately.

The point I’m trying make here is that I did not go into this sales job because I thought I could kick ass at sales. In fact, I figured I was probably going to be the worst salesperson ever. I chose the job completely out of necessity. And though I had serious doubts about my sales abilities, I knew that I had to do whatever it took to keep this job and be awesome at it, or else we might be stuck in Tijuana – or worse, homeless – for much longer than I cared to be.

It turns out though, that my abhorrence of typical “salespeople” is exactly why I ended up being so good at it.

Being Great At Sales Has Nothing to Do With “Selling”

The reason I thought that I would be so horrible at sales is that I have a lot of compassion for people and I am a horrible liar. I knew that I would not be successful at pressuring anyone to buy something they didn’t really want. But after being put through a rigorous 8-week sales training program with an incredible instructor, I learned what became some of my most valuable life lessons – pearls of wisdom that helped me to excel in my insurance sales career, grow my own business, and become a better copywriter.

Essential Sales Skill #1: Discover What People Really Need

Sales is all about discovering and then REALLY listening to people’s deepest needs, and then presenting a perfectly tailored solution to put those needs at ease. And here’s the kicker. This means that your product may not always be the answer. If you genuinely care about people and you honestly want to solve their problems, you’ve got to be willing to give them a solution that will truly solve their problem or meet their need even if its not your solution. A great salesperson is a great listener, has true empathy for people, and is a passionate problem solver.

“Selling isn’t something you do to someone. It’s something you do for and with someone.”
–Ron Willingham, Integrity Selling

How to Discover What People Really Need

To paraphrase Brian Tracy, unless you really understand what someone needs, you have no businesses offering a solution. Not only do you not know what they really need, they know that you don’t know what they really need. In a sales call, this means asking lots of questions and then buttoning your lip and listening.

Like politicians, if we stop listening and act upon our own agenda, little will be accomplished.
–Dan Sitter, Idea Sellers

The insurance application contained about 30 questions that were required to work up a quote. These questions gave me incredible insight into the applicant’s life, their job, where they lived, and much more. Instead of just blowing through the questions at top speed to get on with the next call, I often asked more questions that helped me to learn more about them. In the end, knowing so much about them helped me to put together a perfectly tailored solution.

I stumbled upon this strategy quite by accident. I wasn’t asking questions about them just to give myself leverage to close the deal. I asked questions because I am genuinely interested in people’s lives. I think this is a key component of good sales.

Action Plan:

  • If you make sales over the phone or in person, come up with a list of questions that you can ask every customer throughout the conversation in order to learn more about their life and their problem so that you can ultimately offer an ideal solution.

In an online environment, there are even more ways to discover what people really want and need.

  • Forums and message boards: Look around on forums and message boards to see what kinds of questions people are asking. Instead of trying to figure out how your product meets those needs, ask yourself if what you have will really provide a solution. This can give you some great ideas about how to improve your product or service.
  • Analytics: If you have a website or blog, review analytics to see what types of search terms people are using to find you. Many people seem to use Google like a crystal ball, telling it their deepest needs in hopes to find a solution. Here are some actual terms that people used to find this blog:
    search terms
  • Engaging in blog conversations: I’ve found that conversations on blogs follow the same principles as real life. It’s quid pro quo. If you want people to open up and tell you want they really need and want, you need to open up and reveal some personal things about your own struggles. People are more willing to take the conversation to the next level if you make the first move.

Essential Sales Skill #2: Being Sold On The Product You’re Selling

At the insurance company, I was convinced that I was selling the best product on the market. If I wasn’t absolutely convinced of this, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have done very well in sales. This piece of the puzzle is more important than it may initially seem.

There are lots of people selling affiliate products online that they know nothing about. How can you possibly really become great at selling these products if you’re not sold on them yourself? I toyed around with launching an e-commerce store a while back and then quickly ran into a conflict of personal ethics.

I went through all the steps of finding a wholesale distributor, setting up a DBA, and building the e-commerce store. But when it came time to write the product descriptions, I began to feel really uncomfortable with writing great sales copy about products I had no experience with and knew little about.

I wrote about 30 product descriptions before ditching the project. This is not to say that in order to operate an e-commerce store you need to know everything possible about every product! I think what it does mean is that you have to offer the opportunity for buyers to give their feedback on products and then take a critical look at that feedback to ensure that people are actually benefiting from the products you offer.

For me, the process of creating a great e-commerce store would have required more time and energy than I was willing to commit. I thought it could be a good side project, but once I really examined what it would take to make it the most beneficial for customers, I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere.

The next idea I had to solve this dilemma was to create a blog that only featured products that I or the author of the post had used personally. The formula was fewer products/more trust. Michael Martine and I had a great phone conversation about this which turned into a fun brainstorming session about how blogs can be a powerful tool for e-commerce sites.

In that conversation, he said something brilliant: “If you can’t blog it, don’t do it.” That’s because blogs are built on trust and transparency. This serves as a great litmus test for any kind of sales: If you are unwilling to “sell” it with full transparency and honesty, maybe you should consider selling something else.

Action Plan:

  • Instead of trying to find products online to sell that offer the most affiliate fees, ask yourself what products you already have personal experience with. Ask yourself what YOU can teach people based on practices you know work and turn that knowledge into an info-product, application, or physical product.
  • If you’re selling affiliate products, critically review the products you are selling. If you review a product and you don’t like it, the trust you’ll lose by recommending it will cost you far more than the couple bucks you make selling it. In his post “Blogging for Money,” Steve Pavlina talks about how he puts products he’s considering recommending through the ringer to make sure they are great. Because of this, he has built an incredible level of trust among his readers. His blog reportedly earns $40,000 per month in sales.

Essential Sales Skill #3: Make Benefits Personal

You’ve probably heard about the distinction between features and benefits. But benefits need to be taken to a more personal, tailored level in order to be really effective. Many times, the buyer cannot make the connection between a generic benefit and the way in which they could apply that benefit to their life. Because of this, you need to do it for them.

Really figuring out what the benefits are for different types of customers is crucial and can be one of the most time-consuming parts of developing a good sales strategy. For example, a feature might be 24-hour service. Until you apply that to me and my lifestyle, this means squat. However, when you paint a picture describing how I can use this feature, I’m all ears. In the case of auto insurance, 24-hour customer service can be incredibly useful to lots of different people for lots of different reasons.

For a mom, it means that when you finally settle down to manage your bills at the end of the night after the kids go to bed you can call someone and pay your bill or make adjustments to your policy that may save you money. For someone who works late at night, 24-hour service means that if you get into an accident at 11:00 pm on your way home from work, a real person is going to be there to document your claim. If the other person documents the claim first, they may tell a completely different story and put you at fault for an accident where you were actually the victim.

Relating how features provide specific, tailored benefits to individual customers not only helps you make the sale, it keeps them around longer. They aren’t motivated to leave because they are sure that they have the best solution for them. They don’t have that nagging feeling that maybe there is something better out there.

Action Plan:

  • List out all of the features of your product or service. Then create profiles of different types of customers and how these features could be applied to their lives and become benefits. Invesp Blog has a 5-part tutorial called “The complete guide to increasing conversion rates through persona creation” that can give you more insight on this process.
  • Go beyond figuring out how these different “personas” can actually use the product. Dig deep and discover how applying the features can save them money, time, frustration, give them peace of mind, or help them avoid a potentially ugly worst-case-scenario situation. When doing this, be realistic. We’re all smart enough to sense hype a mile away. If you hype something up beyond reason, you’ve instantly created doubt, and then the sale is pretty much over.
  • Paint a picture of exactly what is going to happen when the customer goes to apply this feature. For example, if you’re selling web hosting with 24/7 service to a moonlighting entrepreneur, you need to explain how they can apply the 24/7 service to their life. When they are sitting at their dining room table at 10:00 at night ready to pull their hair out because they can’t upload something to their website, they can call a number and someone will walk them step-by-step through the process. If you make the benefits personal enough, those benefits become far more important than price.

A Free Sales Page Coaching Session

Because I enjoy helping people improve their sales I’m offering a free sales page analysis and coaching session to one reader. The best sales letter candidate will be one that is already receiving a decent amount of traffic or that will be placed on a site that is already generating traffic so that we can see some measurable results. Send me an email with your request and I’ll do the tough part of trying to pick one page to review.

What to expect:

  • I’ll review your sales page
  • We’ll talk by phone or Skype so that I can learn more about your customers and product
  • I’ll suggest ways that you can enhance your sales page
  • You’ll make the changes until we feel that it’s ready
  • You’ll launch your sales page and we’ll measure the results

I’d love to be able to help everyone, but this process takes quite a bit of time! Though I’m getting some fantastic time management coaching from time management coach Dave Navarro I need to be sure that I don’t pack too much into my day that even his hyper-productivity techniques can no longer help me!

If you’re up to it, you can link to your sales page in the comments section and see what advice others can provide in terms of where you may need to clarify your message or handle specific objections.

Share Your Strategies and Sales Challenges

These techniques aren’t by far the only ingredients of a sale. These are just the 3 things that made the most impact on my sales numbers. I haven’t even touched on closing which is what most of the sales trainees I worked with felt the most uncomfortable about (BTW, it really doesn’t need to be). What strategies have you used that have brought you measurable results? What are your biggest challenges with sales?

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