Prospects don’t reject you, they reject your offer. How can someone reject you that doesn’t know you? Keep that in mind when you hear a “no” from a prospect. They’re turning your offer down, not yourself.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Duford.
David Duford owns DavidDuford.com, a virtual insurance agency helping new and experienced agents nationally become top producers. He is the author of 3 best-selling insurance sales and marketing books, including “The Official Guide To Selling Insurance For New Agents, “The Official Guide To Selling Final Expense Insurance,” and “Interviews With Top Producing Insurance Agents.” David is also a YouTube Influencer in insurance sales with nearly 13,000 subscribers and more than 1.5 million total views.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
Back when I was 21 years old, I started a personal training gym in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2007. Things were going great until the Great Recession hit, shellacking my little business especially hard in 2010.
By 2011, it was obvious that personal training alone wouldn’t take care of my expenses. To make matters worse, no one was hiring. So I did what any desperate person would do — I decided to sell insurance!
In researching the industry, I stumbled across a little-known insurance niche known as the “final expense” market. Basically, insurance agents working in final expense target folks 60 and older to show them ways to pay for funeral-related costs with affordable life insurance.
I liked what I learned. I had already known the Baby Boomer market was poised to grow substantially over the next 30 years. And I knew economic slumps like the Great Recession did not materially change their earnings, as Social Security payments provided income predictability.
So, I jumped in. I got licensed, purchased leads, and got right to work, selling final expense part-time while running my fledgling personal training gym part-time.
For the first 6 months, things were great! So great that I closed the gym to go full-time into final expense.
However, at the 12 month mark, I failed out and went to work for someone else, since I did not follow the sales and marketing fundamentals necessary to succeed.
Thankfully, I restarted my final expense sales business part-time while working full-time for my new employer. And within a year, I kissed my job good-bye, going full-time into final expense sales. And this time I promised myself to stay focused and follow the fundamentals.
That was back in 2013. And since then, I’ve experienced great success helping seniors across the country with their final expense needs, while also building a national agency where I teach my agents how to avoid the pitfalls I experienced early on.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Let me share with you the point when I “emotionally” quit selling final expense, and what I lessons I realized on my failure when re-entering the business.
While I had done great initially, I struggled over the prior 6 months before quitting. My agency was not supporting me. But more importantly, I wasn’t adhering to the system of success that most top producers use to sell a high volume of policies.
On one rough day when nobody was buying, I had one last sales presentation to make. The client asked me to call ahead of time before arriving.
So I made the phone call. Expecting the man listed on the lead to answer, a woman picked up instead. Apparently, this man was her son, and he set the appointment.
I explained to the lady that her son set an appointment with me to discuss life insurance.
Her response, “Oh, that’s okay, honey. You don’t have to come. We just had 2 insurance agents stop by and sell me a policy only a few hours ago.”
I tried talking her into seeing me anyway, but she declined and rudely hung up the phone.
Considering all the frustration I experienced up to that point, I was over it. I had had enough of dealing with rude prospects, trying to sell them something they didn’t want. And I wanted out of the business.
Fast forward a year from that point. I had just quit my job and got back into final expense sales full-time.
Strangely enough, I discovered the same woman who rudely rejected me sent back another request for final expense information.
Instead of calling ahead of time, this time I drove to her house arriving unannounced.
As I exited my car, I spotted the man that originally set the appointment. We started talking about the information card her mother sent in.
With the conversation going well, I told her son, “I actually talked to your Mom last year, and she said she had 2 insurance agents stop in and sell her insurance.”
The son replied, “Nope, that never happened. Mom’s got bad Alzheimer’s and sometimes doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Shortly after, I left, and reflected on what I discovered.
Evoked by so much frustration, I had let a prospect who had no control over her mental condition influence me to the point of quitting the business.
This profound moment in my career helped me realize a few truisms:
- Prospects don’t reject you, they reject your offer. How can someone reject you that doesn’t know you? Keep that in mind when you hear a “no” from a prospect. They’re turning your offer down, not yourself.
- Mindset is key to sales survival. Your mindset is literally the only thing you have control over. You cannot control if your prospects are rude, or don’t buy. However, you can control how you reflect on your adversity, and control the inputs necessary to overcome difficulties.
- You really don’t know anything, therefore you cannot judge. Some salespeople like myself like to overthink their strategy. They prejudge prospects, and decide ahead of time what they’re capable of. The fact I learned this client had Alzheimer’s made me realize that I know nothing based on brief conversation. The only thing I can control is myself and how I react.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At this point in my career, my primary directive is helping insurance agents become top producers.
Most of my time is spent helping as many agents as humanly possible, whether or not they are a part of my organization.
My main strategy in doing this is through YouTube content creation and writing how-to articles on insurance sales and marketing.
For me, this project is on-going, life-long, and more important than anything I do. I have learned the power of giving truly is greater than receiving. Too many insurance agents fail this business too soon, and I don’t want them experiencing what I had to go through.
The more agents I can help, the more will experience a fruitful and lucrative career helping everyday Americans achieve peace of mind through purchasing an insurance policy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am particularly grateful for all the naysayers who thought I should quit my “dream” and get a “real job.”
Their multi-year onslaught of criticism has made me stronger, and without their adversity, I would not be where I am today.
Also, I am thankful for all the “agent killers.”
These are the rude prospects who shoot you down and disrespect you, causing doubt and frustration. These experiences test and develop your character.
Like building muscle, one cannot become stronger without pain.
So, a special “thank you” to all you prospects who shut me down!
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I am an authority on insurance sales because my experience of failure and success resonates with many new and experienced agents.
After reading and watching my content, they realize I am not your typical sales authority that’s “all hat, no cattle.”
I was beaten up and abused just like many of my viewers and readers are. So I come from a place they are very familiar with.
The other reason I’m considered an authority is because I fully believe in the power of giving.
While others hold back on giving information freely to help insurance agents, I give almost every bit of training away to anyone who wants it.
Combined with that, I truly have no expectation of receiving anything in return. My sole concern is helping who needs it.
I believe exuding this philosophy in my market for years as a content producer has positioned myself as a trusted influencer that has a greater mission beyond making money.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Napoleon Hill, one of the most influential self-help authors in our time, said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
There are always opportunities for growth and self-discovery amidst chaos and uncertainty. Look for the good in what our circumstances are providing.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?
Sales is taboo. Hollywood has done a great job with movies like The Wolf Of Wall Street in reinforcing the negative image of salespeople.
You can’t blame the general resistance against salespeople when the only reinforcement you receive is negative.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
As in all things in life, context matters.
I think it’s quite OK to be pushy in the right circumstances.
I teach agents the concept of building internal tension in the prospect instead of applying external pressure.
External pressure is what your pushy salespeople do. They badger and guilt prospects to buy, typically for the salesperson’s best interest (they want a commission), not for the client’s best interest.
However, applying internal tension is entirely different, client-focused, and ultimately a win-win sales technique.
When the salesperson can build urgency to buy through connecting how buying solves the prospect’s problem, you are building internal tension.
For example, in a sales presentation with a life insurance prospect, I teach agents to ask a series of open-ended questions. These questions are designed to gather facts and emotions related to passing away.
In our sales presentations, our prospects regularly share personal stories about how loved ones passed away without life insurance, describing how financially devastating it was for the family. Further, the prospect volunteers that she doesn’t want to burden her survivors in the same way.
At the time of asking for the sale, we gently remind our prospects of what they admitted to us, and why buying today is the only way to get the peace of mind they truly want.
This is a prime example of building internal tension in a way that’s persuasive without being pushy.
The agent is connecting what the client values — peace of mind and freeing loved ones from financial burden — with buying a policy today.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
In the insurance sales business, there are only 3 things agents need to do to succeed. They are:
- See the people,
- See the people, and
- See the people!
Because so much of our success is based on completing presentations, effective prospecting and the ability to scale it is one stage I am well versed in.
For example, I recruited a 20-year named Ryan old out of North Carolina to join my agency. He was new to insurance sales.
I advised Ryan to generate leads from direct mail prospecting, which happens to be the core lead generation strategy in our business model.
He started with 10 leads a week, working part-time. Ryan would make a sale here and there for the first 6 months.
Over time, he grew unhappy with his income. He knew he could sell and get results. But on 10 leads per week lead flow, there was no way to leverage his conversion percentages to increase his income any higher.
My suggestion to him was to first scale his leads to 30 per week. Ryan did, and his income scaled alongside his lead generation.
Getting excited at his results, Ryan asked me about the idea of scaling more. I encouraged him to jump to 40 leads weekly, and planted the idea of scaling all the way to 80 leads weekly.
Ryan took my recommendation and made it happen. At the end of 2019, Ryan had closed more than 800 final expense policies, and had a personal production greater than 99% of the entire final expense business. All at 22 years old!
That’s the power of leveraging an effective prospecting strategy in this business, and I work hard to teach my agents how to do this.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Despite how technology has upended so many industries, selling insurance remains an “old fashioned” type of business. And that extends into how we generate qualified leads.
For example, the best qualified lead an agent can work is a direct mail business reply card.
This is a lead that explains what the product is about. If interested, the recipient fills out the card with her contact information, and mails it back.
The “magic power” of direct mail leads is the level of engagement the client has in requesting the information.
Two reasons why:
- Our prospects are handwriting out a request for more information. Writing something down by hand involves much more than pointing and clicking. This increases recall rates when we call or drop by unannounced for an appointment.
- This is really important! No one is forcing the client to fill out the card, or making it easy to return. At any point, the prospect can throw away the lead card. However, if the response has made it back to us, that’s a strong sign that there is sincere interest in our product and what we do.
Lastly, speaking of “qualified” leads, a qualified lead in our business is defined as a lead that allows us to present to them.
What we have discovered is that many prospects are unaware of their need for life insurance. They may have less coverage than they need, or the wrong type of coverage for their goals.
Because of the prospect’s lack of understanding, I teach agents to not only utilize direct mail lead generation for qualified leads, but to set “blind appointments,” using the presentation to truly determine if the prospect is qualified or not.
Because of this, my agents make many sales where the client thought she had adequate coverage, but really didn’t.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Objection-handling is difficult because it feels confrontational. And most people aren’t comfortable being confrontational.
How I address objection-handling is to bring up potential objections early in the presentation.
I believe every skilled sales rep should list the 5 most common objections they receive, and weave them into their sales presentation early on to qualify their level of interest.
In insurance sales, the 5 biggest objections we hear are:
- It’s too expensive.
- It’s not enough coverage.
- I need to think about it.
- You can’t draft my account.
- I already own life insurance.
I teach my agents to address these objections early as they pre-qualify the prospect’s level of interest.
Doing so greatly reduces the stress level, both on the prospect and agent.
Plus, it allows the agent to end the presentation sooner if he discovers the prospect is not qualified, thus freeing up more time to find a qualified prospect instead.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
We believe closing is the least important component of the sale.
In fact, closing a sale should be relatively simple and stress-free, assuming the agent has done his job qualifying the prospect.
Here’s a list of how we make closing simple and easy:
- Confirm budget early in the sales call. In our presentation, the prospect agrees early on to a monthly budget to apply towards her life insurance premium. That way, when it comes time to ask for the sale, there’s virtually zero price resistance.
- Simplify the offer. I recommend 2 or 3 different options within the prospect’s budget. More options means more confusion, and confused prospects don’t buy. So keep it simple!
- Use the words “recommend” and “most popular.” The agent making a recommendation gives your closing statement an air of authority, much like a doctor or lawyer making a recommendation to his client. Also, suggesting which option is most popular inserts 3rd party peer group validation, which instills confidence in prospects in picking one option over another.
- Explain why you make your recommendation. I want my agents to facilitate understanding and context to their prospects. We need our prospects to understand why we are making our recommendation. The more clarity you can provide prospects, the more confidence you build in them to take action on your recommendation.
- Qualify common objections early in the sales call. If you don’t want objections, have a conversation up front about potential objections. Think of your 5 most common objections, and figure out how to talk about them early in the sales call. If you qualify objections this way, you won’t hear them at the time of closing.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
In our business model, we teach a one-call close strategy, so following up to acquire the sale does not make sense for our agents.
Our final expense life insurance product is simple enough for our clients to understand that there is no need for multiple sales calls to close the deal.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
In-person is the ideal form of closing a deal.
First, a face-to-face presentation facilitates more trust and better communication than any other form of communication.
And since people buy from who they know, like, and trust, we want to leverage what gives agents the best results.
For example, a face-to-face presentation allows us to build better rapport, pre-qualify deeper, present how our product is superior to the competition, and more confidently ask for the sale when the time is right.
Other forms of selling — over the phone, video calls, or digital forms of communication — are either too cumbersome for our mostly senior citizen pool of prospects, or are too easy for our prospects to end.
It’s a little harder to get rid of someone who is in your home!
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would teach those of us most blessed with resources and success about the power of giving and how it affects your life in ways that cannot be described.
I think those of us who have achieved success have a moral obligation to help our fellow man, especially those down on their luck in life.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website, www.DavidDuford.com.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!