To be successful in sales, you’ve got to master the art of the qualified introduction. Ninety percent of your satisfied clients would be willing to make an introduction, but only 10 percent are ever asked. You’ve got to know when and how to ask. We’ve flat-out mastered it. Take Lincoln Level Advantage, our company’s indexed variable annuity that helps customers find upside potential while protecting themselves on the downside. In just three years, it became the fastest growing annuity on the market. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we purposely set forth on a mission to be number one and we achieved it.
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 Tim Seifert, senior vice president and head of annuity sales at Lincoln Financial Group.
Tim Seifert serves as Senior Vice President and Head of Annuity Sales for Lincoln Financial Distributors, the wholesaling distribution organization for Lincoln Financial Group, a Fortune 250 company that distributes annuities, life insurance, long-term care, and retirement plan services products. Seifert has over 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, bringing with him a long-standing passion for training and development to help further excellence in the sales profession.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am running a program at Lincoln that is aimed at making our salespeople the very best at their profession in this now all-virtual environment. It’s called The Virtual Virtuoso. In sales, relationships are extraordinarily important. Typically, you build those relationships belly-to-belly, kneecap-to-kneecap, but over the past year, we’ve had to figure out how to build and maintain relationships virtually. Our ultimate goal is to be the best in the industry when it comes to our virtual presence. At Lincoln, we’re already seeing great success through this program, in less than a year since its launch.
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?
Without a doubt, my mom. I’m so proud to be called a mama’s boy. She was a critical care nurse for years. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would learn so much that’s relevant to a sales career from a registered nurse. The patients in her care would wake up in the morning looking for a miracle and my mom always said she wanted to be their miracle. Now, sales is not a life or death situation, but if you understand that we’re here to serve with the products and services we offer — that’s what I believe we do. At Lincoln, we help people retire with dignity. That’s a very meaningful thing.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
I’m not afraid to fail. Anybody who’s successful in life has three things in common — they have relationships, they build teams and they build resiliency into their lives. They fail and they pick themselves up and go forward and they get knocked down again and pick themselves up and go forward again. Along the way, they gain experience and wisdom. This is an essential mindset to have in the field of sales, and I developed this understanding early on in my career. The sooner others can learn that to succeed in sales you must not be afraid to fail, the better off your career will be long-term.
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?
When people are hurting, they want to be heard. It’s incumbent upon us not only to invite them to share their concerns, but to practice empathetic listening — asking direct questions and really hearing what they are saying. For those of us in sales, this should be easy because empathetic listening is a key skill set. Before you sell anything, you need to understand the client’s needs and wants and challenges. You gain that understanding through asking the right questions and listening to what they have to say. That same skill set applies here.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, 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?
I disagree. For a well-trained professional salesperson, it starts with values. We value people and we value adding value to their lives. A good salesperson asks great questions around people’s needs, wants, desires and fears and values the client as a person. Sales is a noble profession. We’re not being pushy. We’re helping people and bringing good to the world.
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?
I’m good at every single one of those. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s actually really hard. But the top salespeople embrace what’s difficult and are willing to put in the work and do what others won’t. In my mind, there are two “secret sauces” — practice and commitment. It’s hours and hours and hours of practice. It’s like star athletes who hit the gym at 4:30 in the morning. When everyone else is sleeping or partying, they are working. If you want to be the GOAT of sales, you’ve got to put in the work.
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?
To be successful in sales, you’ve got to master the art of the qualified introduction. Ninety percent of your satisfied clients would be willing to make an introduction, but only 10 percent are ever asked. You’ve got to know when and how to ask. We’ve flat-out mastered it. Take Lincoln Level Advantage, our company’s indexed variable annuity that helps customers find upside potential while protecting themselves on the downside. In just three years, it became the fastest-growing annuity on the market. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we purposely set forth on a mission to be number one and we achieved it.
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’?
Handling objections isn’t difficult when you know what the objections are going to be. We spend all kinds of time in preparation and with study groups to identify objections and determine how to handle them. When we’re about ready to roll out a product, we ask several key questions — who is the client, what is their problem, how by positioning this product do we solve for the problem? What are going to be the objections? What don’t they understand? When you get out in the field, you’ll hear some objections you’ve never heard before. You’ve got to get those objections back to your sales leaders as quickly as possible, so they can work through them.
‘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.
- Set the agenda for each meeting based on what the client tells you they want to accomplish in your time together.
- Ask great questions and strive to be the best listener.
- Repeat what you heard to make sure you truly understand the client.
- Make a recommendation based on what you’ve learned.
- Employ the W’s — who does what by when with the help of whom — to ensure follow-through.
If you follow this process, you won’t come across as pushy and your closing ratio will increase by 30 or 40 percent.
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?
At Lincoln, we don’t follow up. We follow through to get to either ‘yes, this makes a lot of sense for my family and me’ or ‘no, it doesn’t make sense for us.’ Either you close the sale or you advance the sale, but you’ve got to follow through.
How can our readers follow you online?
I enjoy staying active, making connections and building relationships on LinkedIN. I make a point of following up and responding to anyone who reaches out to me. I also contribute regularly to Lincoln’s blog for advisors, “The Informed Financial Professional.”
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!