pepperAre we listening to our clients’ needs?

This past Saturday, I stopped by our local sub shop around noon to pick up a couple of sandwiches to take home for lunch. Being a typical fall Saturday, the little shop’s business was booming with soccer moms, football dads and children of all ages still dressed in their teams’ brightly colored uniforms. After standing in line for about fifteen minutes, I stepped up to give my order to the young man behind the counter who was struggling a bit to keep up with the lunch crowd.

“What would you like?” he said as he placed lettuce on the subs ordered by the gentleman in front of me.

“I’ll have two club subs on Italian, Mike’s way,” I said, specifying the grouping of toppings I wanted. “No vinegar on the first and jalapeños on the second.”

The young man never looked up as he confirmed my order with a “yes, sir” and continued to build the two subs ahead of mine.

After scooting the rolls for my subs into position, he immediately shook vinegar onto one and then started to shake it onto the second.

“Whoa,” I said quickly, “no vinegar on that one.”

He stopped just in time and, smiling, moved on to the lettuce and tomato. When the subs were almost finished, he put mayo on the top bun, added a slice of bacon to each and began to put jalapeños on the sub with no vinegar.

“No vinegar on the first, jalapeños on the other,” I restated with a smile.

Instead of just moving the jalapeños to the one with vinegar, he grabbed the vinegar bottle and, before I could get “whoa” out of my mouth a second time, began dowsing the second sandwich with vinegar.

“Sir, my wife doesn’t like vinegar on her sub,” I said with another smile.

He looked up with a bit of a smirk, picked up each sub and, with his knife, raked the toppings into the trash can. “OK,” he said, obviously frustrated, “tell me what you want on each sub again,” I told him again, and he went on to build the two subs to perfection this time.

Why did he get it right on the second go-round? Because he actually listened and, more important, took the time to comprehend what my needs were. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with my job as an insurance agent?” Well, as performance-based professionals—i.e., agents on commission—we can learn a lot from the experience I had at the deli on Saturday. How many times do we have a client sitting right there in front of us, ready to buy what we’re selling, and we don’t truly listen or comprehend what they’re saying their needs are?

I know I’ve been guilty of it. I think sometimes we get so engrossed in our sales presentation or so involved in trying to make a great impression that we talk too much and don’t listen nearly enough. Many times the needs of the client are overlooked and in some cases downright ignored.

Think about it. How many of you have had clients who you knew were “red hot to buy” sitting right there in front of you, and by the time you finished your presentation, they were either so confused or so worn out that they’d “cooled off” to the point that you weren’t able to close the sale?

Sometimes they might even feel as if they can’t get a word in edgewise. Have you ever had a client stop you in midsentence with a “whoa” and ask you a specific question about a certain type of product, maybe one that wasn’t in your sales presentation? And out of stubbornness or habit or maybe even arrogance, you ignored the question and forged ahead with your canned statement and preconceived notions about the client’s needs. We’ve all done it at one time or another.

Yes, performance-based financial-service professionals can learn a lot of lessons from my visit to the local deli. Lessons that will help us to become more in tune with our clients’ needs and ultimately close more sales. Above all, we need to listen to our clients. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you shouldn’t use a prepared presentation. Being prepared and knowing what you want to present is great. It demonstrates professionalism and a businesslike operating procedure. But when clients ask for “no vinegar on the first, jalapeños on the other,” it will benefit you not only to listen but to try to comprehend their needs and diligently work to meet their wishes.

As we take a look at our methods of doing business as multi-line insurance agents, maybe we should consider raking off all the toppings of our one-sided sales pitch. You know, the one where we do all the talking and the client is forced to do all the listening. Maybe it’s time we start building ourselves a new, more client-interactive sales presentation, one where our client is actually the focus. One that includes true two-way conversation with our clients and forces us to get into the habit of listening to and comprehending our client’s needs.

Once the young man behind the counter listened to and understood my simple request, he was able to meet my needs exactly. Let’s take some time this week, to really listen to, focus on and comprehend the needs of our clients. Let’s spend a little less time talking and a little more time listening to what our clients are trying to tell us. I promise that if you make this extra effort to listen, not only will you close more sales but you’ll also have much happier clients.

Robert Luckadoo, CLU, LUTCF is a corporate estate planning specialist with Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company. He is also an author, trainer and motivational speaker. His book, Grit in Your Craw: The 8 Strengths You Need to Succeed in Business and Life, will be released in January 2015.