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Death of A Salesman: Out With Features vs. Benefits And In With Transparency And Trust

“Death of a Salesman,” the critically acclaimed literary work by American playwright Arthur Miller, still strikes a chord with me after all these years. As the play’s main character, Willy Loman, an insecure, self-deluding traveling salesman, says when he reflects upon his life’s work: “… I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ‘Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?”

Willy_LomanI agree with Willy. I have been selling insurance for 27 years and I too have met so many great people and developed wonderful, lasting relationships over the years. They did not start off as such. I had to prove myself, listen to them, and be trustworthy, honest and knowledgeable. I’ve also seen the sales role change quite a bit. Selling is an art and the most successful salespeople know when to stop talking.

Many sales people talk at the client and can’t wait to tell them all there is to know about what makes their particular organization or product the clear choice in a cluttered landscape of perfectly viable options. This is the old “features vs. benefits” conversation. They develop fancy presentations and do most of the talking. The insurance industry is very different today, and with the ever-changing healthcare reform guidelines employers need real answers and solutions. More than anything, they need a trusted advisor. That means you need a different type of salesperson. Actually, a naked one is your best bet!

Now I’m sure you are thinking that you prefer your sales people completely clothed, but let me explain. Patrick Lencioni, author of a book called “Getting Naked,” talks about how being vulnerable and open to all those around you is incredibly powerful, and rewards you with a strength of client loyalty and intimacy that other service providers only dream about. Over the past year, the team here in Connecticut has built our Core Values around this very premise. We are purposeful about not providing the exact “right” answer. The “right” answer often evolves as a result of challenging and candid discussions during the relationship-building process. We are experts in our field but we’re not perfect. That’s why a trusting, transparent relationship is key—and the result is that our clients are raving fans.

Today my role is more consultative than selling. I am not afraid to offer advice or share ideas with a potential client. The reason I have stayed in this role for so many years is that I love meeting people and I enjoy learning about the different businesses that I visit. Each client is different and comes with a unique set of challenges. This enables me to do more than “sell.” It allows me to establish a relationship, get my hands dirty and do whatever it takes to help.  Like Willy Loman, I want to be able to say that I improved the quality of the businesses and the people we serve. Now that’s what I call “Death of a Salesman.”