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  • Writer's pictureChris Burand

"To Beat the Devil"

“If you waste your time talking to the people who don’t listen to the things that you are saying, who do you think’s gonna hear?”

This line was written by Kris Kristofferson, one of the great songwriters of the last several generations. I am fairly confident the context in which I hear him sing this song is not the context he intended. I hear it in the context of a consultant’s advice. And I hear that consultant’s advice from two perspectives.

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The first is from the perspective of someone who really wants to help improve the business of everyone in their audience. Kristofferson’s lyrics go on to point out that people say they want to improve their lives, but they really don’t, which is why they don’t listen. But I believe to some extent, this is a two-way street. It is the speaker’s job to sharpen their personal skills so more people listen. I believe it’s a mistake to preach a message and then blame the audience entirely for not listening.

Then they commit sin number two by demanding people change too much. Maybe it’s necessary to change direction severely as if someone is heading west and they absolutely should be heading south, but severe directional changes are expensive monetarily and emotionally, and especially emotionally because that requires admitting the prior direction was entirely wrong (cue the jokes about men not following directions while driving).

Instead, a nudge to be less wrong and a little more right is more practical. People tend to listen more when only a slight directional change is recommended. And the lesser magnitude is likely better advice because huge changes usually possess material unintentional consequences, or collateral damage, that may be worse than if the direction was never changed.

The other context I picture whenever I hear these lyrics is to not waste time selling to people who will not buy from you. This is more of an issue for professional level insurance sales rather than order takers. Order takers see this from a perspective of whether their timing is right, whether predictive buy analytics are working or simply a matter of dialing for dollars. But a professional is in the business of advising clients to buy the right coverages and likely to apply some form of risk management and loss control. They want clients and prospects to listen to their advice because they know their advice will lead to a better outcome for the client. But if the client is not listening to the things you’re saying, what difference do your words make?

A professional’s key to improved hit ratios is to improve your messaging with great care. Practice your pitches. Hone them to the sharpest point possible. And avoid interacting with people who do not want advice, they just want insurance, any insurance at the cheapest price that comes with a certificate of insurance, an evidence of insurance, or an SR-22.

A professional must find an audience that wants better solutions. Then reduce your expectations to understand that you can likely only reach one client at a time, so they had better be big enough accounts to pay your bills.

Prospects willing to listen have a sense of urgency because without urgency, nothing ever changes. Some will have a sense of urgency simply because they’re driven to achieve higher, better, faster levels of whatever they do. Some will have a sense of urgency because they’re scared and want to be proactive. A few will have a sense of urgency because they’re facing serious losses or recently incurred large losses due to their prior life of thinking all insurance was the same. The devil sold them on that thought and they’re now seeing the light.

But just because they’re complaining does not indicate urgency. A line in the song states, “And I’ll guess I’ll die explaining how the things they complain about are the things they could be changing." Some people just like to complain. If you are a professional then, ask yourself if the prospect before you has any sense of urgency to work with a professional. If not, leave.

But this is a two-way street so ask yourself how committed you really are to offering holistic solutions. The frustration of dealing in this industry, where consumers and providers are not generally interested in holistic solutions, requires a solid commitment.

What is your holistic solution? Risk management is often a great holistic solution. In fact, risk management done well is often a better solution than buying insurance. If a business’s risk management is high enough quality, the chances of a claim decrease materially. The lower the probability of a claim, the less important insurance becomes. And then, even if insurance is still required, this kind of company becomes a perfect client for alternative risk solutions such as captives and if you are preaching a holistic solution in this market, then you better be conversant on the subject of alternative markets. Are you committed enough to gain education to this level?

Most business owners have no idea risk management can make such an important difference. They think the best solution is to always get the best premium without any eye toward improving their operations. What happens when they’re offered a far better solution? Some will realize an urgency they did not realize existed.

Another simpler example is to offer clients the coverages they really need. When I write, “offer”, I mean discuss the coverages with them. This takes time, which requires a commitment. Order takers don’t take time to do what is right and a professional must make this distinction clear. Many of the best agents I’ve ever known told prospective clients they did not want to see their existing coverages until much later because they were not there to compete on writing the same inadequate coverage.

Another example is that some people are simply driven to always be better. When a professional presents a superior solution, assuming your presentation is very sharp, you will find ready converts. In a sense, you will find people who have been waiting for a professional agent to find them. They instinctively knew something was missing in their insurance program, but did not know where to find an advisor with a quality strategy. This is sort of like finding a doctor who finally understands the underlying disease and offers a holistic plan versus a doctor who only treats the pain.

Rates are ridiculously high for many insureds today. Some of these rates are deservedly high and some are not, but from an insurance company’s perspective, these risks are all bad risks unless rates are high, and likely need to be higher. The solution is not to always find a lower rate (though this is the solution if the incumbent carrier is raising rates simply to drive business off the books – which some are). Just moving the account to a temporarily lower priced carrier is a temporary solution. The solution is to improve risk profile and if the carrier does not recognize a better risk then, alternative markets are your solution. This article focuses on client messaging, but if underwriters are not going to listen, skip them. Go to other markets where ears are still valuable.

There are two kinds of prospective clients, those ready to hear your message of change and those who are not. Make no mistake, if you are trying to get a new client, you are preaching change to them, because at the least, they must break their existing relationship. If you are talking to someone not wanting to change, you are talking to someone that is not listening. Your best bet is to plant a seed so that when they are ready, they’ll call you. But save time and move on quickly.

Another way of looking at it is if you are spending your time on prospects that will not listen, you are not spending time with prospects that will listen. Beat the devil and spend time honing your message to people largely ready to listen.

The song’s title is “To Beat the Devil”. For our purposes, the title could be, “To Beat the Competitor.” In the song, the singer not only beats the devil, but he drinks the devil’s beer and steals his song. You can beat the competitors by focusing on your competitors’ clients that want professional level advice and solutions.


NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.

None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

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