classroom-low-res-300x200The stage was set. At least a hundred prospects gathered to hear the story. Many had driven 2 hours or more. Almost all of them brought their financial team with them. The presenter started and things went smoothly. She gave a lovely, scripted description of the features and benefits of her product. Her cadence was steady and her words flowed easily with no hesitation or pauses looking for the right words. She had clearly delivered this message before. Near the end of the presentation, she asked for any questions from her audience. A couple of easy ones were thrown to her; essentially repeats of information she had already shared. Then it happened. Someone asked something off of the script and the presenter went into spin mode. She blathered on in a circle until enough time had passed and the original question was forgotten. What happened?

This presentation was actually at a college campus. The room was full of prospective students (and their parents) and everything went well when the message was broad, university focused and impersonal. The breakdown occurred when someone asked the presenter something less generic and far more specific to his particular situation. A little later, my son and I approached some student ambassadors with a few questions. They were doing well until the original presenter (a manager from the Admissions Office) stepped-in to give the “correct” answer. I realized that she was quite good at giving the talking points but failed entirely with questions that were not mass market. Quite simply, she couldn’t personalize her story enough to sell (or didn’t care to try).

At some point, the message has to become personal. If we want a person to act upon the information we are sharing, we have to tailor our communication to their needs. That is the art of selling. I was told that this particular university fills rooms like this five days a week. What an opportunity! I would be delighted to have five hundred interested prospects coming to my office every week to hear more about my products! Of course, the university may not have to be as crisp as you or I because there are many factors involved. As I considered my impressions after this interaction, I realized that there were a few takeaways for those of us trying to grow our businesses:

  1. Be Authentic. The student ambassadors answered questions from the heart. If they didn’t know something, they said so. Their responses held the sincerity of someone who actually cared about answering your questions. I read once that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Start there.
  2. Empathize. The admissions person didn’t take the time to understand our particular concerns and it came through loudly. When we asked about transportation and some unique challenges because of the distance from our home, she repeated the standard response: freshman can’t have cars, we have ride shares, a shuttle runs north. She never really empathized with our particular challenges and made little effort to help us resolve them.
  3. Be Creative. The standard solution doesn’t fit our needs, now what? When you get stuck on what you offer, you forget to think about what someone else needs. In big organizations, this can become systemic because you have so many departments engaging in “business prevention” – enforcing rules that are designed to protect the organization. Risk management is very important, but those acting as ambassadors to the outside world must find a way to balance the protective rigidness with solving the customer’s problems.
  4. Focus Less on the Script and More on the Relationship. When delivering a message to a big audience, it is easy to lose sight of individual relationships. However, to close the deal, it has to get personal. Once you move beyond the crowd, you’ve got to shift into one-to-one selling and go off-script. The admissions manager did great with the script, however, her student ambassadors were much more effective one-on-one.
  5. Start With Why. I just finished Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why and am still digesting his broader model and its possible implications. However, I think his core question of “Why?” is very effective from a one-to-one selling perspective. Why were we in that room to hear the university story? Why were we at that particular university? Had the admissions person spent a few minutes trying to understand our “Why”, it would have made her responses much more effective. For those of us trying to build our business this is even more critical. When you have an opportunity to tell your story to a prospect, understanding “why” relative to their needs is absolutely critical. If you honestly address their “why”, you have found a true win-win situation.

As for our trip to this university, the nuances above went unnoticed by my son and I suspect he will chose this particular university due to a number of other wonderful aspects. The product of this university ultimately outweighed any one individual. For you and I, it is likely that our prospects will not be so forgiving.

Schedule a free claims analysis now.

Let’s Talk now


Betsy Bigler | Mar 7th, 2024
INDIANAPOLIS, March 7, 2024 – Northwind has announced the addition of Tony Purkey as Senior Vice President, Client Strategies. “Demand from our self-funded employer and union clients is driving rapid growth,” said Phillip Berry, CEO. “Tony Purkey joins Northwind at a time when we need high-integrity leaders with expert knowledge in employer-sponsored health and the … more »

continue reading

Voices Lost in the Noise

Phillip Berry | Jan 31st, 2024
In the health benefits world, the mad scramble toward January renewals/starts has subsided and attention has turned to the annual cycle of review necessary to gauge progress. How did we do? The plan review process generally centers on analytics to gauge progress or regress and to identify “areas of opportunity.” Good. The right data with … more »

continue reading