It’s becoming harder for producers to differentiate themselves in today’s competitive market. All marketing organizations and producers are looking for the same thing: what can I bring to the table that will give me an edge?

Previously, producers could differentiate themselves by offering a unique product. Then came the wave of multiple carrier affiliations which leveled the playing field because all producers had access to the same types of products. Then producers looked to separate themselves by offering excellent service. But customers now demand that…so what’s next?

Form relationships

All things being equal (features, price, service, etc.), the way to stand out is by forming better relationships with your customers. For example, think of the last question a customer asked you. Now imagine if your best friend asked you that same question when they were over at your house. Your answers would likely be quite different because you have a more complete picture of your friend and a vested interest in their well-being. Forming a relationship with each of your customers allows for an increased level of consideration that will help you to distinguish yourself.

Joe Calloway has written an excellent book on exactly this topic called Becoming a Category of One. He lays out three rules that all “Category of One” organizations follow:

  1. Know more about the customer than anyone else does.
  2. Get closer to the customer than anyone else.
  3. Emotionally connect with the customer better than anyone else.

If you can excel at these rules, you will move from being an “insurance salesperson” to a “trusted advisor.” This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to magically sell to anyone — some you’ll win, some you’ll lose. But truly exemplifying these rules will help you with those customers in the middle.

Think of it as giving you the tie-breaker.

How do you start?

1. Don’t treat your customers like your best friend, just be their friend.
We don’t give much credence to a car salesperson calling us “buddy” and promising a good deal because we know they’ll say anything to win our business. Consumers have become experts at sniffing out insincerity. Be sure you’re taking an interest in your customer because it’s important to you.

2. Learn more about them by asking questions informally.
When you meet with a new or existing customer, instead of asking them if you can get something to drink for him or her, ask them to walk with you to the vending machine. On the way, you’ll naturally strike up a conversation about something other than insurance. After your meeting, write down details that you learned about them to help commit them to memory. Imagine their reaction at the next meeting when you give him or her the Bruce Springsteen article you stumbled across because he or she mentioned seeing “The Boss” in concert.

When you get to the business part of your meeting, let the customer control the process.

If they’re coming in with concerns on their mind (fears of financial reps with golden parachutes, questions about policies suggested by neighbors, specific need for coverage), they won’t be able to accept anything you have to say until those concerns are addressed. So start by asking, “Bob, what’s on your mind today?”

Allowing your customer to control the process will also help you learn more about them and will reinforce your desire to do what’s best for them, rather than driving your own agenda.

In his book, Calloway offers an example of a car salesperson greeting a customer by saying: “How can I help you? Do you want me to tell you about the features of our best-selling cars? Would you like me to follow you around so you can ask questions about specific cars? If you want to test drive, I can go with you and tell you more about the car or let you take it for a spin on your own. What suits you best?” Find your equivalent to this.

For a customer you already have a good relationship with, ask them to bring all of their financial information to your office, then help them fill out the Facts of Your Life brochure [link to fillable version]. But start before they get to your office by entering the things you already know. As you’re filling in the blanks, they’ll discover the holes in their investment portfolio and naturally start asking questions about how to better protect themselves.

All of these examples prove your commitment to their needs supersedes your need for their business, but the may not fit your style. Find other ways to improve your relationships that better suit you.

Here’s why it will work

Consumers think they use logic to make their decisions…they don’t. They actually make decisions based on emotion and “what feels right.” Buying an economical or hybrid car may be the logical choice in a personal automobile, but the desire for luxury and status compels us to pick something else. Someone has to interrupt this process to change their behavior.

This is especially true for people buying life insurance because it’s a topic they know very little about and, in fact, don’t care to learn more. When a person they trust says a certain route is best, they believe it and decide that’s what’s best for them too. If you know your customers well, you can be the voice that influences these decisions.

Bottom line: We are influenced by those we trust. The less we know about something, the more we rely on that trust. To differentiate yourself from your competitors, you must transcend the agent/customer dynamic and find ways to forge a trust-based relationship.