October 5, 2019 by Adam Malik, Managing Editor
It’s a challenge familiar to most brokers: Ten producers each make a sales pitch to one prospective client. Which pitch will the client choose?
Welcome to the competitive, dog-eat-dog world of sales – only this time, the stakes are different. Brokers are playing for pride at the Pitch to Win competition held in June by the Young Brokers Conference (YBC), hosted by the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO).
In the Pitch to Win event, 20 teams of brokers were given the mission of winning over a client with a business pitch. Teams were split up between commercial and personal coverage lines. Ten commercial lines teams were given a scenario in which they had to update the current policy of a commercial operation. Ten personal lines teams had to update a homeowner policy.
Armed with some additional details about their clients’ needs and wants, teams of relative strangers were put together to come up with the best way to pitch a package that would suit the needs of the prospective client.
The mission wasn’t about coming up with the best product offering. The goal for each team was to deliver the best pitch during a five-minute presentation window.
In other words, it was more about style — the art of the pitch — than substance.
“A big thing that I try to do in my regular business, and it really hit home here, is trying to not make it about insurance,” said Scott Sleightholm of Kenny Insurance Brokers in London, Ont., who was on the winning commercial lines team. “Yes, you’re selling insurance, but learn about their business. We talked to her. We asked questions. What are her needs? What are her wants? What keeps her up at night? So, really, speak to the client. Don’t just ramble off technical terms and coverages and numbers.”
Although numbers, coverages and the like are all important, said teammate Mike Shepherd of Will Marshall Insurance Brokers in Barrie, Ont., it’s not what the client wants in the end. They want to make sure you’re taking care of their business needs.
The winning personal lines team took a similar approach. During their presentation, they didn’t mention the cost of the coverage they offered.
“We stayed focused on our understanding of her family’s needs,” said Thomas Watson, Jr. of Guardsman Insurance Services based in Kanata, Ont. “We did a lot of, ‘When we [first] talked to you, you mentioned that this was important to you,’ and, “Here is our solution to make sure, should something happen, you can pick up and carry on.’”
Teammate Alex Varney of TW Insurance Brokers in Waterloo, Ont., noted that they were told that price didn’t matter to the prospective client. Knowing that, the team emailed the full proposal, price included, to the prospective client before the five-minute meeting – the only team to do so. The purpose of their pitch was to show that they were experts in the coverage areas she wanted.
They also took the unique approach of bringing all five members of the team into their final pitch. Most other teams only brought two members to the table.
“Rather than trying to have one or two of us speak to everything, we each picked a portion that we had a lot of expertise in and drilled down into that ourselves,” Watson, Jr. explained.
Varney handled the pitch’s intro and wrap-up, while the other team members – Paul Stewart of Cambrian Insurance Brokers, Lindsay Carder of Joslin Insurance, Thomas Watson of Guardsman Insurance Services, and Rebecca Grech of McConville Omni Insurance Brokers – handled the specific coverage areas of property, auto, marine, and umbrella.
“It was really highlighting that it was a team approach and that our approach was based on her family, not based on the product,” Watson, Jr. said.
Showing expertise in an area is one thing, it’s another to avoid talking over the client. This was the focus of the winning team in commercial lines, which included Harrison Bateman of Smith Williams & Bateman Insurance Brokers, Michelle Moore of Acumen Insurance Group, Joanna Mendonca of Staebler, and Jessica Schiepan of McFarlan Rowlands Insurance Brokers.
“That’s the finesse, that’s the balance,” Shepherd said. “You have to let clients know that you know what you’re talking about, but you don’t want to bog them down with the technical jargon. [Our prospective client] was saying, ‘Your job as an insurance expert is to do the insurance. I don’t want you to teach me how to be an insurance broker. I want you to be my insurance broker.’”
For Sleightholm, the competition reinforced an old lesson: keep it simple. He was careful to describe everything using laymen’s terms. “I know it sounds like a broken record, but you can spew out ‘privacy liability, first party, third party, defence costs, mitigation,’” he said. “Just break it down. You want to be protected? This is how you’re going to be protected.”
What makes for a good sales pitch? Preparation. Take off your broker hat and read your pitch as if you don’t understand insurance, Sleightholm advised. Would an industry outsider be able to keep up? “I do that all the time,” Shepherd added. “I bounce things off family and friends. I say, ‘This is how I’d like to say it. Do you understand what I’m saying?’”
The personal lines team used what Varney called “a tried-and-tested approach.” Instead of figuring out the details of the pitch right off the bat, they planned out the framework of their presentation. “We decided the way our presentation would look before we figured out what we were going to talk about,” Watson, Jr. said. “We determined how we were going to introduce things, and then what the basic flow would be before we even started looking at the coverages and solutions.”
It helped keep them on task. “We had an hour and 15 minutes to put together a fairly complex proposal. By knowing what we were trying to do, and who was responsible for what portions before we began, it really helped us streamline things rather than trying to have one or two people talking to every point,” he added. “Each of us were able to take a portion of the presentation and work on that, to make sure that each portion covered everything we could think of.”
Working with brokers they had just met helped to kick the winning commercial brokers out of their routine.
“We get into our everyday life, the mundane day-after-day, going through the motions without thinking about it – sell this, sell that, quote this, quote that,” Sleightholm said. “So, it’s nice for the YBC to take that step back, take that refresh of what we should be doing or those simple things you forgot about.”
It also reinforced the fact that clients are probably hearing about the same options from other brokers. It was a lesson in making yourself stand out. “It was nice to see the different ways to do the same thing,” Shepherd said. “Everyone had their own spin to it, and you can take it back to the real world when you’re pitching to your clients.”
So, what’s the most important part of a pitch? Knowing what your client is looking for and tailoring your approach accordingly.
“Don’t answer questions they haven’t asked, and don’t suggest things that you already know they’re not inclined to want,” Watson, Jr. said. “That’s the cool thing about being a broker. Our job is to look after our clients’ needs. If you are doing your job correctly, your clients are going to identify 90% of their needs for you.”
Each winning team took home a prize of $2,500.