Operating on the strength of an innovative and proven cost-mitigation strategy, one adviser recently secured an appointment with the senior vice president for HR at a Fortune 500 company. Meeting with this HR executive, Craig Lack, of benefit advisory firm ENERGI, first suggested that his solution was not the right fit for every company, and might not be a fit for hers — classic takeaway selling.

Pointing out that the only way to determine if the solution was a good fit was for him to learn more about the company’s benefit plan and spend, Lack requested permission to ask some questions. For the next 45 minutes, she answered his strategic questions about pain points around the benefit plan. Once the prospect confirmed her problems, Lack was able to demonstrate exactly how his solution could save her firm many millions of dollars in benefit spend without changing anything about their benefit plan.

Nelson Griswold

[Hear Lack discuss this powerful cost-mitigation strategy during our keynote panel, “Bending the Insurance Cost Curve,” at Workplace Benefits Mania in Las Vegas, July 18-20.]

Lack’s masterful control of the sales process was possible only because he used a consultative approach, playing the role of consultant working to diagnose her problems in order to identify one or more that he can help her solve. I used the word “diagnose” intentionally because a strong consultant operates, in many ways, like a doctor.

In Advisory Selling, our proprietary consultative selling system for benefit advisers, we identify four discrete steps to a consultative sale that correspond to the steps a doctor takes with a patient.


Four stages of advisory selling

1) Exploration. This is the initial conversation. Explore the opportunity to bring value. Is there reason to take the next step? If “yes,” move to the next step. For a physician, this is known as the intake process. Does this patient even need to be here? Is there really a problem? Is it one this doctor treats?

2) Evaluation of problems and cost. Identify pain points and assign cost to inaction or wrong action; how we can work together. If “yes,” move to the next step. For a physician, this is the time of diagnosis. He or she will identify or confirm a patient’s problem(s) and discuss consequences if left untreated or treated improperly.

3) Education. Provide your solution and value. Demonstrate how your solution solves the prospect’s problem; why it works for them; quantitative and qualitative value; social proof. If “yes,” move to the next step. A physician would call this a treatment plan, propose and explain treatment; offer a prognosis based on treatment; explain the likelihood of success based on others’ experiences (patients & clinical trials).

4) Engagement. Explain the terms and conditions — each party’s respective roles; course(s) of action; signed agreement (ideally multi-year). For a physician, this part includes scheduling a follow-up visit or setting a date for a surgery, procedure, etc.; paperwork, financial arrangements, etc.

But here’s the key point. Once a doctor diagnoses a problem, does she ask your opinion? Does she ask if you think you should get the MRI? No, the doctor asserts her expertise and authority and tells — recommends, at least — you to get the test. So take a note from the doctor and don’t ask, tell your client — prescribe — how they solve their problem. That’s your job; like the doctor, you’re the expert.

And think about this: How many appointments will the doctor give a patient to discuss the same problem over and over? Using Advisory Selling or another consultative selling system, you control the sale, manage the discussion, learn what you need to know, and move the prospect quickly through the process to a decision — and usually a sale. Become consultative and take control of the sale and shorten the sales cycle.

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