An adviser can offer the best benefits plan in the world, but if he can’t get employers to buy into it, he will get nowhere.

Successful selling is the heart and soul of the benefits business and success in sales starts with recognizing that selling is multi-faceted, involving a series of interrelated tasks that propels a salesperson towards the ultimate goal: closing benefit sales. With that in mind, here are 7 recommendations for where to focus your sales energies:

John Graham

1. Market yourself to your customers. The sales mentality puts a premium on “getting in front of customer.” That made sense in the past, but it’s increasingly difficult to do it today, no matter how hard you try.

Here’s why: We teach kids never to open the front door unless they know who is on the other side. It’s the same in sales; prospects must “know” you before they’ll “open the door.” So, invest in communicating your message, so they’ll get to know you before you “knock.”

2. Support your customers. It is universally recognized that customers want someone they can count on if they need assistance. The smart salesperson recognizes this as an opportunity to engage with customers and demonstrate their expertise, rather than an irritating burden.

Giving customers personal support has two important benefits: It fosters greater customer retention and it gets you referrals.

3. Make life easier for your customers. It’s what they want and expect, but don’t often get.

At midnight late last December, The Boston Globe changed delivery partners, an event that became a horror story for tens of thousands of customers who didn’t get the paper for weeks on end. Then the Globe apologized and offered a DIY alternative to long phone wait lines for reporting late or missed deliveries. Customers could call an 800 number and go through seven separate steps! If that didn’t work, there was another 800 number to speak with a live person . . . in the Philippines.

There’s a critical lesson in all this: Customer relationships are incredibly valuable but extremely fragile. They may take years to build, but only seconds to destroy. The smart salesperson does everything he or she can to make life easier for their customers.

4. Educate your customers. Since salespeople tend to be good observers, they easily spot their customers’ blind spots. But no one wants to hear about them, and salespeople don’t want to be bearers of bad news.

Provide good news instead. Forward your clients reports, articles and studies that speak to the issues you’ve spotted. Your customers will thank you and be the better off for it.

5. Make certain your customers understand you. Assuming that customers and prospects understand your message is the worst mistake a salesperson can make. The second worst mistake is to assume that if someone doesn’t understand, he’ll speak up.

Here are 4 ways to make sure that customers get what you’re saying:

  • Use short words and sentences, and avoid jargon
  • Clarify your points by expressing them in more than one way
  • Summarize your first message before moving on to the second.
  • Ensure that you’ve been understood by asking appropriate questions

6. Make yourself desirable to your customers. Customers should want to buy from you, and not just what you’re selling. These are the customers who will follow you, even if you change carriers, and who will overlook minor mistakes, because of the major value you provide.

7. Take charge of your customer follow up. It’s so easy to hand off customer follow-ups to your support team, but the “voice” changes and what occurs becomes impersonal and distant. And your customers, of course, know exactly what’s going on.

These are your customers; you know how they think and what they expect. Abdicating responsibility for the ongoing relationship may save a salesperson time and be ‘penny-wise,’ but it is usually ‘pound-foolish.’

Another wise saying to keep in mind is ‘the customer comes first.’ More often than not, that begins with the salesperson.

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