Ben Feldman was a short, stout and painfully shy man. He spoke with a lisp and lived in East Liverpool, Ohio – population 13,000.
He was also the greatest insurance salesperson of all time.
Feldman holds the world record for the most products sold (by value) in a career: $1.8 billion dollars of coverage. He was also the first to sell $100 million in a year.
Near the end of his career in the early 1990s, his annual commission totals were over $1 million per year — and he did this without travelling farther than 60 miles from his hometown.
Not only did he make 30 to 40 in-person cold calls every week, he also worked 12 hours per day, seven days a week for more than 50 years.
Feldman was successful because he mastered two things – his attitude and sales basics – and did so better than his competition.
Here are his sales secrets.
1. Maintain a positive attitude.
Feldman believed in his product. He said that any person who wanted more time in their lives needed life insurance. And he didn’t let rejection get to him – he simply heard “no” as “not now” rather than “not ever.” Feldman also said, “The sale may be next month or next season or next year, or in 17 months, so stay with it. Follow up, follow up, follow up.”
2. Be more creative.
After weeks of trying to get in to see a prominent Youngstown real estate developer, Feldman finally asked his secretary to give him five $100 bills to buy five minutes of his time. “If I don’t have a good idea for him,” Feldman told her, “he can keep the money.” He got in and ultimately sold a $14-million policy.
Later, he sold the same client an additional multi-million-dollar contract, but the developer was too busy to take the required medical exam. Feldman creatively solved the problem by hiring a totally equipped medical van and doctor and sending it to the developer’s office.
3. Prepare with care.
Feldman applied this philosophy to all facets of his work, starting by finding out as much as he possibly could about a business owner and her business. He was also prepared to deal with receptionists or executive secretaries, who are gate keepers in his face-to-face approaches. After they turned him away, he would give them small gifts when he left. When he made his next call, he gave them thank-you notes.
From then, on they were on his team — and he usually got in. (I can only assume that was his approach before he started using the $100 bills.)
Regarding sales presentations, he said, “Spend more time in preparation than in presentation”. He asked well-prepared, thought-provoking questions.
4. Find the client’s problem.
Once you’ve done that, understand it so well you know the price of doing something about it, as well as the price of doing nothing about it. Feldman said, “Problems have price tags, and often the price tag of doing nothing is higher than the price tag of doing something.”
5. Find the right solution to the problem.
People are more inclined to buy customized solutions than the same solution as everybody else, because those other people may well have different problems.
6. Keep that solution simple.
Master the art of full disclosure in simple, effective terms. Outline the benefits of the solution and how they solve the problem. Also outline the pitfalls and explain how you’ll mitigate the risk. Feldman’s advice was, “Sell a simple package designed to do a special job like making sure a spouse will never be dependent on the children, or a policy designed to convert bricks and steel back into dollars, so a family ends up with cash instead of frozen assets.”
7. Be ethical and honest.
8. Cultivate your brand.
Feldman said, “If you don’t promote your image, then your competition will take care of it — and your sales — for you.”
9. Sell softly.
Don’t push; lead. Never force prospects to make decisions. Say, “Let me put this together and you can take a look.” Feldman’s answer to a prospect wanting to buy term insurance was, “Term is for a temporary problem. Yours is a permanent one.”
It was my privilege to witness him demonstrating one of his closing techniques at an Ontario Sales Congress. He pulled out a binder that had real $1,000 and $10,000 bills and would take them out and say in a soft voice, “This is what I sell – how many would you like?”
Harry Hohn, chairman of New York Life at the time of Feldman’s passing, said, “Ben really felt everyone in the world was underinsured.” That’s what drove Feldman.