It’s absolutely impossible to say "no" to those little leaguers, cheerleaders, soccer players, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and other children’s organizations fixated in front of the supermarket selling their candy, cookies and raffles. Can you do it? I mean, have a heart! Although I’m not a big candy or cookie fan, I’m a sucker for a little kid trying to raise funds. Free enterprise at it’s best! I’ll take three boxes of whatever you got. It’s funny, many of these groups actually take credit and debit cards, as well as checks. Soon, you’ll be able to apply for financing — through your iPhone.
These kids are the best sales people on the planet for a number of reasons. They’ve got the cuteness factor going, often, their fundraising is for an excellent cause, and there’s plenty of peer pressure. Many times, you feel obligated to buy because one day, your kid will be selling stuff. And what goes around comes around. But you know that.
Also, there’s almost always a contest or some incentive for the kid who sells the most. Season passes to Great Adventure; ice cream at Friendly’s; a tour of the Willy Wonka chocolate factory; an iPod; a trip to Hawaii...
Now, think back to when you were a kid and needed to sell something. Who were the first prospects you peddled? Yep — family and friends. And you did so without hesitation. Mom and dad were always good for a few boxes of samoa Girl Scout cookies, as were grandma and grandpa, Auntie Mae, and Uncle Louie. Same thing with the kiddies today. Incidentally, samoas /caramel deLites represent 19 percent of total Girl Scout cookie sales — probably due to a lot of mom and dad sales.
So, kids are great, and have always been great, at selling to their "natural market" (a term in the insurance world that means family and friends). Heck, if insurance companies could recruit kids to sell life insurance, long term care insurance, disability and annuities, they would.
It’s safe to say that everyone has a natural market. Well, pretty much everyone. New sales producers — especially in the insurance industry — are encouraged to educate their family and friends about the good company they work for and the great products they sell. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. All is fine in the world, provided there’s not a sales pitch at the end of the lesson.
C’mon, nobody likes to be sold. Do you? How about your family and friends and the family and friends of your family and friends? Still with me? After all, you’re not in the Girl Scouts. And selling a term life policy with adjustable premiums to mom and dad is a bit different than selling a box of Samoas.
Now, as Bill Maher might say, I kid the insurance industry. But it’s actually very smart to train and encourage producers to sell to family and friends, and I’m sure production numbers prove it. It’s just not all that easy to do, and sometimes not all that nice, either. That’s why there’s so much hesitation to do so. And it's also probably why one of the most common questions I get asked in seminars by sales producers and managers is: “How can I be more successful selling to my natural market?” Here are some suggestions.
Don’t sell them
Yes, it's worth repeating! Your mission is not to sell your natural market. Selling to your friends and family (especially a product that involves personal finances and other private matters, as well as big bucks) is awkward. It’s tough to put those close to you in that position. Or at least, it should be. Remember, to Auntie Mae, you will always be her little pookie. It might be tough to convince her that you’re also a trusted authority on long term care insurance. It might also be tough to convince Dad’s big shot pals at the country club to listen to your investment advice if you don’t look old enough to drink.
It’s much easier to help someone that has (or is) branding themselves in the marketplace. So, if you can establish a niche or target market that you have become known for, it will help you clarify exactly who you help, what you do, and how you do it. After all, there's a big difference between chiropractor whose specialty is helping women with lower back pain due to pregnancy, a financial planner known for helping with 401(k) rollovers, and a realtor that specializes in helping young couples find an affordable home.
Ask for help
Ask for guidance. Ask for forgiveness (kidding). Ask for direction. Ask for suggestions. Ask for opinions. Ask for introductions to others that can further help. Ask for feedback. Ask for resources that might be helpful, including Web sites, trade publications and blogs. Just be specific with your questions. Don’t forget, if you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. OK, so what do you think happens when you don’t ask any questions?
Build confidence and credibility
The more knowledge and skills you develop in your profession, the more confident your family and friends will become in your abilities. And with confidence comes credibility. As you earn certifications, awards, recognition, or an impressive database of clients, your natural market will become one of your greatest referral sources.
Say thank you. Send a thank you card. Send a gift (there’s all kinds of nifty things you can order online). Send a business referral. Always show gratitude, appreciation and thoughtfulness when your natural market (or anyone for that matter) lends a helping hand or actually becomes one of your clients. It’s a deal you never lose, and one that’s not soon forgotten.
As you build your body of work and expertise over time, communicating with your natural market will become easier. In fact, those closest to you will get into the habit of providing you with referrals, based on all the good feedback you get. In fact, they’ll want to do it based on your great rep, positive results, and appreciation. Isn’t that cool?
You can also use this approach with your un-natural market (I made this up), which are second-tier contacts made up of college alum, neighbors, and some friends. Your un-natural market may also include individuals that consider you a client, customer, or patient, such as your insurance rep, accountant, doctor, dentist, plumber, electrician, interior designer, wedding planner, manicurist, landscaper, and realtor. Not that you want to make it conditional, but the professionals in your un-natural market don’t really want to lose you as a customer. So, developing a business relationship that’s mutually beneficial makes sense. Dollars and sense.
Let’s be clear. If those in your natural market want to buy from you or invest with you, great. Just don’t be the one to push the envelope. Nobody likes to be sold, but people love to buy — even family and friends. Of course, you can always ask for forgiveness.