It was an unusual question given the topic of the conference. It was a good query, nonetheless, and it resonated with me for a variety of reasons. Usually at workers' compensation conferences and forums, the discussion centers around claims, underwriting, medical, fraud, red flags and the like. At this particular session, which was a live session of “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” at the SIIA Workers' Compensation Executive Forum held last week in Phoenix, panelists were asked, “What should vendors know if they want to be able to successfully approach you?”

For me it was a welcome foray into the vastly under exposed topic of smart salesmanship in the workers' compensation sector. The panelists did not disappoint with their responses. Kevin Confetti, the Deputy Chief Risk Officer for the University of California, said essentially, “Do your homework to know your potential client, and to make sure there is a fit.” All of the panelists agreed with this assessment, giving vendors advice ranging from “look through our website” to “know what our services really are”. It was a point that I could easily identify with.

I cannot tell you how many times I've had calls or emails from people wanting to sell me the latest and greatest, and they completely stumble out of the gate by showing how little they actually know about my business. They tell me their software “can streamline my claims process” (we don't have a claims process), or that their services will help our patients through the process more easily (we don't have patients). We've had dozens of inquiries offering a variety of products for things we just don't do.

Lesson one, people; you can't sell hay to an automobile owner. Do a little research and stop wasting time for both of us.

Effective salespeople are good communicators, and by communicator I really mean “listener”. They can listen to a potential client to identify pain points and needs within their current system, and then work to provide solutions for those specific points. But effective communication requires smart preparation, and all too often we see failure on that front. I find it annoying when a salesperson says to me, “tell me about your company”. On the positive side, at least they bothered to ask, and are making an attempt to understand what we do and what we might need; but they have also indicated by the very question that they couldn't be bothered to research and learn about us before our initial conversation. They are either letting you complete their research for them, or they just hope to find a small whole that they can stuff a product or service into. Their lack of preparation in those instances tells us that serving you well may not be their top priority.

Of course, this is an industry where it is impossible to figure out what many of us actually do, so I acknowledge it is a bit of a hurdle to cross.

Stu Thompson, CEO of The Builders Group in Minnesota, pointed out that “value and price are not the same thing”. This very valid point is often lost in an industry focused on “cost containment”, where sales professionals often focus on price point when service and outcome are the most important areas for a client. Certainly the monetary component is important to business people, but actual value is the ultimate key. You can offer a product with a low price but it will ultimately be judged on the value it brought to your client's organization. Granted, this may not always be in the sales guy's direct control, as value is often produced by service after the sale. Nonetheless, a company needs to understand that, when they are pitching a client for the opportunity to serve.

The final bit of good advice from this panel also came from Thompson, who told the audience that he wanted to deal with “positive, passionate people. No negativity.” As hard as it is to fathom, there are people who, during a sales call, will start complaining about some aspect of their job or company. They may have issues at home. They may be on the road to much. They may even be pursuing the “sympathy sale” for all we know.

Lesson two: Your client doesn't care. They have their own challenges and a hectic schedule. If you want to get and keep their attention, be an upbeat person they will want to talk to again. No one wants to deal with a Sad Sack.

Workers' comp is difficult enough on its own, and business/risk managers are busy people. Effective salespeople are those who will do some of the heavy lifting for their potential clients by understanding who they are and what they do before the very first contact. During that contact, they will work to further understand what the person and their business really needs.

If you are selling round pegs and they only have square holes, no rubber mallet of any size will make the relationship work. Save yourself some time and frustration. Know thy customers' needs. It will make it easier on all of us.

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