I’m excited to tell you I’m almost finished with book #2. I shared an unedited version with some trusted contacts in the insurance industry for feedback and should have a final copy to my editor by mid-September. The book will be called Persuasive Selling and should be available before year end. It will focus on helping insurance professionals apply the science of influence throughout the sales process. If you’re not in insurance but you’re in sales you’ll want to check it out too because what I write about transcends all types of selling. Below is an excerpt (unedited) from the opening chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy it and consider getting the book when it comes out later this year.
I’ve never met someone who said, “When I was a kid all I ever wanted was to be in the insurance industry.” Not one, including me. So how did a kid who grew up dreaming of playing pro football or becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger end up spending more than 30 years in the insurance industry?
As I was getting ready to graduate college I was offered a job in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, with The Travelers Insurance Company. I knew nothing about insurance but liked what I heard during my interviews. The late Dean Williams, a Regional Vice President at the company, was so passionate about insurance that he reminded me of my high school football coach. I wanted to work for someone like that! Although I still knew next to nothing about insurance, the more I thought about staying near family, friends and the girl I was dating, the more appealing the opportunity became.
I was hired as an underwriter, a role that appealed to my analytical mind. I was paid to make risk selection decisions for the company when it came to homes, autos, jewelry and other personal items. Within a few years I’d moved to the commercial side of the house and was underwriting businesses of all types and sizes. After four years with The Travelers I jumped ship and landed with State Auto Insurance where I continued on the commercial underwriting side for a few more years.
Eventually I found myself in the sales department, which was a little ironic because truthfully, I thought sales was a bunch of crap. I’d been beaten down for years by insurance agents over price and really started to believe all that mattered was price.
Fortunately, I met John Petrucci, Executive VP of Customer Service at State Auto Insurance, and learned more about sales in one year from him than I had in my first 10 years in the business. I started to realize what you say and how you say it could make a big difference when it came to winning or losing a sale.
During my first decade in the industry I began to see that insurance was a noble profession. I use the word “noble” because we do two very important things: we help people and we help the economy. When it comes to people, we help individuals, families and businesses get back on their feet after something bad has happened. Helping people in that way is a very good thing, something to be proud of.
How does insurance help the economy? The guarantee insurance companies make on behalf of insured clients gives lenders comfort to loan people big chunks of money to open businesses, purchase new homes and buy cars, to name a few. Because of those guarantees a ripple effect takes place where more businesses are opened, homes are built, people are employed, building materials are sold, etc. Indeed, insurance is a noble industry and has become a vital part of our country’s economic prosperity.
Then something life-changing happened in 2003. Another coworker, Nancy Edwards, shared a video with me and John. It was something she’d watched in an MBA class she was taking at The Ohio State University. The video was Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., presenting The Power of Persuasion at Stanford University’s Breakfast Briefings. What Cialdini shared resonated with me for three reasons:
- I recognized the psychology he talked about was the underpinning of sales. It gave insight into why all the sales techniques we were taught worked…or didn’t.
- Everything he shared was based on scientific research, which appealed to my analytical mind. The research gave me confidence to try and share his findings because I knew the information, if used correctly, could help people.
- His focus on ethics, how to move people to action in non-manipulative ways, struck a chord with the ethical part of me.
I started to show the video to people at work. We would discuss the application to their careers, daily tasks and home life. What I was sharing was so well received I ordered other resources from Stanford and that landed me on their mailing list. One day a Stanford marketing flier made its way to my desk. As I flipped the pages Robert Cialdini’s picture caught my eye. Above his picture, in big bold letters, I saw: BEST SELLER
That was no surprise because it was an incredible talk Cialdini gave. However, what I saw next in the advertisement shocked me! Call it influence, persuasion or even manipulation
What?!? Someone at Stanford obviously didn’t watch the video because Cialdini could not have been more clear about ethical influence. Even the person who introduced him referenced “non-manipulative” ways to move people to action. The ethical part of me felt this needed to be addressed so I emailed Stanford and wrote:
“I don’t know anyone who wants to be manipulated nor do I know anyone who wants to be known as a good manipulator. That word cannot be helping your sales but it really could be hurting sales.”
I never heard from Stanford but one day my phone rang at work and when I answered, to my surprise, it was a representative from INFLUENCE AT WORK, Robert Cialdini’s organization. Chris Cibbarelli introduced herself and said she was calling on behalf of Dr. Cialdini to personally thank me. Apparently Stanford notified Cialdini they were changing the marketing of his video because of the email I wrote. How cool was that!
Before we hung up Chris said, “If your company ever needs a guest speaker Dr. Cialdini travels the world to speak about influence.” I replied, “I sit next to the woman who plans our events and books our speakers. Would you like to talk with her?” As fate would have it, Cialdini was in Columbus, Ohio several times in the summer of 2004 to speak to insurance agents who represented the company.
Later that summer, my boss and I went to Arizona to attend Cialdini’s two-day Principles of Persuasion Workshop. Four years later I returned to Arizona to go through the certification process which allows me to teach Cialdini’s material and methodology. Once I was certified, I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my career because I saw the potential to help people professionally and personally. For a decade, while continuing my insurance career, I honed my influence skills in a handful of ways:
- Helping insurance agents apply this psychology throughout their sales process.
- Working with field sales reps to help them market the company products and services.
- Teaching coaches how to use influence in their coaching relationships.
- Showing claim reps how settling claims is a persuasive conversation.
- Building my presence outside of the organization through my writing, speaking and training under my company, Influence PEOPLE, LLC.
At the end of 2018, I decided it was time to leave my corporate role to pursue my passion full time. Now I work with individuals and organizations to help them apply the psychology of persuasion in everyday situations. I do this through writing, speaking, training, coaching and consulting. My overarching goal, my “Why” (to use Simon Sinek’s term) is to help people achieve more professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. I hope you’d agree, that’s a pretty good goal.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was name one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world.