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CHAPTER 7

Individual Success

The extent to which The Wedge has already made a difference

in the lives of so many sales professionals has

been extremely gratifying. I have seen people use The

Wedge to make the transition from working long hours

and earning less to working smarter and earning more, giving

themselves more time to be with their families, and the

means to get more from their lives.

People often ask me how and when The Wedge was

developed. Actually, it was crystallized out of the thousands

of hours I spent asking salespeople questions about how

they do what they do. The insights on which The Wedge is

based did not just come out of the blue. They came from

the questions I kept putting to salespeople over and over. I

believe this is a major reason for the success of The

Wedge. It is more than a model. It is a proven system

wrought from actual sales experience. It arose from and reflects

the best practices of successful producers, as well as

the everyday language used by salespeople in their conversations

with prospects.

Although The Wedge is an effective selling strategy

across industries and professions, it was first developed

from the experiences of commercial property and casualty

insurance agents.

How The Wedge Was Developed

Those of you who sell insurance know how challenging it

can be. And if you think selling insurance is tough, try being a buyer. To most buyers, everything looks alike.

There’s a lack of differentiation in buyers’ minds from

agency to agency, company to company, and policy to policy.

Insurance to them is pretty much just insurance. It’s all

basically the same.

So this is one of the two big problems that agents confront.

The other problem is that, most of the time, someone

else already has the prospect’s account. In particular,

commercial property casualty insurance is a tough business.

The typical agent in commercial lines enjoys a client

retention rate of well over 90 percent.

When I started formulating the Wedge process in the

early 1990s, I had a portfolio of insurance clients. I would

talk to agent after agent and hear the same story. They

called on a prospect. They had a good rapport. They listened

carefully to their prospect. They put together a great

proposal at a great price. They brought it back to the

prospect. Everything looked good. Then, a few days later,

they learned they had not gotten the business. You know

what happened, of course. They got rolled by the current

agent. For commercial insurance agents and for most other

people in sales, the current agent, I came to recognize, was

the single biggest obstacle to winning new business. This

was the seed (the critical role of the current provider) that

later germinated into The Wedge (the tactical process for

taking out the provider, and for taking out your competitors

if you are vying for an open account).

One of the questions I had been trying to answer was

how to get your prospects to see what they are not getting

without saying anything bad about your competition. Traditional

selling, and all of the sales books I had read, did not address this dilemma with any specific solution. It was

one of those sales barriers that traditional selling works

around or deals with only conceptually, leaving it to the

salesperson to figure out how to break through the barrier

on a case-by-case basis.

With access to so many insurance agents, I worked

with them to look more deeply into the words they were

using in their sales calls, and the selling techniques they

were employing. A typical conversation I had with an agent

went something like this:

R.S.: “Why do you believe you’re going to win this

account?”

Agent: “Well, we’re better.”

R.S.: “How are you better?”

Agent: “We have better service.”

R.S.: “How is your service better? Everybody says that.”

Agent: “We’re more responsive.”

R.S.: “Okay, that’s good. Now let me ask you this:

How are you going to get your prospects to see

that you are more responsive, and that your competitors

are not as responsive, without your saying

anything bad about them?”

Gradually, through trial and error, based on agent

selling experiences in the field, we came up with the sequence

we call PICTURE PERFECT. An example would be:

“I’m curious, when your agent comes out to see you six

months before renewal, and he does a midterm review to identify and control losses and reduce costs, and to make sure

your claims reserves aren’t set too high, are you comfortable

with that process?”

In its construction, the question appeared to break

through this major sales barrier. It brought up the competition,

and it brought up a pain the prospect had because of

a lack of service. At the same time, by assuming that the

proactive services were already being provided, the salesperson

was not attacking the competition. Plus, by suggesting

that these services should be done routinely, the

salesperson was able to communicate “I do this kind of service”

without sounding like a traditional salesperson.

The more we tested PICTURE PERFECT in the field, the

more it worked. It was helping agents advance to the stage

of getting their prospects to think about how they were being

underserved. The next step was to create a clear, specific

tactical process that would enable agents to lead their

prospects into firing their current agents or ruling out

other contenders in order to hire them—not just another

selling concept, but a step-by-step process that agents

could quickly learn and use.

We had three objectives. First, we wanted to identify

the best techniques to use that would take the least amount

of time. Prospects are busy people. For that matter, so are

salespeople. Second, we wanted to strengthen and refine

each tactical step just as we had done in perfecting the PICTURE

PERFECT question. Third, we wanted to keep trying

our approaches in the field, so we could gain proof that we

had identified something new, beyond traditional selling,

that worked better than traditional selling. As we met these objectives, the remaining five steps

of The Wedge Sales Call were developed and perfected.

This is a key strength of The Wedge. It is a tactical road

map that fits any sales situation where, in order for you to

win, someone has to lose. Because the process is codified,

it can be practiced like a golf swing. Salespeople can be

trained in it, and if they can master it, they can become

champions at it.

Working Smarter

It is human nature, and the desire of every salesperson I

know, to want to earn more money with fewer hours of

labor. It is not a matter of sloth or greed. It is a matter of

efficiency. We want to get the job done and help others,

and then we want to have the time to enjoy the fruits of

our labors.

When I say The Wedge enables you to work smarter,

I am not trying to woo you into using it with a promise of

“get rich quick.” There are realistic, practical reasons that

The Wedge will enable you to work smarter.

Bigger, Better Prospects

Once you have a strategy for taking out your competition,

you can go after not just prospects who are actively shopping

but companies you previously did not even consider

prospects because they had a provider in place. In many industries,

that means multiplying your potential targets tenfold,

and then picking the best ones rather than what traditional selling would identify as the most available

ones. There is a vast hidden market out there that The

Wedge enables you to reach. In effect, you can use The

Wedge to create new opportunities for yourself. It enlarges

the meaning of the word prospect.

Focused Research

If you are a well-prepared sales professional and pride

yourself on finding out about your prospects before you

meet with them, the Wedge precall research strategy will

save you a lot of time. You can focus your research where it

counts—on identifying your strengths and your competition’s

weaknesses regarding proactive service. Those are

the competitive advantages that you will be using to win,

not your mastery of the company’s annual report or its latest

10-K. Remember what we said about information versus

knowledge? Everyone these days has access to billions

and billions of bytes of information about the companies

whose business they want. The advantage goes to those

salespeople who seek out the knowledge that individuals

have concerning a company’s day-to-day operations and its

frustrations with its current service. The account goes to

those salespeople who use that knowledge intelligently by

converting it into powerful differentiation.

A Shortened Selling Cycle

The conversational phrases used in The Wedge Sales Call

were crafted to say much more in far less time. They help

you deal with the reality that your prospect is busy and that you want to use your own time wisely as well. The

best Wedge practitioners in the right situations have taken

prospects from rapport to rehearsal in less than an hour.

Now that is shortening the selling cycle! The Wedge is

not inconsistent with relationship selling. It simply reduces

the courtship to a fraction of the time that it otherwise

would take for you to bond with your prospect and

win the business.

Making Winning More Predictable

Above all, The Wedge will help you make winning more

predictable. What exactly does that mean? It means you

can boost your closing ratio. Would you rather make 10

sales calls or five sales calls in order to win three accounts?

Would you rather keep trying different sales call strategies

until something clicks, or master a process that has been

proven to get results time after time?

These are some of the things that enable you to work

smarter using The Wedge; and once you start working

smarter, you can begin earning more.

Earning More

I have not read a book on selling that did not attempt to

motivate its readers with the lure of earning more. Let me

say this about The Wedge. The Wedge in and of itself will

not increase your earnings. You are the one who has to do that. Your effort will make the difference, and only you can

put forth that effort—not me, and not this book.

However, I can tell you this: If you learn The

Wedge, if you practice it and put it to work for yourself,

the probability that you will earn significantly more is

extremely high. To date, I have not met any competent

salesperson who has used The Wedge correctly and

has not achieved good results. And many have achieved

great results.

I often suggest to the salespeople I coach that there

are five areas where they can most productively spend their

time using the Wedge approach to increase their earnings.

The Five Money-Making Activities of Salespeople

1. Overserving the top 20 percent of your accounts, using a

written service time line.

Once again, we find Pareto’s law at work. In

many businesses, 20 percent of the customers tend to

generate 80 percent of the revenue. If your income

depends on retaining a portfolio of clients, keeping

your biggest clients pain-free is one of the surest ways

not to jeopardize the higher net income that The

Wedge has made it possible for you to earn.

2. Leveraging the top 20 percent of your accounts for personal

introductions to your other top prospects.

Your client base is a major asset at your disposal

to leverage for additional business. Too many salespeople

see their accounts as merely a source of current

revenue, not as an asset to use for additional income.

For every personal relationship you have with a client,

that client has personal relationships with people who

can become your prospects.

3. Spending time on precall strategy to ensure the most effective

use of your competitive advantage.

Sales calls are trips to the plate, not batting practice.

They count, and they are costly when unsuccessful.

The more time you spend drilling down, finding

the specific things you do better, and putting them

into concrete chunks that your prospects can visualize,

the better your chances of winning each deal.

4. Going out on sales calls and, of course, winning.

While it would not be smart to play the numbers

game and conclude that the time you spend in front of

prospects correlates directly with the amount of new

business you win, it is useful to make sure you keep

your pipeline full. A good test is to ask yourself: Is

what I am currently doing related directly to either

winning a specific new account or keeping or growing

one of my big clients? If the answer is no, take an honest

look at how you are spending your time.

5. Cross-selling and rounding out your accounts to increase

your revenue per client.

Your client base is not only a source for introductions

to prospects. It is an asset that you can cultivate

and grow. Like the other four moneymaking activities,

cross-selling your current clients contributes directly

to increasing your income.

Ideally, a salesperson would spent about 80 percent of

his or her working time on these five activities. What we

have found in our interviews with salespeople is that many of them spend only about 20 percent of their time on the

five moneymaking activities.

If you are willing to make a concerted effort to prioritize

your time as indicated, and if you are also willing

to learn and practice The Wedge, you should be able to

make a whole lot more money than you may have previously

thought was a realistic goal for yourself. Using The

Wedge, ordinary people have been achieving extraordinary

results.