The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Have you heard the one about the fish that didn’t know it was extinct? If not, shame on you, because you didn’t read last week’s article. There was a funny-sounding fish, the coelacanth, that everybody thought was extinct. Turns out the fish is out there and doing just fine.
The mirror image of that case would be something that is extinct, or nearly so, yet everybody thinks is still around. It is so present in people’s minds that they see it almost everywhere. The species that I’m thinking of is that unloved creature, the salesman.
Of all the possible occupations that my clients want to talk about, the one that many don’t want to be is the salesman. Just about everyone can describe him in detail: he’s wearing loud, unfashionable clothes, he drips insincerity, and he sells worthless junk. Often he’s associated with used cars, but many people see him in just about every sales position. Collecting his commissions only when he closes the deal, he’ll do just about anything to make the sale. And no matter how many true sales professionals they meet, people looking for a career are afraid of becoming the salesman. Whether by a negative experience, a cultural stereotype, or pure imagination, they’ve been sold an image that drives too many people away from what could be a career opportunity.
My imaginary client, Beryl Klein, is exploring various sales-related careers. Several of them have features that are attractive, given Beryl’s background, skillset, and goals. But insurance just seems too scary. The lack of a concrete object to sell, the whole idea of “I’m selling you this but I hope you never need it,” the idea of making a call to a complete stranger and inducing him to think about all of the calamities that could befall him, just conjures up the image of the too-slick salesman. Beryl wants none of it. But if he’s been sold that awful image, it’s my job to unsell him.
It is striking that among all the people whose jobs have been threatened by online selling, insurance agents remain safe. There are books, websites, and trainers of all kinds helping new insurance professionals to get started and succeed. No one I’ve found has predicted the profession’s demise. And the strongest reason for this is also the reason why Beryl might find insurance a rewarding profession.
Because an insurance policy is completely intangible, the human participation in the process can never be eliminated. Purchasing insurance is an emotion-driven decision, reflecting a person’s long-term commitment to another. If the insurance purchase doesn’t lead to the confidence and peace of mind that the customer seeks, there will be no purchase. That confidence is most often based on a feeling that the agent shares that same level of concern, and that the policy he suggests truly protects what the client holds dear. That trust is a uniquely human connection. Nothing can imitate or replace it.
One of the hardest parts of any sales job, and certainly in insurance, is dealing with all of the noes. Yet successful people not only aren’t deterred by “no,” they thrive on it. They see “no” as a request for more information, an invitation to try harder. There’s a great little book called Go for No that makes this point very well. It tells how a consultant helped an underperforming insurance agency. The agents were convinced that they didn’t have the “pizzazz” to sell effectively. To prove them wrong, he took several of the weakest salesmen, practiced a particularly weak sales pitch (“You don’t want to buy insurance, do you?”), and approached people at a terrible time, knocking on doors between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Result? Their sales skyrocketed. Because the key is the human connection, the confidence. In many cases, the very fact that there was a human face at the door saying words that led them to think about how insurance might protect their loved ones was enough to start the process.
I have repeatedly recommended To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. Every client that reads it finds valuable insight regarding the way that selling is interwoven into so much that we do, in ways that we don’t recognize or expect. With Pink’s guidance, we can also unsell that hurtful image of the salesman, allowing ourselves to see the honest broker of quality goods and services as a vital resource that deserves our welcome and respect. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.