Lead with Need, Then and Now

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Some principles should not and do not change. In the late 1950s, I was briefly in the hospitalization, health, and accident insurance field. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina, and frequently drove to Newberry, South Carolina, to work. Mostly by accident, I learned that Newberry had an extremely large number of single schoolteachers (female) in their forties and fifties who were the sole support of their mothers. As you realize, many things were different in the 1950s. There were very few nursing homes, and governmental aid was not as readily available as today.

When I gathered this information, putting two and two together was fairly easy. If something happened to the primary breadwinner, the single teachers and their mothers would be faced with dire financial circumstances. I started concentrating on this relatively small but extremely lucrative market. Lucrative because the need was so great that the sales were not difficult. I did not create the need. I just offered a solution to a particular problem faced by these people. Without exception, when I made the presentation, even for the few (and there were very few) who did not buy, the ladies were most appreciative that I had singled them out specifically and made a concerted effort to see them.

I gathered information that allowed me to learn if there was any means of support for either the teacher or her mother, should she suffer a career-ending illness or accident. This conversational “innerview” often revealed only small savings accounts.

Then I asked the obvious question: “Have you ever wondered what would happen to you and your mother if you suffered a career-ending accident or illness and you had exhausted your savings?”

Most had given at least some though to the question, but since there was no clear-cut solution readily available, they were taking the “Scarlett O’Hara” approach and choosing to “think about it tomorrow.”

The next question was also quite obvious. I asked, “If there were a solution to the problem, you would be interested in knowing what it was, wouldn’t you?” Across the board, the answer was in the affirmative.

During this segment of the sales process, I would “lead with need.” In addition, I wanted to encourage the prospect to take action, so I would paint a vivid word picture that would allow her to see what might happen if she did not take immediate action.

“Miss Prospect (this was before the Ms. days), at age forty-nine, your life expectancy is approximately twenty to thirty years. Generally speaking, when there is an accident or illness, that life span would be substantially reduced to approximately seven years. Now $400 (the amount the insurance would pay after disability) per month for seven years—or longer—represents a considerable amount of money ($1,200 to $1,500 of today’s dollars). For this reason, the underwriting procedures are pretty strict (which was a fact). As a representative of the company, I obviously cannot guarantee that your application will be approved. However, I will be glad to submit it and see what the underwriting department says.” A very high percentage would say, “Well, let’s do that.” Yes, the fear of loss is often greater than the desire for gain.

If there was any resistance or uncertainty, the question was, “Well, you are certain that in the event of illness or accident you would want to be able to provide for your needs, aren’t you?” The answer was always in the affirmative. So I would simply ask, “Then why don’t we see how you look on paper and let the company make the decision?”

This was good for a closing rate of over 90 percent of the people I called upon.

Several decades later, my friend Roger Peet, from Bismarck, North Dakota, presented me with an interesting sales problem in this area of long-term care insurance. He was having problems with creating a sense of urgency for action on the part of the prospect. The solution I recommended (which originated in my work with the schoolteachers) worked dramatically well for him, and Roger tells me he uses the terminology just as I am sharing it with you. The numbers may change through the years, but the principles do not.


Zig Ziglar was known as America’s Motivator. He authored 32 books and produced numerous training programs. He will be remembered as a man who lived out his faith daily.

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