Have-to-Buy vs. Want-to-Buy

You have to be sure you are helping your customers obtain what they want to buy. And I'm going to tell you: Insurance ain't it. 

Two people sitting at a desk in an office

Are you selling so that you are delivering what your clients WANT to buy, or are you holding them hostage by focusing on what they HAVE to buy?

This idea of “want to buy” and “have to buy” might seem odd. However, it’s a powerful concept once you put it into practice.

We came across an article in Inc. magazine many years ago. As you hear the details of the story, you'll get an appreciation for how old this story is. But it still does a fantastic job of communicating the difference between what people want to buy and what they have to buy. 

They (don't) want to buy a CD 

This article was written by the CEO of a startup entertainment company. Of all things, they were going to do a remake of the movie Grease starring the boy band NSYNC. 

The author explains that they were in Times Square, standing in the lobby of a national record store chain for a promotional event. Because NSYNC was so popular at the time, all of the executives from this record store chain were in attendance.

He goes on to describe this collective group standing in the lobby, watching all these customers come in and out of the store. The author said he turned to the record store executives and asked,  "What do you think all these people want when they come into your store?" 

The CEO spoke up on behalf of the group, seeming to think, "Well, this one's pretty obvious." He said, "Well, they come in because they want to buy a CD." 

The author told him, "I don't think so. I don't think anybody wants to buy a CD." 

He said that the CEO was visibly offended and responded, "Do you have any idea how many millions of CDs we sell every single year?" 

The author said, "Oh, I get that. I'm not trying to take anything away from that, but I don't think anybody wants to buy a CD. I don't think anybody wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, ‘you know what I want to do today? I want to go out today and buy a round piece of plastic with a hole in it’. But I think people wake up thinking about that new song they heard the day before. How much they enjoyed it. How good it made them feel."

The author continued, "No, I think the people coming in your store HAVE to buy the CD, but what they really WANT is to hear that song again. They want that feeling back, and they want it all as fast as they can get it." 

Very dismissively, the CEO says, "What's the difference?" And the author goes on to point out, if those record store executives would've understood the difference between what their customers had to buy and what they really wanted, maybe they would've been motivated enough to go on and invent the iPod, iTunes, and all the technology that has followed since. But we all know how that story played out: A computer company figured it out and made billions of dollars from the technology, and the record store has long since gone bankrupt.

Don’t be the record store

It’s no different for you and what you sell. You have to be sure you are helping your customers obtain what they want to buy. And I'm going to tell you: Insurance ain't it. 

Insurance is a have-to buy. Nobody wants to buy insurance. I'm guessing this also includes everyone who makes their living off insurance.                    

I wish I could see your response to the following question: How many of you grew up with the goal and went to school with the aspiration of getting into insurance? 

Most of us end up here by accident, myself included! However, once you get here, you realize what a special industry this is. The impact you get to make on businesses, the difference you make for people, the quality of life you enjoy and the income you can have are all amazing benefits of a career in this industry.

See also: The House That Floated Away

The REAL reason you stayed

I'm going to guess the one thing that kept you in an industry you never intended to enter is that everybody has to buy the products you're selling. Whether they're legally required to do it, or it's just a prudent cost of doing business, everybody has to buy it.

Most of the time, you don't even have to convince people to buy what you sell. All you have to do is convince them you are the one they should buy it from. We fall into this trap of focusing on the fact that they have to buy what you sell. When you do, you tie your own hands. 

Because you are focused on one need they must satisfy, you now only have one type of solution to offer. You've limited the conversation you can have with buyers. 

While you’re limiting the conversations you can have with clients, they’re over there RESENTING the fact they have to buy what you’re selling. So think about that, guys. If you focus on something they resent having to buy, you build your relationship with buyers on a foundation of resentment. We can change that.

Replacing the foundation

We can change the foundation you build beneath you and your clients in a couple of ways. First, ask yourself why your clients buy the insurance product in the first place.

Sure, some are merely checking a box. These likely aren’t your favorite clients.

I would guess the clients you enjoy the most buy insurance because it’s part of the bigger picture they WANT for themselves. I realize it’s a bit of a cliché, but they understand the insurance is the have-to-buy on the way to their want-to-buy, to be an “employer of choice.”

Second, ask them directly what they want. If you slowly take the time to understand the motivation and goals of your clients, it changes the game. No longer are you building a relationship based on resentment. Now you are building a relationship based on appreciation.

Which sounds and feels better? Not even close, is it?

Kevin Trokey

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Kevin Trokey

Kevin Trokey is founding partner and coach at Q4intelligence. He is driven to ignite curiosity and to push the industry through the barriers that hold it back. As a student of the insurance industry, he channels his own curiosity by observing and studying the players, the changing regulations, and the business climate that influence us all.


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