Author Chris Castanes: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”

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One of the things that separate success and failure in sales are simply asking for referrals or introductions. Find verbiage that works and stick with it. I always ask that my clients put my phone number in their phone in case they have questions after we talk, but it also has another effect. Once my number is in their phone, they can share my information with their friends. Sure beats handing out a lot of cards.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Castanes.

Chris Castanes is an award winning insurance agent, speaker and author of “You’re Going To Be Great At This!”. As president of Surf Financial Brokers since 2011, he helps his clients with life and disability, and long term insurance.

He is originally from Fayetteville, NC and began his career in sales and marketing after graduating from North Carolina State University in 1985. He resides in North Myrtle Beach, SC with his wife and daughter.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

I graduated from college with a business degree and no prospects. Since the choices were few I took a job selling accident plans door-to-door in rural North Carolina. You learn about sales and yourself in that situation.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I had a gentleman threaten to shoot me because his accident plan didn’t cover a wart on his foot. I tried to explain that warts weren’t “accidents” and he replied, “Well, I didn’t mean to get a wart on my foot. I accidentally got it.” After realizing that I wasn’t going to change his mind I left, but I did learn that whoever sold him his policy should have taken the time to explain what was and wasn’t covered.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At this point I’m working on a second book. The first book, “You’re Going To Be Great At This!” is being used as a backdrop for my training sessions I do with sales groups from all industries. With the Covid-19 looming, I’m learning to do more virtual meetings.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had several mentors over the years. One gentleman had been in the business for decades and was semi-retired, but the most patient guy in the world. He even gave me a key to his detached garage where he made a makeshift office. The people like that who have seen it all are great resources for learning and I hope to be able to pass my wisdom along to the next group of sales people.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

Being in sales for over 35 years was what led me to write my book. At first it was a bucket list project, but after figuring out what kind of format and information I wanted to share, it became easy. Now I use sales to promote my book on sales, which is ironic.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Encouragement is the best we can do for each other. I have tried to distract my daughter from the boredom by letting her expand her interests. Luckily, she’s embraced cooking all of a sudden and I’m not complaining about the awesome Buffalo chicken dip she made recently.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versalite topics, is totally ignored?

Many people don’t understand that the first rule of selling is that we sell ourselves. After that it’s about finding the need and products or services to fit that need. As schools are introducing more personal finance classes, perhaps there’s a way to fit sales lessons into that. On a side note, I like to discuss sales lessons as life hacks. For example, sales is like dating. Or a job interview is when we sell ourselves.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

There is good pressure and bad pressure. The assumption that all sales people are pushy alludes to bad pressure or high pressure. If a client doesn’t want, or can’t afford, your product, why are you shoving it down their throat? On the other hand, there are times when someone obviously needs something and I have to give a gentle push. For instance, when I speak to a young man with a family, a mortgage and no life insurance I worry. He’s more concerned about buying the latest cell phone instead of protecting his family, so I invite the spouse into the conversation. This sounds like dirty pool but it’s about priorities and I genuinely do care.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

I think a follow-up is very important. Years ago I had a “confirmed bachelor” who felt he had no need for life insurance. I asked if I could touch base with him and he was okay with that. Sure enough, about a year later, I dropped by his office and he had a whole new situation. His brother had died and left him with a teenage nephew who was learning disabled. All of a sudden he needed to some coverage and a new game plan.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

One of the things that separate success and failure in sales are simply asking for referrals or introductions. Find verbiage that works and stick with it. I always ask that my clients put my phone number in their phone in case they have questions after we talk, but it also has another effect. Once my number is in their phone, they can share my information with their friends. Sure beats handing out a lot of cards.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

If you can get the client to vocalize the need (“I agree I need to insure my family”) most objections come down to price. And if you haven’t conveyed the value of your product or service, you haven’t done your job. I tell my agents to “hang in there for three objections”. After that you become a pest.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

1. As I stated before, have the client vocalize the need. If they say it aloud, they know they should buy.

2. Recap the previous conversations. By reviewing the needs and budget you show that you are aware of their situation.

3. Let the prospect know you’re working for them. I use a lot of words like “we” and “us” to show I’m on their side. “Let’s make sure we’re doing the best thing for your loved ones.”

4. Give options. Instead of presenting one product, I offer up three. And they typically choose the middle option.

5. Be prepared to close again. I’ve had times when I had to close someone 3 or 4 times. One lady actually thanked me for being persistent.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

If I get a prospect who ends up being a “tire kicker” I stop wasting my time. They may end up in a tickler file, which means I’ll give them a call in six months or a year, but if nothing happens I move on. The only thing worse than a bad client is a bad prospect who never takes action. The time spent could be used looking for better prospects.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

This really depends on the client and your ability to read their level of interest. In person is always the best to read body language, but surprises happen. I’ve closed people via text who I thought were just going to ignore me. I recently texted a woman with “When do you want to complete the paperwork?” It was a totally assumptive shot in the dark. She replied with something like “Next Tuesday at 4pm”.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would tell people that basic sales techniques can be transferred over to all aspects of their lives, from dating to trying to get a kid to eat their spinach. It’s all about selling yourself first, earning trust and leveraging the rapport. The other part of this lesson is to be slightly thick skinned, don’t take rejection personally and to not get hung up on one prospect.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on Twitter @ccastanes, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

Author Chris Castanes: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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