Randy VanderVaate: “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”

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Parents have to sell their kids on doing homework, wives have to sell their husbands on doing household chores, and bosses have to sell their workers on completing their duties. Most people don’t realize this, but everyone is in sales!

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 Randy VanderVaate.

Randy VanderVaate is the President and owner of Funeral Funds. Funeral Funds is a life insurance broker who specializes in helping people pay for their funerals and final expenses. Funeral Funds is licensed in all 50 states.

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?

Randy VanderVaate is the President and owner of Funeral Funds. Funeral Funds is a life insurance broker who specializes in helping people pay for their funerals and final expenses. Funeral Funds is licensed in all 50 states.

I spent most of my career in the golf industry. I started out in golf, washing golf carts at a local golf course in high school. Over the next 20 plus years, I worked my way up to become a Vice President in a national golf course management company.

Eventually, another company then bought almost half of our golf course portfolio, and the golf management company was cut in size by roughly 50%. It was “downsized” out of my position, so I decided to build my own life insurance agency that I would own and control.

I started in the insurance industry in 2015. My inspiration to continue in this business is my family. I decide that the insurance industry was the best way for me to build a business that would allow me to earn the kind of income I wanted to make, and have the flexibility to enjoy time with my family.

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?

Being that my business focuses on people ages 50–85, I have a much higher claim history than traditional term life insurance agents. I had an interesting death claim recently where the insured (a father) died, and the family didn’t know that he had a burial insurance policy that I helped their father purchase.

Only after the children were going through their father’s apartment three weeks later did they find the policy I helped their father with. They called me immediately, wanting to know if the policy was real, if it was in force, and if it would payout.

Fortunately, the answer to all of those questions was “yes.” It turns out that the policy he had purchased for his children was the one last act of love that he was able to do for his children. It was tragic and heartwarming all at the same time.

A life insurance policy is the last “love letter” that many will leave for their loved ones when they are gone.

A life insurance policy can pay a house off, or replace income for years to come. It can provide for you’re your children’s education, or just cover your burial, cremation, or final expenses.

Life insurance is purchased out of practicality and love, but when someone dies — only the love will be remembered. Some say roses are romantic. I say life insurance is even more romantic.

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

I’m working on an advanced quoting system that will take humans out of the life insurance quoting process. This system will simplify the pricing and quoting process. People receiving quotes won’t have to speak with an agent to get accurate pricing. It will make life insurance more accessible and stress-free.

People when shopping for life insurance want to get the best plan and the best price. However, they often don’t want to give personal information like name, email, and phone number just to have telemarketers call them day and night.

Most quoting applications ask for personal information before providing a quote. Agents may then purchase their information, and then start calling them day and night.

When they go to our quoting system, they will get an accurate quote from the lowest priced insurance company without giving out any personal information. Because of this, people who are afraid to give personal information can still get the lowest rate possible.

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’m grateful for the person that recruited me into the life insurance industry in the first place. In the end, it turned out not to be the ideal company or manager for me. But it was the start of my life insurance business journey.

Out of 1,000 new agents, I was a top 10 rookie producer for that company in my first year out. I embraced their training, I outworked over 1,000 other new agents, and I came out as one of the top 10 rookie agents company-wide.

When you work hard and operate with honesty and integrity, there are no limits in the life insurance industry.

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

Even with all of the success I’ve had in the life insurance business, I still view myself as a lifetime student of the sales process. The best teachers will always be students.

I am currently the #1 final expense life insurance agent with the BGA (Brokerage General Agent), where I submit my life insurance business, and I’m the #1 final expense life insurance agent nationally for my main insurance company.

I actively train my agents to instill the same the same skills and work ethic that I have acquired over the years so that they can become successful as well.

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?

We should reassure our loved ones that “this thing shall pass.”

If you look at the history of our country, we have been through many health outbreaks in the past: Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Scarlet Fever, Typhoid Mary, Spanish Flu, Diphtheria, Polio, Measles, and Whooping Cough just to name afe.

Even the seasonal flue tragically claims many lives each year.

As a nation, and as a people united in victory, we always get through these tough times and emerge better and stronger. As for COVID-19…. “this too shall pass…”

When the medical experts find the vaccine for this virus, the pandemic will end, and we will resume our lives. The economic implications will be felt for some time, but life will eventually return to normal for most people. My hope is that people don’t lose their newly found compassion, kindness, and caring that has surfaced during this pandemic.

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?

The education system is built on the traditional model of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our education system does a great job of producing educated people to work in factories, offices, and businesses; however, sales skills are not taught or celebrated. In fact, sales skills are looked down on by most in society. And yet, sales is a highly technical profession, and it requires the utmost honesty, integrity, and hard work.

What most people don’t realize is that everyone is in sales. However, sales people paid for their skills.

Parents have to sell their kids on doing homework, wives have to sell their husbands on doing household chores, and bosses have to sell their workers on completing their duties. Most people don’t realize this, but everyone is in sales!

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?

Most people HATE talking with pushy salespeople who put their personal or business needs before the needs of their clients.

Clients don’t mind being helped by caring salespeople, but they hate talking with pushy salespeople.

Unfortunately, many salespeople are only after the money and don’t have a servant’s heart for the people they help. That is why salespeople often get a bad reputation for being pushy.

People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.

When people buy, they enjoy being educated and informed so that they can make their own wise purchasing decision.

An ethical salesperson can help facilitate the sale and improve their clients lives. People will do everything in their power to avoid you if you try to be pushy in selling. This is why people reflexively say, “I’m just looking” when asked by a salesperson if they need help with a purchase.

The customer should always feel they are the king or queen who is making their own decision willingly.

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 feel that I am terrific at presenting and handling objections. I feel that these two cannot be separated in the sales process because they often both happen at the same time.

I try to handle the objections as may come up in my life insurance presentation. I have found that most objections are actually concerns, not real objections. Most concerns can be acknowledged, and then you can keep moving forward.

Without a doubt, the most difficult objection to handle is the unspoken one — the one, the client, never tells you about. I simply address all of my client objections in my sales presentation, so when we get to the end of our conversation, they can make an educated and well-informed decision -which in most cases is a “yes” decision.

In the Final Expense life insurance industry, many of the plans available have a 2-year waiting period…and people hate 2-year waiting periods!

Since we specialize in first-day coverage, I include in my presentation that almost everyone we help qualifies for first-day coverage that will pay out no matter when they die. This addresses my prospect’s most intense desire to protect their family from the first day. From there, the rest of the sales process gets easier.

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?

We put screening questions on the opt-in page or our request for a quote page. We only want to be people who are interested in buying our products. We never use “bait & switch” marketing. Even though “bait & switch” marketing does a great job of producing leads, it always provides low quality leads that produce the WORST possible prospects.

As an agent, I want to be spending 100% of our time talking to my IDEAL clients, not people looking for freebies or unachievable rates or pricing. The prospects who go through our funnel and make it all the way the submit button is 100% interested in buying life insurance from us.

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’?

Handling objections is a reactionary event for most salespeople.

Once an objection is presented, it can be hard to overcome because the client’s guard is already up, and the salesperson is now reacting to the clients’ concern. Once a client’s guard is up, it is hard to overcome their lack of trust or confidence. That is why handling objections is hard for most salespeople.

Objections should be expertly handled and addressed in the presentation itself. Most client objections will never come up if properly addressed in the sales presentation process.

In most industries, there are only a handful of objections that keep coming up over time.

Actively listening to your clients and prospects is very important to determine what are the most common objections. Developing a list of the most common objections and handling them in your presentation will eliminate most, if not all, objections.

‘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. Listen to the prospects and be empathetic to their wants and needs.

Example: Most of my clients are on a fixed or limited income, so I tell my clients that I don’t want them to buy life insurance from me if it means they won’t be able to put food on their table or pay their electric bill.

2. Give 2–3 options, so that they don’t think that you are pushing them into any one particular decision.

Example: People love options, and they need to do what is best for them. Giving people multiple options ensures that they will make the right decision for themselves and their families.

3. Ask questions that will uncover roadblocks that they had not yet realized so that you can provide your client with solutions to those roadblocks.

Example: I always ask if they have just started looking or have been shopping around for a while. This lets me know if I have to do any education on the companies that they should consider for coverage.

4. Let the client understand that you are there to save them money.

Example: My #1 goal is to save my clients money and make sure they are not over-insured or under-insured. Because 9 out of 10 of my clients are on a fixed income, affordability is always their #1 concern.

5. Help the client understand that we can always modify their plan if their needs change in the future.

Example: Many people I help start at a lower amount of coverage, and then we stay in touch and add more coverage later as their income allows.

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?

Speed is a key factor in helping my clients. I definitely want to be the first person to contact a client about life insurance. This way, I can educate and address objections to help my client buy the best product or service.

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?

In my area of specialty, final expense life insurance, texting, and emails are almost a complete waste of time.

I don’t send pricing or information to my clients via email or texts. The first thing I do is see if my clients are eligible for a plan; pricing doesn’t even matter at this point in the conversation. In fact, I would be doing my clients a disservice if I provided pricing without knowing if they would even qualify. As a result, I help people over the phone, and if they only general information, I direct them to my company website.

Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

For me, a phone call is the best way to help prospective client, and to make a sale. My prospective clients all want first-day coverage.

The people I help don’t want 2-year waiting periods, prices that increase, the coverage that decreases, or plans that end at after age 80. What takes 5 minutes on the phone may take 30 minutes via text or email. I need protect my own time so that I can help more people. Because of this, I only help people with pricing over the phone, and not by email or texting.

Example: I helped a person yesterday over the phone. She had been denied by another company because of a past medication, and she was told she needed to accept a plan that had a 2-year waiting period. The agent who had helped her before made an error and have her the wrong information.

I got her approved over the phone by another company for a lower rate, and with first-day coverage — and she left me a terrific review as a result!

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 like to see universal healthcare become a reality. Most of the people I work with have fixed or limited incomes, and the burden of managing healthcare expenses is a daily challenge.

Many of the people I help sacrifice in all areas of their lives to pay for life-saving medical treatments and medications. To see people healthier and happier would be a terrific problem to solve for our country!

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/randyvandervaate

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/funeralfunds

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/funeralfunds

Randy VanderVaate: “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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