In a competitive industry, actuaries need to know how to sell themselves. John Scarrott advises reframing your anxieties around the issue.
Actuaries, like many technical professionals, have traditionally had an uncomfortable relationship with selling - but this is changing. Through a combination of rising competition and clients increasingly choosing their actuary based on the quality of their relationship, today's actuary is realising that success in building client relationships can lead to new assignments - as well as enable both their personal growth and the growth of their practice.
This is an exciting opportunity and a new challenge for individuals working in the profession.
Learning to sell is a journey, not a moment in time. The first step of this journey involves understanding the stories we tell ourselves about sales - and how these stories might get in our way. The next step is to find a new way to tell those stories. Here are three of the most pervasive stories, and some ideas on how to reframe them:
"Selling carries negative associations": There are a set of negative impressions around selling behaviour. These include things such as, "I have to persuade", "I have to respond to objections" and "I have to close the deal". In general, they are unappealing. We're exposed to these impressions in our daily lives, and it can therefore appear as though this is the way selling is and must be.
Challenge this idea by creating a positive view of selling for yourself. Ask yourself, "How would I like to sell?" Today's sales professional is all about building relationships and adding value along the way. For them, selling is a gradual, human process that may arrive at a certain point, namely an agreement to work together. It involves permission, respect, enquiry and an exchange of views. Perhaps this is more in keeping with how you would like to sell.
"Selling requires a different set of skills and mindset to that which got me here": Actuaries find success in their early career through mastery of their discipline. This involves developing a solution to a client's problem away from the client. Selling, on the other hand, is done 'with' another person. This adds another layer of complexity, combining the technical with the personal. Reframe this issue by identifying any skills you have that could be useful. Today's successful salesperson is using skills that the actuary possesses - curiosity, listening, partnering, proactivity, reflection, insight, conversation and consistency. Success in selling could be about learning to use your current skills in a new context.
"We're not taught how to sell": It may be assumed that you'll know how to do it, because you've been an expert up to this point. This can give rise to a 'learning on the job' approach, which places high demand on resilience and raises the risk of somebody giving up too early.
Tackle this problem by recognising what you may need to add to your skills portfolio. This is about deciding how you want to learn to sell. Learning to sell 'on the job' can test resilience and also make for slow progress. For example, a client may ask you to present a solution; at this point, it would be perfectly okay to do a pitch presentation - but how many of these have you done? Before you 'go live', it can be useful to seek out some form of professional guidance. When you invest in your development, you accelerate your progress, and everyone benefits.
Relationship-building skills can help actuaries to retain existing clients and attract new ones. Recognising your ability to sell is an important part of your future progress. Let go of your old ideas around selling and embrace some new ones - they will make the journey easier and more rewarding.
John Scarrott works with technical professionals on selling, speaking and presenting and networking skills