How Small Mistakes Can Boost Your Credibility

June 23, 2015

by Dan Richards

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Over coffee last week, I talked to Philip, a successful advisor who struggled to convert prospect meetings into clients early in his career. His breakthrough came when he received advice on how to come across as more sincere and believable.

That advice, delivered 30 years ago, was to relax when talking to prospects and to admit small mistakes. It resulted in his coming across as more honest and sincere to prospects. Boosting credibility by admitting to minor stumbles may seem counterintuitive, but based on new research from a Stanford academic on what drives credibility, that advice is just as relevant today.

My conversation with Philip took place in New Orleans, where 10,000 advisors from around the world attended the insurance industry’s largest annual gathering. To attend, advisors have to rank in the 5% of sales within their countries; Philip has qualified for many years and today runs an extremely successful practice in California.

Two years into the business, Philip had made initial sales to friends and clients from his former occupation as a real estate agent, but he found himself in a dry spell. When meeting with prospects, he would ask questions about their situation and engage them in conversations, just as he’d been taught and then talk about how he could help. Prospects often appeared interested and impressed at first but towards the end of meetings seemed to put up their guards. Philip would later learn that they had taken their business elsewhere or had decided to put off buying insurance all together.

Struggling to understand what he was doing wrong, Philip asked Richard, a veteran advisor in his office, to sit in on a promising meeting with a couple (Phillip had sold a house to this couple in his previous career). At this point, Philip was questioning whether this was the right business for him.

That’s when he got the advice that changed the direction of his career.

Trying way too hard

Towards the end of the meeting, the prospects had answered all of Philip’s questions and seemed receptive, nodding at the points that he was making. Then Philip went for the close. “Based on what you’ve told me, here’s how much insurance you need to protect your family. Assuming that the cost is affordable within your budget, is there any reason that you wouldn’t move forward?” The couple looked at each other and then the husband answered that they would think about it and get back to Philip.

“Where did I go wrong” Philip asked Richard afterwards over drinks. “The couple was sending strong buying signals and then all of a sudden they just pulled back.”

Here’s the advice he got from Richard:

Son, you’re trying way too hard. You need to remember one five letter word and you’ll be fine. That word is “R E L A X.” You’re trying way too hard. The harder you try, the less confident you come across and the more pressure that prospects feel. And when people feel pressured, their defenses go up and they retreat.

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