Understanding the Need

Talking sales with Jeff Allen, partner at NEEDS Selling Solutions and president of Cheyson Business Services

Backed by more than 35 years in finance and insurance, Jeff Allen, of Cheyson Business Services and NEEDS Selling Solutions, and coauthor of the book by the same name, understands the ins and outs of the industry. Advantage recently sat down with Allen to learn what ties it all together.

Advantage: What were you doing before Cheyson, and how does your current role build on it?
Jeff Allen: Cheyson began as a managing general agent for service agreements or extended-warranty products provided in Canada by Protective, a US insurance company. Prior to Cheyson coming into existence, I managed programs of this nature within a division of General Electric. We had extended-warranty programs for our commercial finance customers to provide to their customers. GE ceased offering these products, and after I retired I negotiated distribution for Canada. As the client base grew, we added products such as credit life and disability insurance that expanded our customer relationships and increased their value offering to their clients.

By working within the auto, RV, and power-sport industry, did you see any change in the delivery of services during the big slump in this industry?
As product sales dipped within our client base, a number of dealers looked to accelerate growth in products that were not capital- or inventory-intensive, aligned with their core customer service and customer care values, and contributed to the bottom-line profitability. Such a product was extended warranties. A family or individual buying a used car would likely have less disposable income during times of financial stress in the economy. While this product delivers value through all economic cycles, there would be fewer funds available for unexpected repairs during uncertain times. They would feel comfortable with a predetermined monthly payment for the vehicle, although would be hard pressed to come up with the money for a major repair. With an extended warranty, they wouldn’t be concerned with this aspect of the purchase. Our client has provided a product that meets all the criteria noted above and therefore is more likely to sell a vehicle to that cautious consumer.

How does your work at Cheyson connect to your NEEDS Selling Solutions work?
There is no direct connection; these are two very different organizations. That being said, at Cheyson we incorporate the ideals and processes found in NEEDS every day with every client. NEEDS Selling Solutions is also a book I coauthored, and it’s a methodology for analyzing needs within a selling solution. NEEDS is an acronym for “the Necessity to Explore, Examine, Determine, and Solve” at every phase of the selling cycle: prospecting, needs identification, qualifying, presentation, and close. Before you can provide a solution, you need to ensure that you understand the explicit—not the implied—need. At a very high level, it is about asking the right questions at the right time and powerfully listening to the prospects’ responses. By doing this, we can understand the explicit need.

Is NEEDS a program?
Our model is not a mass model. We don’t do out-of-the-can training. Instead, we spend a great deal of time with the corporate entity and senior management, understanding what challenges they have—and this could be anything from prospecting to closing and any aspect within that component of the selling cycle. We then tailor a program addressing what those challenges are. NEEDS has been really well received, partly because it’s not an out-of-the-can offering; we focus on the explicit needs of our client. In other words, we practice what we preach.

This is obviously a process informed by your experience.
My coauthor and I worked with thousands of sales people within hundreds of companies in many different industries during our careers. We wrote the book to use as a springboard for providing sales, customer service, and negotiation skills training. We were both involved in training and coaching during our corporate careers, through working one on one with direct reports and in formal training roles. We felt that providing our insight and expertise in a training environment would be an exceptional way to positively contribute to excellence in selling. Writing the book and the ensuing training enables us to pass our experience on.

What’s next for Cheyson?
Earlier this year, we took over the branding, program development, and complete distribution of the XtraRide and AutoXtra service-agreement programs in Canada. We are experiencing great success marketing these programs that are now ours. We continue to enhance our offerings that we are placing our own “customer-focused” stamp on.