What’s an “iceberg” question?
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What’s an “iceberg” question?

Paul sells commercial insurance, and he’s conducting his annual review with Springfield Industries, a long-time client. “Paul, I wanted to ask you something,” says Jane, the company controller. “I’m confused by the new insurance regulations. I heard they’ll help reduce my premiums. Is that true?”

Paul’s been getting that question a lot lately, and he’s ready with an answer. “Well Jane, you do have an option under the new regs that can save a little on your premiums. But you’d be exposed to more risk. I think it’s prudent to stay with the coverage you have for now – at least until we see how the new regs play out.”

“Okay,” says Jane. “I guess that makes sense.”

Paul doesn’t know it, but he just lost this account.

It won’t happen right away. In fact, over the next six months, Springfield Industries’ premium payments come in like clockwork. Then one day, Paul gets a notice in the mail, informing him that Springfield has canceled its policy and taken its business to another firm.

So what did Paul do that was so terrible? His client simply asked him a question and he answered it.

The problem was that Jane’s question was like an iceberg. To the unwary, it just looked like a little piece of ice floating in a big calm sea. But underneath, there was a whole lot of trouble.

See, Jane was concerned about a lot more than the new regs. After several years of premium hikes, she felt that Paul was taking her business for granted and more concerned about his commissions than saving her money. So when another vendor came along promising to show her how those new regs could save her a bundle, she jumped at the chance.

Not fair, you say? Why didn’t Jane just tell him what she was really concerned about?

She should have. But in the real world, customers often don’t tell you what’s got them upset. And fair or not, salespeople who can pick up on “iceberg” questions like these are going to win and keep more business.

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