Consultative sales Featured

12:30pm EDT June 22, 2004
You don't stick around in the business world for 111 years by doing what everyone else is doing.

The James B. Oswald Co.'s approach toward its customers is to find out what keeps them up at night and then offer solutions to offset those risks.

The Oswald Co. may essentially be selling insurance, but Marc Byrnes, president and CEO, sees the company as a risk management firm. To effectively sell insurance and other risk management products, you first have to understand what risks customers face.

"What we have done over the last five to seven years is brought on board not salespeople but very competent technicians with definitive areas of specialization and expertise," says Byrnes. "We are looking at reducing our clients' risks. It takes a different type of person to do that rather than just selling a product off a shelf."

The company has expanded its risk management into areas such as product liability and property risk assessments and brought in the expertise necessary to perform these types of analyses for customers.

"Instead of raw sales, we are focusing on the true meaning of value-added," says Byrnes. "Instead of charging commissions on products, we are taking them out of the products to reduce the costs, and instead are providing an incentive program based on performance. We are consultatively selling to our customers."

The first step in accomplishing this is to stop talking and start listening.

"The first and most important thing to do is to engage the prospective client in a dialogue to ascertain what keeps them up at night," says Byrnes. "We are there to find out what their top three priorities are and focus in on what they want to achieve in the next 12 to 18 months. We are asking questions and listening. Over the last seven years, we have hired more people that can do that.

"We want to become one of their trusted advisers. We want to be more than just a broker. We encourage meetings with their outside legal and accounting advisers so we can get together and determine where the company is going and how we can help."

One of the biggest areas of growth for the company is assisting the many venture capital firms in Cleveland do due diligence on prospective acquisitions.

"What we've done is taken a team of consultants and study the risks and exposures," says Byrnes. "If we do it the right way, it will enhance the client's overall bottom line. Protection and security is what it is all about. We are trying to protect our clients. The name of the game is risk mitigation and prevention."

By focusing on long-term consulting relationships with clients, the fee structure isn't loaded with upfront costs, which allows the company to be cost-efficient.

"Most other companies charge fees up front, then go away," says Byrnes. "We want to stick around. We want to be compensated for what we are doing, but we want to provide benefits and values others can't.

"We are very unique. We are consultative advisers vs. insurance sales brokers. The brokerage piece is easy. But first you have to get in there and find out what hurts." How to reach: James B. Oswald Co., (216) 622-7400