The most effective tool a salesperson can put in his or her arsenal has nothing to do with what many people believe sales is all about, said Alan Alford, the top salesman at Geico. He's written nearly 32,000 insurance policies over 17 years.
"I think with me it's listening to people. Believe it or not, a lot of people think salespeople are just great talkers, which I am," Alford said, and laughed. "But I think the listening is the biggest part." He offered four tips to boost sales.
"I generally have empathy about what you want to accomplish when you call," he said. "I use that to my advantage."
He averages about 12 policies per day by simply answering the phone.
Alford, author of the book "$ell Your Little Heart Out," appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Friday from Omaha, Nebraska, the day before the annual shareholders meeting of Geico's parent company, Warren Buffett-run Berkshire Hathaway.
"I wound up … [at Geico] because I saw an ad in the paper. And it was [an] open house," Alford recalled. "Seventeen years later, I'm still with the company." He said he wrote his book because people kept asking him about the secrets to his success.
"Knowing your product, knowing what you have to offer, how you can be a good fit, having confidence, it all plays into being successful," he said, stressing the importance of being able to counter objections with informed options. "That's part of selling, handling tough objections. Writing down what the customer says is always very, very important. You always want to be in tune to your customer."
At the end of the day, salespeople must actually ask for the sale and follow the "always be closing" saying, he said.
The mantra "always be closing" was popularized in the 1992 movie "Glengarry Glen Ross" by the Alec Baldwin character Blake, who leveled an abusive rant on how to achieve sales success. "A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. Always be closing!" Blake bellowed at a desperate cadre of big city real estate salesmen.
Alford said he prefers a much softer approach than the one advocated in the movie. "I'm not a hard closer."
He said he wasn't always a great salesman. "Some of it is sales ability, but a lot of it I learned through coaching, through asking questions, [and] through mistakes."