Invaluable ‘handy-to-know’ lessons and insights from business and domestic life, presented by Eddie Lees

founder of Now Sorted

The Perspective from a Man on a Cloud

How simple questions, an astute metaphor, and a single piece of paper led to wise solutions

Many years ago, when my wife and I had a young family, life insurance agents would cold-call with overtures declaring I would benefit greatly from meeting with them.

The phone would ring, usually after we’d eaten in the evening, and a voice dipped in honey would suggest we should meet (’possibly the most important meeting in your life, Mr Lees’ ) and discuss what was important to me and my family.

With a resistance barrier lower than my wife’s, I’d consent to the occasional half-hour meeting.

Soon, I’d be with an unctuous salesman (almost always a man) trying to get me to agree to ‘this wonderful plan’. He would labour me on responsibilities as a father and husband to ensure his company would provide funds if I could not.

No confronting statements, no doom-laden warnings: just one intelligent question, which made me think: Yes, as I look down from this cloud, what would I want to happen?

Hesitantly, I articulated a response. And the more I thought, the more I considered factors far wider than just insurance: with Sarah’s gentle prompts now and then, I provided my (inadequate) answers.

Then, with her single piece of paper in hand, she asked me to self-assess my family’s position against 10 criteria, which I did.

The result was she quoted my own words back to me and suggested my self-assessment indicated that that our family was less than fifty per cent prepared in the event of my ‘not being around’.

‘Sarah didn’t pressure me at all; it was only when I self-assessed that I had a frame of reference to see how inadequately we’d managed our affairs to that point.’

His writing pad would fill up with figures, progressively connected by arrows and diagrams; then came ‘the close’, where I was asked, in light of all his ‘evidence’ to sign up for a policy there and then.

Mostly, my default position was ‘to think about it’; this resulted in a small cluster of policies that I had agreed to in order to free myself from more tortuous interviews.
Then a friend referred me to Sarah, who was also a life insurance agent (the term at that time). When we met, she had no pad, just a single piece of paper.

After introductions, she said, ‘I am not here to sell you, but I do have a question to ask’. I told her to go ahead.

‘OK, ‘ she said, ‘in the unlikely event you died tonight, and found yourself on a rising cloud, what would you want to happen to the family you leave behind?’ 

Then she had another simple question: in light of what I’d declared, would I like her to fix things for us? To have said ‘no’ would have been insane—and we agreed she’d shortly come back with recommendations.

This she did, and the bottom line was that she not only provided life insurance solutions (I cancelled all other policies) she also reduced other risks to which we were exposed; in addition, she introduced us to a lawyer who furnished us with Wills and Powers of Attorney.

She appealed because she framed her entire approach with simple questions, astute use of a metaphor and getting me to self-assess our family’s risks.

Sarah didn’t pressure me at all; It was only when I self-assessed that I had a frame of reference to see how inadequately we’d managed our affairs to that point.

It was one of the best lessons I ever learned and we happily appropriated Sarah’s approach when building our offer. You’ll find ‘If I wasn’t there to tell them’ 10 self-assessment questions on the front page at Judge things for yourself.