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The next time you speak, avoid this risk

"Do you want to hear about the 16 perils?" the salesperson asked.

"Not especially," I said. I'd initiated this phone call, with a well-known company, to get a competitive bid on home insurance. My policy was up for renewal.

But the salesperson's approach surprised me. "Is your current policy," he asked, "an HO-3 or an HO-5?"

I had no idea. HO-3 sounded like HO-HO-HO. It was industry jargon, meaningful to the agent, but gobbledygook to everyone else.

"Why don't I just tell you what an HO-3 covers," he said. (The 16 perils!) "Then you and I can brainstorm whether anything is missing."

Brainstorming seemed like a shaky way to buy insurance—sort of like going on a quiz show: "Guess what's missing from this policy??? That's right, FLOOD INSURANCE!"

But maybe it was a good way to sell insurance because, let's face it, the minute you think about your house being vandalized, or burned to the ground, or whirled around by a dancing tornado, you definitely want vast quantities of insurance.

So eventually, he read the 16 perils. (Here's the list, plus a compelling article, "BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, YOUR KITCHEN IS ON FIRE!")

I noted there was nothing about snakes. That was disappointing; I'm very motivated to avoid snakes, and would definitely buy a HO-HO-HO policy that offered an ironclad, no snakes, guarantee.

I decided to get another quote.

The next (and last) salesperson never mentioned HO-3, and never mentioned the 16 perils. But she did ask at least 16 questions about my house.

Her message: we're going to thoroughly understand your home so we can give you the right protection.

And I took it. Even though there was nothing about snakes.

Tip: Speak to what your audience needs or wants to know—and in their language. Delete everything else.

Otherwise, you're in peril.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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