On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we chat with Stephen Fuoco. Stephen is Senior Vice President and Sales Manager at Bradley & Parker, Inc, a large regional independent insurance agency in New York, where he directs and manages sales efforts and is known to his customers as their on-staff Risk Manager. He has 20 years of business insurance experience, ten years of experience running businesses, and is also an Insurance Counselor.

We chat about identifying vulnerabilities, as well as:

  • Consultative selling as a way to win business
  • Spending time teaching people to do things the right way
  • Shifting away from the perception of insurance as a commodity
  • Applying risk management to businesses
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling Podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hi, it’s Nancy Calabrese and it’s time for Conversational Selling, the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it always starts with the human conversation. I’m so excited. Joining me today is a terrific colleague and client Steve Fuoco, Senior Vice President and Sales Manager at Bradley and Parker Inc, a large regional independent insurance agency in New York. He directs and manages the firm’s sales efforts and is known to his customers as their on staff Risk Manager. Selling comes naturally to Steve. He’s engaging, a great listener, asks good questions, and probably most important, he has a great sense of humor. Now aren’t all these ingredients the qualities of a great salesman? He also treats his customers’ money, like it’s his money, another reason why they love him. And so Steve, I am so happy you can join us. Welcome to the show can’t wait to get started.

Stephen Fuoco: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: So the story goes, Steve and I were at a sales convention, several years ago. We actually met on the bus that took us from the airport. And we immediately connected, we both believe in consultative selling as a way to win business. And you know, Steve, I thought we could open it up was why has that worked? Why do you believe in this approach?

Steve: Sure. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on the podcast today. And it’s great. speaking with you again and yeah, great being here. Well, the way I see it, there’s only two logical ways to sell one of them is consultative, and the other one is on price. I personally, never buy on price alone. So I don’t want to sell on price alone. I recognize. At the same time, that price is part of every sale. But in my world. It’s not the focus, whether I’m selling or buying. That that said, the consultative approach. I realize it doesn’t work with all buyers. But I only want to sell to those where it does work. 

Because those buyers are the ones who usually value my advice more than price. And I learned early in my career, that if you sell on price, you will lose on price. And I believe that from the very beginning and it never made much sense to me to build my business on that foundation. Because it just seemed like a treadmill that customers will be coming on and off of on a regular basis. And instead building my career on consultative selling and, and building the career of the guys that worked for me on consultative selling has allowed me to hold on to clients for well over 15 years on average, which is more well more than double the industry standard.

Nancy: Oh wow. Yeah, that that, you know, why do you think so many other sales people, especially in your space, okay, you’re in an oversaturated industry, right? There are a lot of independent agents that are vying for the same business. And yet many of those approach selling in the features and benefits mode. Why? Why do you think more people haven’t adopted or adapted to consultative selling?

Steve: Well, that’s a great question. Maybe they’ve just never seen the light or they’ve never worked for a coach that was able to tell them that there’s another way and I hope most of the guys that come to work for me, have sold on price. And it seems to be what is the norm in the insurance business and it’s the norm in a lot of businesses. And we just, at Bradley and Parker, we just refuse to allow that to be the norm because we just truly don’t believe in it.

Nancy: Yeah. Well, you know, I’ve always been impressed that you’re a big believer in investing in your sales team, which is really unusual. You offer to provide them ongoing training and coaching. Why is this so important as a leader to give to your staff? And you know, especially in sales, and then insurance, how has that really, I guess, made your team stronger?

Steve: Well, thanks for that compliment. That’s nice to say, I think that, why it’s so important to me, just goes back, I guess, to growing up as a kid and being fortunate to have a lot of people in my family and a lot of friends who took the time to teach me how to do things. And, and then, as you know, because we’re friends that have two sons who are now older, 30, and 33. But when they were kids, for 10 to 15 years, I was their a little league coach and, and also then a travel baseball coach for my two sons and many of their friends. And it taught me the value of teaching people how to do things, right. And, and as I think we may have even discussed, somewhere along our relationship that in the three years that I coach, travel baseball, we won the championship all three years in a row. 

And that taught me that it really can pay off to spend the time teaching people how to do things the right way. And, and one of my sayings, that is that selling is not rocket science is just really, really hard. And it’s not logical to me to expect anyone to or hard things without training them and coaching them along the way. I mean, I realized there are superstars that can achieve that without training. But whereas one out of 10 people, one out of 50 people, and, oh, I play the odds. And plus, I found that investing in my guys and gals that with things like Sandler, which you and I have both used, that it shows them, we really care about them, and that their career matters. And, and we’ve been paid back in salesman loyalty and increased sales. So it just makes sense. plus, plus, it feels good.

Nancy: It feels good. And it’s working. It’s working, which is key. So I want to kind of pivot a little bit and talk about your world. I’m a lay person as it relates to insurance. I know the terminology. I don’t understand the complexity. And yet what I have found, certainly in our conversations and with other clients that insurance is often viewed as a commodity by many and I want you to talk about why is that? And then kind of tie into how your sales approach helps overcome this.

Steve: Okay, well, I would say that our industry is to blame for allowing our product to be considered a commodity. And one great example of that is the commercial that you could quote as easily as me, which is 15 minutes will save you 15%. And it Geico has spent bazillions on that commercial, State Farm and Allstate have copied their version of it with Jake the State Farm guy and, and so on. And the point is our industry when they spend their money on advertising, they promote the product as a commodity so so that’s I don’t blame the public for looking at it that way. And, but it shouldn’t be because it’s a whole lot more than a commodity. It’s really our product protects everybody’s assets. Which is to me critically important thing. 

And in fact, at Bradley and Parker, we start many of our sales when we need to, by saying something like, Hey, we know price is important to you. And it’s important to everyone, it’s important to us. But let’s put price aside for a moment. What else is important to you. And when we do that, the client inevitably will come out with 1,2,3,4 other things that are equally or more important than price. And then we spend the rest of the time talking about that. And less away from the commodity and the price. And but I recognize nobody wants to pay more money than they’re paying now. But also recognize people don’t mind paying the same thing they’re paying now, because most people are paying a fair price. And if you can show them you, you’ll give them better value. They they usually respond to that.

Nancy: Yeah, obviously, it’s it’s definitely worked. Here’s another term. Well, a term I hear all the time. And I think for most of us listening, we really don’t understand what it means. So could you define what risk management is to businesses?

Steve: Sure. First of all, that’s a great question. Because most insurance brokers that we compete with every day, don’t focus on risk management at all. And don’t practice risk management at all, which just keeps them in the commodities trap. So Bradley and Parker risk management is what we’re all about. So I couldn’t be happier that you asked that question. We define risk management basically as identifying vulnerabilities that our customers have to risk and things that could cause them financial and emotional harm. And we help them strategize and on solutions and to implement those solutions. So that they end up having less vulnerabilities. 

And when we do that, it usually results in a more efficient customer, their processes are more efficient, and their profits are higher. And, you know, when you do that for somebody, they trust you more, and you’ve actually brought real value. Yeah, it goes back to the previous question, then, price isn’t as important when you make somebody more profitable. And when you make their operation, less vulnerable, they, they want you to stay as they’re what we call outsource risk manager and, and we really enjoy that. And we that’s what we strive to do.

Nancy: Yeah, you know, a trusted advisor, that is really needed in businesses. So may I ask besides risk management? What sets Bradley and Parker apart from other independent agents? Or maybe that’s what it is?

Steve: Well, it’s, it’s two things that really set us apart. And the main thing is risk management that we already talked about, because of what I said a minute ago, which is most of our competitors. Why while they may know what mismanagement is, they don’t ever discuss it. And that’s amazing to me. If we’re in the insurance and employee benefits business, and you don’t talk about risk management, it’s, it’s just amazing. But the other thing that sets us apart is as you know, from working with us for so many years, that our logo and our motto is the one source right costs different than most other brokers. 

A client can come to us for every business insurance need, they have, plus every employee benefits need or surety bonding need if they for the few industries that need that, and in addition to their personal insurance needs for their family, especially the business owners and and the people who manage their company. So there’s very few brokers in our region and throughout the country that focus on risk management and those four practice areas that I just mentioned. And in our case, even though we’re only 65 employees, inside of our company, we offer all those services from those 65 employees. We don’t farm it out to other places. And and that’s unusual. 

Nancy: Yeah. You know, you’re a great storyteller. Steve, could you share one with the audience?

Steve: Sure. Well, that’s nice of you to say, again. One story that really changed my life in business, was that one of my best clients, more than 10 years ago, suffered a very big loss, where our insurance company that we represented at the time had to pay $9 million compensation to an employee of that client of mine. And $9 million is a lot of money to anybody, and even to the very large insurance company that paid it. And it made a lasting impression on me about how important risk management is, and how unimportant the price you pay is for insurance. And I’d like to expand on that if, if I met, you may think the interesting thing was, we didn’t have to pay that $9 million if, or maybe we didn’t have to pay that $9 million if the proper risk management was done. And this was more than 10 years ago, and at that time, even our firm didn’t focus enough on risk management. 

And what I mean is the contract that our client signed with was a contractor, a HVAC contractor, and the contract they signed with their customer. They didn’t realize it, but in the contract, it made them responsible for each and every injury that happened, even if the their customer caused the injury. And their customer did cause the injury. Our client has nothing to do with it. Yet, our client by contract had to pay for the full $9 million and obviously upset our client and our insurance company. Fortunately, for there had a good ending to this story, the employee ended up to be okay. $9 million richer. And so other you know, but there was a story there is risk management matters. And that was a vulnerability that none of us knew was there. And so I made it my mission to try not to have those kinds of things happen again.

Nancy: Oh, wow. Yeah. I think we can all relate to one story like that that sticks will all of us.

Steve: Yeah, yeah. Well, that one stuck with always will.

Nancy: What would you like to spotlight? What should everybody hear about?

Steve: Well, I really like to, not to be redundant, but too much. But the four step risk management program that we use is at the core of our company. And it’s such a differentiator, that is really what I’d like to spotlight because without that, we’re just like everybody else. And with that, we’re very different and much more valuable to our clients. And we enjoy our job a lot more. And the one thing that we didn’t talk about much yet, which is part of the four step process is is the fourth step. 

The first three steps, we talked about that Identifying vulnerabilities, we talked about that earlier, and then strategizing with clients and then implementing those strategies. Those are the first three steps. But the fourth step is monitoring. What happens after that. And this takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline. But it’s not rocket science, like I mentioned before, and monitoring things this year, next year, the year after that, to make sure that our customers stay safe, and stay profitable, and don’t end up having to pay $9 million for a claim. Because that’s never good. So I really like to just focus and spotlight on that if at risk of being redundant.

Nancy: No, no, no, you’re getting your point across, and there’s absolute value to what you’re doing and what you suggest be done, in general. You know, I always asked everyone on my podcast to tell me something true that almost nobody agrees with you on. And it could be business related, personal related. What’s your story? Statement, I should say. Yeah.

Steve: I’ve already said it a little bit as part of my previous answers. But when somebody comes to me, to interview to work with us, as a salesperson, I almost always, I always ask them, you know, what are the four most important parts of the sale? And almost every one of them that I’ve interviewed always say price as the first thing? And I tell them right off the bat, no, it isn’t. And I can tell you that that is that the one thing that most people just say I’m wrong about at the beginning. But then I’m happy to say that after showing it and discussing it more, most people end up realizing that relationship is the most important thing in the sales process. Price is definitely second to that. And in our case, the other two legs of the table, if you would are coverages and service. And I argue that covered service and price are equal, but they all fall way behind relationship.

Nancy: It’s all about relationships all about working alongside other business professionals. I think that have a mindset that’s compatible with yours. Would you agree with that?

Steve: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Yeah.

Nancy: So what is one takeaway you want to leave the audience with?

Steve: Well, most people have a really bad feeling or opinion about the insurance industry. They feel that insurance industry is his big brother or big business, and that it’s just out for them and it and it’s a rip off, and they’re being overcharged and insurance is bad. And, you know, and there are some bad apples in our industry and

Nancy: In every industry. Right?

Steve: Exactly. And and there are some in ours, definitely. But I don’t focus on that instead, you know, as you know, I studied economics back in college and, and my real background is is from the financial world, before I got into insurance. And I now view insurance as one of the most important and critical industries, in our our economy and in the world. And what I mean by that is, you know, we protect people’s people individually, and businesses against financial loss usually for pennies on the dollar and You know, we help people survive certain financial devastations? 

Like COVID, for instance, yeah, or, you know, especially COVID in regards to their health insurance, but hurricanes, floods, fires, other work related in injuries or when it comes to employee benefits, we help people survive cancer and heart disease. And, you know, there are many industries that do this kind of thing. And then at the same time, if it wasn’t for insurance, I guarantee you, banks wouldn’t be so easy, so fast, to lend money for individuals to buy homes or businesses to grow their, their business through loans. I’m really proud of what we do, and that I’m a part of it. And, and I’d like people to give a little, you know, a little kudos to the insurance industry. And so, there’s my takeaway.

Nancy: Yeah, no, I and I think, I mean, my takeaway in speaking with you, is the, we all need to be better educated about the importance, and maybe you can spearhead that, Steve.

Steve: Run my own podcast.

Nancy: Yeah, we’ll have a sidebar on that one. Yeah, for sure. So, finally, you know, I, you’re based in New York, what geographic area do you service? So my listeners, you know, if they are in that area can reach out to you?

Steve: Well, first of all, we we have some programs that operate nationally for certain franchises, and certain industries, like the printing industry, and, and the staffing industry. And, you know, we’re out there selling in just about every state, throughout the country. But our main focus is to, for businesses and individuals, businesses that are headquartered here on Long Island, and also in the Greater New York City metropolitan area, you know, including parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, and a little bit of Pennsylvania, but not too much. But if their headquarters are here, that’s really who we like to focus on. Because they’re interested in doing business locally, and then we could do a good job. But the companies that we serve, mostly are those, with somewhere between 25 employees and 1000 employees. That seems to be our niche. And we’re pretty darn good at it.

Nancy: Yep. And I can attest to that, everyone. So how can people get in touch with you, Steve?

Stve: They can contact me anytime, you know, 24-7-365, as they say, through my email address, which is sfuoco@bradley-parker.com. And Fuoco for any non Italians out there, is F U O C O.

Nancy: Say that again, I chuckled, say it again.

Steve: Sfuoco, which is actually supposed to be pronounced foo oh co back in the home country. But it’s fuoco here in America, @ bradley-parker.com, or anyone is invited to text or call my cell, which I have with me all the time at 631-786-8412. Because I make myself available to my clients all the time, sometimes to my family’s chagrin, but I just think that’s the way it should be.

Nancy: Yeah. Once again, I so enjoyed our conversation. I really recommend any of the listeners in their geographic area to give Steve a call, you will not be disappointed in the support you get and the quality of service. So Steve, will you come back for another talk?

Steve: I’d love to Nancy, it’s always fun talking to you. Love to come back whenever you need it.

Nancy: All right. Okay and to everyone out there, be safe, happy selling.

Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads, or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.