What To Do When They Blame You For A Product Line Not Selling

These are the times that product pros dread–the Hard Times. The times when trendy products and even entire classes of product lose their sales luster.

Those who championed the products–agency- or company side–dread these times for company and personal reasons.

On the company level, they fear the financial harm the underperforming products may inflict on the companys bottom line. They fear the slow sales will crimp their firms ability to serve existing customers. And they worry that co-workers who helped push the product may suffer for their loyalty and support.

On the personal level, they fear theyll be blamed for the poor results. They fear being ostracized. They fear a Pink Slip will slide under their door. They fear the effect on their families. They fear the “where next?” question.

In my talks with insurance people this year, Ive learned all these fears are out in full force. Why that is, and what can be done about it, is my topic here.

You should know, going in, that I have no simple pat-on-the-back to offer. No quiet “there, there, now–everything will be all right.”

Lets get real. When “they” blame you, it can get pretty rough. And why not? If you sell or develop financial products, you are white-water rafting some of the time, and that is risky business. It takes more than reassurance to get through the rapids. It takes skill, hard work, and experience. More on that later.

First, lets recap why insurance teeth are chattering. Mainly, its news items like these (emphasis added is mine):

The VARDS Report, a Rosewell, Ga., service of Info-One, reported first quarter 2001 total premium flow for the variable annuity industry was down 23.8% over first quarter 2000.

The Advantage Group, Maryland Heights, Mo., said the equity index annuity industrys first quarter 2001 sales were down 16.1% compared to first quarter of 2000.

LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn., said its first quarter 2001 individual life sales survey found the industrys sales increased 4% over first quarter 2000. But while variable universal life and universal life showed strong premium growth, term sales saw a sharp decline, it said. Also, both face amounts and number of policies sold declined across the board.

JHA, Portland, Maine, in its annual group disability market survey of the industry, has said that while long-term disability sales had a “sharp increase” in 2000 (up 18% over 1999), short-term disability sales “slowed noticeably.”

LIMRAs 11th long-term care market study found some good news, that the number of Americans covered by employer-sponsored LTCs grew 19% in 2000. But it also found the number of new employer groups offering the product declined by 6% from 1999.

Moreover, results at certain companies are particularly bad in one product line or another. Some once-stellar products just arent moving as fast right now, Im told.

As you can see from the above list, there is some good news out there–in certain quarters, at least. But its the bad news that is raising anxiety. I say that because this year:

Ive seen insurance execs actually shake when discussing how a certain product has fallen upon Hard Times.

Ive heard voices quiver as insurance product champions relay how higher-ups banged desktops upon hearing about “more bad (sales) news.”

Ive watched corporate types fret about how stock ownership of their company is putting a “greater sense of urgency” and “more pressure” on the operation, especially sales.

Ive spoken with producers who say theyre on a near-desperate hunt for “safe” products to market–ones that are secure, sleek, sweet, and economical enough to draw sales; that are structured to “be there” for clients when needed; and that pay enough comp to keep gas in the tank, as it were.

In the mid- to late-1990s, it was rare to hear such things. Agencies and companies were making money, so the industry was graced with a “more-the-merrier” joie de vivre.

Those upbeat feelings are not entirely gone, but enough people are troubled today to inject a distinct air of uneasiness into everyday insurance and financial commerce. If you are one of those people, here are some “booster shots” that might help stabilize you and your operation.

Keep that image of white-water rafting front and center. Remember, the skilled rafters usually come out just fine.

If you lack the skills or experience you need to pull through, make a strong case for hiring a pro, or co-opting one from another department, to do the job.

Dont be surprised if you are blamed for the product not selling. But dont be unprepared either. Evaluate the problem proactively, own the part thats yours, and spell out what youre doing to correct it. But also identify the part thats due to non-you forces (volatile stock market, interest rate trends, new competition, recent restructuring, death or departure of a key staff person, or whatever).

Be ready to let go of yesterday. The way it was will never come back. Yesterdays policy success is always in the past. But remember that you can build something new, using what you learned from that success.

Network like crazy. This is your antidote to Pink Slip nightmares. If the worst happens, youll have people to call, and places to go.

Update your skills. Take a computer class, study for a new designation, start a study group, learn about an unfamiliar product line. Youll be surprised at the opportunities this unfolds.

Bone up on the industry. Find out how others are handling your problem. Apply what you learn to your own operation.

The point is, when youre shooting rapids, you cant just sit there, feeling fear. You’ve got to do something, whether you want to or not.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 6, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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