Beneath The Veneer There Is A Salesman At Work

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The December 24/31 issue of National Underwriter featured a quote of the week by Ann Hartmann, president of The Society of Financial Service Professionals: (SFSP). The quote stated: “I think anytime there is a bad economy, it separates the salesmen and the advisors.”

As I read this, my first reaction was, “Right on!!!!” If ever there is a time for salesmen and salesmanship to shine, it is when the economy slows down.

But then I read the article from which the quote was lifted and discovered that I had completely misinterpreted the intent of the quote. A reading of the entire Hartmann interview could easily cause one to infer that somehow advisors better serve the public than salespeople who may only be interested in selling product rather than solving needs.

I do not know Ann Hartmann, but I am certain that she is a person entitled to great respect as the head of the SFSP. However, as a person who has been a salesman of one sort or another for all of my adult life, I take great umbrage at what appears to me a “put down” of salespeople.

I have no quarrel with people who adopt lofty titles; we have been doing it for decades. We have called ourselves estate planners, business planners, insurance consultants and a host of other titles, presumably to add prestige and specificity to what we do. But underneath this veneer we are still salespeople and we are rewarded financially and emotionally only when we make a sale.

In my lifetime I have sold a wide variety of products, but they all had one thing in commonthey solved a particular need of the buyer. I have always regarded selling as essentially a “problem solving enterprise.”

The reason we become CLUs or ChFCs is to help us to understand the problems people and businesses may have. But we sell life insurance (and other products) to solve the problems. The great Isaac Kibrick, John Newton Russell Award recipient and leader of the New York Life sales force, understood this when 50 years ago he coined the phrase, “Look for the loss.”

I find articles that demean the role of salespeople in our economy in stark contrast to one I clipped from the business section of our local newspaper last month. The article entitled, “Sold on Sales Reps Saving the U.S. Economy” was written by Dale Dauten, a syndicated writer for King Features.

In the article, he said, “I think the President ought to appoint a ‘sales czar’ and Im nominating H. Norman Schwarzkopf.” He then went on to say that he was also drafting for him the first address to his troops, parts of which I have excerpted as follows:

“The glory of free enterprise is that it has an unlimited number of leaders; the tragedy of a stalling economy is that it has none. The politicians just know the danger, but not the solution.

“The President and the other politicians are looking to the wrong people to get the economy moving. You dont tell consumers that things are going to get worse if they dont spend money. Thats like telling someone, ‘Theres a scorpion crawling over your leg; just act normal.’ No way they are going to act normal.

“Instead of turning to consumers, the President should have turned to you, to salespeople. You are the ones who know how money gets spent. You gain trust, then show people how a product or service will benefit them. You sell self-interest. You show them how a dollar spent with you makes more sense than hiding that dollar in a fake can of Foamy. If you want more spending, you start with more selling.

“You, the sales reps of America, 12 million strong, are the Marines, the SEALS and the Green Berets of the American economy.

“Its up to you.”

A favorite theme of mine is, “The salesman is the spark plug of America.” It would appear from Dautens article that he agrees. Other recent articles in the Wall Street Journal have made the same point. If our industry is to achieve a significant increase in life insurance sales, then we need to shed this elitist notion that somehow we are above the time-honored process of “selling.”

Speaking at an industry gathering some years ago, a noted marketing professor from one of our top universities made the following observation. He complimented the industry for its extensive training in product knowledge and its applications, but was critical of its lack of sales training; his point being that for an agent, knowledge is power, but only if you know how to use it to make the sale.

I believe it was Ray Triplett, a past president of The American Society of CLU, who said: “The first duty of an agent to his client is to sell him or her a policy.” Ray is one of the most professional and successful people I have ever known.

The agent who gives advice that does not result in a sale is, as a practical matter, unemployed.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 28, 2002. Copyright 2002 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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