Let’s say you are a football coach and a FedEx delivery person comes to your door with a playbook. What would happen?

The playbook might sit on your desk. You may read it sometime. Or it could go in the trash. Now imagine the same scenario, but this time the FedEx delivery person is Steve Spurrier, University of South Carolina’s football coach. Would you want to sit down and talk with him about the playbook?

We want to be like the professional coach. We want to be perceived as the professional consultants who apply the life insurance playbook. We don’t want to be perceived as just dropping off packages of tax, estate planning and product information.

Establishing ourselves and our experience in developing life insurance planning concepts and product solutions means that we need to reach beyond product and planning fundamentals. Products and planning concepts are important, but they are only the playbook.

The difference between winning cases and clients in today’s planning environment is the experience the insurance and financial professional communicates in conversations with the client. We therefore need to enhance our ability to connect emotionally and logically with clients, and, to that end, use storytelling to make memorable and lasting impressions.

Of course, listening is as important as telling. So, I’ve briefly outlined an approach to “storylistening” and storytelling as a way to differentiate an insurance and financial planning practice.

Storylistening

The first step in any successful sales process is listening to the client’s story. My first mentor in the insurance and financial planning business emphasized that gathering the client data was the most important part of the sales process.

In developing estate and business planning cases, we focus on the financial facts, which are always important and fundamental elements of our analysis. But we must go beyond these facts to create a relationship that results in a productive, long-term engagement.

So, my first suggestion is to listen for the emotional facts in the client’s story in addition to the financial facts. This takes time; we cannot ask clients to reveal all their emotions in the first meeting.

Getting the client’s full story, which may take several meetings, involves more art than science. You may consider including questions about the client’s life, history and hopes for his or her children.

Everyone has a story to tell. By asking questions that few investment professionals ask, you will hear stories that few people get to hear and take a step toward establishing an unbreakable bond with your clients.

Building Stories: An Approach

The next step is to build stories that bridge the products and planning you offer to the client situation. Stories always have been important because they help people visualize, relate the familiar to the unfamiliar and connect with emotions, which are powerful drivers of client decisions.

How do you build a story? Like getting the story, building the story to communicate the relevance of planning or product is more art than science. This is the foundation of one approach you may find useful:

o Identify the core emotion. What is the client most concerned about?

o Identify the key financial planning concept or product feature connected to the core emotion.

o Develop a story that conveys the core emotion and use analogies to help the client connect emotionally and logically to the planning concept or product.

With estate planning, the ability to construct a powerful story around the core emotions of care and love is more important than ever. The gradual repeal of the estate tax has, in many cases, taken away the estate tax reasons to buy insurance.

So, we need to find other ways to communicate the value of insurance to clients. Many clients, if not all clients, will reveal a love for their family as a fundamental reason to plan. The following brief story about an apple tree sums up the emotional connection between insurance and estate planning:

The grandparents of one family I knew had a big apple tree in the middle of their backyard. They had five kids and 15 grandkids. So, you can imagine that it was a great place for the family to have fun.

In the summer, the kids played hide and seek around the tree and played on a huge tire swing in the middle of the tree. In autumn, the grandkids picked apples for homemade apple pie. So, the tree was a great source of enjoyment for the family.

The grandparents wanted their children to someday have a big apple tree to remind them of the fun at their house and also to make memories with their own grandchildren. So, one day they decided to pick one apple from the tree for each of their five children to plant in their backyards, to grow a big apple tree.

Wealth transfer is like taking those apples and giving them to the children to plant. In wealth transfer, we take a portion of the investment portfolio–even a small amount of income from the portfolio–and gift that money to the children. And we often plant that money in life insurance to help provide a legacy to their heirs.

From this story and stories like it, we can build the foundation of relating to the client’s story and build a strong context in which to plan. Of course, the financial facts and analysis are important in how we execute the ultimate plan.

However, getting the client’s story and building the appropriate story to communicate context is the difference between merely delivering packages of information and product and winning the client’s devotion to you as the insurance and financial professional.

Brett W. Berg, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, serves as national field director of advanced sales for Nationwide Financial in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at bergb@nationwide.com.

 

The first step in any successful sales process is listening to the client’s story