“Why don’t more people feel good about selling life insurance?” wondered Joseph Jordan in an address here.

The senior vice president of individual business marketing for MetLife, New York, said he has been examining this question for the past three years. His conclusion: The fear of rejection felt by many life insurance producers inhibits their efforts to sell, with low productivity and low sales the inevitable results.

In a speech at the annual life insurance conference co-sponsored by LIMRA International, LOMA, the Society of Actuaries and the American Council of Life Insurers, Jordan urged the life insurance industry to redirect the sales interview–specifically, by encouraging emotional content that relates to motivation.

In the past 20 years, he said, the industry has “lost its way” by focusing primarily on products and information without motivating people to buy.

Many of today’s life sales presentations do not help clients address their emotions concerning protecting their loved ones in the event of an early death, he maintained.

For instance, many advisors no longer help clients connect the life insurance decision with feelings such as love for family and likely regret if they do not provide sufficiently for their survivors.

Many customers know bad things happen to people, he pointed out, but they do not think those things will happen to them, so they do not buy life insurance.

Advisors need to understand the situation from the client’s perspective and address that in the presentation, he said.

That message resonates with research findings from LIMRA International, said Robert Kerzner in an interview with National Underwriter. Kerzner is president and CEO of LIMRA.

Conducted last year, the study found that applying behavioral economics principles can improve how sales representatives sell.

Behavioral economics refers to identifying factors that influence financial decisions, Kerzner said. It recognizes that people do not always make rational decisions that maximize long-term worth or financial well-being, LIMRA said.

By contrast, he said, focus groups show that consumers evaluate more positively those sales interviews where behavioral economics principles appear. Focus groups also show that consumers recall the key messages of such presentations, and more often they are likely to buy after seeing such presentations than are consumers who view traditional presentations.

Traditional presentations have no real sales tracks, Kerzner stressed. “They have no proven words that the advisor uses over and over. Instead, the advisor goes through the analysis, is product-driven and doesn’t make sure the person really understood.”

Increasingly complex compliance requirements are partly to blame, he allowed, pointing out reps must now spend a lot of time meeting those requirements, so they have little time left for airing concerns and feelings.

Unfortunately, Kerzner said, the result is, people don’t buy the product, because they don’t understand and they don’t see the reason to have it.

A reason for buying is not necessarily a monetary decision, he said. LIMRA research shows it can be a right brain activity such as anticipating feeling regret for not buying if the bad event should occur or feeling fear that the bad event will indeed occur.

“Love is the strongest buying emotion,” he said. “It’s in our data…Buying insurance is seen as a way to express feelings of love.” Therefore, “referrals are good, and referrals from family are best, because you’re engendering love.”

People respond positively to hearing loving words in sales presentations, he noted, alluding to other LIMRA findings. “The research shows that what the producer says–those key words–works.”

Therefore, he said, “we have to do a better job of educating and getting to the emotional part…so people feel comfortable enough to make a good decision.”

Life insurance agents often are confronted with non-motivated people who don’t buy, Jordan noted in his presentation. Such people believe they will never get sick or die, he said, and they don’t like–and don’t trust–agents whom they perceive as pushing themselves on the customer.

As a result, sales reps don’t feel good about themselves, and “they want to do anything but sell insurance.” Or, they focus on intellect and knowledge, not motivation.

Jordan said he himself used to prefer rational presentations, but he has found that this did not motivate clients to buy.

Now, he said, “I am the advocate of the people who are dependent on the client.” He helps clients recognize their emotions and how their loved ones’ lives would be affected if the clients were no longer alive to provide for them.

“The insurance industry often gets criticized by left-brained analytics who don’t understand that people will die and that this is the risk we take on–to pay a benefit,” observed Jordan in his address.

The industry needs to realize the valuable space it holds in this area and communicate that, he said.

Don’t focus on products, he stressed. Instead, focus on encouraging agents to “get people to take care of what they don’t want to talk about.”

“Put it out there,” he urged. “Talk with them about it…be upfront.”

This is hard, he agreed. “But we tell those with call reluctance that it’s not about them…It’s about the personal impact on the family and what would happen if you get them insured…It’s about experiencing the feelings” as when a claim is paid.

This is being alive, he said. It is service to others. Agents feel their own significance when approaching their work this way, and that impacts their productivity.