It’s no secret that moving towards the close is the most bewildering aspect of the sales process – it’s a process hard-working producers spend a career perfecting. There are, however, a series of steps along the way to getting prospects to feel comfortable enough to sign on the dotted line.
And as most producers’ demographic begins to move into that new and challenging customer, the baby boomer – well-informed buyers who are exceptionally dubious of traditional sales techniques – your closing tools will have to adapt.

We consulted with a couple of top advisors for their take on 10 useful steps to help head towards home base: Marty Guzman, CSA, president of Peoria, Ariz.-based Arizona Estate Planners, Inc. and Michael Zmistowski, RFC, president of First Gulf Advisors in Tampa, Fla. What follows is an overview of their best steps to “yes.”

1. Be well informed prior to making any recommendations.
Guzman says the industry has recently taken significant steps to better assure that recommendations made by producers are suitable for the customer.

“Prior to doing any fact finding, I use an insurance agent disclosure form.The form helps me outline my relationship with the prospect and identifies exactly how I fit into their financial world. This defines how we are going to proceed.” Guzman says this easily leads to the next step, which is collecting the detailed information needed prior to making any suitable recommendation.

“This may be the most significant assistance your marketing firm can do for you,” he says. “Your marketing organization should be able to properly prepare you with the necessary disclosures and fact-finding tools that will help you unlock all of the prospect’s key issues.” Without this knowledge, says Guzman, it isn’t possible to make a suitable recommendation. Although insurance companies provide a suitability form when selling annuities, he has found this form lacks the true detail necessary to make a recommendation to the customer.

2. Master your products.
Product mastery must come before sales mastery, Guzman explains. “All financial professionals operate in the world of ideas. I mean, think about it. When you deliver a policy, you are handing your customer a stack of paper. That’s not really what they bought from you. They purchased the ideas and concepts put forward by the words on those papers that help them accomplish their goals and dreams. If you are working in this industry, you must be equipped with every feature of every product you work with.

“For example: If you are a relatively new agent and have a few good ideas, you can make a few good sales when those circumstances arise. However, if you had total product mastery, you would know there are actually many more ideas or concepts that can work within a given product to help your customers. Mastering a product could mean increased sales because you now have the knowledge and vision to recognize opportunities when they are in front of you. Having true understanding of all your product’s benefits will lead you to opportunities you may have overlooked in the past.”

3. Be confident.
People want to work with someone who is confident in their chosen profession. Confidence comes from knowing what is important in your field, Guzman says. “Product mastery leads you on a path of confidence. It is as simple as knowing what you are talking about.

“It has been my experience people do not want to work with someone who is unsure of themselves or intimidated by others. Be a pro. Prepare before you ever meet the prospect. Have a plan of action in place. Sometimes the sale that did not happen is more valuable than the one that did. Have you ever left a meeting thinking, ?Oh, I should have said this or suggested that?’ Keep honing your skills. Make note of what you wish you had done or said so that when that situation arises again, you will be ready for it.

“Ultimately, people can sense your confidence level. Knowledge and sincerity must be present or you may fall into the trap of being viewed as arrogant. Arrogant agents might make sales, but lose referrals or repeat business.

“Confidence allows you to adapt to the environment you enter. Each sales meeting might seem similar on the surface. Don’t be fooled. It is often the ?little’ or subtle differences where money is made. For example, don’t become dependent on a ?one concept’ sales track. Your dependency on a script might keep you from getting the right information at the right moment. Dependency prohibits you from being confident.”

4. Make your recommendations simple and understandable.

Guzman reminds us of an old saying in sales: “?Don’t try to tell them how the watch works. Just tell them that it keeps impeccable time.’ This doesn’t mean you fail to disclose. Proper disclosure is not only the law; it is the right thing to do. You must perfect your disclosure so product complexities can become understandable for someone hearing them for the first time. You may need more than one way to explain an idea or concept. This requires constant attention to each meeting you have and constant learning from each experience.”

5. Choose to give your prospect ownership of your recommendation.

Guzman’s final step helps lead your way to a recommendation that is accepted, rather than you attempting to “close” someone. “Each of these steps is critical to moving your prospect from the place they are to the place you want them to be. Your final step is one of finesse. Using carefully structured words you can choose to create the idea of ownership in your customer’s mind. For example, when speaking about a future income planning approach using an annuity, you should use terms like, ?You need to think about things such as safety of your resources. Is the money going to be there when you need it? Are you planning to have ready money available for emergencies? What are your income needs in the future and what can you do to guarantee it will all happen according to your desires? That’s why this recommendation was designed for you. By implementing this strategy we have designed together, you can have that assurance of protection and a future lifetime of income.’

“Let’s think of another example using life insurance. ?This can be your plan to maximize the wealth you leave to your heirs; the people you care about the most in your life.’

“In each instance I have avoided the use of the word ?I.’ The purpose of my words is to allow the customer to visualize owning the recommendation I am making because I have taken the correct steps in advance of my recommendation to know the customer’s needs and their current financial position. I can act with complete confidence that I am, indeed, improving their situation and meeting their personal needs and achieving their personal goals. This is the essence of being a professional making suitable recommendations to the people I meet.”

6. Always discuss the No. 1 concern: Running out of money.

Zmistowski says it’s a huge boomer concern. “You know the reasons, including lack of accumulation, longevity, inflation and over-spending. It’s going to be extremely unpleasant. They and their adult children are going to be looking to blame you in any way they can.

“Be proactive. Write about it in their financial plans and retirement income plans. Write big warnings like ?Do Not Retire Now’ with simple-to-understand explanations such as, ?Based on your current spending, you will run out of money.’ Use software with quality Monte Carlo simulation to support your warning.

“With suitability in mind, give more consideration to the newest income (and other living) benefits in annuity contracts because guaranteed income for your client can protect you. Plus, you’ll be providing better chances to sleep at night. Using spending plans, determine their essential expenses and match with guaranteed income to be certain that at least their required income comes to them for a lifetime.”

7. Communicate!

“This may seem like nothing new,” Zmistowski says, “but the degree to which this is required must be more than ever before. Speaking with Judge Paul Elliott, attorney, NASD/FINRA arbitrator and CFP, he told me this is his ?one word’ rule to all of us. Often today, the articles we read about communications with our clients are geared to customer satisfaction, client loyalty and building trust. Nothing wrong there, but go farther by keeping in mind your communications are the foundation upon which your future business is built.”

8. Put it in writing
“You may be thinking this isn’t new either but many of us are taught by compliance and experience to put as little in writing as possible for our protection,” Zmistowski says. “That’s not true and not safe. Follow FINRA’s lead. Follow our states’ departments of insurance regulation. They want more and more forms signed and initialed by clients and by those being regulated. It’s more work. It’s an energy drain. But if you want to experience a real energy drain, try talking your way out of complaints and lawsuits which will only be increasing. Protect yourself.”

9. Have the client sign off on rejections
“Lawyers have financial advisors in their sights again,” Zmistowski warns, “and this time it may be about long term care insurance, which many of us don’t want to address when dealing with seniors. Financial columnist David Drucker reports seeing an attorney’s billboard which asked, ?Do you have long term care insurance? If not, call this number.’ When the curious client calls the number, he is asked, ?Do you have LTCI?’ If he answers ?No,’ then he is asked if he has a financial advisor. If he answers ?Yes,’ then the lawyer says, ?You have grounds for a lawsuit against the financial advisor.’

“When you communicate a recommendation, put it in writing on any paper (a plan, a mini-plan, a letter, a review). If the client rejects your recommendation, have them initial a big ?no’ that they write on the paper. Have the client sign off on or initial their objections. Besides covering details, this often makes people think more, emote less, which helps them overcome self-doubt.
“Later, when their adult children, probably boomers, see that billboard and sue you because their elderly parents aren’t protected (and their inheritance is being destroyed by LTC expenses), you have proof that will protect you.”

10. Always be extremely cautious of new or alternative investments.

“Think about the complexity to seniors of reverse mortgages, life settlements, hedge funds and any non-marketable security,” Zmistowski says. “Their memories of the details are short. Remember, going forward, even life insurance must be considered as an asset that can be bought or sold and is, therefore, subject to fiduciary standards. In publications, FINRA warns consumers that a reverse mortgage can jeopardize their financial futures. Pay attention. Show your clients your thoughtful awareness. They’ll have first-hand evidence of your expertise.”

Marty Guzman is president of Arizona Estate Planners, Inc. Guzman, who specializes in the area of annuities, has more than 16 years of experience serving the needs of retirees. He can be reached at (623) 776-1100.

Michael Zmistowski, RFC, is president of First Gulf Advisors, where his specialty is retirement income planning. Zmistowski has been in private practice for 27 years, designing and implementing financial plans for his clients. He can be reached at MZfp@aol.com.