The online age is rapidly changing how agents and brokers interact and sell in the marketplace. Before the widespread use of the Internet, the broker was the guardian of the information that prospects needed in order to make an informed decision. The prospect had little choice but to meet with a broker face to face in order to obtain the information they needed. As the Internet age has matured, however, prospects of all age groups are using it to gather information, and the game has changed. Those brokers who fail to embrace it run the risk of being left behind.

Over the past several years, a growing number of brokers have focused on selling insurance through a combination of telephone and Web conferencing technology. This can be a challenging transition because the dynamics are quite different from traditional, face-to-face sales.

First, you lose one of the greatest advantages: eye contact and body language. Successful brokers have mastered the art of reading non-verbal communication and body language and have used this knowledge successfully to guide interviews toward successful closes. Second, you lose the ability for personal observation to get insight into your prospect and build relationship. You can’t see the pictures on the table or the trophy on the wall. Third, the client can disengage much more easily without face-to-face contact.

With all of these important elements lost, why would anyone build an “online” sales mode? There are four main reasons – and with the development of your skills, you can overcome the disadvantages.

  1. First and most importantly, your prospects want to do business this way. It is increasingly more difficult to reach prospects, and when you do, it’s equally challenging to schedule a face-to-face appointment. A Web conference appointment at a time and place of their choosing is much easier, and gives the prospect a feeling of safety.
  2. With traffic gridlock and travel time, the face-to-face model can be an exhausting and an inefficient use of time. As agents, we are limited by the number of prospects we can see face-to-face. When you don’t have to travel, that is much less so the case. I’ve even had appointments as late as 10 p.m. with this method.
  3. Ever drove an hour to an appointment only to be “stood up”? We’ve all had this time-wasting experience, which take away three or more hours of your time. When a prospect misses an online meeting, you only waste about one to two minutes.
  4. Most important of all, mastering this process will result in increased production and income.

In order to succeed with online sales, you need to understand prospect behavior and master new skills.

  • First, understand that most prospects will have a “shopping around” mentality. They are gathering information so that they can make an informed decision. They do not want to be “sold,” but rather receive the information that will allow them to make a good decision. The key element to understand is the word “mentality.” The truth is, if they felt equipped to purchase insurance on their own like they do an airline ticket, they would not be talking to the broker. You must develop a truly consultative approach that helps guide the prospect to a decision, and also ensure them that you have access to all of available, quality products.
  • You must master the ability to quickly engage the prospect. This is the greatest difference between face-to-face selling and tele-web sales. When you’re face to face, you have many tools available to help engage the prospect. On the telephone, you only have your voice, words, and demeanor. If there’s any natural commonality such as location, children, etc., then take some time to build relationships around that. Trust is very important in this process. Use these concepts to differentiate yourself from the typical “slam the sale” phone sales experience.
  • Have a discussion rather than a sales pitch. Educate the prospect on their options, and then help them narrow them down to a natural conclusion. Even with a discussion approach, one should have a structured question process to discover the prospect’s needs and feelings.
  • Close and ask for the sale at the appropriate time. Your skills here have to be natural and effective.
  • Keep in touch after the sale to reinforce that your service and relationship commitments are no different than if with a face-to-face relationship.

In summary, it is critical to recognize the changing marketplace. Competition and government regulation will continue to put downward pressure on many forms of insurance sales and efficiency and volume will be the key to survival. The ever-mobile society in which we live will continue to change the way we work and interact, and I encourage every broker to examine their business and not wait until it’s too late.

David Eissman is the president of Best Insurance Design, a brokerage firm that specializes in health insurance and Medicare. He can be reached at dave@bestinsurancedesign.com.