I adopted a puppy a few weeks ago, but you’d already know that if you could smell my jacket.

I’m packing a pocket-load of those horrendously over-scented “bacon” treats to reward my furry guy every time he does something good — or to get him to do things he doesn’t want to do, like go to bed at a reasonable hour. It’s the positive reinforcement method of training — if he gets a yummy reward every time he does something he should, he’s more likely to do it.

So I smell like I doused myself in off-brand imitation-meat cologne (possible spokesperson for this fragrance: Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino?), but if the practice gets him to chew on one of his 7 million toys and not my running shoes, I figure it’s worth it.

My new signature scent got me thinking about the value of positive reinforcement when it comes to consumers and life insurance, too. We’ve been conditioned to expect that, when we give our hard-earned money away, we’ll receive a treat — a car repair, an iPod, a bag of groceries — in return. That’s the way it works.

But when we purchase life insurance, we don’t get that treat right away. We fork over a large amount of money or make payment after payment after payment — only to be rewarded handsomely…when we’re dead. And what’s the fun in that?

Of course, when you purchase life insurance, you do receive the reward of peace of mind that your family is protected and, with many policies, living benefits that you can take advantage of eventually. Of course, we also receive a large number of logo’d calendars, pens and mouse pads from our insurance agents when we make a purchase, so that’s kind of a reward. And of course, humans are smarter than puppies — for one, we don’t eat everything we find on the ground (if it’s been there more than 5 seconds anyway).

But is all of that enough to overcome our aversion to immediate-rewardless purchases? To get us through the door of our insurance agent to purchase coverage in the first place? Is it enough to make us keep up those payments and not let our policies lapse? I’m not so sure. If a large number of us can’t be coaxed to sock money away for retirement (money that we’ll actually get to use and enjoy in our lifetime) instead of purchasing a big-screen TV, what’s there to motivate us to invest in a policy that gives us rewards we’ll never personally see?

What’s the solution? Re-training, I suppose. We have to educate our clients to do what’s best, without the immediate treat. Agents are a big part of this, obviously, as most of you likely already know. But we’ve got to start sooner. According to my vet, the first months of a puppy’s life are crucial to learning and development. It’s the same for children, but I didn’t take a single money management course while I was in school.

School curriculum reform isn’t easy to pull off, but why not work with your clients’ children? (One of our regular agent bloggers is already doing this and recommends it.) Better yet, volunteer your services at a local school. Or donate some of your time to an organization like Junior Achievement.

You, like your clients, won’t reap an immediate reward, but it’ll likely pay off for you — and the industry — in the long run. Best of all? No bacon-ish smelling treats required.

 

Corey Dahl is life channel and social media editor for LifeHealthPro.com and managing editor of Life Insurance Selling.