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The not-so-good old days

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When I was a kid, the holidays always meant at least three things:

  1. Watching “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” on a continuous loop from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. (Actually, I still do this…)
  2. Helping my late-shopper dad wrap slim-pickings presents on Christmas Eve. Because every wife has “the last bottle of drugstore perfume available” on her wish list.
  3. And dancing around the living room to Bing, Rosemary and Frank crooning Christmas carols from my mom’s old record player. (Yeah, record player. We were into vinyl way before it was cool.)

So, it was no wonder, then, that I got a little nostalgic the other day when I stumbled on the classic version of “White Christmas” while scanning my car’s radio stations. Listening to Bing made me miss not only my childhood holidays, but also those “good old days” his carols always evoke. You didn’t have to worry about Twitter, dirty politics or global warming back in the ‘50s. Everything was just poodle skirts, Norman Rockwell and glass-bottled Coca-Cola.

Or … not really. Because there were real problems and challenges in the 1950s, too — racial and gender inequality, post-war rebuilding, global conflict … no Twitter! The passage of time (and deep-throated singers) just allows us to think otherwise sometimes.

It’s a rose-colored way of thinking I find often in the life insurance industry. Agents lament that selling nowadays isn’t as easy as it was at mid-century, when people knew the value and importance of life insurance coverage and cared enough to protect their families. Distractions like the Internet and cable television weren’t around, and door-to-door salesmen were the norm, even welcomed by many families.

And sure, a lot of that’s true. Life insurance ownership hit a 50-year low in 2010; attention is at a premium; and door-to-door salespeople are a reviled, outmoded species in most neighborhoods these days. But the old-fashioned life insurance salesman’s heyday was far from ideal.

I’ve spent a lot of time going through archival issues of Life Insurance Selling, and agents had the same fundamental challenges back then as they do now: How do I find prospects? How do I get them to listen? How do I get them to actually buy? And those agents worked hard to get premium dollars, knocking on doors every evening after husbands returned from the office and spending weeks on the road to cover more ground. Agents with overly fond views of mid-century selling also neglect the fact that a lot of people were buying back then because we were either in or just coming out of war time. When death is no longer a far-off abstraction, selling life policies gets a lot easier.

Agents stuck in the past don’t realize how good they have it today. Sure, they can still knock on prospects’ doors … or they can just email them, send them a Tweet or post a message on their Facebook wall. Want to meet with a client in another state? It’s as easy as pulling up Skype on your desktop. What’s more, sophisticated life products can now be used to meet a wide range of client needs, not just the provision of a future death benefit. Tablet-carrying agents can even produce quotes and paperwork instantly, without having to bother with a briefcase or multiple appointments.

Okay, obviously we haven’t had a world war to spur buying, but … we haven’t had a world war to spur buying! And we shouldn’t need one, anyway. Agents have never had as many tools, gadgets and opportunities for educating and selling prospects as they do today.

So if you find yourself cursing current circumstances, it might be best to remember the words of lovely Bing: “Count your blessings.”

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

Can life insurance go viral?

Get out of town … really!

Walmart just moved your cheese


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