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10 surefire annuity sales strategies

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When Gary D. Wendell looks at today’s generation of guarantee-laded annuities and the sales numbers they’re generating, he sees “a great opportunity” for advisors to provide much-needed solutions to their clients, while beefing up their own business in the process.

“As an insurance product that gives some amazing guarantees to the client, annuities, I think, represent an excellent business to be in for people willing to put in the work,” says Wendell, an advisor with Asset Preservation & Insurance Services in Rocklin, Calif.

Business is indeed brisk, especially for advisors who deal in income annuities and indexed annuities, each of which hit record sales highs during the first nine months of 2012 ($25.7 billion for indexed annuities, up 4.5 percent, and $6.8 billion for income annuities, up 9 percent), according to the latest figures from Beacon Research. Meanwhile, net variable annuity (VA) sales jumped 44 percent from the second quarter of 2012 to the third, from $4 billion to $5.8 billion, according to figures compiled by Morningstar, Inc. And that was despite a Q3 dip in VA sales to $36.3 billion from $38.2 billion in the second quarter of 2012, a drop of 4.9 percent.

But fixed or variable, indexed or otherwise, annuities do not sell themselves. Indeed, veteran advisors like Wendell who today are thriving with annuity products attribute their strong production more to hard work—diligent preparation, an emphasis on relationship- and trust-building, a leave-no-stone-unturned approach to qualifying—than to a deft sales touch.

Here are 10 producer-tested ways to turn your hard work into an infusion of annuity business for your practice.

1. Know your products cold. “I try to avail myself of any continuing education that’s available,” says Wendell, who specializes in fixed index annuities (FIAs), “because I always want to learn more about new products and features—what’s available that could help my clients. There are so many nuances with these products.” When product diligence helps an advisor to find an FIA with a 10 percent roll-up rate instead of one with an 8 percent roll-up rate, that makes “a drastic difference” for a client, adds Nolan Baker, CSA, of Retirement Specialists of Northwest Ohio. The result often is a drastically happier client.

2. Choose carriers wisely. “You want the insurance companies you are dealing with to be credible and financially strong,” says Christine Proulx, head of Proulx Insurance & Financial Services in Kingfield, Maine, adding that she only does business with insurers with a rating of A or better.

“My previous wife said I wasn’t a good salesman because I wouldn’t try selling something unless I thought it was the very best,” Wendell quips. “She meant it derogatorily, but I take it as a compliment.”

3. Prioritize solving problems over selling products. “I don’t try to sell people anything. You don’t want to come across as pushy,” explains Proulx, who like Baker and Wendell deals mostly in indexed annuities. “I only talk about the product when I’m presenting it in the context of a solution to their particular needs.”

4. Learn all you can about your clients/prospects. “In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In golf, it’s head down, head down, head down. In [the annuity] business it’s qualify, qualify, qualify,” asserts Thomas B. Hamlin, CEO of Somerset Wealth Strategies in Portland, Ore. “Really, it’s the only way to be sure your [product] recommendations are suitable to the client’s risk tolerance and their investor profile.”

5. Patiently build rapport and trust. A strong client-advisor relationship isn’t forged overnight. It takes nurturing. Usually it’s the result of the advisor setting aside their sales drive and making an effort to get the client comfortable with their skills, expertise and approach, revealing themselves to the client while the client is revealing himself or herself to the advisor. “I’m looking to build long-term relationships,” Proulx explains, “so I’ll use the first two or three appointments to really get to know one another.”

6. Leverage strong client chemistry to generate referrals. “When you do your best to try to help others, you develop relationships where things tend to come back to you,” observes Wendell. Not only will clients give you more of their own business, they’ll also hand you one of the most valuable endorsements you can get, a referral. For Wendell, intra-family referrals have been especially fruitful of late. “I’ve been talking with a lot of children of existing clients, who tell me they want to work with me because they love seeing what I’ve done for their parents.”

7. Stress safety, security and control. With the market downturn of 2008 still fresh on the minds of many seniors, the protective features of annuities—the principal protection of an FIA, or a rider on a variable annuity or FIA that provides inflation protection, a guaranteed income stream or a withdrawal benefit, for example—resonate loudly with clients, according to Baker. Seniors find these kinds of features empowering, he says. “You’re giving them ways to focus on things they can control, not the things that are out of their control.”

8. Show them an escape hatch. Baker says he favors adding return-of-premium riders to annuities for the flexibility they provide contract-holders with regard to liquidity. If the stock market were to take another nosedive, for example, or if a better annuity product came along, or if interest rates suddenly jumped, the return-of-premium feature at least gives the contract-holder the option of moving their money out of the annuity to take advantage of such an opportunity, he explains.

9. Capture their imagination. Ask clients to tell you about their goals and dreams for retirement—travel, buying a second home, providing more financial support to their favorite organizations, whatever the case may be. Then, suggests Baker, show them how an FIA with a guaranteed income rider, for example, can provide much-needed income during the peak spending years of retirement (mid 60s to mid 70s), better positioning them to realize their dreams.

10. Investigate the secondary market for annuities. It’s not talked about much, but investors and their advisors have the ability to purchase the right to annuity contract payments (backed by top-rated insurance companies) on the secondary market, mainly via court-approved structured settlements. The income from these second-hand annuities can be 50 percent to 200 percent more than that of annuities bought directly from comparably credit-rated insurance companies, according to Hamlin. For that reason, Hamlin says his firm now does more annuity business for clients in the secondary market than it does in the primary market. “Done properly, it’s arguably the most important thing I’ve come across since I’ve been in this business.”

Without putting in the work, he may never have come across such an opportunity in the first place.

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