You know that picture you often paint for life insurance prospects? The one of the grieving spouse trying to make ends meet after an unexpected death?
You might as well be talking about Monica Jones. After her husband — who didn’t own life insurance — passed away suddenly in 2000, she found herself struggling to pay the bills and care for their pre-teen daughter on her school teacher salary.
So Jones, armed with her newfound awareness of the importance of life insurance, became a producer. A really, really good producer.
As a life insurance and annuities specialist with the Automobile Club of Southern California, Jones, who lives in Chula Vista, Calif., has amassed more than 1,000 clients and writes about 250 policies each year. She’s a regular in AAA’s top-producer Diamond Club and an 8-year MDRT member. She has also picked up loads of awards along the way, including the 2012 Woman of the Year award from the Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS) last fall.
What’s her secret? Jones has superior teaching skills, a knack for paying attention to details and a work ethic to rival the Energizer Bunny. But what really drives her, she says, is her passion for this business.
“If my husband had been insured correctly, our lives would have gone on normally,” she says. “So I get to go home every night knowing that families are going to be protected. And that’s a powerful feeling.”
An unexpected career change
Jones couldn’t have imagined herself as a successful insurance agent just a few years ago. A high school teacher for 18 years, she planned to continue teaching indefinitely — until her husband of 20 years suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 52. “It was shocking,” Jones says. “That changed my entire life.”
Not only had her husband not owned life insurance, he’d been a business consultant, which meant he charged clients part of his fee upfront and the other part once his work was completed. His clients, of course, wanted the money they’d paid for unfinished work — money that had already been spent — back from Jones and her 13-year-old daughter.
Faced with bills and single parenthood, Jones knew teaching wasn’t a realistic career option for her anymore. “It’s one of those professions where the pay … it’s ridiculous,” she says. “And if my daughter got sick or something happened, I couldn’t just leave the class, like, ‘Bye, see you.’ It was a tough situation, so I needed to make a change.”
A career in insurance offered both the high-income potential and the flexible schedule Jones needed. “In this career, when you work hard and you work smart, you make money,” she says. It also allowed her to keep educating the community, albeit in a different way. “I spend a lot of time educating clients, going over all the details,” she says. “It’s like teaching all over again.”
As an agent with AAA, Jones serves both the organization’s members and non-members, which means clients of all varieties. She says she doesn’t favor one product over any other when working with a client. “I make clients; I don’t make sales,” she says. “It’s a big difference.”
Instead, she spends a lot of time asking about clients’ everyday worries and darkest fears. “I use a lot of fact finders, ask them questions,” Jones says. “There are a lot of good products out there, but it’s all based on their needs. What are their fears? What are the problems they need solved? That’s what I figure out. More than anything, I want them to know that they can sleep at night.”
Jones likes to tell her clients that their plans, like a fancy car or an expensive suit, are custom-built. “That’s what I want them to leave my office knowing,” she says. “That, whatever we did, it was specially designed for them.”
A woman’s touch
Jones’ focus on personalization is a major part of what makes her stand out in this field. After she sets her clients up with their custom plans, she stays in touch with them by sending handwritten, snail-mailed cards — often with stickers and magnetic calendars inside — throughout the year.
With more than 1,000 clients getting about three to four cards annually, it’s a big task. But Jones, who gets the bulk of her new business via referrals from her existing clients, says it’s well worth the effort. “You open it, and people say, ‘Oh, this card’s for me!’” she says. “People like it; they call me all the time to say thank you.”
It’s a big contrast to mass emails, Jones says, which is why she doesn’t use them. “When I get those, I know how much work went into them,” she says. “They just took a bunch of email addresses, pasted them into the BCC line and hit send. That’s not personalized.”