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How to use old-fashioned selling methods in a new media age

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The iconic image of the insurance salesman is long gone in today’s digital world. It’s not “Father Knows Best” anymore; it’s more like “Consumer Knows Best.”

We have new generations of Internet-savvy customers doing their own research and shopping around for life insurance, annuities or other financial products. Life insurance agents are now financial professionals, taking on more of an advisor or consultant role. They’re interacting with today’s consumers in ways Jim Anderson could never have imagined, using a variety of online channels and an artillery of digital tools, from smartphones to tablets. But, in today’s social media world, have we lost touch with some of the tried-and-true methods of the past?

Looking at the then-and-now of the past, a lot has changed. The manufacturing boom of the 1950s produced everything from automobiles to appliances that made life easier. The product was king in those days. In the generations since, however, Americans have shifted away from an industry-driven economy to a service-driven one.1 On top of that, with rising crime rates, the door-to-door selling of the past is now frowned upon. The American people have since seen leaders admit corruption and the entire financial industry collapse — multiple times. They’ve been taught to be skeptical, to never talk to strangers and that the financial industry should not be trusted. Suffice it to say, the way we communicate with customers has changed dramatically, both in channel and in message.

It’s important, however, to remember that even though the channels through which we communicate have changed, the same fundamentals of communication still apply. It may be a new ballpark, but the rules haven’t changed. Whether you’re sitting at a client’s kitchen table or updating your Facebook page, everything hinges on good communication.

Use social media to your advantage

One of the first commandments of good communication is to know thy audience. The same goes for insurance selling. Given the uncertain economic landscape of recent years and a diminished confidence in the financial services industry, transparency has become an increasingly important part of communicating with the public and earning back their trust.

Not only are consumers researching the products available to them, they are researching the people and companies selling the products. Having a transparent online presence can be crucial in establishing yourself as a qualified professional with something of value to offer. Recent studies have shown that more than 80 percent of consumers do online research when shopping for life insurance.2 What will they find when they research you?

Using social media as a platform to promote your brand and establish yourself as a useful resource should be step one. If product was king in the past, certainly content is king today.

Many financial professionals shy away from social media because of compliance concerns. However, having a Facebook page doesn’t mean you have to talk about financial products. In fact, a more valuable approach could be to start by knowing your audience and offering information your clients can use in their daily lives. This could be something like sharing useful articles on how to save more time and money or how to improve health and quality of life. Pass on recipes or other healthy living tips that might help clients improve their table rating. Share interesting facts and inspirational quotes or images. Maybe you work with a lot of business owners and can be a resource for business-related information.

See also: Social media: Look, we’re doing it!

Make the most of the paper application

Once customers have had a chance to do their research and engage in some way with an authentic, transparent online presence, the latest studies show that they will still want to purchase life insurance face-to-face, with more than 60 percent of consumers researching online and then buying face-to-face, compared with just 22 percent researching and ultimately making a purchase via the Internet.2

But, what happens while at the kitchen table with the client, filling out the life insurance application? One of the top complaints life insurance agents have is that they’re having difficulty finding prospects. However, far too often, agents fail to use one of the greatest referral tools at their disposal: the life insurance application. Here is where agents should stop fidgeting with the phones and tablets and digital forms. Here is where agents should ask themselves,What would Jim Anderson do?”

Sitting with a life insurance application on the table, it is an agent’s job to help clients fill out the form and understand the various sections of the form. While filling it out, agents should be finding new prospective clients, teeing up future sales and adding greater value to help strengthen client relationships.

Before the most basic information is entered into an application, agents can use the form to get three different prospects. A popular feature of life insurance today is accelerated death benefits or living benefits. Most policies that offer such a feature begin with an explanation or summary of the accelerated death benefits form. Not only is it important to explain the feature to clients in case they should ever need to use it, but it’s also an opportunity to ask the client the following questions:

  1. If you needed home health care or nursing home care, who would help make the decision and provide hands-on assistance?
  2. Who is your personal tax advisor?
  3. What is the name of your physician who can certify your eligibility for benefits?

Get the contact information of these three prospects and the permission to contact them in regard to the client’s life insurance application.

Next, move on to the Investigative Consumer Report. Agents should take the time to explain the report and who may be contacted, including neighbors, friends, employers, business associates, financial sources or others with whom the client is acquainted. The client can provide a list of names and contact information for these individuals. At this point, the agent should have at least a handful of prospect names, and we haven’t even gotten to the life insurance application yet.

Once your client is filling out the application, ask for the contact information of the beneficiaries listed, in order to contact them to discuss the policy and explain how it works. Having a professional involved can make this uncomfortable conversation that much easier for both clients and their beneficiaries.

Agents can use the Agent Report often included in the back of an application form as another means to tee up future sales. This part is used to determine whether the applicant’s spouse has insurance on the applicant and the value of that policy. If so, then the agent must determine what the purpose of the new insurance will be: family protection, mortgage protection, other debt (retirement, estate liquidity, business) protection? Each of these categories could lead to a future sale with the same client by opening the door to helping plan for those or other future needs.

Mix old and new for best approach

So, what is old becomes new again. By taking the time to thoroughly explain something as simple and routine as the sections of the life insurance application, agents not only demonstrate transparency and authenticity, but they also get a chance to help clients and their families to better understand life insurance and the benefits — including living benefits, potential cash value accumulation and the various tax advantage possibilities.

This act alone can be exponential in value. Studies cite a lack of knowledge about insurance as a leading factor in the indecision to buy insurance. Combine that lack of knowledge with the fact that people today take financial advice from friends and family about as much as they do from a professional advisor and a clear connection forms — we have uninformed consumers getting financial advice from neighbors instead of professionals.2

Remember the first commandment of good communication: know thy audience. Educate clients by giving them valuable content online and by taking the time to be their real-life Jim Anderson. Follow through on a commitment to be there, if and when an event happens. That means being prepared to personally deliver a death claim and help the beneficiaries use the money wisely. Or making yourself available if a significant health issue arises that can trigger the use of living benefits. These benefits can be complicated, and families often need help navigating the paperwork involved during this time. It’s an old principle of business: happy customers lead to more customers.

Although it’s a new era, financial professionals still help clients solve the same problems — achieving financial stability, helping kids go to college, planning for retirement and keeping businesses up and running. By using the tools at their fingertips — from the most advanced technology to something as standard as a paper application — agents can become a versatile resource for their clients.

The opinions and ideas expressed in this article are those of the authors and not of North American Company for Life and Health Insurance.


1. Johnston, Louis D. (Feb 2012) “History Lessons: Understanding the Decline in Manufacturing.” MinnPost. Retrieved from

2. Denley, Norah & Mitchel, Jim. (2012) “2012 Insurance Barometer Study: Understanding Consumer Perceptions of Insurance” [abstract].

For more advice on life insurance selling, see:

3 term life selling roadblocks — and how to overcome them

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Think Pink: Sales psychology lessons for the life industry


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