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The virtual producer: No client contact, lots of policies sold

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Life Insurance Selling profiles a successful producer in the vast majority of our monthly magazine issues, but in all the years we’ve been doing so, never have we featured a producer like July’s Brian Greenberg.

Almost exclusively, the producers we highlight are experts at meeting face to face with prospects to discern their needs and provide them the opportunity to protect their families with the most appropriate life insurance coverage for their specific situation. They are “best practices” producers who other producers can learn from and emulate to help them improve their own practice.

Brian Greenberg, as you’ll find by reading the article about him, is not your typical “Producer Profile” subject. He is successful — but certainly not in the traditional sense for a life insurance producer. Greenberg does not meet with clients. Not face to face, over the phone or via Skype. The policies he sells are purchased online via his two websites, without the purchaser ever having to talk to him or any other agent unless they really want to.

He professes that life insurance, for at least a certain segment of the population, should be “bought, not sold” in a profession where “sold, not bought” has always been the mantra. He is all about unobtrusive service: don’t sell; provide information, respect customers’ choices and be efficient. He spends a lot of his time on search engine optimization (SEO), and 90 percent of his customers find his websites via online searches.

By featuring Greenberg in the July issue of Life Insurance Selling and on LifeHealthPro, we are not advocating for his “no-touch” business model. No one respects the value traditional life insurance producers bring to the table more than we do, and we will continue to regularly showcase the keen insight of client-centered top producers in our profiles. But Greenberg’s story is relevant, too, and represents one alternative for at least a segment of the middle market — which is typically neglected by independent producers — to obtain coverage.

Think about the fact that roughly one in four life insurance policies is now sold direct. A LIMRA/LIDMA survey estimates that 23 percent of life insurance policies sold in the United States today are sold without face-to-face interaction with an agent. Admittedly, the vast majority of those sales do include, at the very least, a phone conversation with an agent or insurance company rep.

It seems to me the idea of direct selling has become more and more mainstream in recent years. LIDMA, the Life Insurance Direct Marketing Association, is now a member of NAILBA, and has seen attendance increase at every successive annual meeting it has held. LIDMA recognizes there is a large and growing segment of the population that is not being served, and life insurance direct marketers are ideally positioned to occupy that niche. The direct response industry is capitalizing on changing consumer behaviors, which include increased acceptance of more remote, direct buying.

Agents are indeed involved in most direct sales — just not face to face. At online quote aggregator AccuQuote, customers cannot buy without talking to an agent on the phone. AccuQuote founder Byron Udell says his agents are trained to ask questions to ensure customers buy appropriate products. He told attendees during a session at last year’s NAILBA meeting that he doesn’t see a time in the future when the agent is eliminated from the picture because customers need input from agents about their specific situations. “You can’t buy life insurance from a vending machine,” he said, making the point that a 100 percent online sale doesn’t benefit the customer.

Most people do want that verbal validation from an agent, reassuring them they are buying an appropriate product, even if the coverage amount is known to be inadequate.

Still, there is a demographic element that — while acknowledging the need for life insurance — doesn’t want any contact. Members of this demographic figure they can buy practically anything else online, so why not life insurance? They feel talking to an agent will lead to pressure to buy — or pressure to buy more. I overheard a telling comment from a presenter at an industry conference earlier this year, spoken in response to a question from an audience member after the session. He said, “People will pay a lot more money to avoid an agent. You’d be surprised.”

Now, I know this isn’t the norm. The majority of people still prefer talking to agents when considering life insurance, and that’s the best way to ensure they find the right coverage for their situation. But this small niche of “agent-avoiders” is out there, and this is how they can still obtain coverage. And let’s face it — these are typically people in that middle or lower income bracket who aren’t being contacted by the typical independent producer, anyway.

I hope you’ll read the article about Brian Greenberg, and I encourage you to chime in with your two cents on the topic. Please use the comment tool below, or you can comment at the end of the Greenberg article.

For more from Brian Anderson, see:

Mass affluent market: Your ideal pool of prospects?

Wired people: Coming soon to an insurer near you?

Middle-income America isn’t ready for fee-based advice


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