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34 ways to sell an annuity

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Annuities aren’t always an easy sell — the lack of overall awareness about how they work, along with media coverage of financial abuse and poor guidance, has created a tarnished reputation in the eyes of many consumers.

“The marketplace is rife with negative press about annuities,” says Steven A. Plewes, CLU, ChFC, principal of Advisors Financial Group in Bethesda, Maryland. “However, in the last couple of years, the media has turned a more favorable eye toward using annuities to fund retirement income. But annuities are a complex product. Even something as relatively straightforward as a single premium immediate annuity has some moving parts. I’ve always viewed the marketing of annuities as a part of a process.”

See also: Is 2015 the year of the annuity?

We asked numerous advisors, marketers and experts to share their marketing strategies and annuity sales success stories. Their answers are far-reaching and include tailoring and combining annuity features, discussing client fears, virtual meetings, marketing yourself first, and, when appropriate, advising that the client not invest in an annuity at all.


Acknowledge the reputation. 

“I have had success emphasizing exactly how an annuity fits into a client’s retirement plan. When the client understands exactly what he is paying for with an annuity, you overcome the immediate objection of ‘annuities are too expensive to own.’ Our typical practice is to use annuities for approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of a client’s income in retirement. This further diversifies a client’s portfolio and provides the ‘anchor’ for retirement. It is a sustainable and predictable piece to their retirement income. We use living benefits exclusively within the annuities we market because they help to define why the client is purchasing an annuity to begin with.” — Jason J. Dudum, LUTCF, Chief Executive Officer, Dudum Financial

“I don’t think mass marketing annuities works very well, if at all. The word ‘annuity’ still has a negative connotation for many prospects and clients that I meet with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client or prospect say, ‘I don’t know why I don’t like annuities; I just know that they’re bad.’ What I do is position an annuity as a bond ladder alternative in a client’s portfolio. I explain that building a bond portfolio doesn’t make sense in this low interest rate environment with the potential for principal losses when interest rates rise. I use fixed indexed annuities that provide 100 percent downside protection with some upside potential. I explain that the annuity allows 10 percent free withdrawals every year (if over age 59.5), similar to what you would get in a bond ladder, but it also provides 100 percent downside protection and future income benefits. This gives us a better return than bonds without the interest rate risks.” — Nick Reiland, Vice President of Investments, Upstream Investment Partners, Lisle, IL 

“Annuities have had a bad name for a long time. We use social media sites, like LinkedIn and Twitter, to brand ourselves and help provide education to the public. This gives people access to information, and with that knowledge the reputation of annuities does seem to be changing.” — David T. Buckwald, CFP, Senior Partner, Atlas Advisory Group, Cranford, NJ


Lead with the plan, not the product. 

“I never lead with the product. I always lead with the plan that’s appropriate for the client’s particular situation. Annuities have a prominent role in three distinct scenarios. For all of these scenarios, we start with a bucket plan, which includes a bucket for now, soon and later money.

1. For a client who needs an income source in the ‘soon’ bucket, we use an annuity to structure a secure income stream, providing a time horizon to continue to invest the ‘later’ money for growth. We feel that this helps to reduce the ‘sequence of risk’ — the risk of having to pull income from investments during down times. 

2. For clients who are worried about running out of money in retirement, we use an annuity in the ‘later’ years to structure a personal pension. This provides stability in the plan by giving them income that they cannot outlive.

3. Pending the client’s situation, we use annuities with riders for things like income replacement or LTC. 

— Jason L. Smith, Founder and CEO, Clarity 2 Prosperity; Founder and CEO, The JL Smith Group Tax and Wealth Advisors, Cleveland, OH

“It’s a common pitfall to lead with a specific product in client conversations. Because they must stay abreast of the latest product features and pricing, financial professionals may naturally start with an annuity they like and then back into how its features might help meet their clients’ needs. The problem is, this approach can fail to address critical needs simply because they haven’t been identified. Reverse this process, and you’ll see meaningful results. Start with uncovering your clients’ concerns and the protection they already have, and then use this information to select the most suitable product.” — Mark Fitzgerald, National Sales Manager, Saybrus Partners, Hartford, CT

“It’s important to avoid annuities that are too complicated to explain. I lost a client because I spent too much time ‘in the weeds’ explaining the differences between living benefits riders from three carriers. I learned a valuable lesson to keep things concise and simple. To help simplify annuities, use stories to communicate with the client. Anecdotes of other clients or other advisors’ clients help illustrate how the annuity gave them a sense of financial peace and security.” — Adam A. Solano Jr., Lakeside Financial Group, Grayslake, IL

“Right now we are working with a retired Wall Street professional worth $9 million. He wants to receive a yearly income of $350,000 a year. We modeled various scenarios and created a well-rounded portfolio that included putting a portion ($1,750,000) of his money in annuities. That, along with Social Security, got him to the yearly income he was hoping for. He now travels, plays golf and spoils his grandkids — living his retirement dream.” — David T. Buckwald, CFP, Senior Partner, Atlas Advisory Group, Cranford, NJ


Do not underestimate the power of peace of mind. 

“A husband and wife came to our office in 2007. The husband was a highly paid attorney. At that time, we put $300,000 in a fixed annuity with an income rider and 8 percent return. Last year the husband passed away. The wife came to the office and had a fairly substantial income that she was concerned wouldn’t be replaced. We explained how the income rider worked and that it was being turned on. The wife began to cry and said, “I’m going to be OK, aren’t I?”  We were glad to have been able to give her that peace of mind.” — Jason L. Smith, Founder and CEO, Clarity 2 Prosperity; Founder and CEO, The JL Smith Group Tax and Wealth Advisors, Cleveland, OH

“From the start of my mother’s retirement, another relative managed her money and had her invested primarily in mutual funds and bonds. Every time the market moved, she worried. As she got older, her worries became more frequent and more intense; it was all she could talk about. Finally, my sister asked me to manage my mother’s money and to see if we could give her some peace. I took over and put two-thirds or her money into annuities and one-third into the stock market. This way she would have a sustainable, steady income.  That was 15 years ago, and she is still receiving an income from that source. Once I put her money into annuities she calmed down, as she could rest easy that she now had a reliable and predictable income stream. It was very gratifying to help my mom enjoy her life more.” — Willie Shuette, Financial Coach, ChFEBC, The JL Smith Group, Cleveland, Ohio

“I have a client who was referred to me and needed an advisor because she was going through a divorce and her retirement plan with her husband was no longer applicable. Her concern was that she wouldn’t have enough income in retirement. She is 49 and received half of the retirement assets that she and her ex-husband had accumulated. And by utilizing an annuity with an income rider, we were able to generate the income she desires at retirement at age 62.” — Jeremy Reiland, Investment Advisor, The Chamberlin Group, St. Louis, MO

“I use annuities often, and my clients are satisfied with these accounts. One client initially liked the guarantees that the annuity provides her, but didn’t foresee needing the income guarantees. A few years later, one of their main income sources disappeared and this changed her entire financial situation. She was relieved to be reminded that we already had a plan for a situation like the one she was facing, and we were able to replace the majority of her lost income with the income guarantees that the annuity provided.” — Jennifer Landon, Retirement Advisor, Journey Financial Services, Inc., Idaho Falls, ID

sActively ask and listen.

“The best way to market annuities is the same as the best way to market any other financial product: Begin your discussion by finding out what your prospect’s needs, wants and concerns are. If you start by pitching a presumed product solution, you make two big mistakes:

  • You reduce the chances of making a sale, because the product you have in mind may not be appropriate for the prospect’s needs you didn’t bother to discover. Sooner or later, that will become obvious.
  • If that happens, you will have wasted both your time and your prospect’s. And you will have torpedoed any chance of establishing yourself as a trusted advisor for that person — and anyone whom he or she might have referred to you.

It’s not hard. You simply need to start out by asking questions and listening.” — John Olsen, CLU, ChFC, AEP, President, Olsen Financial Group, St. Louis, MO

“One of our advisors just closed her largest annuity case with her drycleaner. She simply asked about the owner’s plan for his retirement.  This started a conversation which led to her realizing that this was only one of a number of drycleaners he owned. A couple million dollars later, he was a client for life.  It all started with one simple question, “What are your retirement plans?” — Jason Kestler, President and CEO, Kestler Financial Group, Inc., Leesburg, VA

“There are four critical questions to ask your clients. Conversations with your clients about annuities should start with the four basic planning needs in retirement: accumulation strategies, income level needed and sources, health care expenses and leaving a legacy for loved ones. Choosing the right approach means asking the right questions that will uncover your client’s most pressing needs: Are they worried about outliving their savings? Are they concerned about possible future illness? What are their existing sources of retirement income? How much of their existing retirement income is guaranteed? Your clients’ answers will help you identify the protection gaps that cause them the most worry, and your final step is to match your client with the product that will best fill those gaps.” — Mark Fitzgerald, National Sales Manager, Saybrus Partners, Hartford, CT

“Start with a clear understanding of what the client is trying to accomplish. We don’t talk about products of any kind until we know what the client wants to do. For example, some people are trying to create a plan for retirement income. Annuities are one of the only products that take longevity risk off the table and guarantee an income stream for life. Longevity risk is perhaps the biggest risk retirees face with their money. That makes annuities a viable option for people who want to use their savings as an income stream in retirement.” — Jennifer Landon, Retirement Advisor, Journey Financial Services, Inc., Idaho Falls, ID

“During the annuity marketing process, advisors should remember to ask the client these questions:

  • Do you know if you will have enough guaranteed ‘pension-like’ income during retirement to meet you basic living expenses?

  • Do you think Social Security will be available to you?

  • Do you know what happens to your pension and Social Security income when you die?

  • How much money in taxes did you pay the last few years on your investments?

  • Do you know how much income you will need to live independently during your retirement years?

  • Do you know how much money it takes to generate $50,000 a year for 30 years?”

— Adam A. Solano Jr., Lakeside Financial Group, Grayslake, IL


Purchase a radio ad.

Radio is absolutely a lead-generation source. I have a 60-second radio commercial that promotes fixed index annuities in my immediate region. The ads are designed to pique listeners’ interest by mentioning the benefits of FIAs, and urge listeners to call to learn more. The ad includes offers for a free DVD about annuities, a quote, and an email with additional information. [Because of these radio ads,] we are selling via email or phone without ever leaving the building.” — Steve DeJohn, President and CEO, The DeJohn Advisory Team, Rolling Meadows, IL


Determine necessary vs. nice-to-have.

“It is fundamental to help your clients figure out their income versus expenses in retirement. Where is the income coming from — a pension? Social Security? Other sources like investment income? Which parts of that income are guaranteed and which are unguaranteed? The advisor must align those income figures with the client’s expenses and identify which are discretionary and non-discretionary, and it is the client who must decide which are necessary expenses. Aside from the usual categories of housing, food, utilities, taxes, transportation and health care, some people consider travel or funding a grandchild’s education necessary. After establishing what expenses are necessary to cover, the financial professional can then look at strategies to enhance income or generate guaranteed funds and identify specific products that will best meet these objectives.” — Mark Fitzgerald, National Sales Manager, Saybrus Partners, Hartford, CT

“One long-term client of mine has always been somewhat risk-averse. He doesn’t like debt, thinks the economy is near collapse and that the stock market is overvalued. We all know people with these perspectives to one degree or another. However, I’ve used it to his advantage. Since he is a great saver, likes to pay cash and has never had credit card debt, I took his propensity to ‘pay cash’ and asked during an annual review, ‘How would you like to pay cash for retirement?’ He loved the idea, so I showed him how moving half from his IRA account to a deferred income annuity would provide enough guaranteed lifetime income (I also included his and his wife’s Social Security benefits) to ‘pay for’ retirement and provide them both with enough monthly income to meet all their basic living expenses. I told him the rest of his IRA would remain fully invested and would be his retirement ‘play check.’” — Adam A. Solano Jr., Lakeside Financial Group, Grayslake, IL

sDiscuss the variety of protection. 

“Many clients have pre-set ideas about annuities or long-term care insurance, although they may still ask about insurance protection or income protection. This is where the educational process comes in. Products have changed so much in the past several years, and many now cover a much broader spectrum of protection than in the past. Discussing annuities used to be just about the potential for upside gains with downside protection. Products now offer much more multifaceted protection. Use this opportunity to educate your clients on the new annuity features available on the market today.” — Mark Fitzgerald, National Sales Manager, Saybrus Partners, Hartford, CT

sGain trust by putting the prospects’ best interest first.

Many years ago, I met with a fellow who had asked me about annuities. In the course of the discussion, I learned that his most pressing concern was to save money to buy a home, which he planned to purchase within a few years. He was looking for a place to put his money for that short period. Neither a deferred nor an immediate annuity made sense for him — and I told him so. That got us into a discussion about his needs. It turned out that he needed a lot more life insurance (which he hadn’t thought was a problem). Because he believed that I was more interested in solving his problems than making a sale, I made a sale. And got a client.” — John Olsen, CLU, ChFC, AEP, President, Olsen Financial Group, St. Louis, MO

“When the market takes a downturn, clients become jittery. It reassures and comforts the client when I say that his or her annuity was purchased with these exact economic scenarios in mind. When the client remembers their underlying guarantee is protecting their future income regardless of market downturns, it further strengthens the relationship and confidence your client has in you as their financial advisor.” — Jason J. Dudum, LUTCF, Chief Executive Officer, Dudum Financial

“We have been able to enjoy a business where two or three generations of a family eventually become clients. In one case, grandparents were so satisfied with what we’ve done for them that two of their granddaughters each ear-marked $50,000 for retirement with us, and one of the fathers now has an appointment to open an account in the next few days.” — Mike Volner, President, Volner Financial Group, Inc., Bartlett, TN


Don’t overlook email marketing.

“It’s not crazy to employ a drip email marketing system. You’ve spent a lot of money to find and meet prospects through the year, but you’ve gotten no business from them because the timing wasn’t right. To create better timing, I craft email templates to send to clients and prospects to keep them interested in annuities. Some of these emails are centered on: 1.) how the market doesn’t go up forever; 2.) fire sales, when bonuses or income rider rates are going down; and 3.) how to supercharge your IRA. IT is so expensive. I move a million a month from emails from people, some of whom never saw me. We’ve picked up $5 million in premium this year.” — Steve DeJohn, President and CEO, The DeJohn Advisory Team, Rolling Meadows, IL

“We use email to create personalized and customized messages at least once per quarter, and for most agents, once per month. We may educate consumers on getting their estate organized, evaluating their ‘retirement readiness,’ paying for college, insuring the continuity of their business, or learning more about Social Security. Through our partner companies, we are on the cutting edge of email marketing systems and help deliver the best solutions.” — Matthew F. Tarkenton, Executive Vice President, Tarkenton Financial LLC, Atlanta, GA


Technology is changing the game — hop on board.

“Today’s annuities are not the same products our grandfathers purchased.  Technology has allowed a lot more transparency directly to the consumer.  Newer annuity designs allow for the consumer to track their annuity values daily. Your grandfather’s annuity could never do that.” — Jason Kestler, President and CEO, Kestler Financial Group, Inc., Leesburg, VA

“As the marketing world adapts to the digital revolution, we see a huge shift in our marketing efforts moving away from traditional mail-driven campaigns toward online lead generation. The Web allows us for the first time to identify and engage people who are already looking for our services, rather than pushing our messaging out. Meet with prospects and clients online. Using a one-on-one webinar tool allows for a no-pressure appointment. And it makes sense that if someone finds you online, they would be open to communicating with you online, as well.” — Jonathan Musgrave, Partner and Director of Marketing, Able Financial Group, Centennial, CO

“Technology has changed the way we do everything in our business, including marketing annuities. We are constantly communicating with clients and prospective clients via email or Skype and through social media interactions. This provides numerous platforms to get our message out. Today’s financial professionals must have a keen understanding of how to use these mediums to effectively grow their business.” — Jason J. Dudum, LUTCF, Chief Executive Officer, Dudum Financial

One little-known strategy that very few producers are even aware of is using Facebook’s ‘look-alike audiences’ to zoom in on your target prospect. Facebook has partnered with massive data companies to help advertisers get laser-focused on targeting their ideal prospect. You simply upload your existing database into their platform; they then create a custom ‘look-alike’ profile so you can easily target prospects that match the demographic and psychographic attributes of your ideal clients. With a modest budget of less than $100, you can start getting targeted leads.

Set up an online video sales presentation to run on autopilot to pre-qualify, pre-sort and pre-sell prospects before you even speak to them. Take your seminar presentation and record it using a screen recording program, and then post it online and drive traffic to it by using Facebook-targeted advertisements. Set up automatic self-scheduling at the end of your online sales presentation to allow prospects to schedule an appointment with you. Then, meet with your prospect using webcams, screen-sharing software and digital notepads to illustrate your sales presentations. An advisor recently used these digital marketing strategies to get 2-3 leads per day, and within 30 days was able to acquire a $2 million client without ever meeting them in person! — Jovan Will, President, Advisor Internet Marketing, Atlanta, GA


Market yourself.

“It may be obvious, but the best way to market annuities is to market yourself. I tell advisors that they have to master the craft of themselves.  Example: If you have five seconds to tell a stranger what you do, you probably don’t want to tell them you sell annuities. Maybe a better way to spend those five seconds is to share with them how you help your clients secure an income stream they can’t outlive. Practice your elevator speech to everyone you come in contact with.”  — Jason Kestler, President and CEO, Kestler Financial Group, Inc., Leesburg, VA

“Our most successful agents have a regular direct mail or drip marketing program, where they are sending quarterly or monthly messages that are education and informative. We must be committed to educate those at or nearing retirement age on options for generative income in retirement. Many of our agents have built robust websites with compelling content that attracts consumers, educates them and prompts them to request more information. We like those kind of educated and motivated leads!” — Matthew F. Tarkenton, Executive Vice President, Tarkenton Financial LLC, Atlanta, GA


Let telemarketing services do your cold calling for you.

“To optimize the telemarketing process:

  • Register for the
  • Buy lists within 100 miles of your office.
  • Have two telemarketers, one who calls from 9:00-12:00 am and another who comes back from 5:00-8:00 pm.
  • Pay $10 an hour, $25 for each qualified appointment.
  • Offer a 5 percent bonus on all sales.

The key to success is to craft a very detailed script. For example, I let them know what qualified means versus unqualified, etc.” — Steve DeJohn, President and CEO, The DeJohn Advisory Team, Rolling Meadows, IL


Meet for client reviews.

“I put on a direct, straightforward seminar to the public. Once a person becomes a client, I meet with them on a yearly basis to review their policies. It’s surprising how many opportunities present themselves when we properly service what we have sold!”— Mike Volner, President, Volner Financial Group, Inc., Bartlett, TN

“I set a goal to develop X number of clients and X number of client reviews. The annuity opportunities present themselves to me instead of me seeking out opportunities to present annuities. If you understand the value of annuities, the annuity sale will make itself.” — Adam A. Solano Jr., Lakeside Financial Group, Grayslake, IL