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How to sell insurance products people believe they don’t need

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Every insurance company and its agents face the same hurdle each day: Convincing audiences that they should buy something they believe they don’t need.

Selling insurance isn’t like selling something people want. Consumers want iPhones and a nice-looking car. They will gladly pony up for them. They don’t want to think about what insurance is protecting them from: Death, illness, fire, liability, etc.

Related: Your 5 best arguments for life insurance (besides the death benefit)

But there is even a larger hurdle insurance providers face. People believe that insurance companies are frauds, only out to get their money and automatically fight any claims.

What are the hurdles?

My company has conducted research for various insurance companies and, without giving away findings that are owned by our clients, there were a few themes that stand out:

  • People, including white-collar professionals, believe insurance companies are unfeeling entities, which means claims of caring do not resonate.

  • Fear-based messaging (“What happens when you die?”) is ignored because audiences believe it is the beginning of a scam.

  • Policies are confusing, and that confusion feeds into the belief that insurance companies being deceitful.

The interesting part of this is that agents, those chosen to sell insurance products, often feel the same way. They also believe that messages about caring are not believable. They also are tired of selling the same story that attempts to get audiences to be afraid of what will happen if they are not covered. And they find working with insurance companies to be cumbersome.

Related: Life insurance awareness year

This should not be a surprise to anyone in the industry. What is surprising is that too few in the industry do anything about it. Yet overcoming those hurdles is exactly what would increase market share.

Among the insurance sales challenges: Policies are too confusing, which consumers translate as a ruse. (Photo: iStock)

Among the insurance sales challenges: Policies are too confusing, which consumers may view as a ruse. (Photo: iStock)

Overcoming insurance sales hurdles

Let’s take each hurdle and demonstrate how it can be addressed so audiences are more open to insurance products they believe they don’t need.

Insurance companies are unfeeling entities: This is the most difficult hurdle because few believe any company cares more about its customers than its bottom line. Even if you are a mutual company, most have no idea what caring means. This belief is especially acute with insurance companies because insurance is a low involvement category for most until they have to use it. Then it is high involvement and highly personal.

An effective brand message is the best step (more on that later). But any message must be aligned with that belief (insurance companies are unfeeling) and positioned against the competition.

Ask yourself these questions:

    1. What is it that audiences seek in their lives?
    2. What are they truly seeking when considering insurance?
    3. What are they rebelling against if they are forced by an employer to seek insurance, such as a health savings account?

Related: 5 secrets to making larger sales

Here’s an example of a possible sales message to counter this hurdle:

“We know other companies (and agents) have tried to get the most money out of you they can, while not fulfilling their promises. Instead, let’s do what’s right. What’s right for you. For your company. For your family.”

Approaching a negative belief head-on eliminates it as an issue. Continuing to ignore a belief just makes it even stronger.

More importantly, the message should be about the customer, not you. The moment you begin talking about you (either in person or in a TV advertisement), you’ve lost that audience.

This type of messaging becomes even harder when the pitchman has come to believe that all products are the same and the only effective tool is the personal relationship with the individual customer. Customers need insurance, not someone pretending to be their newest best friend.

See also: Options are the future of retirement planning

Building a sales strategy round the question, “What will your family do when you’re gone?” may have worked decades ago but today, it's a consumer turnoff. (Photo: iStock)

Building a sales strategy around the question, “What will your family do when you’re gone?” may have worked decades ago but today, it’s a consumer turnoff. (Photo: iStock)

Fear-based messaging is ignored: So stop doing it. Life insurance advertisers are especially guilty of this with the question, “What will your family do when you’re gone?” This might have worked decades ago when life insurance was a relatively new idea, but no more.

Today, audiences have become immune to scare tactics. Think about it: Everyone is subjected to thousands of message per day. Even the logo on a pen is a message.

Humans, though, have a filter. They only hear messages that are about them.

What insurance companies and agents must do is understand the emotional reason why someone would want to protect something with insurance. Not a rational reason. An emotional one. Too much messaging today is superficial and paper thin. (One example of more contemporary life insurance messaging: “It’s what a good father would do.”)

Policies are too confusing: This is an industry-wide problem. Policies have variations on variations, papers upon papers, language that is too confusing. Even agents have trouble deciphering everything.

To potential customers, it looks like an attempt to intentionally confuse them so the fine print can’t be understood.

We live in a world where simplicity is desired because so much of the world seems complex.

Simple is best.

The most powerful way to clear the hurdles

The most effective way to address all of these issues is through brand. So many insurance companies get branding wrong. Consider GEICO. The company spends millions on a message — “15 minutes could save you 15 percent” — that isn’t believed. Therefore, GEICO has seen its market share stagnate.

Another troubling slogan was Genworth Financial‘s one-time pitch: “We’re big, safe and friendly.” Ugh.

Brand is about the customer. Who they are when they use your brand. When we wear a Nike shoe, we are a winner because we “Just. Do. It.”

Apple built its brand by positioning itself against everyone else and saying that its customers: “Think Different.”

Developing a brand like that is hard work. It takes in-depth research, leadership that is willing to slay sacred cows, and an understanding that emotion works better than the rational.

Insurance companies and agents should take note. Because audiences right now believe you are out to get them, and get them good.

See also:

5 secrets to making larger sales

10 sales behaviors that prospects hate

22 sales memes that get it right

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