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The Big Talk

Here are a few tips to steer your talks with multiline clients toward life insurance.

By Lisa Singh

It’s the kind of call that Julie St. Marie dreads: Someone on the other end of the line says, “My mom just passed away—did she have any life insurance with you?” The question is often in vain.

“That’s gut-wrenching,” says St. Marie, a multiline agent in Bowie, Md. But those calls also remind her of why she has never limited her practice to property and casualty (P/C) sales. Ever since she became an agent with Allstate 19 years ago, she has done what many of her colleagues still avoid: steer talks with prospects and clients toward life insurance.

As a multiline agent, you may want to do the same, but may not know how to pivot the conversation. Death, after all, is no one’s favorite topic, and who wants to risk coming across as the voice of doom? Your clients may take their business elsewhere, right?

Wrong. Selling life insurance should be a part of your business, says St. Marie, an Anne Arundel AIFA member. “It’s got to be, because if it’s not, someone else will [offer life insurance] and then you may lose your clients,” she says. “All the studies show that the more policies a client has with you, the more likely you are to keep them.” So, the solution isn’t sticking only to P/C sales, but talking as well with your clients about life insurance in a way that won’t turn them off. Here are a few tips.

Keep it simple
“When the client is in our office for an annual or semiannual review, we have his whole file in front of us,” says Kevin Reinke, a member of NAIFA-Greater New Orleans who runs his own multiline agency near New Orleans and has more than 1,500 clients (about 40 percent have life insurance with him). “We try to keep the talk as simple as we can, so we don’t overwhelm them,” he says, “because if you overwhelm them, you won’t see them again.”

By simple, Reinke means no canned presentations or too many detailed questions about their finances. “Just [ask] about their mortgage,” he says, “because they’ll always tell you that, and about their retirement plan. They may not tell you how much is in it, but they will tell you if they have one or not.”

Reinke then asks, “If something were to happen to you tomorrow, do you have enough life insurance to ensure that your mortgage will be paid off and that your loved ones will be protected?” Usually, his clients have never thought about the question.

St. Marie has encountered the same reaction. “Quite frankly, people never think it’s going to happen to them,” she says. Like Reinke, St. Marie has the talk with clients around annual review time and goes for a simple approach, with no financial needs analysis done at that point. “Usually that’s a whole separate appointment,” says St. Marie, adding that her office has a financial-services specialist who later goes over those finer details with clients. In the meantime, St. Marie lays the groundwork by saying, “We’ve taken care of your auto needs and your homeowner’s, and I notice that you don’t have life insurance with us. Do you have that with another company?” There’s the inevitable pause, followed by a no. St. Marie fills in the silence with, “If something happens to you or your husband, do you have adequate coverage to ensure that your family can maintain their current lifestyle?”

Know your customers
Both St. Marie and Reinke say that beyond steering clear of the minutiae of finances in the initial talk, you should get to know your clients. “Just be natural,” says Reinke, and keep the talk going at a “natural progression.” St. Marie adds, “Believe me, in my 19 years, I’ve had a lot of brush-offs, but I’ve never had anyone become angry about it.” Some may even end up grateful that you did have the talk with them.

Be sure to hear Kevin Reinke in a panel discussion, Multiline Agents—When Tragedy Hits Home, on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at the 2006 NAIFA Convention and Career Conference in San Francisco. Reinke will discuss how he and his clients dealt with Hurricane Katrina.



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