When Allstate agent Helen Wade of St. Petersburg, Fla., joined her father’s 30-year-old practice in 1996, she took over a substantial book of business that included hundreds of property and casualty (P/C) clients. Over the years she touched base with all of them for policy reviews and updates, suggesting changes and additions to their insurance coverage.
Then in 2001, Wade received the kind of phone call she never wants to receive again. It was a relative of two insureds, a middle-aged Tampa Bay-area man and his wife. The husband, a white-collar office worker, was the family’s major earner; his wife only worked part-time. The husband, only in his mid-40s, had suddenly died.
“I see here that he had his auto and homeowner’s policies with you,” the relative, who was helping with estate details, told Wade over the phone. “His wife was wondering … did he have any life insurance with you?”
Wade combed carefully through her files and then had to report the bad news: “I’m sorry,” she told the caller, “but I don’t show any life coverage. Again, I’m very sorry.”
Every advisor with any time under his belt can recount similarly tragic stories: homes lost, educations forfeited, aging and widowed spouses forced to return to the workforce in the midst of crushing grief. But the reality is that most Americans can’t recount similar stories. If they could, the enormous number of uninsured Americans—68 million of them according to LIMRA—would head straight to their nearest life agent.
LIFE would like to see more of them do so. That’s why, next month, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit association is sponsoring Life Insurance Awareness Month (LIAM) for the third year. It has teamed up again with a celebrity spokesperson to get the word out about the importance of life insurance coverage. Throughout September, Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton will share how, at age 19, he lost his mother, a breadwinner in a moderate-income family, to cancer. Thirteen years later, he faced his own life-and-death challenge, ultimately beating testicular cancer.
“When my mom died, the emotional challenges that my family and I faced were compounded by financial struggles because she didn’t have any life insurance,” Hamilton says. “Losing my mother and fighting my own battle with cancer have taught me that unexpected events can rock your family at any time, and you need to recognize that and take necessary precautions in life.”
Bolstered by the skater’s wide appeal, LIFE plans to pour millions of dollars into a public-education campaign designed to raise consumer awareness about the benefits of life insurance and the importance of seeking financial advice from qualified insurance professionals. In a speech at NAIFA’s annual Convention and Career Conference in San Francisco this month, Hamilton will also rally the industry around LIAM.
From a bottom-line perspective, what does all that mean to you? With intense public focus on the topic, “September could be the best time to sell life insurance in a very long time,” notes LIFE Vice President Jon Dressner. “Since most life insurance policies are still sold, not bought, it will be up to producers to seize this unique sales opportunity and get consumers the coverage they need.”
How can you increase life sales in September? Here are five ways you can leverage LIAM.
1. Get organized.
Independent advisors, as well as producers in managerial or agency-owner positions, should help their agents get organized for LIAM, says Richard Hoover, LUTCF, an investment advisor and independent agency owner in Las Vegas with the AIG American General’s Independent Agencies Group. A NAIFA member since 1993 and past recipient of NAIFA’s Public Relations Award, Hoover says LIAM “represents a huge opportunity to us as professionals by way of dovetailing and leveraging our own practices with the millions of dollars in national advertising and promotion underwritten by LIFE, the life insurance industry and NAIFA.” Most of the producers in his agency are NAIFA members. Therefore, they are receiving information about LIAM promotional materials through this magazine and other news sources. Still, he says, “It’s up to me to bring it to their attention and really drive the idea home.”
It’s also the job of managers and owners to provide the time and resources to back the campaign, he says, including setting aside marketing dollars. For LIAM 2006, Hoover plans to use a combination of LIFE materials and customized pieces tailored to his practice. He urges agents and advisors to visit www.life-line.org, view high-impact consumer brochures and campaign materials and “direct-mail your customers and prospects using both educational materials and ‘disturbing’ [realLIFEstories] that call attention to the needs” life insurance can fill.
In addition to client materials, advisors can get organized for LIAM by marshalling reference information from past campaigns. That’s what Nationwide is doing for LIAM 2006.
“Before, we might send out a wealth-transfer kit or a policy-review kit that focused on one campaign theme,” says Michelle Benz, vice president of business development for Nationwide’s individual protection segment. “But the individual kits might not fit a particular agent’s specialty.” Also, agents and advisors needing a particular kit to prepare for LIAM might have to mount a search-and-rescue effort. (“Now where did I put that policy review kit the home office sent last year?”) This year, Nationwide assembled all of its campaign kits into one easy-to-use catalog. “The LIAM kit showcases all the tools we have, and they’re actionable and all in one place,” Benz says.
As LIAM approaches, independent advisors can adapt Nationwide’s approach by organizing marketing materials in one place, matching them with the likely needs of existing clients, and planning a series of targeted contacts—whether wealth-transfer, life-change or policy review—for September.
LIFE has teamed up again with a celebrity spokesperson to get the word out about the importance of life insurance coverage.
2. Sell life products to P/C clients.
Benz says that during LIAM 2005, Nationwide focused on creating life insurance cross-selling opportunities with its P/C customers. First, the firm printed LIAM-themed mailers and sent them to its clients in an effort to drive them to agents to talk about financial-services planning. The firm also held promotional events that could be adapted by producers at all levels. On “Call Day,” for example, Nationwide agents contacted thousands of clients and prospects by telephone with a brief message that called attention to LIAM. The company’s Call Day “winner” made 357 calls in a single day, while the winning region made 3,000.
“LIAM gives our P/C agents a chance to step back and focus on life insurance,” Benz says. “A lot of our agents and advisors told us that LIAM gave them the opportunity and the confidence to make those calls and drive sales.”
AFLAC’s Lynn Barnson agrees. As state sales coordinator for AFLAC in Nevada, Barnson oversees agents and enrollers in servicing 2,000 corporate clients. LIAM, he says, provides the perfect entrée for enrollers to transition naturally from discussing AFLAC’s bread-and-butter supplemental products to discussing employees’ need for up to $200,000 in term life insurance.
This year, the carrier is rolling out a new product called the Life Protector Series in the state. Barnson plans to hold intense classroom and field training on the product this month “so that as we roll into September, we will have a focus on selling life insurance. And we know that if we focus on something, we get better results.”
Tom Gilligan, senior vice president for marketing and branding at Colonial Supplemental in South Carolina, says multiline agents can focus on life insurance during LIAM simply by asking questions. And the simplest question to ask is, “What would happen to your family if you passed away and they lost your income?”
But here’s the trick, Gilligan says. Ask the question … then shut up. “Many agents will ask the question and try to help the client answer it by adding something else such as, ‘A lot of people prepare for that by buying life insurance equal to 10 times their income,’” Gilligan says. “Instead, let the person visualize the need a bit before you start giving him all the answers.”
3. Show your passion.
During LIAM—and all year around—sales depend on “clients knowing we’re very excited about what we’re doing, and making sure they understand we’re acting in their best interests,” says Nationwide’s Ted Phillips. Eight years ago, the Charlotte, N.C., agent joined the insurance industry from banking because he believed passionately that life insurance serves people by protecting both their assets and their peace of mind.
Still, just before last year’s LIAM, he became even more passionate about life insurance than ever before. In July, while Phillips and his family were on a three-week dream vacation in Europe, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. His dad had enough life insurance and other financial resources to take care of both Phillips’ mother and stepmother, a fact that Phillips today shares with some clients. “I was already passionate about life insurance,” he says, “but after that I was more focused than ever on the real benefits. My father’s death reminded me that life is unpredictable, that life insurance is love insurance.”
Fueled by this new realization—and his father’s story—Phillips wrote 23 new life applications during LIAM 2005, about twice his normal production.
You may not have a personal story about how life insurance sheltered your family in a time of loss. But www.life-line.org features several stories you can download and share with clients and prospects. This year LIFE will raise awareness nationwide with “realLIFEstories,” a special section in Newsweek’s Sept. 4 issue.
Mark Marroni, J.D., CLU, ChFC, is managing partner of Boston Partners, a John Hancock agency in Boston. He says LIFE’s realLIFEstories help his sales force paint a picture for clients of what selling life insurance is really all about: Helping people deal with critical emotional challenges in life.
“People fear outliving their money and not being able to take care of their kids,” Marroni says. “That’s what is so wonderful about life insurance. It really lets people help those they love and avoid the things they fear. Using the LIAM materials in a sales context has helped the people involved in this process—both the agents and the consumers—understand that and that’s been a really positive thing.”
4. Make community contact.
Marroni says his largest recruiting class joins the agency each year around July, as new college graduates flood the job market. Last year, in conjunction with LIAM, Boston Partners set up two booths in the Hancock Tower, the carrier’s worldwide headquarters.
The experience did generate business—some immediate and some longer-term.
“We had our newest agents manning it for over two weeks. They weren’t selling life insurance so much as they were just talking about what we do for a living,” says Marroni. “We helped people gain some awareness about how John Hancock can help send kids to college, take care of family members, that sort of thing, all in an easygoing environment.”
Boston Partners gained two distinct benefits from the Hancock Tower booths, Marroni says. His young agents realized more fully the true service element of the profession they’d chosen, and “we got a fair amount of business out of it, too.” The booth yielded eight new life policies, as well as referrals and a network of new contacts that resulted naturally from a focused educational effort.
John Hancock’s Atlanta General Agency also leveraged LIAM in 2005 with a booth approach, setting one up at American Baby Faire, a national trade show that was taking place in Atlanta. The show attracts new parents and grandparents, among others. The Atlanta general office rotated six agents through the booth, pairing experienced agents with younger ones. The result: a great training experience as the newer agents observed the seasoned ones in action, as well as so many leads and sales that the office plans to look for more trade show booth opportunities for this year’s LIAM.
5. Reach out to the media.
LIAM also represents a perfect opportunity to approach local print, radio and television media—not to promote your business per se, but as a public service to educate people on the importance of life insurance.
More than 100 carriers, insurance companies and trade groups supported LIAM 2005 with marketing communications that included not only consumer advertising, but also ghostwritten articles and template press releases that allow agents and advisors to easily achieve a local media presence. This year, the same holds true. But to effectively leverage these materials, Hoover, of AIG, suggests that advisors first become thoroughly educated about LIAM.
“First understand what LIAM is and what materials are available,” he says. “Then arrange them to your own liking.” That may mean affixing your own byline to a ghostwritten LIAM-related article and contacting local newspaper and magazine editors. Or you may familiarize yourself with several realLIFEstories and call them to the attention of local radio and television producers, who are always looking for local angles and experts. During September, Advisor Today’s editors will feature some of their favorite past realLIFEstories columns on AdvisorToday.com.
During LIAM 2005, Hoover did exactly that, rotating for a week with other NAIFA advisors on a Las Vegas morning news program. “Each day, we focused on different ways life insurance can help—from the problems Americans have in saving money to basic calculations of how much life insurance they need, college financing and budgeting. We basically gave very large lessons on the workings of life insurance in a very short amount of time,” he says.
The experience did generate business—some immediate and some longer-term. What is equally important, says Hoover, is that “it put me out in the community where I wasn’t before. People can now say, ‘Hey, I know that guy.’”
LIFE is hoping for a similar reaction across the country as Americans hear Scott Hamilton’s personal story in a series of radio and television interviews. Meanwhile, notes LIFE’s Jon Dressner, LIAM provides an opportunity to focus on many Americans’ No. 1 financial need. In today’s financial-planning environment, agents are selling a panoply of products and services to help their prospects and clients achieve a sustainable balance of both investment and protection products, Dressner notes.
He also says that life insurance “is arguably the most difficult product to sell. That’s not necessarily because the client doesn’t need it, but often because the agent doesn’t want the relationship to end in the first few meetings and elects to focus on other kinds of sales instead.” But since life insurance is often a client’s first need, Dressner adds, “In September, let’s make it the first need because LIAM provides ‘air cover’ to help make the [client-agent] dialogue about life insurance a fruitful one.”
Lynn Vincent is a contributor to Advisor Today.