Your Hometown Agent: Does Proximity Matter?

As most of the regular visitors know,  the Salus Agency is our primary business and we’ve done quite well assisting people all over the United States as they navigate their life insurance purchases and any number of personal financial issues.  We’ve used the internet to reach people in a way not possible a few decades ago.  We started doing this for two reasons:

  1. There’s a great big world out there and as companies grow, so do their geographic foot prints (usually)
  2. Brandon lives in Vermont the second least populous state in the Union and I live in Georgia making it all but impossible for us to work primarily with “local” clients as a team.  We made a strategic decision to work together as our strengths complement each other and our values align quite naturally.

Things have been working out quite well for us, but every once in a while I run into push back–typically from insurance companies–about the whole not sitting down face-to-face thing.  This got us thinking about how important face time (and I mean face time like I can smell your breath, not like the option on the iPhone that I–and no one else–ever uses).  This however spurred another thought exercise while discussing business with another agent about my days as a career agent (the career shops i.e. Northwestern Mutual, Guardian, MassMutual live by the importance of local agencies–of course).

So…how important is sitting down within arm’s length of your agent?

Well, obviously we don’t believe it’s important at all.  I’m quite sure there is a contingency of people whom disagree with that statement and that’s okay with us.  We can agree to disagree on that point.  And honestly, we aren’t trying to convince anyone to work with us that don’t feel comfortable doing business this way.

But I would like to dispel some of the arguments against working with an agent from across the country as opposed to the guy who coaches your son’s little league team.  How do I know that there are people who still feel this way?

I’ve talked to them believe it or not.

I sort of had an idea for running this sort of practice for years but I was convinced that it couldn’t be done.  Actually, it wasn’t really until I met Brandon that I was convinced this business model could actually work.  You have to understand the “old school” programming that is so pervasive in the insurance industry to grasp my apprehension that this could actually work.

keep-calm-and-fake-it-till-you-make-it

Fake It Til You Make It

When I started in a career agency back in 2000, that was my General Agent’s favorite phrase.

What did he mean by that?

He meant that you should act “as if”….

This video should illustrate my point clearly…NSFW (Not Safe for Work)

As if you were already successful.

As if you owned the company.

As if everyone you met would be making the biggest mistake of their life by not being your client.

Hubris Anyone?

Yeah, as you can imagine, this didn’t work too well for me.

I was looking around at all these guys who’d been working there for 10-15 years, driving expensive European cars, living in McMansions and sending their kids to private school.  But…I was also looking at sales numbers for the office as all of that was made public to foster a sense of competition among the office.  Now, it doesn’t take a real mathematical wizard to figure out about what type of income these guys had.  After all, we all had the same basic contract and the commissions were based on the premium sold–which was displayed for all to see in the break-room.

Let’s just say that most of them were making near enough money to comfortably afford their lifestyles, they were drowning in debt and in many cases owed their soul to the company store by also owing the General Agent a fair amount of money as well.  I’m not going to get into the mechanics of how all that works as it’s well beyond the scope of this piece but rest assured it is a reality.

At this point, I’m starting to feel really icky.  I remember thinking, “we’re not selling vacuum cleaners, we’re selling people on the idea of financial security at some distant point in the future and if I screw it up, they can’t go back and fix it.”  Obviously I felt some responsibility for making sure that my clients were taken care of and offered the best of what I had to offer them.

I was trained to never get into any sort of in-depth discussion with people over the phone or through email.  The phone was merely a tool to be used to schedule your next meeting/appointment.  I can vividly remember a sales trainer telling us “we don’t sell on the phone” over and over and over again.

Why is that?  Why the insistence that we sit across the table from our prospects EVERY time?

I’ll admit that when I got started, I was totally naive.  I honestly thought it was to always demonstrate to people that they were important enough for me to get in my car and drive out to see them, that they deserved that kind of one-on-one attention from me.  Isn’t that precious?

Why We Really Don’t Do Business over the Phone

Hard to believe I would’ve ever been that gullible

…but I was.

So I guess you’d really like to know why the “old guard” of the life insurance industry teaches that you shouldn’t “do business over the phone“?

It’s because you can’t look someone in the eye, get a read on their body language, and easily pick out what emotional hot-button you need to push to get that person to take action.  Yeah I know that sounds cynical but it is the cold hard truth…scout’s honor.

Our industry, the life insurance industry, has relied on the face-to-face meeting for years because they want the emotional connection to sell people in a way that turns the emotional screw ever tighter as the conversation moves forward.  I determined that the line of questioning we were all taught had very little to do with facts and had way more to do with identifying feelings that a true “sales professional” could use to move the sale closer to the finish line.

It makes my stomach churn to be honest.

But it is absolutely true and for years the attitude has been that the end justifies the means.  In other words, it doesn’t really matter how you make the sale because you probably left your client better off than when you found them.

I don’t know about you but that doesn’t quite cut it for me.

That Was a Long Introduction

Yeah, that was just setting up what I really want to talk about with you in today’s post.

Why are we so confident in our business model? You know the one where two guys working together separated by over a thousand miles build a business where we work with people from all across the country?

Partly because it’s working and every day our idea is given a bit more validity.  But mostly because we know that we have a very specific group of people who will choose to work with us. Not because we hammer them with annoying phone calls, leverage personal relationships to get introductions or play emotional hockey with them.

No, we attract clients who value real expertise and can see beyond the trappings of Class A office space, custom made suits and a Presidential Rolex.  Not that any of those things are bad mind you, but they really don’t mean that your insurance guy is successful at helping his clients get what they want.  It does mean he’s been a fairly successful salesman.

We’re not delusional and if we didn’t make any sales, my kids would be awfully hungry. However, we don’t have to compromise our integrity to be successful.  On the contrary, the public nature of this site and our business means that we have to constantly question our motives.  We have to be certain that any advice we give or sales that we make are in the best interest of our clients.

Unlike a Bernie Madoff, we aren’t running a business that operates in the shadows.  Madoff ran an exclusive club that was private and had a members-only policy.

Our business is wide open.  We take our professional lives and dangle them out there on the internet for all to see, criticize and scrutinize at every turn.  If you’ve followed us for any length of time or listened to the Financial Procast, you’re well aware that we aren’t good at hiding our opinions.

My point is that if we weren’t honest, we’d be sunk and we’d quickly be outed in a very public way.  We operate our business in a way that provides we are profitable but we don’t seek ways to maximize our profit from every client.

Everyone’s familiar with car dealerships right?

Well if you went into a car dealership and you were willing to pay $450/month for a car…guess what they’d sell you?  In our view (if we ruled the world), if we could sell you the same car for $275/month and make a profit, we’d gladly do it.  Why? Because we know (proven by experience) that if we give you the best deal possible, you will receive maximum benefit, and you will get exactly what you wanted.

There is no shortage of business in the world for us–that is a core belief of ours.  Most agents have a mentality of scarcity which leads them to believe that they have to maximize their commission on every case.  We don’t see it that way.  Our goal is always to design a policy that we write to be most beneficial to our clients.

Why the Life Insurance Industry Hates Engineers

Okay that’s probably somewhat of a provocative statement but I hope you’ll hang in there with me just a little bit longer and I’ll bring it all back around.

It’s not really that there’s a memorandum floating around that tells new life insurance agents to avoid selling to engineers but I know I was told that and I know that Brandon was as well.  Why is that? Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with engineers per se but was more general advice to avoid analytical types of people.  You know people who are deep-thinkers and like to analyze things.

Why?

Because they ask too many damn questions…that’s why!  Look, you can’t be wasting your time answering questions when you need to be selling.

Why?  Because your sales manager only gets paid when you sell something…that’s why!  Duh.

For years, life insurance agents have avoided people who asked too many questions–those who wanted to understand what was in the black box and how it all worked.

But you know what?

We’ve got a little secret…those people who ask questions, are our best clients.  We love dealing with people who feel the need to understand how it all works.  They’re not buying a new washing machine at Sears; most of our clients are considering a decision to make substantial financial commitments that may take years to produce any fruit.

I don’t know about you, but I might want to understand the finer points before jumping off the cliff.  In short, our clients want to know the details and we think that’s a good thing.  We’ll go back and forth as long as they feel is necessary to make an informed decision and be comfortable that it is the right decision for them.

Bringing it all home

If we only worked in our local areas, we’d never have the opportunity to take our process and our expertise to people on the other side of the country.  That wouldn’t be fair to the world–would it?

Forgive me if this at all sounds preachy or self-righteous and understand that’s not my intent in any way.  We just felt it was time to address some of our naysayers and explain why we’re not likely to be pitching life insurance at your kitchen table.

And if our way of doing business appeals to you in the least, we’d like nothing more than to see how we can help you.  Feel free to reach out to us anytime.

Brantley Whitley


One Response to “Your Hometown Agent: Does Proximity Matter?”

  1. Jeff Hexter says:

    Caveat Venditor. Let the Seller Beware. I always find it refreshing – no, exhilarating – when I encounter others who view sales as I do:
    Help the customer understand their needs,
    Help the customer understand their options,
    Help the customer select the best choice for themselves from among the available options.
    … and only allowing them to buy from me if I am the best choice.

    Because I know that if *I* were a customer, that is how I’d prefer to be dealt with.

    I’m not in the financial services industry, but I think there is a huge need for this sort of attitude in your industry. I *have* encountered this several other agents I have met, but I get the sense that few take the time and effort to become this sort of salesperson.

    Thanks for raising the bar!

    -Jeff

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