Being a Competent Life Insurance Agent

The Smartest Guy in the Room: Being a Competent Life Insurance Agent


Warning: I should preface this post by warning our readers that this is mostly directed at our fellow life insurance agents.  However, if you're at all interested in the industry and it's inner-dysfunction, you'll probably be interested enough to keep reading.  This post is not intended to be arrogant but it is direct and truthful.  You've been warned.

Competitive intelligence in the insurance and financial services world can be the deciding factor between us and our competition.

I can't begin to tell you the number of times we've either been in a competitive situation, or have been contacted to assist with a competitive situation where it was apparent the client didn't care about who could present the better product.  They were much more concerned with who appeared to understand the complexity of the problem and had the competence to understand the solution.

We All Offer the Same Products

With very few exceptions, we (agents) all have access to the same products, so there's not much use in trying to fight over who can present the better product.  And frankly most clients don't care about the name of the company or the product.  The real key to edging out your competition and developing the trust of clients is to spend the time learning how to build a better mousetrap.

Yeah I know that goes against everything your sales trainer taught you but hang in there, I'll prove to you that what you've been taught was wrong.

Know the Concepts

A few years ago some friends were in a nasty conundrum.  They had a client with highly illiquid assets, a lot of cash flow, and no where near enough beneficiaries to not crush her gift tax credits inside a few years if she intended to gift the money to an ILIT to pay required premium.  They were at a loss for a solution to get around this problem.

Enter my idea: the Regimented Split Dollar.  Without getting into all the gory details, the Split Dollar gave them the ability to purchase the life insurance they needed with a significantly reduced gift tax consideration, and the client could recover the  money gifted to the ILIT to boot!

That was an idea worthy of a whole lot of praise, and a beer or two from time to time.  What's more…they couldn't SELL there way through that solution. You actually had to know the solution existed and how to implement it.

Know the Products

It shocks me how little agents tend to know (and even care about knowing) the products they sell.  As Brantley lamented last week, the life insurance industry has done a terrific job at training salespeople and a horrific job at training competent experts.

Sure we all makes mistakes, but ignorance is not the path to prosperity.

We've won numerous cases, and replaced a fair amount of poorly implemented business, due to an outright lack of knowledge on our opponents behalf.  Keep in mind this is not necessarily because the products our competition used were fundamentally bad, but because they simply didn't have the knowledge to structure them in a way that really benefited the client.

Now, if you're an agent and your reading this, you may be thinking that you don't know everything there is know about the intricacies of the policies you sell, and you'd never have time to do that!

I'd challenge that position a little bit, but I'll accept the fact that you're busy shaking hands and kissing babies and that pays the bills much better than sitting down with a policy illustration (or worse yet, an actual contract) and learning the specifics about your products.  Or at least that's what you've been taught by your sales manager.

But remember the sales manager only gets paid when you sell something.  He/she is not concerned with how good a job you do for the client, they want you to close sales so they can get paid.  I'm generalizing of course, as there are probably some who might actually step in to right a wrong, but not many.

It is worth your time to sit down and learn the mechanics of your products, understand tax law, and spend time digging into the problems that your clients and prospects actually are concerned with. Don't just believe everything you've been taught at face value, question and learn on your own.

Keep in mind you don't have to to be an expert per se.  But you should have the desire to learn more so that you can be a better resource for your clients.  And you have no place referring to yourself as a professional if you can't begin to explain the mechanics of products beyond the sales brochure.

There are plenty of people out there who can add value to your practice if you give them a chance to make you look like a rock star.  However, I'll warn you.  If you're the big ego type (agents tend to be) you'll struggle a bit from time to time if your technical expert isn't truly good at what he or she does.

Your Products are a Means to an End, Clients Buy Solutions

This isn't really new or innovative stuff, and it's how the worst products among the industry still get sold.  Savvy agents who understand people are focused on the bigger picture, and not whether or not they got the best products (when I was an arrogant little twerp working for one of the big mutual's I used to wonder why anyone would buy some of these products).

We've recently had a case come to us where a guy purchased a permanent life insurance product from one company, not because he wanted the company's product, but because the agent representing the company was the least obnoxious among the the group of agents he met.

And if I gave you the name of the agent's company, you'd be absolutely floored to find out this particular agent was the least obnoxious.

Still, this product accomplished a goal, though not nearly as well as it should have.

Analysis Paralysis can be Bad

It is entirely possible to over-analyze a situation. We know plenty of people in our industry that are guilty of this (raises hand).

So I'll warn you not to get lost in the bitter details but perhaps you should learn to soak in them on a daily basis so that you get comfortable with them.  This is one of those annoying times in life where too little is bad and too much can be worse.  But understand this and heed my advice, if you want to be taken seriously, and you want to work on serious cases, you have to possess a willingness and an ability to dive into the minutia.

You have to master the skill of competitive analysis, or be willing to defer to the knowledge and expertise of a back office consultant.  If we can help, feel free to contact us.

About the Author Brandon Roberts

Brandon launched the Insurance Pro Blog in July of 2011 as a project to de-mystify the life insurance industry. Brandon was born in Northern New England, and he currently calls VT home. He attended Syracuse University and graduated with a triple major in Economics, Public Administration, and Political Science.

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