Next Time, Put It In A Memo

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One of the reasons I left the captive agency system and became an independent agent is that I HATE meetings for the sake of meetings.  I find them a huge waste of time and unprofitable for everyone but the “weakest link” in the group.

I know that sometimes it is necessary to interrupt the activities of everyone in the office for a meeting.  Right now I can’t think of any reason to justify shutting down the activities of a sales group but I’m certain there are some reasons to justify a meeting.

To me, insurance office meetings are merely another tool managers use to justify their pay check.  Most sales people like to hear the sound of their own voice and managers are no different.  If there is a difference it is only that the manager has power to demand a captive audience where everyone has the pleasure of hearing his voice at the same time.

Who cares if the agent’s income is based on his/her ability to sell a policy?  That is important but it is more important that they take two hours out of their day to listen to a manager or muckity-muck flap his jaws for 45 minutes.

Many of us agents are college educated.   Most of us know how to read.  If we are illiterate, we have no business selling promises that are printed on paper.

In 23 years I have yet to attend a meeting where the information could not have been put onto a memo or brochure for agents to read when they need the information.

The Scott Adams, Dilbert, cartoon strip captures how I feel about managers in meetings.

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Happy Thanksgiving

 

There will be no blogs for the next 4 days.  I have suspended this blog for the holiday and will pick things back up on Monday, November 29

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Insurance Marketing Is Unique

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I read a blog by Ryan Hanley this afternoon.  I agree with about 90% of My Thoughts After Presenting on Social Media to Young Insurance Agents

In my opinion, the internet should be embraced.  More insurance agents should be using Twitter, Facebook and Blogs to promote their agencies.   If used correctly, the internet is not a waste of time.

Still, there is about 10% of his blog that I disagree with.

Whether or not he wishes to call himself a Social Media expert is immaterial to this discussion.  The very fact that he agreed to participate in a panel and promote the use of Social Media suggests that, in his opinion, he is willing to provide expert opinions on the use of Social Media for insurance agents.

The problem is that, while Social Media may be fine for sales people in other disciplines, in most states, the laws governing advertising include anything we publish on line.  There is a justifiable reason for insurance agents to be apprehensive about on line marketing.  If they write a blog that violates a state’s advertising regulation and someone complains, they run the risk of having their license suspended or their contract with their insurance company canceled and forfeit not only future commissions but the renewals they have worked long and hard to build up.

With that having been said, I still think there is room for insurance agents to use the social media options available on the internet to position and market themselves.

Learn from people like Ryan Hanley but keep in mind what your state’s insurance advertizing regulations will and will not allow you to publish.

In other words, from every “expert”, whether they claim that title or not, follow the advice I learned early in my career.  “Take the best and leave the rest.”

Be open minded about new things but remember the limitations you have placed on you.

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WIIFM

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This builds on what I said yesterday about Features and Benefits.  Shoddy salesmanship really grates on my nerves.  As insurance sales agents we are responsible not only to sell policies to our clients but to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” WIIFM.    

Today is Sunday and the Texans lost another close game on a fluke play with no time left on the clock.  It was set up by another fumble.  (I had really hoped they had learned how to hang onto the ball this year.  I guess my hopes were misplaced.)  The only reason why I still have hair on my head is that my son’s Alma Mater, Texas A&M, won yesterday.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, I am not in a very good mood to start with.  Unfortunately, I had to watch the Mike Rowe, Ford commercials several times if I wanted to watch the Texans lose.  I guess I could have just as easily recorded the game with my DVR and skipped over the commercials but that would mean expending the energy to pick up the remote every time there was a time-out on the field.  Sunday football is the time I allow myself to be lazy and I take full advantage of those 3 hours.

I have a great deal of personal respect for Mike Rowe.  He took a risk on a quirky idea for a TV show and it became a hit.  I love Dirty Jobs, but my wife merely tolerates it when I have the remote.  With a background in TV sales, I know he only repeats on air what the marketers and writers for Ford tell him to say.  However, as a trainer, I would use those Ford commercials to demonstrate exactly what you, as an insurance agent should not do.

With only 36 seconds to influence someone they spend the majority of the time talking about the features of the Ford and only a couple of seconds answering the question the prospect is asking, “What’s in it for me?”

They assume that people will make the logical leap that their anti-lock brakes will help prevent injuries in the event of adverse driving conditions or their towing capacity will mean that a farmer will be able to load a trailer with more stuff and eliminate multiple trips to the field, allowing them to spend more time with their family.

Those spots work in spite of their writing.  They work because of the credibility of Mike Rowe combined with Ford.  You can view one of his commercials here.

A better example of the proper way, in my opinion, to sell to prospects is with the AFLAC commercials.  Although I may have some personal issues with their representation in my area of the state, I am totally impressed with their marketing program.

Notice that in their commercial, found here, they never mention Short Term Illness, Accident or Disabilty insurance.  In a humorous way they make their message clear to prospects.  Aflac is not in the business of selling policies.  They are in the business of giving people cash to spend as they see fit.

Unless you, as an insurance agent, have credibility as strong as Mike Rowe’s, or a voice as unique as the AFLAC ducks, I beg you; do not attempt to mirror these sales techniques.

These commercials were made by huge national companies with marketing budgets that surpass the commissions even the best insurance agent could dream of.

Your sales “pitch” should not mimic either Ford or Aflace but you can learn from them.  Spend less time talking about you or your policy.  Spend more time helping your prospects make the logical jump from your policies features to how they would benefit from them.  

Remember, your job, as an insurance sales person, is to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”  A list of features, no matter how good they are, will not do that.  You are going to have to tell people how to use those features.

Practice makes perfect.  If you have nothing else to do, take one of your policies out and read it.  Make some flash cards.  On one side list a feature, on the other side list 2-3 ways it answers “What’s in it for me?” from a clients point of view.  Next, learn those flash cards by heart.

It may sound stupid but it will mean more sales and more commission dollars in your pocket.  (See how easy that is.  That one sentence explains “What’s in it for you?” so clearly that I beg you not to trip in your rush to go buy some black 3×5 cards to use for flash cards.

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Features vs. Benefits

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The differences between Features and Benefits are basic to most sales training courses.  Yet, even those of us who have been around for a while can benefit from being reminded of what they are and how to effectively use them.

FEATURE

A Feature is a fact.  You can find “features” printed in the policies you sell.  They are often emphasized in your marketing materials.

If you sell life insurance a death benefit is a feature.  If you sell car insurance, the liability levels are a feature.  If you are like me and sell health insurance, the co-pay is a feature.

Different policies have different features.  That’s what sets them apart from each other.

BENEFIT

A Benefit is what the Feature allows the insured to do.  It is the result of using the Feature that is written in the policy.

People don’t buy Features.  They buy Benefits.  They don’t care that a life insurance policy has a death benefit.  They want to know that if the insured suffers a pre-mature death an income is guaranteed to come into the household until the children have graduated from college.

Most people don’t care about having $100,000 of liability insurance.  They want to know that if they fall asleep while driving and injure someone in the subsequent accident, they will be able to pay the medical bills and lost income of the innocent person they hurt and avoid lawsuits.

My clients don’t care about the doctor’s office co-pay.  They want to know that if they get the flu this winter they can go to the doctor for relief without having to worry about affording the cost of a large deductible.

A good insurance agent will know both the Features and Benefits of the plans he sells.  In other words, he/she will know his/her product and how to use it to meet the needs of the customer.

There are a handful of people who are able to here a list of the Features your policy has and figure out for themselves how they will benefit them.  Unfortunately, people are different.  As a sales person you cannot afford the luxury of assuming that your prospect fully understands how your policy will meet their needs.

It is up to you to educate your prospect on the Features of your policy and how he/she can use them to meet his/her needs.

“WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU IS…”

As a rookie agent I was taught how to use both Features and Benefits in a sales conversation.  If you have never learned how to or have simply forgot, try this formula the next time a prospect gives you that blank look of confusion.

“This policy has [NAME THE FEATURE].  What that means to you is [NAME THE BENEFIT}.”

For example, “This policy has a Maximum Out Of Pocket [FEATURE].  What that means to you is that in the event of a cancer or disease you will not go bankrupt.  The insurance company will pay all your medical bills after you have paid $ 7500 for the year. [BENEFIT]

Although the use of both Features and Benefits has been used by sales people for years, this concept is still a valid one. 

I invite comments from agents who have used this sales technique below.  We can all learn from each other.

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Postcard Marketing

Wal-Mart location in Moncton

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I got a two month supply of postcards yesterday and am waiting on tri-folds to arrive any day.  This morning I obtained a list of people in their mid to late 60s in my area that I can mail to an unlimited number of times in the next 12 months.

This afternoon I went to Wal-Mart to get mailing labels, since my supply was depleted and Medicare Open Enrollment starts on Monday.

I guess I will spend the rest of the day pealing names and address labels and affixing them to the post cards that will not fit into my printer.

SEO and Social Media marketing are fine for the younger target markets but if I am to penetrate the senior market I will need to combine older, direct mail marketing with newer e-mail marketing techniques.

The lesson for young insurance agents is, you cannot rely on just one marketing technique to penetrate your market.  You need to use several techniques for multiple points of contact.

For the Medicare market I use, blogging, email, direct mail and word-of-mouth to build that area of my practice.  I can’t afford to rely on just one.

For other markets I use other techniques but my personal focus for 2011 is the Medicare Supplement market.  For group benefit and individual divisions of The Insurance Barn I use other marketing techniques.

One of those techniques is the use of a sales staff for group benefits.  That is more B-2-B marketing and needs someone much younger and not as fat as me 

I got a two month supply of postcards yesterday and am waiting on tri-folds to arrive any day.  This morning I obtained a list of people in their mid to late 60s in my area that I can mail to an unlimited number of times in the next 12 months.

This afternoon I went to Wal-Mart to get mailing labels, since my supply was depleted and Medicare Open Enrollment starts on Monday.

I guess I will spend the rest of the day pealing names and address labels and affixing them to the post cards that will not fit into my printer.

SEO and Social Media marketing are fine for the younger target markets but if I am to penetrate the senior market I will need to combine older, direct mail marketing with newer e-mail marketing techniques.

The lesson for young insurance agents is, you cannot rely on just one marketing technique to penetrate your market.  You need to use several techniques for multiple points of contact.

For the Medicare market I use, blogging, email, direct mail and word-of-mouth to build that area of my practice.  I can’t afford to rely on just one.

For other markets I use other techniques but my personal focus for 2011 is the Medicare Supplement market.  For group benefit and individual divisions of The Insurance Barn I use other marketing techniques.

One of those techniques is the use of a sales staff for group benefits.  That is more B-2-B marketing and needs someone much younger and not as fat as me

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Confessions Of A Postcard Marketing Slacker

U.S. Medicare spending per capita

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The past two years I have not mailed out mailers in the six months of the first and last quarter of the year.  I have listened to the marketing gurus who have told me that people do not respond to marketing from insurance agents in the first and last quarters of the year.

As a husband of one wife and father or two grown sons, over the years I have convinced myself that if I do not listen to the pearls of wisdom I have to offer, no one will.

Recently, I have been listening to myself quote other marketing experts who teach that before a prospect becomes a customer they have to be exposed to your name and business a minimum of 8 times.  Then and only then, without a referral, will that person automatically associate you with the product they are going to buy.

That is not a guarantee that they will buy from you but only they will think of you at some time during their purchasing decision.

Ideally, a referral from a satisfied customer or your professional reputation in your community will persuade them to purchase from you.

As I have listened to myself, I have almost convinced myself that I may have made a mistake by listening to insurance company staff marketers in the past.

I do understand that there is not an immediate ROI, in most cases, with mailings for insurance during this time of year.  People’s minds are often more focused on the end of year holidays in November and December to care much about insurance.  My target market is small business owners.  In January and February they are often too busy with tax issues to care about insurance.

The most active time of the year, for me, has traditionally been April to October.

With the PPACA and the future of health insurance agents being what it is, I will be transitioning my target market from small business owners to Medicare recipients.  By definition, they will have different marketing requirements.

The last 6 weeks of the year is the time the federal government requires all people on Medicare D or Medicare Advantage to make an active choice on what insurance company they want to use for the next calendar year.  This is a perfect time to mail out pieces to people on Medicare letting them know who they may call for help with their Medicare plans.

Unfortunately, the thought that I needed to adjust my mailing campaign parameters did not dawn on me until November.   It may be too little, too late for me to have a significant impact with the Medicare Open Enrollment for 2010.

Next year, however, if the Lord allows me to survive for another year, my goal is to start mailing post cards on a bi-weekly basis around Labor Day.  That will give my target market the minimum 8 contacts required before Thanksgiving to hopefully cause them to call my office in December for help with their Medicare D, Medicare Supplement and Long Term Care insurance.

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