In my article “Life Insurance Policy Themes for 2023,” I suggested a tweak in what I called the “discourse” among agents and others in the life insurance business. The tweak was to talk less about why to buy life insurance and more about how to buy it, highlighting the role and value of the agent in that process.
In this article, I’d like to change the venue of that discourse from print to the presentations sponsored by agents’ companies, brokerage firms or other organizations. As I suggested with respect to the print discourse, my premise is that it’s time to move on from “power phrases” to “power processes” and from the value of life insurance to the value proposition of those who sell and service it.
Here are some thoughts about a presentation that would be designed for agents in the advanced markets. The presentation, which could be done in person or virtually, would address many of the issues that agents in those markets are dealing with today and thinking about for tomorrow.
Setting the Stage
You’re a seasoned life insurance agent who works primarily with high-net-worth business owners, executives and families. You get a call from the chairs of the marketing and advanced sales departments at the brokerage firm you work with. They’re interested in presenting a program designed exclusively for agents and presented by agents like you.
As you’re one of the producers in that stage of career and that market focus that the firm wants to reach out to more effectively, they ask for input from you and your study group on how they should design the program and what they should cover. You say to them, “I’m delighted to help. I’ve lost count of how many programs I’ve attended where they promised that some well-known, prolific producers were going to tell me about the approaches and techniques they’ve used over the years to get into, navigate and eventually win big cases in the advanced markets. But, with notable exceptions, these programs rarely delivered.’
‘Yes, they always had the right props, meaning the situations with the wealthy clients, noteworthy professional advisors and the usual plot lines of objectives and constraints. But you rarely got anything tangible, functional or transferrable from the programs. I think that’s because the moderators always seemed to take the presenters directly from the fact pattern to the big sale. They skipped over the most interesting part, which is how the agents got into the situations in the first place and then traversed supposedly rocky terrain to arrive at a successful conclusion. I’m sure the programs were built with the best of intentions, but, for a variety of reasons, they fell short in the execution. So these days, as busy as we are, most of us are very picky about what to attend. We’ve learned to trust, but verify.”
You thank the chairs for bringing you into the loop. As they requested, you’ll consult with your study group and get back to them.
The Group Speaks
After a robust, wide-ranging discussion with your study group, you get back to the chairs with these suggestions and, in some cases, the basis for them.
- The moderator (or at least the co-moderator) should be a well-recognized agent who’s able to get the panelists to present and respond to questions in a substantive, forthright manner.
- Panelists shouldn’t be selected for their lofty reputations and sales achievements alone. They should also be accomplished professionals whom we consider to be thought leaders. Obviously, they’ll have to be able to candidly “talk shop” with their peers and willing to share ideas. Not all agents are able and willing to do that.
- Panelists shouldn’t just talk about cases in which there was a huge liquidity need or the client was interested in life insurance for pure capital transfer. That’s too easy and doesn’t showcase the panelists’ skill sets or address our needs. We need to hear about cases in which the agents had to fight for shelf space for the insurance because there wasn’t a screaming need for liquidity.
- We’re particularly interested in this because more and more of our clients doubt that the tax laws will sunset after 2025. See “The Advanced Life Insurance Market May Soon be in Retreat.”
Questions and Suggestions for Panelists
- What are the essential, operative fact patterns of the case you’ll talk about? Just tell us enough to understand the theme of the case and the challenges it presented to you as the agent.
- How did you get into the case in the first place, especially if you hadn’t worked with the client before? This could tell us about whom you network with and how you do it.
- How did you establish your position in the case with the client and the advisors? While the response to this question will obviously depend on the agent’s prior relationship or experience with the client or the advisors, we’ll want to hear whether the agent was strategically proactive and involved from the outset in conferences, case analysis and design or reactive, sitting by to await the other advisors’ conclusions about any needs for life insurance.
- If the case was competitive, how did you fend off the competition? What did you do differently from or better than your competitors to win the case? We want to hear about things like strategy, process, teamwork and resourcefulness. We want to hear about what they brought to the table, not how they pounded it.
- How did you work with the advisors on the integration of life insurance into the overall design of the case? Yes, this is another attempt to get them to talk about how they work a case that doesn’t involve a pressing liquidity need.
- How did you deal with such substantive fact or advisor-based challenges to a successful outcome as these:
- The need for the life insurance was there but the cash to pay for it wasn’t.
- The advisors were telling the client that between the marital deduction, the investment portfolio, estate planning and Internal Revenue Code Section 6166, there was little need for life insurance.
- The advisors were telling clients who had done strategies such as grantor retained annuity trusts (GRAT) or sales to defective trusts not to “overspend” on life insurance. Rather, they should only buy enough insurance to hedge the GRATs or sales against the client’s death and then drop the insurance.
- If your case design involved one or more advanced planning strategies, how did you work with the other advisors to select and design those strategies and then present them to the client? What tools and resources did you use beyond the illustrations and the usual diagrams? See “A Sound Approach to Composing a Melodious Life Insurance Presentation.”
- When and how did you involve advanced sales resources in the case design? Most of us have developed a keen sense for when, how and to what extent we should involve advanced sales expertise in cases. But we’re always open to new insights and ideas, especially for cases in which the estate liquidity need speaks for itself but other needs of potentially greater interest to the client don’t. This topic and the one immediately above would be worth the price of admission to a presentation by these producers.
- Once you’ve established a relationship with a new advisor, how have you cultivated it?
If there’s time, consider these questions. If not, consider them for future programs.
- How would you advise agents who hope to rely on referrals from trust and estate attorneys to deal with the heightened competition for those advisors’ attention? See “How Life Insurance Professionals Can Screen Estate Planners for Better Networking” and “Getting Through a Gatekeeper to Your Potential Client.”
- What tools and resources do you use to screen carriers? To select and design products? How do you document your research and incorporate it into your presentations and practice risk management? There’ll be standing room only for this one in light of our concerns about the coming storm of regulation and litigation over carriers, products, sales practices, suitability and whatever else can be regulated and litigated.
- What other developments and trends in our business are you tracking and how are you adjusting your practices to deal with them? The great Wayne Gretzky’s famous line comes to mind here.
Given all that’s on the plate of today’s agents, especially those in the advanced markets, program sponsors will have to promise and deliver a high return on their attendees’ investment of time and money. If not, their audiences will vanish.