How Life Insurance Agents Can Assess Their Readiness to Market in 2024
In “How Life Insurance Agents Can Protect Themselves While Protecting Others,” I suggested that agents should continually monitor the regulatory and legal trends affecting their practices and adjust their own risk management programs accordingly.
In this article, I’ll move on from agents’ risk management to some marketing themes and trends that agents might want to consider in what could be a challenging year ahead. Keeping with the conversational tone from the prior article, I’ll pretend that I’m talking directly to an agent.
Are there any notable trends in terms of how your clients and prospects view their situations, goals, concerns and, for that matter, their futures? If so, what are these trends, and what are their implications for your practice?
For example, it seems that traditional lifecycle phase concepts of personal financial planning are changing. Many individuals, including me, were told to see their financial lives as a continuum from accumulation of assets, to conservation of those assets for their generation, to their distribution to the next generation. And, distinct planning strategies and financial products were associated with each phase. Apparently, movement from one phase to the next was less about the calendar and more about the individual or couple’s state of mind, as well as the state of their finances. Anyway, the trend I see is that the great and growing uncertainties associated with the economics of aging will cause many individuals, even those of means, to spend far more time in the conservation phase before feeling comfortable about moving to distribution, if they ever do.
Assuming you give some credence to this trend, its implications to your practice will depend on your market and which lifecycle phase has been the focal point of your marketing, sales process, product mix, networking among advisors and so forth. In some cases, any adjustments for this trend might involve just an astute tweak to your terminology and reference points in conversations with prospects. On the other hand, and especially if the estate tax planning aspect of distribution has been a focal point of your practice, you might need to make a tectonic shift in your approach, product mix and the associated planning and design skills to realign with more prospects’ view of their lives.
To check if your practice aligns well with this paradigm shift in lifecycle planning look at “Planning Today for Possible Dependency Tomorrow” and “Boomers Refocus Their Planning for the Home Stretch.”
Do you perceive any meaningful trends in the competitive landscape in your market? For example, maybe some investment advisors who had been referring cases to you are now selling life insurance themselves, with the support of brokerage firms or other distribution channels. Of course, you might think this development is just a flash in the pan, perhaps because those advisors will soon regret adding life insurance to their repertoires. But if you think that this encroachment is more than a temporary phenomenon, which is my take, you’d better figure out a way to deal with it.
Look at “Guidelines for Advisors Interviewing Life Insurance Brokerage Firms” for some insight on how to fashion a distinctly advisor-centric approach to these professionals.
The Professional Advisory Community
I’ve heard some agents lament that the ranks of their estate planner centers of influence are thinning. And those that remain are so busy with client matters that they don’t have the time or the inclination to deal with life insurance, broadly speaking. One implication of this trend is that you won’t be brought into as many cases as you used to be, meaning you’ll have to get into more cases on your own. The implications of that are myriad, ranging from network expansion to refreshing some sales and planning skills. In this regard, look at “How Life Insurance Agents Can Screen Estate Planners fro Better Networking.” Could you conduct that same interview with an estate-planning attorney or, in a different context, with a tax advisor?
Consider also your approach to working with advisors on larger cases, which is another form of networking. In “A Sound Approach to Composing a Melodious Life Insurance Presentation,” I offer suggestions for how you can include advisors in the design and implementation of a large case.
Many agents tell me that, in light of increased competition from a variety of sources and ongoing challenges of effective networking, they’re seeking ways to present themselves as true life insurance professionals and not one of those “other guys.”
I suggest that you take a hard look at how you present yourself to prospects and advisors. That presentation, which we’ll call your “narrative,” should be told in sequential fashion, with each sequence seamlessly, logically and credibly segueing to the next. That way, you’ll avoid inconsistencies, gaps or non-sequiturs in your story line that could derail your narrative. Of course, you’ll want to calibrate the content and delivery of your narrative for your audience, meaning prospect or advisor and what you think each of them would likely want to know about you if you were in their position.
Establishing Your Credibility
Even today, when a friend or an advisor asks me to check out an agent, I look first at their background, credentials, certifications and professional affiliations. Now, I know what I’m looking at and for. But you shouldn’t assume for a moment that a prospect or advisor knows what all those initials, credentials, certifications and affiliations mean and what they say about your qualifications, capabilities and standing in the business. So be ready to tell them, with enough situational awareness about whom you’re telling and what they’d be listening for, to pique their interest in the rest of your narrative.
Your Market and Clientele
You’ve established your qualifications. In many cases, that’s all they’ll need to hear. But as you move up-market, you’re likely to encounter more knowledgeable prospects or advisors who are looking for an agent with certain experience and expertise. That is, not a generalist. Back in the day, many agents would tell me that they worked primarily with business owners, corporate executives, physicians, educators or just the intergalactically wealthy. They’d follow with a succinct description of the services they provide to those clients. This kind of response was a leading indicator that I was, or wasn’t, talking to an agent who works with the kind of client I was working with and understands their issues, the role of life insurance in their planning and how to work with advisors.
But these days, when I ask about market and clientele, I generally don’t hear a succinct, focused or even cogent response. I hear a lot about “high-net-worth individuals,” the almost obligatory “working in the client’s best interest” and, of course, about those agents who don’t do that. I hear a lot about all kinds of things, except where they focus their practice and where they have expertise.
The more well-to-do your prospects, the more they’ll want to know that they’re talking with someone who works with people like them. Advisors in positions of influence want to be confident that when a client asks for a referral, they’ll be recommending an agent who works with that type of client. You should be able to talk about your market and your clientele with enough specificity to let a prospect or an advisor know there’s a basis for further conversation.
You’ve established your credentials and talked about your experience and expertise in your market. But now the savvy prospect or experienced advisor asks, “You seem qualified and you seem like the right type of agent for this engagement. But are you willing and able to find the best products for me (or my client) and not just what’s best for you? How will I know that I’ll get a full and fair look at the marketplace?”
Again, back in the day, most agents tried to get away with just telling the prospect that they were licensed with umpteen companies or that they had a “client first” approach to the business. These days, the response is more nuanced and sophisticated, with many agents taking this as their cue to talk, often at length or worse, about suitability, best interest and whatever else they think will allay the prospect or advisor’s concern. But many prospects and advisors will find that kind of response lacking because it doesn’t tell them what they can really expect from you and how you’ll be able to deliver it.
Whether you’re a career agent of a given company, a member of a producer group or other firm or an independent agent who accesses products and services from various sources, you should be able to take the conversation beyond the strength and reputation of your company or the power of your producer group. You need to tell them how you work and why the services, systems, tools, resources and support you get from that affiliation enable you to bring significant value to your clients, not just at point-of-sale, but over the duration of your relationship with them.
Tax Law Sunset
I don’t think you need to have an opinion on whether the tax laws will sunset after 2025. I do think that you need to have a strategy for dealing with those who do have an opinion, one way or the other.
When prospects demur to your industry’s sunset sales strategy hype with, “Has it dawned on you that the sunset’s not gonna happen?” will you be able to redirect the conversation to non-tax needs or will you have to resort to arguing about deficits? When you get to the sunset versus no sunset fork in the road, will you be able to take it because you’ll have dueling talk tracks for sunset and no sunset, respectively? The sunset track is already getting plenty of press from your industry, so just be ready to cut and paste as you see fit. The no sunset track is more challenging, because if there’s no sunset, many clients and prospects will assume that they can put their life insurance checkbooks back in the drawer, maybe for good. This scenario calls for a radically different playbook of planning approaches, products and services than the first. What’s critical is that you’re prepared to deal seamlessly with either eventuality. For some ideas on how to do that, see “Will Your Life Insurance Business Sunset if the Tax Laws Don’t.”