The Value Of An Agent
By Mark H. Snow, CEO of SafelyFiled.com, LLC
"I loved your father. I don't know what my family would have done is he hadn't made my husband buy that life insurance."
I heard that dozens of times at my father's wake and funeral. He died in 2008, after well over 40 years as an independent insurance agent. He had been retired for about 20 years when he died, but the families he helped still remembered him.
The phrase, "made my husband buy," struck me as a bit strange, especially since I heard it so many times at the funeral. Dad didn't hold a gun to anybody's head, but the phrase was somewhat accurate. How did he actually "make them buy" the coverage they needed?
He did two things that I think were critical to his success. First, he was good and persistent salesman and he knew how to present the benefits of coverage and discover and address what he knew were the concerns of his clients. He was also unquestionably honest, so he could look all his clients in the eyes and be proud of what he did and what he sold.
Second, he stayed close to his clients. He knew them all by name, they knew him and they also knew that he would never try to sell something he didn't think was appropriate. He also didn't just talk insurance with his clients. Because he knew so many people, they often asked for his advice about unrelated matters, like who is a good lawyer, or what accountant can give the best advice about a tax problem. He built up trust over the years.
I can remember going on calls with him. His clients and prospects were genuinely happy to see him. It was more like a social visit than a sales call. (Maybe that's why he loved his work so much.) But there were still times when his prospects couldn't seem to make up their minds. In those circumstances, he would often look them in the eye and say, "Buy this. Your family needs it." Usually they signed the app.
It's not so much that he "made them buy." What he did was earn the trust of his clients and make the case for coverage so clear that it only made sense to buy the coverage. His approach was to convince his clients that they would be making a big mistake by not buying. Using his skills and talent, and by working hard and long hours, he saved families. Selling insurance was the ideal career for him - helping friends and strangers, having fun, and making a decent living.
As a career, selling insurance is under attack. First, there is the age-old salesman reputation problem. Many clients don't like to think they are "being sold." They don't mind being advised, but they don't like to think that they can be talked into buying something. They are even reluctant to admit that they are influenced by advertisements and public relations campaigns. But agents have lived with this for years and have done a good job of overcoming the problem. My father was a master at that.
There is a new force, however, that is more ominous. It is the intense, relentless and increasingly effective effort to take the agent out of the insurance distribution process. To be fair, independent agents have competed against captive agency forces and direct writers for a long time, but what is now happening with the Internet takes this competition to a new level. And the demographics are not in the agents' favor. Young adults seem to prefer buying on line at 10 at night rather than dealing with an agent during working hours.
It would be a shame if Internet insurance purchases become the norm. Who would tell a new father to buy life insurance, gently insist that he give it more than a casual thought and stay with him until he completes the application? Who would advise a client to increase or decrease underlying liability limits to get the best deal on a combination of homeowner's and an umbrella? Who would tell a business owner that he needs Employment Practices Liability Insurance, especially if the part-time female employees are reporting to an assistant manager that the agent knows is a bit creepy?
That advice is not going to come from the Internet. The Internet doesn't care if a client buys or not. It doesn't take the time to make sure the client understands the impact of a decision not to buy the insurance. The Internet will never go to a funeral, look at the deceased and think, "I'm glad I got him to buy more coverage." Only an insurance agent can do that.
It would be a loss for everyone, including clients and society in general, if agents, especially independent agents, let themselves be pushed aside by websites and software applications. The question is not whether the agent will be replaced. That probably won't happen. But what might happen is worse - the agent being eliminated, and as a consequence, all the services and value he or she provides to clients could disappear.
This won't happen all at once. It doesn't even have to happen at all. But if agents stand by and do nothing, and more and more people accept buying (or not buying) insurance without an agent's advice and salesmanship, those potential clients might forget or never even realize how much a good agent can do for them. They'll never appreciate the value of an agent.
So, how do you keep this from happening? What can you do to compete against the Internet? We'll discuss specifics in future articles. (A quick peek into those future articles - use the Internet to your advantage.) But for now, perhaps the first step is helping your staff appreciate that what they do is not just about commissions and quotas, but about helping families and businesses. Help them understand that if they put together the proper insurance plan at a fair price, "making the client buy" by using their sales skills is something to be proud of.
You know what can happen if a client doesn't insure his risks. You do what you can to protect your clients. No website or computer program will to that.
You understand and you care. That's your value as an agent.
For additional information, contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888.686.3111. Or visit www.safelyfiled.com