I started selling life insurance on the internet in January of 2001. Online direct response marketing was a fairly new concept at that time, so gradually I’m becoming a person people go to when they are trying to decide whether to get into this career. Recently, someone went so far as to ask me for ten practical steps to establishing a successful online life insurance business. Ten steps. How does one convey the vision it takes to succeed, in ten steps? How can the steps be practical without becoming drudgery?
I started subbing on a bowling league in January of 2005. Some simple tips offered by my teammates helped me discover the thrill of making strikes. Whether those ten pins scatter like buckshot, or trickle down like dominoes, strikes make you feel great. I found myself excited to repeat the steps that enabled me to bowl strikes. And suddenly, my ten-pin/ten-step analogy was born.
Making life insurance sales online feels at least as exciting as making strikes, and has the added bonus of making you money! Having a goal that rewards you emotionally is what will enable you to follow, with enthusiasm, these ten steps to success. So here are ten pins to get down to experience the thrilling achievement of consistently making “strikes” in the direct response market.
1) Understand the game. Selling life insurance online is not the same as selling in an office. I have heard many traditional life insurance agents say that the hard part used to be getting someone in the door, the easy part was making the sale. The easy part of selling online is getting the client “in the door”; the hard part is making to the end of the process with a check in your pocket.
So what are online leads like? That can depend on how they came to you. If they were using a search engine that led them to a web site where they filled out requests for a quote or application, they are most likely motivated to buy. They are already your customers, and you had best serve them efficiently and expediently, because they will go on to the next web site, if you don’t!
Perhaps your leads were prompted to request a quote as the result of reading or hearing an ad. Others are “incentive” leads, which means they’ve filled out a quote request form as a hoop to jump through in order to get some type of other reward. You may think that kind of lead is not serious, and some aren’t. However, most are asked to give enough info that the truly uninterested ones will usually bow out before their form is submitted.
You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes to understand how to approach them. If you don’t answer leads promptly, they may get the feeling the ad or form was insignificant, and blow you off. Some will see the ad or form as a “nudge”; you’ll want to assure them that you can easily help them get the coverage they have been putting off. Some incentive leads will hear you out because they know every prize has a price. They may be pleasantly surprised to find that they’ve received a good insurance price along with their other prize!
It takes some conversation to get to know your leads and to build their trust. But you also have to respect their time, because people use the internet to save time and fuss. Unless they have complicated needs, it’s best to start by offering the simplest solutions possible. No matter how your leads came to you, they did ask. So you have every right and every chance in the world to make that sale. And you WILL make strikes with internet leads.
2) Know the rules. You’ve got to have knowledge of all the products being offered at your fingertips to be successful in online life insurance sales. Leads often aren’t willing to wait for answers, so you have to give them as much as you can on the first call. If you need to delay the quote due to needing medical records or having to first obtain a preliminary offer based on their health, it’s important to explain that if anyone else is giving them a quote without that step, that quote will most likely be wrong and could end up with a blot on their MIB.
Ordinarily, you will find the best quotes for those with perfect health from about 3-5 competitive carriers (rated at least A by AM Best) that use traditional underwriting. Likewise, the best quotes for those with health problems will come from about 3 impaired risk carriers. You’ll want to know which 3 instant issue carriers offer the best rates for those of good health, and about 3 simplified or guaranteed issue carriers for those of poor health. Those choices will more than satisfactorily meet almost every need, and anyone can learn the underwriting guidelines, ratings, etc. of a dozen carriers. This also helps you approach your leads from a point of wisdom, building their trust in you and enabling you to serve them most responsibly.
Along with understanding the underwriting guidelines, you need to get familiar with how each carrier works, i. e. whether they require a preliminary offer, whether the app can be filled out online, etc. You also need to know what health conditions are best met by what carriers. This sounds like a lot, but within 6 months, you’ll have it down. Knowing the rules of the game will help you get many more strikes.
3) Have good equipment. Good bowlers know they will get more strikes with the right ball, shoes, etc. It is essential to getting sales to have a well equipped office. An all in one fax machine (fax, copier, and scanner) is great for a small office. A phone headset is a must with today’s online apps. It’s nice to have an auxiliary color printer, but mainly using a black laser printer will save cost. I don’t waste one sheet of paper on a lead that isn’t at least somewhat interested. Therefore, a good computer and some way to organize leads is essential. It’s to your advantage if your lead provider offers software designed to manage your leads. If not, My Documents, an online calendar, and/or Mail Merge can help. It’s important to get a system set up to systematically keep track of your leads, because it takes lots of leads to make lots of money, and otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed.
I would have business cards and stationery printed for the apps you send out by mail, and to include with policies. You have very few chances to make an impression, and your mail is one way to make one. Use a phone with Voice Mail. Have a toll free phone and fax number. Be sure you have Adobe Acrobat Professional. Try to have an email address that identifies you with insurance. Have a web site, if possible. Good equipment is not only practical, but identifies you as professional, and that is a big part of consistently making strikes.
4) Invest in the game. You have to go bowling to get strikes, and you have to work leads to make sales. That means setting aside the time and/or money to work at least several leads per day. It will take at least 2 months before commissions start coming in, and about 6 months until you start getting some good stats. But at that point, you need to start keeping close track of how much time/money you are spending and earning, per lead. You will continually increase your profits if you commit to increase your lead volume as you are able, increase your average premiums and application placement rates (this will come with experience), and control your expenses.
Most good agents hire assistants after a while, because they see that they can make much more by SELLING more. Assistants free you up to sell. You can get to the point where you don’t want to do anything but sell in this business, because your time so literally, is money. However, you’ve got to be able to follow up on the leads your have, keep track of your commissions, fix your computer, pay your bills, and all that other stuff that goes with your own business. So keep your finger on that other stuff, but have someone else do as much as possible, and aim for those strikes.
5) Start off on the right foot. Bowlers disagree as to whether to approach the lane on the left or right foot, and online agents disagree whether to first contact your lead by email or phone! But if an introductory email is sent to your leads as soon as they are assigned to you, there is no doubt that a phone call is the best action to take after that. Your leads are expecting a call, and you become a person to them so much faster by phone than email. You can ask the questions that enable you to give a valid quote, and ideally, you will make the sale on that very first phone call, app and all.
If a lead won’t answer the phone within 24 hours, I go ahead and send an email, telling them I tried to call and would like to visit with them to find out their wishes and give them an accurate quote. If there is no response to that email or subsequent phone call attempts, I’ll send them a second email with a guess at a quote, based on what info they gave. That is usually the email that will draw out leads who will only respond by email; they generally won’t respond to later emails if they don’t respond to that one.
Calling can go on longer, because you might just keep missing people, and eventually catch them at home. However, you’ll want to make a rule of thumb as to how many messages you’ll leave, because after that they might see your efforts to contact them as harassment. Getting a hold of your leads by phone within minutes of receiving their contact information is ideal, and the very best approach to getting strikes.
6) Come from a good angle. You get a strike by aiming at the strike pocket. Internet leads have many motivations that can form that pocket. Some are:
a) looking for a competitive price on life insurance
b) looking for a price they can afford
c) being unable to find life insurance anywhere else
d) having some life event that caused them to think about life insurance
e) wanting life insurance but not liking to meet with an agent
f) wanting life insurance but not wanting any hassle (e. g. exam)
g) wondering if what they have is their best deal (most do this with Term, while ignoring their UL which could be their biggest albatross)
h) hoping their request will convince their spouse/parent/etc to apply
How do you find that pocket? You will lose them in the first seconds if you don’t approach them from the right angle. I ask for the person by first name, introduce myself by my full name, and say that I am responding to their request for a quote for life insurance from our web site. That intro, done in a friendly, conversational tone, almost always opens the door to a response, and that is the first goal, just to get them to respond.
If their response is, “I don’t recall filling that out”, I usually ask if maybe their pouse did it for them, and give them a little info about themselves so they know that someone that knew them had to fill out the form (but not their health condition). Any response is good! Any response can lead to a sale. And if their response is no, you can thank them and go on to the next ones who truly want your service and products. You have nothing to apologize for in answering their requests with the best there is to offer!
Once they respond, pick up your cues from them in chatting for a little while. If they don’t start chatting, I say something like, “I needed a little more information from you in order to find the best quote”. And I start out with something very basic. E. g. if they’ve checked diabetes, I’ll say, “I see you marked that you have diabetes. How old were you when you got that?” I’ll stay on that, being professional but also trying to convey empathy with my tone of voice, until we’ve covered that (or until they give a sign that they don’t want to talk about it any more… you can always go back to it). If no health conditions are checked, I’ll usually start out asking how much insurance they would like me to quote, then go on to risk factors. Be sensitive, respectful, yet direct in guiding them to the details you need to know in order to quote them correctly. We do no one a favor by avoiding delicate questions if the application is later declined (or worse, payment of the death benefit is contested) due to our reticence to ask what the carrier wants to know.
In that conversation, you find out their strike pocket, and appeal to that. Hopefully, you can either convince them to wait until you get a preliminary quote back to them, or fill out an app right there on line. You might even sell a policy to a family member.
At the end of the call, I always tell them I’ll send them an email with all my contact info, even if I’ve just made the sale.
7) Follow through. Once you’ve obtained the application, you need to submit it and follow the carriers’ guidelines to issue (your brokerage could be a big help in this). However, you also need to guide your clients through, so you don’t lose them in the process. I send emails to my clients with applications in underwriting about weekly, just to let them know how things are going. The minute you find out about requirements, use that as an excuse to touch base and let your clients know you are still on top of things (or as an excuse to find out what’s going on with them). Following through will ensure that the strike is made!
8) 9) 10) Don’t give up strikes for taps. The 8, 9, and 10 balls are the most common “taps” in bowling. A tap is a pin that stays standing even when you hit the strike pocket. Likewise, up to 3 out of every 10 leads you get may not respond affirmatively to you, if at all. You can try to pick them up, but don’t give up strikes to do it. You knock down those first 7 pins to successful direct response life insurance selling, and the strikes will fly!