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What keeps producers up at night, keeps me up too!

The November 2013 issue of National Underwriter has a long and very interesting piece by Jamie E. Green titled “2013 Independent Producer Survey.” Mr. Green describes the methodology as a random survey of “3,000 financial sales professionals licensed to sell insurance products in the United States.” He indicates that the producers were selected from a “proprietary database of more than 1.2 million licensed professionals” and were invited by e-mail and online promotions to participate in the online survey. The results “represent responses from financial professionals who have sold at least one insurance product in the last 12 months.”

There is a lot of interesting information in this survey. But when I read it, I zeroed in on one question in particular: the first. “What Keeps Producers Up at Night?” the heading in the article or, as it was set out in the survey, the most challenging aspects of selling insurance. The most cited, by 55% of responses, was “Prospecting for new clients.” This was followed by “Clients don’t recognize the need for insurance products” at 34%, and “Clients have negative opinions of insurance products and/or the insurance industry” at 25%. (While the piece doesn’t make clear how many challenges could be identified, clearly more than one could be because just these top three exceed 100%.)

I worry about those same issues, because I see how those concerns lead some producers to engage in sales practices that can lead to disciplinary actions against them and sanctions against the carriers whose products are sold. We see prospecting materials, lead cards, seminar invitations, radio spots, and social media posts that are designed to avoid mentioning insurance or insurance products. It is our regular task to tell IMOs and producers that they must disclose clearly that they are in the business of selling insurance and that responding to the call to action will mean contact by an insurance producer and that the solicitation is part of an insurance sales process.

Of course, we only see a small fraction of the materials that are out there and knowing that so many producers are afraid of their own industry and go to such lengths to hide that fact from prospects leads to a compliance nightmare, making sleep difficult. Carriers and trade associations have spent tremendous amounts of money and effort to combat negative stereotypes.

But the vicious cycle continues. Producers are afraid that they will lose sales if they are honest about selling insurance but failing to openly discuss the industry and products. This can lead to sales practices that bring further negative publicity to the industry and make future sales more difficult. The only way to stop the cycle is to confront that fear and discuss openly what is being sold and why. It may not be easy at first, but looking a little further down the road, it is the way to address all three of these producers top three concerns.

And while compliance was identified by only 18% as a “most challenging aspect,” a focus on what is good about the insurance industry and its products in prospecting and sales would also reduce the need to worry about advertising compliance. That could help us all sleep better at night.

Why Sales Skills Matter to Everyone – Even Compliance Professionals

In the September 5, 2013 online issue of LifeHealthPro, Van Mueller has a piece called “Why sales skills matter.” He says in his opening paragraph: “Let me state this emphatically: you cannot become a great insurance and financial professional unless you become a great salesperson first.” I do not disagree. Actually, my version would read: “Let me state this emphatically: you cannot become a great professional unless you become a great salesperson first.” Because I think it is a very broad sense, we are all selling something. Here at CCS, I sell our services, but before I get to that, I am ‘selling’ compliance.

Mueller says, “We achieve success in our business because we use professional sales skills to inspire people to take action. Then we follow through to help our clients achieve the successful results they expect from us.” That is as true for me as it is for Mueller and insurance sales professionals. In compliance our job is to inspire insurance sales professionals to take action.

Mueller also points out that bad news isn’t what inspires action – people deny bad news or the possibility of bad things happening. We certainly find that is true with some of our clients. We can point out the risks and the exposure and it seems the heads only go further into the sand.

But when we as compliance consultants can point to the opportunities created by tightly crafted and well thought out marketing pieces as well as clearly written and understandable policy forms then we may be able to “sell” compliance to the sales folks. If our clients don’t see the opportunities offered by compliance then they will not be inspired to take action. Fear of the “what ifs” won’t do it. That doesn’t mean we don’t point those out – we have to – but at the same time we point out the opportunities compliance offers. And compliance does offer opportunities.

Mueller says, “A great sales person will ask questions in an organized manner. This gives our prospects and clients the information they must consider to achieve financial success, and it helps to put their thoughts in order. Then they will feel confident about their decision.” Again, the same is true for compliance. When we ask our clients questions in an organized manner and we talk about the business goals and the purpose, our clients are able to clearly articulate their needs. Our compliance advice can then be tailored to their needs and the clients feel more confident about their decision to act on that advice.

Not too many people think of compliance as inspiring, but we do. Talk to us for a few minutes about your business and your needs and you may find yourself inspired by compliance, too.