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Prospecting for Annuity Sales: Concentrate on Guarantees

Technology has changed a lot for the modern annuity salesperson—whether it’s the fixed product purist or the VA-touting Registered Representative. Today’s agents have cell phones, email, laptops, iPads, social media, and a lot of other tools that salespeople didn’t have a generation ago. That is an advantage, but it is also an obstacle. Why? Because today’s prospects have the same tools. They access a lot of information via their friends, of course, but also via the Web and via the media, which often misunderstand annuities as a financial planning tool.

Most annuity salespeople have already gone through a number of cases where an annuity would do an admirable job of meeting a prospect’s financial goals and solving his or her problems with a minimal amount of risk only to see the prospect not go through with the purchase. Why? Because they “talked it over with their attorney/accountant/sister-in-law who saw a thing on 60 Minutes saying annuities aren’t a good idea.”

How, then, does one prospect in this environment? How does one go about adding to the list of individuals and families qualified for an annuity of whatever stripe would A.) Be appropriate, B.) Be affordable, and C.) Be favorably received with an open mind as a suggestion to solve the prospect’s problem or meet his or her needs?

Remember the Annuity Advantage

Many times, annuity salespeople harm themselves by making things too complicated right out of the gate. The fact is, few people know what annuities do, or are designed to do. All they know is that they heard on the news about old ladies getting ripped off by annuity agents and life insurance salesmen.

It doesn’t help that they can turn on the news and routinely see prominent media personalities who are adamantly opposed to annuities. These personalities focus only on fees and expenses and then compare annuities to things like stock indexes that come with no guarantees and are not designed to.

Other times, annuity salespeople make the mistake of being too vague about what they sell. But, as an annuity salesperson, what you sell is immensely valuable, and you pretty much have a corner on the market: You sell guarantees.

The guarantee is a key competitive differentiator that sets the annuity agent apart from the rest. I love index funds, but there is nothing “guaranteed” about them. No mutual fund peddler can say he guarantees anything. And, few Registered Representatives, who have both mutual funds and variable annuities in their inventory of financial products to sell, bother to define themselves as specialists in guaranteed solutions.

Take a page from Ben Feldman—the greatest life insurance sales producer and one of the most remarkable salesmen of any stripe the country has ever produced. Technically, Feldman sold life insurance policies. But, that’s not how he talked. When Feldman was with a prospect, he sold “packages of money… when you or your family need it most … guaranteed.”

Now, the question is “When will you need the money, and how much of it do you want, guaranteed?”

Once you have that information, it’s very easy to get to the presentation and close with every expectation of success. If you cannot answer that question, based on what the prospect tells you, then you are punching in the dark.

Furthermore, if you have not planted the value and desirability of the guarantee in the prospect’s mind already, someone else can come in behind you, show a product with fewer or no guarantees, and swipe your sale from you with a shiny but improbably future number or spreadsheet illustration.

Finding the Prospect

Once you understand the guarantee differentiator, only then are you in a position to prospect from a position of advantage. If you want to sell annuities, your prospecting should be designed to put you in a favorable position to ask “When will you need the money, and how much of it do you want, guaranteed?”

So, where can you find them? Think of the kinds of people who would benefit from a guaranteed income or guaranteed benefit in some way down the road. The answer, of course, is nearly everyone. But, you also want to find people who can afford the solution and are willing to speak with you about it. That said, what is the best way to prospect? The answer is face-to-face.

There’s an old story about a young man who asks his dad, “Dad, how do I get girls to talk to me?”

Dad says “Don’t be a sad-sack, son! Go up there and talk to her, first!” (The term ‘sad-sack’ usually varies.)

The in-person introduction is still the best way to meet potential mates, and it’s still the best way to find annuity prospects, for the exact same reason: Right out of the gate, you are distinguished from all the losers who were too chicken to do it.

Walk into 30 businesses one after the other. Look sharp, and ask for the owner or whoever’s in charge. Smile, and introduce yourself.

“How can I help you?” you’ll usually hear.

“I’m John Smith, from XYZ financial. Just had a bit of time between appointments in the neighborhood, and I just wanted to introduce myself … tell you how I help people like yourself.”

At that point, you’ll hear some variation of “Shove off,” “I already have a guy,” or “Tell me more.”

If you hear “Shove off,” then try to angle for permission to come back in the future, or permission to send material. Take a card, and send a thank you note for the person’s time. (Index cards are fine. The fact that you sent a thank you note already puts you way ahead of the line and establishes you as someone who follows through. Win.)

If you hear “I already have a guy,” then your way in is something like “That’s good, actually. Most serious and responsible people do. I routinely work with and build on programs already in place. The difference is (emphasize the word “difference,”), I focus on the things you want guaranteed.

The response you’re looking for is “What do you mean?”

And that’s when you’re in. “We provide packages of money (or income), on a guaranteed basis, when you or your family needs it most. The only question is, what percentage of your retirement income do you want protected and guaranteed?

The power here: You’ve piqued the prospect’s interest. If they’re doing business with a mutual fund/ETF asset allocator or mutual fund specialist, it’s quite possible no one’s told him that he can guarantee and protect assets and income, whether it’s from market risk, creditors, lawsuits or bankruptcy (depending on state law).

Furthermore, if you’re speaking with a business owner, they may or may not have liquidity. But, they certainly have something to protect.

Finally, you are differentiating yourself. Chances are, no one is going to come in tomorrow and be talking to the business owner about protection and guarantees. Lots of people talk about return, but only the insurance/annuity producer is in a position to talk about commitments to the business owner made in writing.

At this point, you are in an excellent position to ask for a full fact-finder, or an appointment to get a fact-finder done. You should be in a position to do so on the spot … unless you were actually between appointments.

About Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason Van Steenwyk
Jason Van Steenwyk has been writing professionally about personal finance and investments since 1999. He first learned the trade as a staff reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine, part of the FORTUNE Group of magazines at Time, Inc. While there, he also served as managing editor of Investors’ Digest, a monthly compilation of the best in investment newsletter writing, published by the Institute for Econometric Research. He was also a contributing editor to Market Logic, Income Fund Outlook, Mutual Fund Buyers Guide and The Insiders. He holds a life and health license in Florida, (inactive). In addition to his work for Mutual Funds, Jason has published feature articles in many financial consumer and trade publications, including Wealth and Retirement Planner, Registered Representative, Annuity Selling Guide,, Senior Market Advisor, and and many more. Jason is a full-time freelance writer and editor, an avid guitarist and fiddle player. He currently receives no sales or production-based compensation from any insurance or financial services company. Jason lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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