“And Here’s How I Sold That BIG CASE” – Part 1
THE LORE OF THE INSURANCE business is strewn with tales about big insurance cases that fizzled. But some professionals have a far more compelling story to tell: how they landed a really big case despite client uncertainty, complex needs and wants, and very long timelines. Following are examples from advisors who have successfully landed big cases in life insurance, annuities or estate planning. These stories are rich with detail about working with high-net-worth clientele. They show clients who don’t want to plan, others who object and quibble, and still others who don’t want to spend a dime, not even on themselves. They showcase advisors who overcame hurdles with patience, perseverance and sensitivity to each client’s unique circumstances, needs and emotions. The strategies vary from case to case, but most share a few common threads. The big case experts work with, and through, other professionals in the community who serve high-net-worth clients; listen to what the client wants and what the client’s other advisors are saying and then address the underlying need; don’t pander to the clients; do educate the clients; and work on the case for a long time, sometimes as long as a year or more. Each advisor agrees that big cases are complex. It is their job to pull the pieces together into an orderly and effective solution.
Steve Lewit’s big case involves trust building with a high-net-worth couple. The pair had sold a building for $3.2 million and wanted to use the money to create income for life. As it turns out, there was more to the story. First, the solution: They put the full $3.2 million into four laddered, indexed annuities with four different carriers, says Lewit. The first three annuities were set up to annuitize in sequence over the first 15 years. The fourth was set up to build back the original $3.2 million in 15 years; it included a lifetime income rider that, once annuitized, would pay out for life. But the real solution had to do with emotion, not products, says Lewit. The husband and wife were “engineering type” people and “very detail-oriented,” he recalls. They found it difficult to share emotions. At one point, Lewit tried to elicit some feelings from the two by asking them point blank: “If we fix your money, how does it improve your life?” That was hard for them to discuss, he says. High-net-worth people do tend to hold back, he allows, but this couple was especially difficult to reach. Connecting with them emotionally was important, however, because Lewit has found that without connection, there is no sale. Over the course of several weeks, the problem finally came out: “They wanted to relieve the stress in their relationship,” says Lewit. The stress was over the building. The couple had been fighting about what to do with that building for the past 25 years. Once Lewit learned that the stress was about the relationship, not the money or the product, “that was the start of our relationship—as adults, not as salesperson and prospects,” he says. From then on, he was able to address real needs, objections and the concept for solving their problem. The emotional connection solidified trust and helped spur motivation to change, he maintains. Only then did he discuss something concrete to facilitate the change— the product. How did Lewit secure this trust? For one thing, he says, “you can’t sell high-net-worth clients something. You have to be totally objective, give the pros and cons, be candid, stand your ground, and act as if you are also wealthy, even if you are not.” Also, “high-net-worth people don’t want to feel that you are tugging at them or pulling on them,” he says. If they have the money and see that the advisor wants it, they probably won’t buy. Therefore, he says, it’s better to be tough and use reverse psychology. For instance, when he first spoke with the couple, he asked the name of their existing financial firm. Then, instead of thanking them for coming to him, he asked, “Why don’t you go back there and work this out with them, since you already have a trusting relationship with them?” When the couple answered that “the other firm does not do what you do,” Lewit did not agree with them or linger over the compliment. Instead, he said, “That firm will work it out for you. Go on back.” He says the more he tried to discourage the couple from working with his firm, the more the couple persisted. A final point: Lewit says he put the couple through his firm’s multitiered marketing program. First, they attended a seminar led by Lewit and then they spoke with him privately. Next, they attended a focus group, followed by another private meeting. Next, an estate-planning seminar and another private meeting. And finally, an IRA seminar followed by yet another private meeting. There were a few other private meetings as well. This back-and-forth process lets clients see the advisor in different environments, Lewit maintains. “If they hear the same message each time, they start saying, ‘This guy is for real.’” This is a trust-building process, Lewit says, and the client ultimately asks to buy. “I don’t sell anything.”