This Real Housewife is a Real-Life Insurance Expert

An Interview with Victoria L. Gunvalson star of “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and Founder of COTO Insurance & Financial Services.

Victoria L. Gunvalson owns a thriving insurance agency with an added twist of providing training for existing or prospective life insurance agents, and pulling almost all its business from online leads. But you might recognize Vicki from the reality TV series The Real Housewives of Orange County which started its sixth season in March. In an interview with InsuranceNewsNet, Victoria showed she is as feisty and smart in the world of insurance as she is in the world of Orange County.

 

INN: What is the biggest challenge facing our industry?

GUNVALSON: As producers, our challenge is finding leads and good prospects who are interested in the products. But what is unfortunate is that good prospects get inundated with too many agents calling them. They can get so discouraged, they do nothing. So that is one of the biggest challenges we see internally with our agents. My son is in the business as well, and when he contacts prospects who went on the Internet to look for coverage, he is finding they are getting 20 to 25 calls back. We’re trying to figure out a way to beat that system and do more warm lead marketing so that we are all not fighting for the same person.

INN: Right now many consumers are frozen in fear. They don’t want to move money and they don’t want to spend. What sales strategies do you have for overcoming that?

GUNVALSON: We’re looking at ways to reduce clients’ out-of-pocket costs. They are buying three or four times their coverage in their group plans and we are able to carve that out by saying, “If you are insurable, let’s go ahead and get you coverage outside the group.” We are letting people know that they are not getting a discount in the group and the policy is not portable, that if they do get fired, they don’t have coverage. We can get access to people by working with human resource departments and telling them we can talk to their employees about 401(k) rollovers and service withdrawals.

INN: You seem highly motivated. How do you sustain that?

GUNVALSON: I don’t consider a “no” a bad day. I look at it as, you know what, I’ve got to get another yes, and it doesn’t bother me. I know that I am going to have “no’s” in my statistics of numbers. If I have 10 people to see, I know I’m going to get five or six “no’s,” so that is four I need to work on. It’s just a numbers game.

INN: What was your biggest surprise in 2010?

GUNVALSON: It was actually a personal surprise. My son graduated college and he went out and did a couple interviews, and then came back into my office and sat down. He said, “I value your success. I value you as a businesswoman and I want to work for you.” And within one week, he brought in four of his college friends and said, “We are going to learn from the best.” So that was just the greatest pat on the back.

INN: Do you think that the younger generation has the patience to build a book of business or do you think it is going to be a challenge?

GUNVALSON: I think it’s a challenge. My son is a perfect example of it. He doesn’t know why he isn’t making $100,000 right now. He wants a brand-new car; he wants to buy a house on the beach. And I’m like, “Hold on, Toots.” This is the age when I was “door knocking,” not sitting behind a computer waiting for a lead to drop in. If you want to make that much money, you have to be more aggressive. You can’t work six to seven hours a day. I am a 15-houra- dayer, every day. That is why I am successful. My challenge with my own son is to get him to be hungry enough that he is going to last in this business. Otherwise, he could say a couple years from now that he’s not making money and that he’s going to go work for somebody else.

INN: What makes your company unique?

GUNVALSON: My office is different, because for the consumer everything can be done electronically. They do not have to sit down with me after they’ve worked all day and fill out the application. We can actually get them applied online, get the paramed ordered and get their application completed within five to 10 minutes over the phone. So the technology is where we really stand out—and we are brokers, so we represent every company. In addition, we have an online university for people who are coming into the business who want to learn how to do this. They are getting licensed, and then we get them linked in with their E&O insurance. We get their accounts set up and they are ready to go. It is really fun for us to see the journey that these people have taken and hear them say, “Without you I wouldn’t have been able to save my home or I wouldn’t have been able to put my kids through college. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I watched you on the TV show and realized you were someone I wanted to learn from.” That is what has been fun for me—seeing this ride that we are on right now.

INN: Producers are always looking for new sales opportunities. What do you see out there right now as good potential?

GUNVALSON: If producers are not using the Internet, they are missing the boat. Consumers are not going to the Yellow Pages to look for a producer. They are going to look online and they are going to Google. So those producers who have been stuck in the rut of face to face, across the kitchen table, press hard three copies, need to realize that day is going away. Where is my best lead cost? What should I do to market? How do I quote a client? It is all online now; everything is online.

INN: We have seen some interesting value in online forums, where agents are talking to other agents, asking for and giving advice on things like IMOs and products. What do you think of those?

GUNVALSON: I think they have a lot of extra time on their hands. Why are you blogging on the Internet when you can get your answer directly from the carrier? I just feel like there is a lot of time wasted on that stuff. I stay away from it. I think it is distracting.

INN: What advice do you have to be successful?

GUNVALSON: Get outside of your norm and do something different. It can be within your license. You just have to market yourself different, brand yourself different, be present in your community. Know what people are thinking about insurance and know that they are thinking about you. I don’t really work my warm market very well. I don’t feel like we have to contact every relative we have in our family tree. I just want to be known as a face of insurance and known for the technology and loyalty we give to our customer. They are not leaving us, ever. We don’t ever have any replacements. We reach out to them with Christmas cards, presents, birthday cards. A lot of agents want to make a lot of money and they don’t want to give back to their business. You have to give money back and grow your business.

INN: In what ways do you put money back into your business?

GUNVALSON: Every client who buys a policy from COTO Insurance gets sent flowers. They all get birthday cards, every single birthday. A lot of producers aren’t doing that anymore. How many times do we get cards in the mail? So when do they get a card, it really stands out. We may have 50 addressed cards going out a day. We have one person working on birthday cards all day long. We want to be different than the norm and we are. We can see it in our numbers. We touch them when there is a new baby being born. We make sure that the newsletters are out to the consumer every quarter. For my fixed indexed annuities clients, I do annual reviews. For my life insurance clients, I do them if there really is a need. For my fixed indexed annuity clients, I do a client appreciation dinner twice a year. I gave away three huge TVs this year. It is really fun to see my clients win. I think we have to get back into appreciating the people who have made us successful, which is our clients.

INN: You said technology is a big part of your organization and for lead generation, but we also hear people say Internet leads don’t work.

GUNVALSON: Well they do. That is the bottom line. The consumer is going on the Internet for absolutely everything. So, agents who say they don’t work are not giving them the proper time or money. They’ve got to buy a lot of leads. All my agents have two screens in front of them so that the dialer system is dialing out all the time. The consumer gets on the phone and their information pops up immediately on one of the screens. Consumers need us and the Internet is not going away. We are never not going to have the Internet. So the agents that say they are bad leads… They are not doing it right.

INN: So the key to your success with Internet leads is to treat it as a numbers game, just like the insurance business does.

GUNVALSON: A hundred leads per week, per agent, and they are going to sell 30 to 40 of those. We are going to have 70 that are not going to be sold and we know that going in. But you can’t just buy 10 leads and expect to be successful. You have to buy 10 a day or 20 a day. And you have to work them.

INN: When you get leads off of your website is calling them back immediately important?

GUNVALSON: Immediately, because guess what? When they are at the computer and they are looking for insurance, they are looking for it because they want it. Two days from now they are not going to want it.

INN: Do you spend a lot on SEO (search engine optimization)?

GUNVALSON: I’m putting a little more of my budget into that next year. I didn’t have to because I think we got so much traffic for my name. When the show is not airing, we definitely see our sales down.

INN: How many calls do your top producers make in a day?

GUNVALSON: They are on the phone from eight to nine hours a day. All day long.

INN: Do they ever want to get off the phone and go out into the community to generate business?

GUNVALSON: I tell them, “You know what? You don’t have to sit behind this desk but your numbers have to be there.” I don’t care where they get their leads. They can go door-knocking. You know what they did last week? I said, all three of you 25-year-old studs, go get your suits on and a tie and hit an office complex. They all came back with 20 to 30 applications. Just go out door knocking. Get out there twice a week. Those leads are free. But you have to know that you are doing the right thing and once you know that, it is not selling. Nobody is going to wake up tomorrow and say today is the day I’m going to buy life insurance. No, they have to be sold. They have to have a reason why. What would you do if you died tomorrow? What would your family do if you died tomorrow? These people need us. They really need us. 

INN: What is the biggest challenge facing our industry?

GUNVALSON: As producers, our challenge is finding leads and good prospects who are interested in the products. But what is unfortunate is that good prospects get inundated with too many agents calling them. They can get so discouraged, they do nothing. So that is one of the biggest challenges we see internally with our agents. My son is in the business as well, and when he contacts prospects who went on the Internet to look for coverage, he is finding they are getting 20 to 25 calls back. We’re trying to figure out a way to beat that system and do more warm lead marketing so that we are all not fighting for the same person.

INN: Right now many consumers are frozen in fear. They don’t want to move money and they don’t want to spend. What sales strategies do you have for overcoming that?

GUNVALSON: We’re looking at ways to reduce clients’ out-of-pocket costs. They are buying three or four times their coverage in their group plans and we are able to carve that out by saying, “If you are insurable, let’s go ahead and get you coverage outside the group.” We are letting people know that they are not getting a discount in the group and the policy is not portable, that if they do get fired, they don’t have coverage. We can get access to people by working with human resource departments and telling them we can talk to their employees about 401(k) rollovers and service withdrawals.

INN: You seem highly motivated. How do you sustain that?

GUNVALSON: I don’t consider a “no” a bad day. I look at it as, you know what, I’ve got to get another yes, and it doesn’t bother me. I know that I am going to have “no’s” in my statistics of numbers. If I have 10 people to see, I know I’m going to get five or six “no’s,” so that is four I need to work on. It’s just a numbers game.

INN: What was your biggest surprise in 2010?

GUNVALSON: It was actually a personal surprise. My son graduated college and he went out and did a couple interviews, and then came back into my office and sat down. He said, “I value your success. I value you as a businesswoman and I want to work for you.” And within one week, he brought in four of his college friends and said, “We are going to learn from the best.” So that was just the greatest pat on the back.

INN: Do you think that the younger generation has the patience to build a book of business or do you think it is going to be a challenge?

GUNVALSON: I think it’s a challenge. My son is a perfect example of it. He doesn’t know why he isn’t making $100,000 right now. He wants a brand-new car; he wants to buy a house on the beach. And I’m like, “Hold on, Toots.” This is the age when I was “door knocking,” not sitting behind a computer waiting for a lead to drop in. If you want to make that much money, you have to be more aggressive. You can’t work six to seven hours a day. I am a 15-houra- dayer, every day. That is why I am successful. My challenge with my own son is to get him to be hungry enough that he is going to last in this business. Otherwise, he could say a couple years from now that he’s not making money and that he’s going to go work for somebody else.

INN: What makes your company unique?

GUNVALSON: My office is different, because for the consumer everything can be done electronically. They do not have to sit down with me after they’ve worked all day and fill out the application. We can actually get them applied online, get the paramed ordered and get their application completed within five to 10 minutes over the phone. So the technology is where we really stand out—and we are brokers, so we represent every company. In addition, we have an online university for people who are coming into the business who want to learn how to do this. They are getting licensed, and then we get them linked in with their E&O insurance. We get their accounts set up and they are ready to go. It is really fun for us to see the journey that these people have taken and hear them say, “Without you I wouldn’t have been able to save my home or I wouldn’t have been able to put my kids through college. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I watched you on the TV show and realized you were someone I wanted to learn from.” That is what has been fun for me—seeing this ride that we are on right now.

INN: Producers are always looking for new sales opportunities. What do you see out there right now as good potential?

GUNVALSON: If producers are not using the Internet, they are missing the boat. Consumers are not going to the Yellow Pages to look for a producer. They are going to look online and they are going to Google. So those producers who have been stuck in the rut of face to face, across the kitchen table, press hard three copies, need to realize that day is going away. Where is my best lead cost? What should I do to market? How do I quote a client? It is all online now; everything is online.

INN: We have seen some interesting value in online forums, where agents are talking to other agents, asking for and giving advice on things like IMOs and products. What do you think of those?

GUNVALSON: I think they have a lot of extra time on their hands. Why are you blogging on the Internet when you can get your answer directly from the carrier? I just feel like there is a lot of time wasted on that stuff. I stay away from it. I think it is distracting.

INN: What advice do you have to be successful?

GUNVALSON: Get outside of your norm and do something different. It can be within your license. You just have to market yourself different, brand yourself different, be present in your community. Know what people are thinking about insurance and know that they are thinking about you. I don’t really work my warm market very well. I don’t feel like we have to contact every relative we have in our family tree. I just want to be known as a face of insurance and known for the technology and loyalty we give to our customer. They are not leaving us, ever. We don’t ever have any replacements. We reach out to them with Christmas cards, presents, birthday cards. A lot of agents want to make a lot of money and they don’t want to give back to their business. You have to give money back and grow your business.

INN: In what ways do you put money back into your business?

GUNVALSON: Every client who buys a policy from COTO Insurance gets sent flowers. They all get birthday cards, every single birthday. A lot of producers aren’t doing that anymore. How many times do we get cards in the mail? So when do they get a card, it really stands out. We may have 50 addressed cards going out a day. We have one person working on birthday cards all day long. We want to be different than the norm and we are. We can see it in our numbers. We touch them when there is a new baby being born. We make sure that the newsletters are out to the consumer every quarter. For my fixed indexed annuities clients, I do annual reviews. For my life insurance clients, I do them if there really is a need. For my fixed indexed annuity clients, I do a client appreciation dinner twice a year. I gave away three huge TVs this year. It is really fun to see my clients win. I think we have to get back into appreciating the people who have made us successful, which is our clients.

INN: You said technology is a big part of your organization and for lead generation, but we also hear people say Internet leads don’t work.

GUNVALSON: Well they do. That is the bottom line. The consumer is going on the Internet for absolutely everything. So, agents who say they don’t work are not giving them the proper time or money. They’ve got to buy a lot of leads. All my agents have two screens in front of them so that the dialer system is dialing out all the time. The consumer gets on the phone and their information pops up immediately on one of the screens. Consumers need us and the Internet is not going away. We are never not going to have the Internet. So the agents that say they are bad leads… They are not doing it right.

INN: So the key to your success with Internet leads is to treat it as a numbers game, just like the insurance business does.

GUNVALSON: A hundred leads per week, per agent, and they are going to sell 30 to 40 of those. We are going to have 70 that are not going to be sold and we know that going in. But you can’t just buy 10 leads and expect to be successful. You have to buy 10 a day or 20 a day. And you have to work them.

INN: When you get leads off of your website is calling them back immediately important?

GUNVALSON: Immediately, because guess what? When they are at the computer and they are looking for insurance, they are looking for it because they want it. Two days from now they are not going to want it.

INN: Do you spend a lot on SEO (search engine optimization)?

GUNVALSON: I’m putting a little more of my budget into that next year. I didn’t have to because I think we got so much traffic for my name. When the show is not airing, we definitely see our sales down.

INN: How many calls do your top producers make in a day?

GUNVALSON: They are on the phone from eight to nine hours a day. All day long.

INN: Do they ever want to get off the phone and go out into the community to generate business?

GUNVALSON: I tell them, “You know what? You don’t have to sit behind this desk but your numbers have to be there.” I don’t care where they get their leads. They can go door-knocking. You know what they did last week? I said, all three of you 25-year-old studs, go get your suits on and a tie and hit an office complex. They all came back with 20 to 30 applications. Just go out door knocking. Get out there twice a week. Those leads are free. But you have to know that you are doing the right thing and once you know that, it is not selling. Nobody is going to wake up tomorrow and say today is the day I’m going to buy life insurance. No, they have to be sold. They have to have a reason why. What would you do if you died tomorrow? What would your family do if you died tomorrow? These people need us. They really need us.

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