Many of our colleagues have recently expressed great concern over the current state of the long term care industry. Nevertheless, recognizing ample but unfulfilled opportunity beckoning just over the horizon, they envision a golden future for us-if we embrace a necessary change in approach.
These specialists (and I) believe that the long term care insurance industry, having shrunk dramatically in the past fifteen years (going from a billion-dollar industry to a mere fraction of that figure) now must attune itself to the 21st century: Simply put, producers must become marketers rather than remain satisfied with being “order takers.”
The notion of order taker, a term coined to represent a producer’s total dependence on individual LTCI leads generated by various carriers for their captive career shops, was once the industry norm. Now, however, a producer must know how to “network,” “build their own brand,” “prospect,” and know a thing or two about marketing.
At all of the agencies with which I’ve been affiliated since 2000, we’ve always placed a premium on acquiring these skills and on freeing ourselves from the shackles associated with being a “lead junkie.” We’ve striven to become the entrepreneurial independent contractor that we all purport to be in terms of running our own businesses. (At this point, having mentioned “leads,” I must clarify that leads generated through marketing efforts with associations, groups, and in the worksite are in fact still byproducts of marketing, and these efforts are to be commended.)
Now, having identified its urgent need for marketing, the threshold question for our industry is: How can we make marketing fun, less daunting and nerve-racking, and more productive and lucrative?
I submit that marketing as a term has really been worn out, much as we now prefer utilizing the word rather than referrals for the same reason. Moreover, I suggest that everything you do, whether you know it or not, is in fact marketing. If it helps you to promote your business by using different strategies like digital marketing for contractors or even conduct digital marketing in-house, meet more people, build your brand, and/or create centers of influence, all of that is in fact marketing still. I love helping producers recognize that whenever they call their existing clients in an effort to convert them into centers of influence or to solicit a referral to friends and family-or even better, to their financial advisor or attorney-these activities can all be categorized as that dreaded marketing.
For those of you who are still leery of the word, let me be even more plain-the term marketing should not be sending chills up and down your spine. There is nothing scary about it and, in fact, a good bit of marketing really starts with desire. It is not a dirty word! You can even use it in mixed company and still be considered politically correct.
I have found that effective marketing is not an event, but rather will become part of your lifestyle if not your very DNA. You can engage in passive marketing, aggressive or proactive marketing, or any combination of these approaches. When you meet someone new and start talking to them, that’s marketing. For this reason you should always have some of your business cards with you. Likewise, utilizing a “set it and forget it” drip campaign is also marketing.
I recently asked a number of my more active “marketing” agents how they have managed to successfully adopt marketing strategies into their daily lives, and their responses were remarkably similar-direct and plain-spoken. I’ve listed the most compelling of them here:
How do you start the marketing process?
- “The beauty of making marketing part of your lifestyle is that you can in fact market anywhere and at any time. Start talking to people while waiting to be seated at your favorite restaurant, and that becomes a marketing event- which means, according to the IRS, you are then entitled to deduct your meal as an expense.”
- “It’s actually a part of my nature. In my belief system, people aren’t going to know what I do unless I tell them. We are salesmen and we’re selling ourselves all the time; for this reason selling and marketing are one and the same to me. Bottom line, it has to become part of your lifestyle and it has to be habit-and you can’t be afraid to open your mouth.”
What advice would you give someone who is not a marketer, but would like to become one?
- “It all starts with desire. In order to be successful, you have to practice all the different aspects of our business. For example, when you are out in public, you have to tell people what you do and, in turn, ask questions that force them to talk about themselves. These questions need to be pertinent, but not so deep that you dive in too quickly. It’s about stirring need and urgency in their hearts and planting the seed that you are the one who can help them achieve their desired goals for the future.”
What is the key to creating this need and urgency?
- “It helps if you have a story about your own family to tell. In that case you merely ‘layer’ your story onto theirs; doing this correctly and maintaining the focus on their family can often assist you in getting over the cognitive dissonance or knee-jerk reaction that compels them to ‘resist’ a salesman and in fact allows them to see the real story.”
What about talking to that “hard nut” that is going to be tough to crack?
- “This is how you really make your money (and where some find marketing to be daunting). In these situations don’t overthink it. Don’t be worried about potential outcomes, just talk, and ‘dance as if nobody’s watching you.’ The key to success is to find that one hot button-and gently press the advantage until the seed begins to take root. Leave them wanting more from you. If all else fails, these people tend to be a good source of referrals.”
Is there a recipe for the secret sauce that accompanies successful marketing?
- “A general truism related to successful marketing is to find something that you genuinely enjoy doing-and then marketing is no longer drudgery. It can be golfing or another passion, and, whatever your choice, it simply becomes part of why you do business and why you are in business. Find what you enjoy and combine your passions.”
What is the key first step in starting the conversation? What are your best leading questions?
- “Every situation where you can potentially meet someone is yet another opportunity to make them a client. The key is to ask them a thought-provoking question that is all about them-their current situation or their future-that may lead to your providing the kind of assistance which will help them achieve their desired goals.”
So, what is the bottom line of marketing?
- “Again, it’s that you have to dance like nobody’s watching. Don’t be afraid to open your mouth and to ask questions. Help your potential clients paint word pictures in their own hearts and minds with the questions you ask. Remember that you have knowledge that they desperately need, and that you most assuredly know more about long term care planning than they ever will, bar none.”
- “Arrogance is like cholesterol. Just as there is good and bad cholesterol, the same can be said for the ‘arrogance’ of selling. You need that drive and commitment that comprises the competence that accompanies ‘good’ arrogance. You need to firmly believe that you have something to share that they desperately need, and that long term care planning has nothing to do with dying suddenly, but is rather about not dying suddenly. It’s about experiencing an event that causes a decrease in capacity, independence, and control over their lives.”
What is the worst that can happen?
- “The very worst thing that happens is that you hear ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I am already covered.’ They are not going to hurt you or beat you up.”
Rules to Live By:
- If you are engaged in an initial conversation with an individual or prospective client, think of it as an opportunity to: 1) establish a little bit of need on their part, and 2) to set a time to talk at length. You’re not, for instance, going to try to sell a policy at a party.
- If you are talking to a professional with a book of business, you can start peeling the onion by asking them what they are doing to protect their clients as well as to protect themselves.
- Remind the professionals you encounter that their clients rely on them for the advice they provide (or don’t provide). In those instances where they possess some level of fiduciary responsibility to their clients, the professional in fact does have a duty to broach the subject of long term care planning with those clients.
- The key is to have the courage to open your mouth and to let people know what you do.
- Don’t make what you do for a living sound like something you’re ashamed of; your elevator speech should flow off your tongue. Say it with pride and in a quiet, unassuming manner that easily communicates to them the wealth of specific knowledge that you have and that they need.
- You can’t help everybody, but most people will want to work with you when they see that your intentions are honorable, your passion and sincerity are genuine, and that you really do walk the walk and talk the talk. Most people you encounter won’t know what they don’t know.
Make it all about them. People love to talk about themselves, and if you keep the spotlight on them you will be successful. We actually get paid to be good listeners, to find out what the other person needs, and position ourselves to meet these needs.
Marketing starts with belief and opening your mouth-and dancing like nobody’s watching.