We’ve all heard the story. If you’ve spent any time in sales at all it’s a tough one to avoid, but it’s still a great story… Based on the recommendation of a high-level executive, ACME Shoe Co. agrees to expand into a new market in the South Pacific. Wanting to impress the C-Suite and shareholders alike the executive puts his two best sales people on the job and ships them to two different tropical islands halfway around the world. After a couple weeks go by the exec calls up the first sales person and asks with anticipation, “So how’s it going over there? Are we selling a lot of shoes?” The response comes back terse and aggressive, “Are you kidding me? You sent me to an island where no one wears shoes! Of course I’m not selling any shoes! Send me a plane ticket home, I’m outta here!” With this disappointing report the executive tentatively dials the number for the second sales person and this time asks with trepidation, “So how’s it going over there? Are we selling any shoes?” The excited response he receives changes his mood drastically. “Are you kidding me? You sent me to an island where no one owns any shoes! I can’t keep them on the shelves! Send me another dozen crates, I’m killing it over here!”
Whether you view it as a cautionary tale against a negative attitude or an inspiring tale about having the right mindset, it definitely underscores that great Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” It’s also a terrific metaphor for the state our industry found itself in during March of 2020.
In the early days of COVID-19, with quarantines sweeping the nation, we witnessed two types of producers and, to a large extent, two types of marketing organizations. Those that felt their clients and prospects—watching the world as they knew it crumble before their eyes—had no desire or need to talk to them about the products and solutions they provide. Then there were those that viewed it completely differently. With a virtual mortality tracker updating on the news every night, businesses closing their doors daily and the stock market dropping like a lead weight in your favorite fishing hole, their mantra quickly became: “There has never been a better time to be in the insurance and financial planning industry.”
Indeed, who else has the insured solutions to protect against future market volatility? Who else could offer peace of mind should their worst fears be realized with this pandemic ravishing the nation at untold rates? And certainly not least, who else could provide tax advantaged retirement vehicles in a future where tax rates must certainly and drastically increase to pay for the unprecedented amounts of government stimulus packages?
The question remained though, how does one do an about face and reinvent a practice to be successful in a world where face-to- face interactions no longer exist? Even those that knew they were on the precipice of arguably the greatest opportunity of their career did not know how, or where, to jump.
Having the right solution is critical. But it’s only one of four crucial ingredients necessary to bake a successful “virtual” practice. And like any good recipe, it’s important to add each ingredient at the right time with the right measurement in the right steps.
Step 1—Identifying the Solution
To identify the right solution, you first must identify the right problem. What pains are your clients and prospects experiencing? Unfortunately, during this chapter of our history, the American public’s pains were no mystery and by no means difficult to uncover. You didn’t have to look past the headlines to realize the vast majority had reason to panic. Beginning on March 9 the market plummeted, falling a record of 2,013.76 points, followed by two more record setting point drops on March 12 and March 16. These were the three worst tumbles the U.S. markets had ever seen, ending an 11 year bull market run. During that very same month the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act was passed by the 116th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump adding an additional $2.2 trillion dollars to an already unfathomable U.S. national debt that now topples over $26 trillion. As we watched business after business close their doors, many never to open again, and send their employees home to collect unemployment, the only conclusion the U.S. taxpayers could draw was that regardless of how this pandemic plays out, taxes are going up.
Now that the problem has been defined, what is the solution? If only there were a product, backed by the incredible financial strength of a highly rated, legal reserve insurance company, that allowed the American consumer to contribute a maximum amount of assets limited not by the IRS but by their own personal insurability. And if it grew tax deferred like an IRA, would taxpayers want to know about it? What if those funds were accessible during retirement (or before) on a tax-free basis like a Roth IRA…do you think your clients would be interested? And what if all those funds participated in the growth of the market when the U.S. enters its recovery period yet remain protected from negative returns brought on by any future pandemics, market crashes or extended recessions? Obviously, those of us in the industry know that this product does exist. In fact, it’s existed for over 20 years and has one heck of a track record when structured efficiently and with the policyholders’ best interest in mind. We know this product as indexed universal life and there has never been a more important time to talk to the American people about the incredible relief this product can bring to the fears and pains they are experiencing.
Step 2—Creating the Infrastructure
In the U.S., most successful independent practices are run from a brick and mortar office. While some advisors have had success working out of the home, the reality is that with day to day distractions, lack of technology, and need to convey professionalism, the typical practice has grown up outside of the home. These practices are complete with staff, technology and plenty of room to meet with clients, prospects, vendors and strategic partners. Unfortunately, many advisors that did not have a defined disaster relief process prepared prior to March 2020 were forced to fly by the seat of their pants when seemingly out of the blue they no longer had the ability to work in an office. Questions like, “How do I meet with my staff and continue to remain in constant communication with them?” became paramount to moving forward. Tools like Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting and WebEx were crucial in meeting this need. Just as, if not more, important questions arose around client interactions. “How do we answer the phones and rout the clients appropriately?” RingCentral and Teams were two key tools while Zoom and GoToWebinar became vital in answering the question, “How do I meet with my clients and reassure them that their finances and families will remain secure during these troubled times?”
Step 3—Business Continuation
Once a successful face-to-face practice could function as a viable virtual practice with no loss in service standards to the customer, business continuation became essential. It’s great to be able to communicate and lead your clients with confidence, but if business could not be transacted because of the inability to meet face-to-face the practice wouldn’t be viable for long. Fortunately, our industry has embraced the online application process with nearly every carrier allowing some sort of drop ticket or eApp. With the sale, or rather the first part of the sales cycle, taken care of virtually we still had the second, selling the risk to the carrier, and the third, delivering and funding the policy, to contend with. Accelerated Underwriting has been a major topic in our industry for the better half of the last decade. Carriers using big data and data analytics have come a long way with non-fluid underwriting. Prior to COVID-19 it wasn’t hard to find an Accelerated Underwriting program up to $1,000,000 in face amount. In these unprecedented times, the carriers acted in unprecedented ways. Recognizing that the ability to have examiners go into the homes of potential insureds was no longer a reality, they quickly put the actuaries, reinsurers and underwriters to work and were able to increase their AU to as much as $3,000,000 in some instances. We also saw the rise in popularity and the carrier’s willingness to embrace electronic health records. Leading health data platforms like Human API and Clareto took away some of the remaining need for traditional face-to-face exams and are paving the way to eliminate the dreaded traditional APS. Now comes the most important part of the cycle—delivering and funding the policy. The application has been electronically submitted, the new business processing and underwriting has been completed and the policy has been issued. The good news, we’re at the finish line. The bad news, everything to this point has been an expense, or rather, an investment. If we can’t deliver that policy because we can’t see the client, or it takes so long through the mail that the client forgets why they bought it in the first place, not only did we not receive a return on that investment but we lost the entire principal. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t embraced eDelivery like they have the eApp model. Though carriers were, and in some instances still are, scrambling to develop an eDelivery platform, tools such as DocuSign have become imperative to complete the sale. If you were in the mortgage or real estate industry DocuSign would be second nature. The absurd thing about the insurance and financial industry is that with all the paperwork necessary to transact business, DocuSign had yet, until now, been embraced by the institutions. Having this final tool in a business continuation plan has proven to be a major component in insulating a business from disaster.
With the confidence in having the right solutions, the right infrastructure and the right business continuation plan, a successful virtual practice needs one last and critical component. Message delivery. Justice Louis Brandeis once compared the use of a toll bridge to that of a free bridge during his commute to and from the Supreme Court chambers. He would use the toll bridge when he was in a rush, but when he planned adequately he would use the free bridge outside of town serving to alleviate congestion in the downtown area and saving himself money. He then went on to liken the toll as a convenience tax and thus the use of the free bridge as a tax avoidance strategy. The tragedy, he quipped, was that “So few people know that the free bridge even exists.” That free bridge could easily be a metaphor for our strategies. Getting that message out is our job and our responsibility. During this unique time in our history where the traditional means of communicating that message, such as workshops, seminars, adult financial education and other in-person events are not possible, we are forced to be creative in how we communicate to those that need our help the most. Indeed, prospecting and client acquisition must continue regardless of our environment if we hope to remain in business for very long.
We are fortunate that we live in a time where technology has the answers, if we know where to look. Zoom, GoToWebinar and WebEx are fantastic platforms to present ideas to multiple people in a very professional and efficient way. ScheduleOnce and Calendly are fantastic automated scheduling software programs to make sure you’re able to secure meetings with as many prospects as possible in a short amount of time. Social Media marketing with Facebook has become a tremendous source of new and ongoing prospects and when all of these are partnered with landing pages hosting resources like videos, articles, success stories and more you have the makings of a full virtual marketing webinar program!
One would be hard pressed to find someone to admit to being thankful for this pandemic or any disaster of this magnitude. Even if a practice thrived by helping existing clients during these troubled times while gaining trust from and acquiring new clients, the truth remains that our economy has been hit hard. Consumers lost a considerable amount of wealth, businesses were devastated, our national debt increased astronomically, and we’ll be recovering from this for a long while. It’s important to remember though that we have the solutions to help the American public now and in the future. It’s what we’ve done for our clients and communities since the advent of our profession. We were thrust into a climate where change was necessary. We all talk about the next disrupter. What is our industry’s Netflix, Uber or Airbnb? I would argue that we are living through our disrupter and its name is COVID-19. In order to survive it we must uncover ways to deliver the solutions and spread the message efficiently, technologically and easily. Our industry is being forced to evolve and propel itself into the modern world. Those of us that embrace it will not just survive but will thrive, regardless of what the new normal may look like. And if we do it right, we could finish our careers sitting on that tropical island drinking Mai Tais along with some of the greatest shoe salespeople in the world!