​Selling annuities: the missing ingredient

By Lew Nason

Insurance Pro Shop


The vast majority of agents and advisors who are trying to sell annuity products to seniors are really struggling to make sales. Whether they are buying leads, using a lead generation program or running seminars, for every 10 annuity leads they may get, they are setting appointments with only one or two of those leads. Even when they are lucky enough to get an appointment, they are closing a sale with only one or two out of every 10 appointments.These agents and advisors tell me they have great products, they feel they do a good fact-finding interview with each prospect, they have a great sales presentation and they are good closers. They all tell me their problem is the poor quality of their leads. They go on to explain that most of the leads they get are with seniors who don’t have any money, who already have an advisor, or don’t have a problem or simply came to the seminar for a free meal.

Here's a prime example. A while ago, we had a veteran investment advisor come to us who was trying to break into the annuity marketplace. In the previous two months, he had held two prospecting seminars. For his first seminar, he spent $17,000 and made $22,000 in annuity commissions. For his second seminar, he spent $6,000 and made $1,300 in commissions. As you can imagine, he wasn’t very happy with the results.

During the next two weeks, we reviewed everything he was doing. He had great products and he knew how to explain them. He had bought a good seminar presentation from one of the self-proclaimed annuity gurus. He conducted what he felt was a thorough fact-find with every prospect. And, as a 20-year veteran in this business, he knew how to close sales. So, he believed his poor results were probably due to the poor quality of the seminar attendees.

Accordingly, we discussed the quality of his leads. He was in a good area and was sending invitations to the right people. The quality of the seminar attendees didn’t appear to be the problem.

I told him I believed he was only missing one ingredient. I made some suggestions and helped him prepare for his next seminar. For this seminar, he only spent $2,800 and he made over $72,000 in commissions. Obviously, he was very happy.

The problem most agents have is they are not asking enough of the right questions to get their prospect actively and emotionally involved. That’s the missing ingredient.

Whether you are trying to sell your prospect on setting an appointment, or are trying to make a sale, you must get the prospect actively and emotionally involved in the process. You must ask enough of the right questions to help your prospect to agree that they have a problem and agree that they want your help to correct the problem. If they don’t believe they have a problem and that you can help them with a solution, then why should they waste their precious time meeting with you?

How many lead sources, lead generation systems, or seminar systems have you tried? Has your appointment setting or sales ratio dramatically improved using these new leads? I’m not talking about a slight improvement. Have you seen an improvement of 50 percent or more in setting appointments and closing sales using these new leads? My educated guess based on experience tells me you haven’t. Then wouldn't you agree that you should try a different approach to the problem?
It’s time to start asking more questions in every phase of the sales process. Whether it’s the initial contact, during your seminar or in the sales presentation, you need to ask more questions to help your prospect identify the real problem. Stop trying to persuade your prospect to take action. Start learning about the prospect's true needs.

Asking questions is simple, but it is not easy to master. It takes practice, lots of it, to break the old way we were taught to sell, — telling rather than asking.

An example

Most agents ask: How much money do you have in CDs? What are you getting for a return? And then they jump right in, trying to convince the prospect that they should consider using an annuity.

If you want to set more annuity appointments and close more annuity sales then you should be asking: How do you feel about that? Why is that a problem? What would you like to see happen? Is there any particular reason you have your money in CDs? Why is that a concern? Are you using that money for income? If you could get a better rate of return with the same safety and guarantees, is that something worth exploring? Does it make sense to sacrifice a higher return for more liquidity? When you’re gone, where do you want the money to go?

Remember, good questioning is a learned skill that takes years to master fully. Here are some new habits you must form:
  • Stop talking: Ask questions and really listen to what your prospect is saying.
  • Stop telling the prospect: Ask questions that will get the prospect to tell themselves what the problem is.
  • Stop jumping in with solutions: Ask questions to explore and make sure both parties understand the real problem(s) before you offer a solution.
Over the years, we’ve seen agents and advisors try new lead sources, new lead generation systems, new seminars, new sales ideas and presentations and new closing techniques. None of them has produced the dramatic results you will experience by learning how to ask more questions to get your prospects actively and emotionally involved.

Start asking more questions on your next sales appointment. If you ask enough of the right questions, your prospect will tell you exactly what you need to do to sell them.