The Life Insurance Industry’s Redefined Approach to Sales Training

Summary

Trustworthy Selling® is the result of an unusual collaboration between the life insurance and sales training industries. Developed by LIMRA, a professional association of life insurance marketing and sales executives and Hoopis Performance Network, a professional sales training organization, the program addresses some of the life insurance industry’s most historically persistent issues—customer trust, and salesperson productivity and turnover—as well as more recent developments, such as the reprioritization of sales training in an uncertain economic environment. 

This ESR/Brief explores how the two organizations utilized benchmark data collected from life insurance sales organizations to define an approach that considers the transaction through the buyer’s perspective and attempts to ameliorate the unique challenges that today’s life insurance sales organizations encounter. 

Commentary

The life insurance industry has historically suffered two challenges. The first is the consumer’s lack of trust and confidence in the life insurance sales professional. The second is the difficulty that insurance companies have in developing salespeople who are able to maintain a high level of productivity in their second year under contract and beyond1. The industry suffers from a notoriously high employee turnover rate. 

Over the past 10 years, life insurance sales training dollars have been spent on product enhancements, technology advances, and regulatory compliance. Little funding has been available for educating the salesperson in the sales process. Most of the funding that was typically available was used for reinforcing the skills of a few high producers. The result has been a widening breach in trust between buyers and sellers which has now become critical. 

These unique industry problems are specifically addressed by the Trustworthy Selling® program.

While most industry sales training is based on the personal experience of a founding sales trainer and additional information compiled during training and follow-up, Trustworthy Selling is developed from actual benchmark data collected from life insurance sales organizations. The program springs from the consumer’s perspective rather than the seller’s point of view, which is a more common origination point for sales training. 

Driven by the market’s changing focus over the past several years, LIMRA (well known for its industry research at the home office level) and Hoopis (well known in the insurance industry for its field sales training) forged a partnership that plays to the strength of each organization. This kind of collaboration, especially in the life insurance arena, is unique. 

A change in insurance sales tactics

Insurance sales training for the past several years has focused on brand new reps. With that in mind, there is a lack of training and development past that first year, which is where a huge falloff in sales rep retention is seen. (The industry’s 4 year retention rate is only 13%.) This program fills that gap. For new reps, many companies do not even have an effective initial training program (or at least one that is focused primarily on product knowledge and not sales skills). This is why LIMRA/HPN are the in the process of developing the TS® Quick Start program. It can be embedded as part of insurance companies’ initial training program out of the gates. 

Additionally, in a bid to increase salesperson productivity, the insurance industry redirected its investment from training sales personnel to other productivity issues, such as planning software, compliance, and related technologies. The net effect was to push the development of sales skills to the back burner of priorities, creating a nearly 10-year gap in the development of sales skills among new hires. This, combined with bank failures and a general economic meltdown, led the industry to reprioritize its sales training needs. 

From ESR’s perspective, this is the opposite of the behaviors in most non-insurance industries; the insurance sales industry has an inverted sales person development profile 

A common insurance industry practice, for example, has been to include the phrase “your trusted advisor” on the business cards of sales professionals. LIMRA and Hoopis agreed that this revealed a skewed perspective. Only the customer can decide who is a trusted advisor. As an advisor, your mission is to propose that you are trustworthy and willing to earn “trusted” status through your actions. Trustworthiness is a goal. Being trusted is an achievement. Both are earned through a demonstration of character and competence. This is an inversion of standard insurance industry practice. 

These companies also use alternative language in other areas. They don’t promote fact-finding, replacing it with the term “collaborative discovery,” which implies that both the seller and buyer have a goal of learning during the process.

Of course, collaborative discovery leads to collaborative commitment where each party agrees to the point and actions in which it will commit, resulting, in our belief, in a more mutually beneficial and trusting relationship.

 

Course construction

The Trustworthy Selling® program is divided into the 10 modules indicated below: 

trustworthy selling logo

1. The trustworthy selling model and sales approach
2. Understanding today’s consumer and the market opportunity
3. Understanding and adapting your sales style
4. Business development strategies
5. Rules of engagement
6. Collaborative discovery
7. Gaining commitment
8. Deepening the client relationship
9. Seller psychology
10. Trustworthy selling capstone and action planner

Trustworthy Selling makes use of two industry specific and validated assessment tools to prepare the students for the learning: 

1. The Personality Styles Profile (PSP) focuses on selling style defined by such as interpersonal
competencies and personality characteristics.

2. The Sales Booster assessment explores the mindset of the salesperson, self-limiting beliefs, and other
inhibitors to productive sales performance.

There is also a program component that evaluates productivity pre- and post-session based upon specific metrics. Every Trustworthy Selling® program includes measurement of the program outcomes. An interesting point about this measurement program is that it also is a true benchmark. Firms are not only measured by their own productivity over time, but can also be compared to their peer group because of the quantity of data available from multiple companies. This data is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most commercial firms to assemble. It provides considerable insight into maintenance and enhancement of the sales training program. 

The following materials are included in every LIMRA and HPN training engagement:

• Discussion starter
• Video presentation
• Debrief discussion
• Activity/Exercise
• Debrief of activity
• Prescriptive actions

The Trustworthy Selling approach employs the following seven tactics, garnered from behavioral economics research: 

• Avoid ambiguity. Making clear and concise statements to the client is crucial.
• Fairness. Building client trust is extremely important, so all transactions must be fair and equitable. Create a partnership between two equals, rather than a competitor with a winner and a loser.
• Personal experiences overcome optimism. To build trust, it is more productive to maintain a realistic perspective than it is to deal with potentially negative feelings that can result from unfounded optimism.
• Visualization. When clients have a mental picture of what you’re discussing, they are more engaged.
• Heuristics. The client’s past learning and experience can be used to speed the process of finding solutions and making decisions.
• Mental accounts. Build a memorable history of unique events that are easy for the client to recall.
• Present value. A final presentation focuses on the value from the client’s perception. 

In order to become self-sufficient, client facilitators are provided the following materials: 

Facilitator kit (leader’s guide, wall charts, etc.)
Participant guides

Coaching guides
Developmental assessments
Language reference guides
Ongoing access to online presentations
Ongoing access to Trustworthy Selling® for Mobile 

To the Point

Trustworthy Selling is a unique program centered in an industry that has a tremendous need for approval in client/salesperson relationships. It has been developed from the unique affiliation that exists between the program’s developers and clients. With unprecedented access to data and research from LIMRA members, the developers were able to devise a program that specifically addresses insurance industry’s unique sales conditions. ESR recommends this program because measurement and benchmarking are included. If you are a LIMRA member, ESR strongly recommends that you investigate Trustworthy Selling. 

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