Selling Over the Phone is a Different Animal
Mike is like many agents I talk to everyday, in the field doing presentations face-to-face, grinding away driving from one appointment to the next – putting not only miles on his car but stress on himself.
Tired of the grind, Mike tried selling Final Expense over the phone. Unfortunately, while his face-to-face sales approach worked in the field, it didn’t help cultivate trust or close sales over the phone.
Not one to give up, Mike realized that an agent’s sales approach for selling over the phone is radically different from how they sell face-to-face. Armed with this knowledge, he went back to the drawing board to understand how to appeal to prospects over the phone, how to get them to trust him and open up about their needs for a Final Expense plan.
Scripts, Tips & Metrics
Mike shares 12 tips that agents can use to sell Final Expense over the phone, including some script examples and his personal metrics for converting leads.
Watch the video and leave us a comment to let us know what you thought about the podcast and what other questions you have for Mike. Have an idea who I should interview next? Drop a note in the comment section to share your suggestions.
Interview with: Mike Shure, Sales Director, Senior Solutions Insurance
Glen: And that’s why I was really excited to talk to you today. I would say it seems like nine out of 10 Final Expense agents that I talk to, they’re still selling face-to-face. And for some people they’d prefer that and they want to keep doing that, but then at the same time, I talk to a lot of agents who, it’s still kind of a mystery to them. You know, “Well I’d like to sell over the phone. Maybe I’ll get some leads that are local to my area so I can try to do both.”
But yeah, to hear from you, knowing that you have 38,000 miles on your car here, which best—I’ve heard that from agents as well, saying that’s not unheard of. But yeah, you do both and you totally transitioned. So yeah, that’s what I’d love to hear more of, as kind of the transition of going from face-to-face, going from putting thousands of miles on your car week in and week out, and selling over the phone. I think for some people that’s a really hard transition, so I would love to hear more about that.
Mike: Yeah, of course. The funny thing is when telesales first started coming out we used to call it the magic phone. The magic phone, because you could sit at your desk all day, whether it’s in your house or in an office, and take inbound calls and make outbound calls and get sales; two, three, four sales a day were part of the norm, the average. But the funny thing is when we first got into it, we failed miserably on the phone.
And the reason was that we were so good or pretty proficient—I shouldn’t say great, but pretty proficient at field sales, that we took our field sales presentation mentality right to the phone. So what happened was the first few weeks or few months we totally fell flat on our face. We’d get a sale here and there, but not enough to pay the bills, not enough to get by.
So we had to go back out into the field for a few more months until we really realized that there is a major difference between selling in person and selling over the phone. It’s a totally different approach; it’s a totally different presentation. The difference when you’re in the home, they see you, you’re real, and they know that you’re there, you’ve got your marketing material, you’ve got your presentation book, you’re showing them the deal.
When you’re talking to somebody over the phone that you’ve never met, you have to, in our business, to close 100 percent right over the phone, you need to get this person to trust you enough to give you a bank account and a social security number, along with all of their other information about them personally in their health. And so what we realized is that it’s a totally different approach. They talk about being in the field and maintaining control and bringing them down the path, and it’s even more important over the phone. You give them an inch, they take a mile, kind of thing.
So when we’re doing telesales these days we follow a blueprint and map, and it really makes us proficient in the ability to lead them down the path so you build trust and get them to open up and explain why they’re calling or why you’re reaching out to them, and figure out what their needs are. The way that we try to do things over the phone to kind of go over it is we like to express confidence. A great telemarketer speaks with a tone of authority and practices effective communication skills. You don’t want a lot of dead air, dead time, you really want to move the phone call in the direction you’re trying to go.
We’re reading a presentation. We’re reading a book or a presentation that we built that works, but you don’t want to sound rehearsed. I know that we had talked about a lot of things that I see that agents do that make them fail. They just read. They read a script and they’re not showing any confidence, they’re not expressing empathy, they’re just trying to read to get to the next page.
Glen: Yeah, the building trust thing is huge. I mean I know doing face-to-face sales, I mean sitting down, trying to get social security numbers or checking account numbers even when you’re sitting face-to-face with a prospect, that can be pulling teeth. And like you said, you’re real, you’re there. I guess it’s easier to build trust is what I’m trying to say when you’re sitting down face-to-face. I know it’s got to be a whole different game over the phone, so yeah, I’d love to hear kind of more about the trust building that you guys do to move that phone call along. [00:04:22]
Mike: Yeah, one of the things that we like to do and that we teach all of our agents here is that it’s got to be a personal presentation. When I’m talking to somebody right out of the gate, I want to know who they are, what their name is, are they looking for themselves and a loved one or just themselves, and who this coverage is going to benefit from, like the kids or the spouse. And then I want those names, because when I’m presenting to them and I’m talking about Final Expenses and how you’re trying to not financially burden your family, instead of family I throw in the kid’s name.
If Mrs. Jones tells me she’s trying to protect little Johnny, I bring up little Johnny. I say, “You want this in place for little Johnny, you don’t want him to be financially burdened. Johnny’s going to thank you in the end for doing this. This is what you need to do today to make sure that everything’s taken care of. And you know what, Mrs. Jones? Once you get it done you’re probably sleep better at night knowing it’s all done. God forbid if anything happened to you, everything’s taken care of.”
Glen: You brought up something I was going to touch on here a little later, but I wanted to bring it up now just because I think this is a perfect time, but in our book, How to Qualify, Present & Sell: Final Expense and Medicare Supplements to Seniors, you know, we got over 100 surveys returned, and one of my favorite lines of any of the surveys we got came from you. And you kind of just touched on it and this is what you said, “Not everyone can afford a $10,000 Final Expense plan, but as parents we want to make sure we cover as much of the expenses as we can afford. Now based on your budget you might qualify for more than the price of your funeral, but it could also be less. Keeping your budget in mind, what can you allocate on a monthly basis?”
So I mean right there, talking about the family, hitting on that. I have kids, that’s a huge thing. You don’t want to burden your family. And I love that line because if you kind of poke the button it’s a huge emotional sale. I really feel like that’s a great line, I bet you get a lot of people that probably roll over right after they hear that and they say, “Well I do want to protect my family and I can only afford $20 a month right now.”
But yeah, so tell me about that line. Is that something you kind of came up yourself or did you steal it from other people along the way?
Mike: I’d like to take as much credit for it as I possibly can, but a lot of it came from my partner, Chris Martin, and I. The one thing that we really noticed is that when you get to that point about your presentation when you’re trying to figure out what plans to offer them, if you go too high they’re going to hang up the phone. That’s the other thing about telesales is it’s a lot harder for somebody to pick you up by the collar and drag you out of their house, compared to just slamming the phone down.
And so what we noticed is everybody’s budget is different, and some people can afford more, a lot of people we talked to can’t afford that much, and so with a lot of work and a lot of getting hung up on, it started clicking and it was a real smooth transition for us, because now we’re building the presentation and the pitch and the product around their needs by figuring out what their budget allows for, but also giving them a reason of why we want it and how less coverage r even more coverage is beneficial no matter which way you go.
When you can swing your presentation around and say, “The average price of a funeral is $8,000 today but all you can afford is a $5,000 burial, that’s a fantastic thing, because your family is now $5,000 closer to that bill than they were yesterday. And by having that kind of coverage in place it’s going to take care of the majority of that burden.”
What I’ve noticed over the years is that if they can’t get what they want they don’t buy it. If they’re calling for a $10,000 plan and they can’t afford a $10,000 plan, they typically hang up the phone. They’re unhappy, they don’t purchase. The way this came about, like I said, is just something we figured over time was the best way to make that transition so that if the prices are too high or too little or just right, we can still keep the flow of the conversation heading in our direction.
Glen: I think that’s an excellent point to make. I started off selling life insurance in the mortgage protection space, and when you would have someone in their 60s or 70s send back one of those mortgage protection cards looking for $100,000 or $200,000 in coverage, and you sit down with them and you’re like, “This is going to be $600 a month to try and over this much of your loan at your current age,” a lot of people are just like, “What are you saying? This is crazy.”
So I totally relate with that when you’ve got to be able to explain to them that even if they can’t get what they want, I mean having something is way better than having nothing. I totally agree with you on that.
One thing I wanted to jump into, what’s your typical day look like, Mike? [00:09:31]
Mike: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I know that we have talked about failure and how you’ve talked to a lot of people in this business that haven’t really stuck it out or made it, and also the same for us. We’re in the business of recruiting and retaining good positive agents that can turn this into a very successful career. It all starts with your day-to-day, what you decide to do.
My week starts Monday at 8:00, and Monday is going to set the tone for the rest of the week. What I can achieve on Monday is going to make me more successful the further along I go. And so on a day-to-day I’m at the office by 8:30 at the latest. I pick out my leads and I just start calling them while I wait for phone calls. We run television commercials all across the country, spot calls, infomercials, so the bulk of our high quality leads are calling us directly.
But you have to have activity. Activity is where these results come from. So my goal, on a day-to-day basis, my goal for the numbers, the activity is I want to have a minimum of 125 outbound dials, and I want four hours of talk time. Because if I can hit either 125 dials or four hours of talk time, hopefully a combination of the two, I’m going to net roughly $2,000 a day in sales. And those are the numbers.
So my activity is I’m in the office, we’re Mountain Standard Time, our office is in Denver, Colorado, I’m pulling out all my leads from the east coast and I start there, and I work my day from east coast to west coast.
Glen: The goal is 125 outbound calls or four hours of dialing a day. You kind of have the numbers crunched down to that should yield, on average, $2,000 annual per diem, is that kind of—
Mike: Per day.
Glen: Per day.
Mike: Yeah, that’s correct. And the most important factor is the talk time. The dials are just as important because the dials get you the talk time, but the talk time are where the results really come from. And so I want to average about four, four and a half, five hours of talk time a day. And if I can do that, my results will net me an average of $2,000 in annual premium a day. If you do that every week, you’re looking at $10,000 in commissions, $7,500 in advancing every week.
Glen: That’s a great week. I mean that’s some of the best Final Expense agents in the business who are face-to-face. They’re driving all over Monday through Friday to try and get that done. So one thing I would have a question for you there, how many presentations would you say that four-hour window, from start to finish, you get through? [00:12:20]
Mike: That’s a good question. You know, it varies day-to-day. My goal is I typically want to have 10 to 15 presentations a day. And a presentation can be from somebody calling in that’s never heard from us, that’s calling direct off of our telesales campaign, to outbound, to even somebody that I’ve talked to in the past that I’m trying to refresh. Maybe it’s a 30-day old lead, they called off the commercial, reminding them that I’m still here, I’m reminding them of the plans. I consider that a presentation.
And that’s part of the business. I know that the results come from activity and the activity is in—in a multifaceted area from inbound calls, to outbound calls, to follow-ups. So when I answer the phone I know that I’m roughly going to close one out of four to one out of five of a fresh one-call close lead on an inbound commercial. Which means that when I’m outbounding I know that I’ll pick up another one from outbound on leads that I have, and then I’ll pick up another one from 30-day old plus leads that I’ve been backlogging because I haven’t been able to reach them.
We try to get the results from many different areas, but the most important factor in this business is activity, and the biggest thing that I see is that agents don’t buy enough leads. They just don’t have enough leads to be busy or to be active. They’re not getting them every week. I mean this business is built upon a minimum of 25 fresh leads every week. You’ve got to have those leads and either go out and pound the pavement in the field or take them over the phone, get your telemarketed leads, sit down, dial for dollars, wait for your few inbounds, and you need to do it every week.
Glen: I think that’s like Sales 101: The death of a salesman is inactivity. I mean regardless of whether you’re making cold calls out of the phone book, whether using telemarketed leads, TV leads, direct mail leads, you’ve got to have leads, you’ve got to go see the people or call the people on the phone if you’re selling over the phone. Yeah, that was another question I was going to ask, most common mistakes you see with agents trying to sell over the phone. Not having enough activity, that’s definitely going to be a killer. What’s another one you see that’s really common that kills agents trying to sell over the phone? [00:14:46]
Mike: A big thing is work ethic. I think that they hear—you’re recruiting an agent, you tell them, “Oh, I can do $2,000 a day on the phone on average, maybe one day I’m doing $1,000, the other day I’m doing $3,000, but I’m averaging $2,000 a week.”
And they hear these pie-in-the-sky numbers and they think that the phones just rung all the time when they’re coming in sporadic throughout the day. And the biggest thing I see as failure is work ethic. A lot of people are not willing to do what it takes to be a successful telesales agent. I’m here until the work is over. That’s when I have business on the board. And the only time that I’m comfortable or confident leaving the office is when I can look myself in the mirror and say, “I have done absolutely everything I possibly could today to get my sales. I called all my leads, I did all of my follow-up, I answered all of my phone calls.”
And that time might be 8:00 or 9:00. Sometimes I’m here 12; 13 hours a day. And it comes down to work ethic. A lot of guys come in here, they make a few phone calls, take an hour lunch, and they come back, make a few more phone calls, they’ve got to pick their kids up or go meet somebody, run an errand, whatever it might be.
And what we really preach here at Senior Solutions Insurance is to buckle down, pick a schedule, hold yourself to the schedule, pick your goals of how many dials you want to make a day and how many hours of talk time you want to have, and how many presentations you think you need to get there, and just stick to it. Follow a schedule.
I think there’s a lot of appeal in insurance. People think that they can work for themselves and they have freedom and they can pick their daily schedules and do what they want, and come and go as they please. That’s where I really see a lot of the failure is that when I treat this like a job my life depends on me being here at a certain time and staying until a certain time, and having the activity that I had because if somebody was above me saying, “If you don’t do this we’ve got to make room for somebody else,” it motivates me. And that’s what makes me successful.
And that’s where I see a lot of our agents fall short. They don’t put in the time, they don’t put in the energy, and the third thing is the investment in themselves. You have to invest in yourself. If you believe you can do it buy leads, because leads are dollar signs. The more of them I can purchase the more money I’m going to make, the more people I can talk to, the more referrals I can get.
Glen: No, you’re absolutely right. And I think that’s what makes the insurance business so appealing, is work ethic. I see it all the time where guys who might not be the best salesmen or maybe they are very inexperienced in the Final Expense space or the Medicare Supplement space, but they come in and with their really strong work ethic and the willingness to learn as they go, and you just see these guys do $20,000; $30,000; $40,000 in premiums a month like it was nothing. And just like you said, you have the other guys who—they want to just make a few phone calls and they want that check to fall in their lap. But I mean yeah, it’s all about work ethic. It’s a level playing field out there at the end of the day. [00:18:03]
Mike: And it’s all about activity. You know, what are you willing to do today to get those numbers? How much are you willing to do today to get those numbers? You said something funny about guys when you’re recruiting somebody you think the most intellectual, smartest guy is going to be the most successful, and that’s usually not the case. You know, it’s the guy that you least expect that comes in earlier than everybody else, stays later than everybody else, that makes more phone calls than everybody else, who knocks on more doors than everybody else, who when runs out of leads pulls out the phonebook. He’s the one at the end of the day that’s going to end up with the most money.
Glen: You’re absolutely right. You see a direct line, like you said, between activity, you know, amount of activity and your paycheck. It’s a direct correlation there. I mean there’s no doubt about it.
Now when you mentioned your transition from face-to-face sales to selling over the phone, I love that it was a total failure right out the gate, because I think that’s how a lot of things that we experience in life and new challenges, and I’m sure that’s what happens even today. Someone could try to sell over the phone next week, doesn’t go well, they stop doing it, they go right back to selling face-to-face.
So what advice would you give for someone who’s trying to make that transition from face-to-face to selling over the phone?
Mike: What we do for all of our agents is we try to preach that this is a totally different way of doing business that you’re used to. You’re not going to be there, you’ve got to build the trust, you’ve got to build the rapport, and more importantly you have to get or convince somebody to give you their most important information without ever seeing them over the phone.
And so what we really preach is phone skills and phone etiquette and how to really go down the path from the time you pick up the phone and Mr. and Mrs. Jones is on the other line to how you close the business. And it’s about following a presentation and a system that allows you to maintain control, build this around their personal needs, express empathy, talk about the industry, educate them on the products, and close the business.
And so that’s really what we try to do for all of our agents is—you know, especially if somebody’s coming to us who’s been 10 years or 15 years selling insurance out in person at the prospect’s kitchen table, this is a totally different presentation, this is a totally different way of doing business, and you’ve got to forget everything that you’ve done in the past and focus on how to move forward with it.
And that’s the biggest issue that we see is a lot of guys try to bring their knowledge and experience in the field to the phone. And don’t get me wrong, it’s helpful, but it doesn’t get the sales. It’s a totally different way of doing business. And so we like to teach them phone etiquette, phone skills, and more importantly memorize your presentation.
If you don’t have a presentation to follow, you don’t have a blueprint, something that keeps you accountable while you’re talking to somebody, you absolutely have to have that.
Glen: A word that you mentioned there that really stood out was having that system in place. The guys who are selling over the phone that I talk with who—whether it’s Medicare supplements or Final Expense, like it seems like they have a system that’s just laser focused, a follow-up system, what I’m doing with this lead, whether it’s getting rid of this lead, following up with him in 30 days, or I’m submitting an application right now. It seems like having a really strong system in place is important. [00:21:43]
Mike: Yeah it is. You’ve got to be organized, you have to have all your ducks in a row, if you will. You’ve got to have everything streamlined. Something that we’ve done here at Senior Solutions specifically is we’ve created our own software, proprietary software so that our agents have access to everything on the fly. You have your quotes that you’re not looking up and running numbers, they’re all digitalized. We’ve got our applications and medication lists so that as we’re working the process and we’re trying to figure out how does somebody qualify, we can do it in a matter of minutes.
And we’re doing everything on the seat of our pants, if you will, but the ability to have everything as organized, condensed, and readily available at your fingertips is very important to be able to weave through the process and be able to go back and forth. Because as you know, as a broker in the Final Expense business there are dozens of different companies that you can recommend, and why does one person fit in one specific carrier, right?
And also educating them on why we want to place the business with this specific carrier because of their specific health qualifications. So the ability to have all of it readily at your fingertips, you’re not flipping through a book, you’re not reading an agent manual, you’re on a computer skimming through things, getting the rates all in front of you where you’ve got 20-something plus rates on your computer screen right there. You’re looking at the application so you can cross-reference the health questions, which helps you work through the process, and it makes it efficient and it makes it quick.
From the time we get on the phone we like to see the warmup, the presentation, the pre-qual, the application, and the close all done within a 30 to 45 minute period.
Glen: I think that’s perfect. You’ve got to know what you’re saying. You can’t be staring down at a piece of paper flipping through—that would kill the whole presentation or sales process.
Last question here for you. What do you see for the future of selling over the phone? Do you see any trends currently in the market? [00:23:52]
Mike: Well, I think that the future of life insurance, specifically Final Expense is transitioning to the phone. When we started doing this there were very few carriers that would allow you to underwrite the policy 100 percent over the phone. And when it started that way you as the agent had to record the application and submit the recording to the company where they would review and three, four, five business days later they’d say approved or denied.
Well now almost every company is heading in the direction where they’re doing phone sales with underwriters that give you instant approval. And so many have gone down this path that all the other companies that we’re aware of and that we work with will have that coming out within the next quarter or two of this year. So I think field sales is never going to be obsolete, but phone sales is the future of this business.
And when—especially on the phone sales side of things, when it’s a one-call close business, if I get somebody on the presentation and I get them to the underwriting department, whether they’re approved or denied, especially denied, I can move them right away to another carrier. I don’t have to wait several days to figure out that I have to go back to the house, I can do it all instantaneously.
We were fortunate enough to start doing this years ago when not many people were working with it and doing it. And here at Senior Solutions we’ve built our whole system around that so we’re really excited about the future and what it has to hold, and these carriers are constantly evolving and creating bigger and better application processes right over the phone, and simplifying the process, even making the underwriting a little bit easier and a lot better.
Glen: That is awesome, and I totally agree with you. I mean whether I’m shopping for insurance or I’m just shopping for really anything I usually start with looking online and then calling someone. The senior market might be a little different, they might be looking at a TV commercial and then calling you, maybe they got a phone call first and then they’re being routed to you, but I love that the carriers are starting to respond. And seeing the success with the phone sales, I know it’s 2017 and some of the stuff is really common for other industries, so the insurance industry might be a little behind, but it’s exciting that they’re starting to see that, the massive success that can be had selling over the phone, that they’re adapting to that.
So I would have to agree with you, I think a lot of people are going to be selling over the phone, whether they’re an independent agent selling from home or selling from their own office.