Sales ideas are great because they encourage insurance, investment, and real estate professionals to try different methods of selling. But they can be dangerous, too, because they promote antiquated notions about the contemporary sales process. Here’s what we mean.

When you view sales as technique driven, you view it as something you do TO a prospect. You lay a clever argument on them. You unleash a powerful objection response. You show them an interesting napkin diagram, etc. In short, selling skillfully means launching message salvos at someone, hoping they tap into a fear, unblock an objection, or fire up a buying impulse.

Unfortunately, techniques often create a negative side effect — prospects feel as if you are manipulating them or playing games with them. This is not a good thing; it erodes trust and makes it impossible to move forward.

So let us suggest an alternative. Financial professionals should consider themselves their ultimate sales technique. Rather than laying a script or objection response on people, they should instead focus on becoming the best advisor they can be. This process of self-improvement is ultimately what generates clients—and it’s a more natural and authentic way to sell.

How might  you become your own best sales technique? Here are three pathways:

  1. Care more about your customers. Caring is not a superficial feeling (as in: “You are a source of commissions, so I will care about you—and listen to you— until you buy. Then I’ll stop caring and listening until you’re ready to buy again”). Instead, it’s a rich and deeply human form of compassion where you truly have empathy for a person. This compels you to uncover and solve their problems. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Nor can the process of nurturing a lead into a beneficial advisor/client relationship. Also keep an eye on fairness, which Webster’s defines as “the lack of favoritism toward one side or another.” In other words, always be sure your clients are deriving at least as much value from the relationship as you are, if not MORE value. When they sense you truly care about them from the depth of your heart, they will listen and act upon your recommendations.
  2. Become a more knowledgeable advisor.  Start by working harder to understand the barriers to achieving key financial goals. Become a real student of your field by setting up relevant Google Alerts, reading white papers and books, and signing up for knowledge-intensive webinars and workshop presentations (not just sales-technique sessions). But understanding the issues is only the starting point. Also develop expertise on the available solutions to these problems. To this end, tap your manager, colleagues, and technical expert relationships; quiz them on product and service offerings, advantages/disadvantages, suitability matters, and technology resources for driving optimal client education and communication. Study, really study, your product and sales guides. And search out and read client case studies to learn how to apply  product and service features in the field.
  3. Shun expediency in every area of your business. Always focus on doing the right thing—the ethical thing—not the expedient thing. Part of this, of course, demands staying current on all compliance requirements. But also important is honing your ethics edge by doing what’s right when there’s no compliance rule dictating your behavior. And always remember that just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

By adhering to these three guidelines, you will become a magnetic financial professional, whether you work in insurance, investment advisory, or real estate. People will naturally gravitate to you. This means you will not have to use techniques on them because they’ll virtually sell themselves. And you can stop worrying about closing sales, and start assessing your capacity to deliver.

Finally, honing your abilities in these areas will substantially reduce your risk of getting sued and having to use your errors-and-omissions insurance. If that’s not reason enough to become your own best sales technique, what is?

For more information on ethical business practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center. For more information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk insurance, investment, and real estate professionals, visit EOforLess.com.

We’ve often said the vast majority of financial advisors are ethical and would no sooner rip off Grandma or Grandpa than lop off their own right arm. However, it’s also fair to say a much larger percentage of advisors have ethical or compliance lapses through ignorance, inattention, or just sheer sloppiness. This is especially true regarding the development and use of advertising materials.

In fact, the use of non-compliant advertising is the regulatory issue that never dies. Every few months, staffers at the National Ethics Association read of a state regulator reminding licensees of basic advertising requirements. Yet despite these insistent bulletins, the use of problematic advertising goes on, misleading consumers and setting the stage for future errors-and-omissions insurance claims.

In response, we’ve compiled some basic rules for insurance advertising. If you know these already, please click on another EOHQ article. However, we urge you to quickly scan the list to make sure you aren’t missing anything. This is important because advertising is a powerful tool for establishing initial prospect (and ultimately client) expectations. If your content misleads them into expecting something other than what they’ll receive, you’ll set yourself up for complaints, lawsuits, and errors-and-omissions insurance claims. Life’s too short to deal with such problems!

With that, let’s get started.

  1. Remember that advertising is a broad concept. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, it’s any communication “designed to create public interest in life insurance or annuities, or in any insurer, or in an insurance producer; or to induct the public to purchase, increase, modify, reinstate, borrow on, surrender, replace, or retain a policy.” Bottom line: if you’re trying to get someone to think something or do something, it’s advertising.
  2. The types of advertising are equally expansive. They range from brochures, flyers, and lead cards to newspapers ads, telephone scripts, and seminar invitations and everything in between. Again, if your content is trying to persuade someone to do something or think a certain way, especially leading to a sale, it’s advertising.
  3. If your ad content references a company’s products, even without naming the company, you must submit the content for company review before actually using it in the field.
  4. If a piece is approved, but you end up changing the copy, you need to get another approval.
  5. It’s best to seek company approval early in the production process. For example, you’re better off submitting a script for a TV ad than the actual produced spot, since changing the script will be much less expensive than reshooting the spot.
  6. The NAIC Model Advertising Regulation does not distinguish between consumer advertising and advertising targeting producers. Consequently, you should also file advisor recruitment ads, along with sales concepts and visuals used in sales training, for company review.
  7. The content of your ads must be completely accurate, objective, and free of misleading information.
  8. Your ads should not omit material facts the consumer needs to understand how a product works or whether it’s suitable for his or her needs. In this regard, it’s important not to omit key conditions that must exist for someone to receive benefits under the policy.
  9. Always fully identify the product you’re promoting, including the company underwriting it, the product type (annuity) and the product sub-type (variable annuity).
  10. If you use a company’s trade name in an ad, always include the full legal name somewhere else in the ad.
  11. Never suggest that the company or product being promoted is related to any government agent or benefit program.
  12. When citing facts about a company’s financial condition, size, or investment portfolio, double check to make sure all data is correct and up-to-date. The same is true for all discussions of company ratings.
  13. In prospecting, always fully identify yourself as a “licensed insurance agent” or “licensed insurance professional” and state the reason for your approach (to discuss the sale of life insurance, annuities, etc.). Avoid titles such as “investment advisor” or “securities representatives” unless you are properly licensed to sell such products and offer services.
  14. Statistical data used to trigger interest or strengthen arguments must be fully sourced, including the origin of the information (researcher, author), name of publication, and issue date.
  15. Avoid statements of opinion or if you must express one, clearly label it as such.
  16. Avoid using language or charts or graphs that lead a prospect to draw an incorrect conclusion.
  17. The product you’re promoting must be insurance-department-approved in the state in which you’ll run the ad. If the ad will be used in multiple states and it isn’t approved in all states, then state that in the ad.
  18. Advertising that discusses non-guaranteed policy elements such as interest rates must make clear the element isn’t guaranteed and must also state the guaranteed value for that element.
  19. All charts or illustrations that project future values must explicitly state they do not represent actual amounts to be paid in the future. Content must also describe all elements that might impact such values such as surrender charges, cap rates, and market value adjustments.
  20. When discussing the tax implications of purchasing or holding an insurance product, explain the basis of for such statements. Also provide a caveat stating that the discussion doesn’t constitute legal or tax advice and that the consumer should consult with his or her own attorney.
  21. In promoting the sale of annuities, refrain from using terms such as “CD annuity,” “certificate of annuity,” “investment account,” or “savings plan.”
  22. Never say “deposits” or “contributions” when you mean to say “premiums.”
  23. Avoid words that suggest the best or ultimate value, including “highest,” “lowest,” “safest,” “unique,” unless you can factually support your claim.
  24. Avoid disparaging your competitors, either companies or other financial professionals, in your advertising.
  25. Finally, when it comes to developing insurance advertising content, always remember that less is more. The more you stretch to make a point or engage in hyperbole, the harder it will be to get your ad produced. And if by chance it does get produced, the more likely it will generate complaints or errors-and-omissions problems.

For further information about advertising compliance, please consult with your firm, FMO, or insurance-company compliance department.

For more information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk financial advisors, visit E&OforLess.com. For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center