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When she talks, agents listen--and learn: "life insurance sales is a great substitute for teaching, because if you do this job correctly, you're teaching all the time.".


The life insurance industry has known for years that its agent ranks are shrinking. The median age of producers is well over 50, and industry events are starting to look more like AARP conventions. Carriers and distributors wonder how to identify and recruit younger agents from Generations X and Y. For those new agents who do venture into the profession, however, there's a simple solution to get them trained well. Clone Fran Jacoby.

A transplanted New Yorker who has enjoyed a noteworthy 36-year career in Indianapolis, Fran is a one-woman mentoring machine to younger agents. She has adopted scores of them over the years at her primary company, Prudential, and also travels the country encouraging newer producers to aspire to membership in the Million Dollar Round Table. She's sold enough life insurance herself to be a 35-year Life and Qualifying MDRT member, including four times at the Top of the Table.

Her motivation to mentor comes from several sources. The primary one is her instinctive love of teaching, a profession she trained for, but was not able to find work in at the post-secondary level. "At heart I'm really a teacher," Fran says. "Life insurance sales is a great substitute for teaching, because if you do this job correctly, you're teaching all the time."

She does many joint cases with agents scattered across Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, in towns like Monticello, Fort Wayne, and South Bend. "If they have one good case, I'll go see them," Fran says. "They may think the case they've called me on is big, and for them it is. These are usually estate planning cases--we do a lot of farm estates around here--or business cases. By the time we've split the third or fourth case, I've helped them enough that they can do the next case on their own, and they don't need me anymore.

"Most of these agents have not done sophisticated planning. Some of them have been in the business a long time, too, and have just done their first year over and over again. They want to learn the next level, and my goal is to help them bring their business to that level."

Fran also senses the training void that has grown larger as the industry gravitates away from life insurance as its core product. "Over the last 15 or 20 years, candidly, the industry as a whole has gotten out of the life insurance business," she says. "You can sell a really good annuity today, but we're not teaching customers to go to the next step, to look at their life insurance situation. Today, the more money you've lost in the stock market, the more you may need our risk products."

Fran does 60 to 70 cases of her own each year, taking her clients through several interviews to arrive at a sale. "My process is longer; I don't sell anything in the first interview and rarely do in the second," she says. "I want people to get comfortable with me, to get a feel for what kind of person I am and whether or not I'm the person they want to do their work."

She employs a favorite analogy to get the conversation focused on protection. "I tell prospects that before we can talk about all the fancy things, the ugly things need to get done first. When you build a house, what do you put in first? That ugly foundation that no one sees--but without it, that beautiful roof is falling down. We can't do the roof before we do the foundation. So we start with the basics, and that's life insurance."

In many cases, she writes strictly term insurance and gradually converts it over time. "It's the old story--sell term to a prospect, sell permanent to a client," Fran says. "That way, I can say to the client, 'If you die tomorrow, I can pay a proper claim, and not have to apologize to your business or your family because I thought you needed permanent and sold you a quarter of what you really needed. Buy the amount you need, and we'll chip away at converting it.'"

'I Couldn't Get Anyone to Hire Me'

Fran is 65 but easily looks 10 years younger. A disciplined schedule, including daily walking on a treadmill or a local trail, keeps her fit and productive. But the challenges of aging confront her every day. She's thankful for the long-term care insurance she and her husband purchased many years ago because it's now helping her manage the expenses associated with providing care for him in tandem with an in-home caregiver on work days and travel days. Sharing her own experience with long-term care services has helped to sell long-term care insurance to many of her life insurance clients. "I show it on every estate plan I do," she says.

Even a good plan can change unexpectedly, as Fran learned when she couldn't land a teaching job in 1971 despite having earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English (from Michigan State and Purdue, respectively). Her daughter Robin and son Jonathan were toddlers at the time. "I looked around and decided, naively, that I could do business as an agent on my own time, at my own pace," Fran remembers. "But I couldn't get anyone to hire me." Several life company recruiters advised her to go home and take care of the kids. "They told me, 'You'll never make it in this business. With little kids at home, it's just not going to happen.' That was like throwing a gauntlet down for me, telling me I can't succeed."

The father of Fran's babysitter was the local agency manager for MetLife, and he had a more enlightened outlook on women taking professional jobs. "His wife owned a real estate agency, and they were a nice Catholic family with nine kids. He didn't see his wife's working as a detriment. He hired me."

With her first husband earning the breadwinner's income, Fran was freed from financial pressure, and it helped her develop the patience with clients that is her hallmark. "If you're not pressured by every sale, and if you can really say to prospects, 'This is what you need to know, and this is why you need to know it,' and not push them, you gain trust," Fran says. "I need that connection with each client, and I want them to have that with me.

"The biggest mistake I used to make is to close the sale too fast. I'm a good salesperson; I can be persuasive and convince people to buy. But after I've left the room, they may not remember why they bought from me, because I didn't take enough time to get them deeply involved in the process--not just logically involved, but emotionally involved. You have to build trust, and that takes time.

"All those books I read, when I was a young agent, about how to close sales--they were a waste of time. Gimmicks don't sell. We sell a product that people buy every time they make a premium payment. You need to make sure you're not just selling a product, but that the client can really see what it does for them."

Other early lessons taught her the importance of appointments and activity ("Twelve appointments a week will make you three sales," she says, and it consistently did for her) and of ongoing education. Fran earned the CLU and ChFC designations years ago, but she still dedicates an hour a day to study, not all of it insurance-based. She also devotes a big chunk of leisure time to reading anything she can get her hands on; in a typical year she reads up to 100 books.

After two years at MetLife, she went independent in 1974 and expanded into group health and other products. She recruited agents and added staff, filling out a 3,000-square foot office in the same high-rise tower where she works today, in the upscale Keystone Crossing fashion mall northeast of downtown Indianapolis. She also eventually realized that agency management was not for her.

"We had huge overhead. I had lots of people working for me, but I was doing most of the sales and all of the closing," Fran says. "It was the old 80/20 rule. My expectations for people are so high, and frankly I don't manage people very well. I can't get them to understand John Savage's old line, 'Work eight hours, play eight hours, just make sure they're not the same eight hours.'

"I got rid of the overhead and condensed it all down, figuring that my gross income would go down, but my net would go up, and that's exactly what happened."

Good for Each Other

Fran joined Prudential in 1992, the same year she remarried, and it's been a good fit for her very scaled-back agency--just herself and assistant Michele Ray. "I have been content here," she says. "I joined them at a time when my reputation had already been made. I trust them, and they trust me. In terms of being able to cut through the red tape, they've been very good to me." She is the MDRT liaison for Pru's entire field force, and the company subsidizes her trips to agencies promoting MDRT membership and values.

"I get to do a lot of teaching that way, getting young people interested in selling life insurance. I'm at the stage of my career that I really like, sort of being an elder statesman for MDRT." Last December, Fran completed a four-year term as MDRT's representative on the board of LIFE, the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.

Whether it's one-on-one with a new agent, or speaking on the main platform at an MDRT annual meeting (as she has done several times), Fran's core message is simple: the client comes first in your business, your company affiliation comes second, and you come third. "If you put it in that perspective, you'll always do well, and that's how I run my business," she says.

"I've watched young agents come out of an interview, and they're all excited, adding up their commission. I always have to slap them, figuratively speaking, and say, 'That's not how you do it. As long as you take care of the client, the client will take care of you.' It's never more complicated than that."

One client she took care of stands out as perhaps her most challenging and fascinating sale. It was a successful partnership that lacked a buy-sell agreement because the two partners couldn't stand each other. Other agents had tried for 20 years to craft an insured agreement, to no avail. Fran went to each partner separately, and each agreed the deal was necessary but insisted the other partner would never consent to it. She convinced both of them to let her hire an impartial attorney, one who had no connection to their business, to hammer out an agreement that would be subject to approval by each partner's personal attorney.

"There was so much hostility there. The partners did not sit in the same room, ever, to discuss the agreement, until they actually signed it. It created a $6 million sale, and everyone was so thrilled. It was an adversarial deal, but it worked great."

Fran loves working with start-up businesses, and she learns about them through her contacts with local banks that grant Small Business Administration loans. She also gets occasional leads, more quality than quantity, from attorneys and accountants who she knows well. One of her clients sold his business last year for $95 million. But she cautions agents not to think they can limit their practice to business owners and the country-club crowd.

"Most of us let our ego get in the way," she says. "We think we're so smart, and we only want to work with rich people. There aren't that many of them to fill up your book of business. So I work with lots of different kinds of people."

At the other end of the spectrum was a woman who recently found Fran's agency through the Prudential Web site. Her husband's profit-sharing plan was being terminated, and she needed help on what to do with the lump-sum distribution of about $250,000. Although her husband has Alzheimer's disease, she brought him along to meet with Fran.

"We did an annuity for her, with a life income accelerator option for three years, to double her income if she needs long-term care," Fran says. "We talked to him, too. People don't talk to him because he has Alzheimer's, but you have to talk to Alzheimer's patients and help them give you the answers, and make them feel they're a part of the discussion.

"On her way out, the woman hugged me and said, 'I don't know how to thank you.' After she left, I told Michele we had just done something significant. Not that we sold an annuity, but that we gave somebody peace of mind. We let her know she's always welcome here with him, and that he will always be part of our discussions. That's a lot more important than making a couple of bucks.

"You can make a lot of money if you care about people. The more people you see, and the more you care about them, the more you control their needs and the more money you're going to make. You won't even have to count it."

Gordon Bess, CLU, FLMI

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Author:Bess, Gordon
Publication:Life Insurance Selling
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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