Friday, September 17

Four cancellation scenarios

Before I describe today’s activities let’s play a game of Pretend.  It goes like this: pretend that you’re, say, an insurance agent.  You’ve made an appointment to go to a prospective customer’s house or place of business to make a sales presentation.  Time, date and location have all been confirmed. Shortly before you’re about to leave for the appointment, or as not infrequently happens while you’re already on the way, the prospective customer calls to cancel the appointment.  Most often he or she will say that there’s a major crisis at work or that a family member is very sick or something similarly dire-sounding.  The real reason for the cancellation is quite different, of course: there’s something interesting on TV, or the dog needs a new collar, or something of that ilk.  It really doesn’t matter.  What’s relevant to our game is what happens next with respect to rescheduling the appointment.  There are four basic rescheduling scenarios that can occur, with vastly different consequences.

Scenario One: The prospective customer says that he or she wants to reschedule, proposes a new date and time, and asks if that’s okay with you ( [prospective customer] “How about next Tuesday at 6, is that okay?”)

Scenario Two: As above, the prospective customer says that he or she wants to reschedule, but does not propose a new date and time.  You have to propose the new date and time ([you] “How about next Tuesday at 6, is that okay?”)

Scenario Three: The prospective customer does not mention rescheduling, therefore you do so, and as above you suggest a date and time ([you] “Why don’t we set a new time.  I have next Tuesday at 6 available, is that okay with you?”)

Scenario Four: It starts out the same way as Scenario Three, except this time the prospective customer declines to reschedule, often saying “my schedule is totally crazy,” and instead says that he or she will call you at a later date to set a new appointment.

In my reasoned judgment, the chances that you will end up making a sale are 25% in Scenario One, 10% in Scenario Two, 5% in Scenario Three, and zero in Scenario Four.

As for my day, I didn’t end up doing too much.  In the morning I went to the central-eastern Suffolk town where I’ve been working lately, and tried to track down a few people.  No luck.  I was able to ascertain that a business owner who has expressed interest in buying small policies for his workers will be in on Monday.  It would be really nice if I could make those sales.  I also tried to get a hold of the woman who developed cold feet after the policy I wrote on Tuesday had to be canceled, in the hopes that I can write a disability policy for her husband.  Again, no luck.  I returned to the office in the early afternoon for a meeting.  While waiting for things to get started I told a couple other agents about my recent woes.  One of them in particular sensed that I was quite depressed over my difficulties in making sales, and she offered me some words of inspiration.  She had experienced much the same thing after starting about a year ago, in addition to significant financial pressures, but she didn’t give up hope and soon enough things turned around nicely.  With any luck that’ll happen to me too.

Gym: a 2.3-mile run on the treadmill at 4.6 mph.  Not hard to figure out how long that took.

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Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 4:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, September 16

Canvassing

Today began with a new agents’ meeting at a diner in western Suffolk.  It was scheduled to start at 9:30, and because I was concerned about traffic I left way in advance.  An unnecessary precaution, as it turned out, because traffic on the Expressway and the Southern State Parkway wasn’t at all bad.  One of the four managers was in charge of the meeting, and as far as I know he has the most sales experience of all four.  We got some useful tips.  One of them, which in fact I got to put into practice not long thereafter, is “no product at the door.”  If a prospect won’t let you into his or her house after brief preliminaries, and wants you to describe the products in any sort of detail while standing at the door, it’s best to leave.  A prospect that won’t let you into the house doesn’t trust you, and a prospect that doesn’t trust you isn’t going to buy anything.  I also learned what to do in the event of wifing.  If a customer seems interested but says “I want to run it by my wife,” try to set a time to speak to both of them together.  Otherwise, you’re depending on the customer to try to sell the policy to his wife, and not maintaining control of the situation.  Wish I’d known this earlier.

After the hour-long meeting I went to a working-class town in central Suffolk with a different manager and two agents.  We split into two groups to do residential canvassing.  At ABC Insurance we start with a lead card for an active customer who has given permission for his or her name to be used as a reference, preferably one who’s been with the company for many years, and then go to the houses on the same block.  Whenever someone answers we identify ourselves and say that we’re the insurance agents for Mr. Smith across the street (or whatever).  The idea is that using a neighbor’s name helps establish our credibility, even with people who may not know the neighbor particularly well.  Simply going to a block and cold-canvassing without any such referral names is pointless.  As a general rule, the neighbors on either side of the referral person and directly across the street (the so-called “T system”) are the best prospects on the block, as they are most likely to know the person whose name you are using.

Another agent and I spent about 45 minutes canvassing on two blocks. He had an appointment so he couldn’t stay longer.  In this time period we went to ten houses.  There was no one home at five houses, at one house the owners’ teenage daughter said we’d have to come back later to speak to her parents, at another house the man who answered didn’t speak English, and at two houses we were in essence told to get lost.  At one of these houses we put the “no product at the door” rule into action, as the older woman who answered wouldn’t let us in unless we told her all about what we were selling (in other words, “health and disability insurance” wasn’t enough for her).  So far this accounts for nine houses.  At the tenth, the woman who answered invited us in, and we ended up giving a full presentation that lasted over a half-hour.  I actually thought she would end up buying right on the spot, but she wanted us to meet with her husband as well, so we set an appointment for a week from Monday.  She actually suggested a date and time, a very good sign.  So the final score is 45 minutes, ten houses, and one solid-seeming appointment that has a reasonable chance of leading to a sale.  Not a bad use of a brief amount of time.

Gym: some nice bench press work.  6 x 135, 4 x 185, 4 x 205, 5 x 225, 4 x 235, 2 x 245, 2 x 255, 1 x 260, 4 x 225.  I’d been planning on three at 245, but something didn’t feel right on the second rep.  Still, getting the double at 255 was quite satisfactory.  Next time I’ll try for 265 on the top set.  Neutral grip pull-ups: 4 x 4, 3 x 3.

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 12:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday, September 15

You try to figure this out

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a sale I made last evening fell apart barely 12 hours later.  What had happened is that the customer checked her records this morning and saw that she already had coverage, through her husband’s policy, that would duplicate the policy I issued her last night.  She called me and told me this, I called the home office to confirm her suspicion, and I called her back. During the course of our second conversation I brought up the subject of disability insurance for her husband.   He is self-employed in a physically demanding occupation and actually mentioned the issue last night.  The customer was quite receptive to the idea, in fact she told me that one of her major worries was that her husband would get injured and unable to work.  She herself has been out on disability from her own job, due to a medical condition, and being on half-pay she knows how difficult it can be from a financial standpoint.  Were her husband unable to work he’d be on zero pay rather than half-pay.

Looking in the rate book, I told the customer that I could write a disability policy for her husband for just about the same price – in fact, a dollar or two less per month – than the policy I had written for her the night before.  Instead of getting no commission I’d be making more money than if the wife’s policy hadn’t gone down, as even though the premium amounts are almost the same the disability policy would pay a higher percentage than would the wife’s policy.  I was hoping against hope that she’d ask me to come right over.  She said that she wanted to check with her husband first, which I understood.  So maybe I could  make the sale tomorrow or Friday.  The customer then went on to dash my hopes on the rocks when she said that it would be at least a couple of weeks before they’d be able to make a decision on the disability policy, as she wanted to make sure they could manage the premiums in their budget.

Say what?  Twelve hours earlier the customer had no qualms about taking out a policy on herself, now with that policy gone she was unsure whether they could afford a different policy that would cost slightly less.  Had their financial position deteriorated in 12 hours?  Well so much for making a larger commission.  It looks like my commission is back to a goose egg.  Oh, to make matters worse, I then called on a prospect for the fourth time, each time I go over he gives me the standard “I’m still thinking about it” line.  Today he finally completed the thinking process, telling me that he’d rather stick with his worker’s compensation coverage than take out a disability policy.  Mind you, he had been complaining all along about how expensive the comp was, and I had told him very clearly that a disability policy would make more sense in terms of the protection he needed.  In a last-ditch attempt to salvage something out of my four trips, I suggested that to supplement the comp he take out a accident protection policy, one that costs just over three dollars a week.  His response?  That’s right, yet another “let me think about it.”

I didn’t say anything, as I knew that anything I would say I would end up regretting.  Instead, I turned around and walked out of the customer’s business without saying a word.

It should go without saying that I was much too depressed to go to the gym tonight.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, September 14

Condensed version

Not enough time to write a full version of how my day went.  So here is a quick version:

– Got a lapsed lead on the telephone and had to listen to his frequently obscene tirade against ABC Insurance.  Guess that’s one sale I won’t be making.

– Went on an appointment, whereupon the husband and wife spent 30 minutes bickering.  Wife finally bought a policy, one that paid a decent if not spectacular commission.  Just over 12 hours later I found out that the policy couldn’t be issued.  My decent if not spectacular commission promptly dropped to zero.  Lovely.

– Encountered a major traffic jam on the Sunrise Highway.  The police had closed it at the exit I use, which meant at least a mile of crawling traffic heading up to the exit.

– Ran 2.2 miles on the treadmill at 4.6 mph.  The only decent thing to report on this otherwise wretched day.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 3:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, September 13

Betcha didn’t know “wife” is a verb

Today began in the usual Monday fashion with the weekly meeting at the office.  For one reason or another I didn’t leave the house until 8:30, with the meeting scheduled to start at nine.  Thirty minutes might sound like more than enough time to make the 6- or 7-mile drive, but if Expressway traffic is heavy all bets are off.  I was lucky, as traffic was moving at a decent enough clip.  My Expressway journey, from exits 64 to 60, couldn’t have taken much over five minutes.  During the meeting I arranged to go canvassing with another manager on Thursday.  We had been scheduled to do it on Friday but something had come up with his plans.  I’m really looking forward to going.

Shortly after noon I headed up to eastern Suffolk for my four scheduled appointments.  The first one was a no-show; the customer’s 20ish son answered the door and said that his father was at the doctor’s, as he had appointments all day.  I’ll try to reschedule in a day or two.  Of course, the fact that the customer is running around to doctors may not bode well for his insurability.  The second appointment, a follow-up on a presentation I had made a couple of weeks ago, was when I got wifed.  In other words, the customer said that he really wanted the policy, but his wife had told him “we already have enough insurance” and therefore he couldn’t buy anything.  Wifing is not at all an uncommon event.  It’s sort of counterintuitive, as women tend to be more cautious than men and therefore at least in theory should be more open to buying insurance.  But no, wifing happens, and for the record “husbanding” is much less common.

My third appointment ended up canceling due to work-related delays.  This isn’t too much of a setback because the customer’s wife called in advance, and said that her husband wanted to reschedule.  They’re really pleasant people and I should have no trouble setting another date in the next day or two.  It was on my fourth appointment that I finally made a sale, breaking this seemingly endless dry spell.  It was for the type of policy that carries the highest commissions, although it was for a relatively small face amount.  I was set to sell another policy to the customer’s husband, but alas he was uninsurable.  There are some underwriting questions with respect to the customer herself, involving income eligibility, but I’m reasonably confident those can be worked out and the policy issued.  Even with the smallish face amount and my inability to sell anything to the husband, I still ended up making a decent amount for a day’s work.

Gym: too worn out

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, September 11/Sunday, September 12

Still metaphorically licking my metaphorical wounds after Thursday’s non-metaphorical Pizza Affair.  If a fortune teller had warned me about what was going to happen I never would have believed it.  In any event, after a week of slacking off a bit at the gym I got in two very decent sessions.  Saturday was Leg Day, and I did the same exercises as last time but with all of the weights increased a bit.  Trap bar deadlifts: 4 x 6 x 225.  Seated calf raises: 3 x 10 x 155.  Life Fitness seated leg curls: 4 x 8 x 192.5.  Precor leg extensions: 4 x 8 x 200.  Neutral grip pull-ups: 4 x 4, 3 x 3.  I benched on Sunday: 6 x 135, 4 x 185, 4 x 205, 3 x 4 x 225, 7 x 3 x 225, 6 x 185.  Last time I had done a 10 x 3 at 225, this time I did the same but with four reps on the first three sets, a total of 33 reps at 225.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 5:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, September 10

It wasn’t as funny today

When it happened yesterday my High Noon showdown with a pizza was funny.  Today, in the cold light of dawn, not that I’d ever be up that early if I could help it, things were considerably less humorous.  I mean, to be shunted aside in favor of dough, cheese and tomato sauce really shows that I count for nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Even if there were some pepperoni and sausage it still would be a huge ego-destroyer, if not quite so bad.  On a different note, I thought I’d be doing residential canvassing today with another manager, but when it got to the office at 9:00 as scheduled it was closed with no one there (being a small office it’s not always staffed).  I didn’t know his number, and wasn’t able to get it until after eleven.  By that time there wouldn’t be enough time to get much accomplished as the managers have to be back at the office for a weekly meeting at three.  I did some follow-ups on the lapsed lead cards but wasn’t able to contact anyone.  Next week I’ll have some new cards to replace my nearly exhausted current supply.

Gym: wasn’t in the mood.


Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, September 9

It’s official: I am worth less than a pizza

Any notions I might have had about being a worthy human being are lost and gone forever.  Vanished into the mist.  What happened this evening was one of the most – perhaps even the most – soul-destroying experiences of my life.  As is routine for newer agents I was spending the day going around with my manager.  We had an appointment at 6 pm in western Suffolk, an appointment the manager had set on Tuesday.  Going to this appointment was rather inconvenient in a geographical sense as our other work was much further east, but we dutifully arrived at the customer’s house right at six as scheduled.  He wasn’t home.  The manager suggested that we wait in the car for a few minutes, in case the customer was running late, and sure enough he drove up shortly thereafter.  He was accompanied by his wife, his two small children, and – most significantly of all – a pizza box.  We identified ourselves, and the customer said that he’d be out to speak with us in five minutes.  The wife studiously avoided looking at us, which almost certainly was deliberate.  The family, and the ‘za, went into the house.

Less than a minute later the customer came out of the house and apologized for having forgotten about the appointment.  Now, the manager had set the appointment with him just 48 hours earlier, I guess this would make the customer uninsurable because memory loss and dementia are disqualifying medical conditions.  The customer went on to say that we’d have to talk outside because “the kids are being really rambunctious.”  Trying to make a presentation while standing outside is very difficult, what with all the brochures and other papers involved, but I started to do the best I could.  Almost immediately the customer cut me off and said that it would be impossible to talk any further because of the way the children were misbehaving inside.  He gave the wholly predictable “leave me your card, I’ll call you and set another time” line that is a 100% surefire guarantee that the sale will never happen.

As we drove off, the manager told me that the moment he saw the pizza box he knew that we wouldn’t be making any sales.  All the customer cared about was having his pizza when it was nice and hot.  It was utterly irrelevant to him that we had come well out of our way (the manager had told him that during the brief conversation outside) for an appointment he, the customer, had forgotten.  It’s also likely that during his minute or so inside the customer’s wife had snarled at him to get rid of those salesmen and come in to dinner.  In short, the final score is Pizza 1, Me 0.

The rest of the day was nonproductive but, thankfully, less ego-destroying.  We spent well over an hour at another customer’s place of business on the North Fork helping him deal with some account problems.  He had dropped several policies on former employees earlier this year but found out during our appointment that premiums for one of the policies were still being deducted from his bank account.  It took a couple of lengthy calls to the home office, but we were able to arrange for the policy’s cancellation and for several months’ premiums to be refunded to the customer.  He was quite pleased with our service, if I may say so.  When it came time to discuss some additional coverage that might be appropriate, the customer’s appreciative attitude pulled a disappearing act, and he said that he was unwilling to consider anything until business picked up.  He asked me to call him in a couple of months.  Guaranteed business will still be lousy.  Our last appointment, in central Suffolk, went quite well.  Some questions about existing coverage levels meant that the customers weren’t ready to buy on the spot, but according to the manager it’s reasonably likely that they’ll buy another policy or two within the next week.  I sure hope so.

Gym: yeah, it’s slow, but I ran 2.1 miles on the treadmill at a turtle-like pace of 4.6 mph.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 11:37 pm  Comments (2)  

Wednesday, September 8

Slapping my head in frustration

No, I did not break my dry spell today.  At the new agents’ meeting in the morning (which I reached on time, as Expressway traffic was semi-tolerable), I found out that a number of other agents have had tough time the last week or two, so it’s not just me.  On Friday I’ll be going with another manager to do some residential canvassing.  My manager doesn’t do much of that, and he has no objection to my going with a different manager for the day.  The manager I’ll be accompanying specializes in canvassing in, ahem, non-upscale neighborhoods, and both him and his team members do very well.  I’ve shied away from residential canvassing – okay, let’s drop the euphemism and call it what it is, namely door-to-door selling – because it strikes me as a touch unseemly, but the fact remains that it’s a proven sales method.  Another agent at the meeting today, an older man who started a week before me, said that he spent a few hours on Labor Day going around to houses and trying to set appointments for the next day.  It worked very well.  He made enough sales yesterday, from the canvassing a day earlier, to earn over $700 in commissions for that one day alone.  Given those results I’ll gladly set aside any misgivings I might have.

As I had a 7 pm appointment I went home after the meeting and took a few hours off.  Around 4 pm I headed to the central-eastern Suffolk town where the appointment was scheduled and checked on a couple of the prior week’s appointments to see if “let me think about it” had magically transformed itself into “okay, I’ll take it.” I’ve previously mentioned one of these customers, a man who has spent almost two weeks trying to compare the costs of our disability policy with workers’ compensation, even though he has known exactly how much the two cost.  I stopped at his place of business and asked if he had completed the cost comparison.  He said that he had, and that our policy was a better deal.  To my dismay, he went on to say that he had been discussing the policy with his wife (always a bad sign) and that his wife was suggesting that they simply use their savings to live on were he to become disabled.  He said that he’d have a yes or no answer next week, and I slunk away.

Less that five minutes later I was metaphorically slapping my head in frustration.  How could I have been so stupid?  The “we can use our savings” line is a common type of resistance encountered when selling disability insurance, and there is a simple reply, indeed one I had learned in sales school.  Had I not been so stupid as to have forgotten what to say, I could have said that taking about the policy would give the customer the best of both worlds – he could protect his income and protect his savings.  With payments from the policy coming in each month he wouldn’t have to dip into his savings.  There’s no guarantee that I would have been able to make a sale had I used this response, but at least there would have been a chance.  Even though I had left his business just five minutes earlier it was now too late to go back or call him and give the response.  One rule about overcoming resistance is that you have to respond immediately.  One minute later is too late, let alone five minutes.

It was with a deepening sense of disgust that I headed off to the appointment.  I arrived at the house precisely at seven, rang the doorbell, and waited.  And waited.  No one answered.  Could this week get any worse?  I returned to my car and called the customer, and of course got voice mail.  Just as I drove off, to my great amazement, the customer called back.  She profusely apologized and said that her daughter had been sick and she had totally forgotten the appointment.  She wanted to rescheduled, which I did, for next Monday.  I have a pretty good sense that the customer was being honest and has a genuine interest in meeting with me.  If that weren’t the case she wouldn’t have returned my call, and if I had gotten in contact with her she would have muttered something about how “my schedule is totally crazy.”  Monday actually works out well, because now I have four appointments in the same town, at 1, 3, 5 and 7.

Gym: I didn’t have much enthusiasm, but ended up ellipting for about 20 minutes and working the speed bag a bit.  Let me tell you, I am so out of practice on the bag it’s pathetic.

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 1:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, September 7

Useful information, useless customer

Today began with the weekly agents’ meeting, which as usual is a recap of the prior week and sales ideas for the new week.  Absurdly heavy Expressway traffic led me to take the service road instead.  This was a distinctly mixed blessing, as many, many other people had the same idea.  At least I actually got a light or two green.  I made it to the meeting just in time, breathing a major sigh of relief as lateness is not tolerated.  One of the top agents in the office spoke for a while about his secrets of success.  He recounted a story from last week that, while amusing, also might prove to be quite useful.  He was giving a presentation to seven employees at a business, trying to sell them inexpensive policies.  One of the employees said that he’d have to check with his wife first, and the six others all said the same.

The experienced agent had a reply handy.  He asked the workers if they wanted the policies, all of them agreed, and he then pointed out that the cost was trivial – about equal to a donut and coffee once a week.  The agent then said that if the workers went and asked their wives, the wives would say “you already have enough insurance” and no one would buy anything.  All of the workers agreed that’s what would happen.  The agent then said that if the workers wanted the policies they’d have to decide for themselves without asking their wives, just like they’d decide for themselves if a weekly stop at Dunkin’ Donuts would be acceptable.  Six of the seven workers ended up buying the policies, as opposed to, most likely, zero if they’d asked their wives.  I’ve run into the “I have to ask my wife” situation more than once, and it indeed is a near-certain deal killer.  At least now I’ll know what to say next time.

I left the meeting a bit early for a sales appointment.  This customer had been very agreeable on the telephone, so I had high hopes of making a sale.  Just the ticket to break this dry spell.  Based on his existing coverage I figured he’d be a decent candidate for buying a disability policy.  When I arrived at his place of business I knew right away that a disability policy would be off the table, as the customer almost certainly would be in excess of the underwriting weight limits.  He was a short fat man whose waist circumference was probably within 12 or 15 inches of his height (think about it).  Still, it wasn’t hopeless, there were other things I could sell.

The customer began by grumbling about how he’d spent so much money for insurance premiums over the past several years without ever making a claim.  I had a reply for that, indeed it’s one of the first “overcoming resistance” techniques taught in sales school.  I pointed out that insurance is there to provide a measure of security if something should go wrong, that you hope it’ll never be necessary to make a claim, and that if you wait until something does go wrong it will be too late to buy any insurance protection.  The customer wasn’t finished.  He said that he had suffered a couple injuries in the past year but hadn’t bothered making a claim.  Say what?  First he’s whining about paying premiums for years without getting anything back, and then when he has a couple of losses he doesn’t bother filing claims.  Can you say “contradictory?”  I had a reply for this second objection, pointing out that the claims process is simple and offering to help him with the paperwork.  No luck, he repeated the “can’t be bothered” line.

He still wasn’t done.  The customer totally floored me when he went on to say that insurance brings bad luck, in other words if you insure against a particular hazard or bad outcome that hazard or bad outcome is more likely to occur.  They never taught us anything in sales school about responding to that particular objection.  I’m not sure if any response is even possible.  All I could do is point out the features of one of our policies, and how it compared very favorably to an earlier version that the customer had.  For a moment or two he actually seemed to be interested, until he abruptly – and not very politely – told me that he had somewhere else to go and that I’d have to leave.  When I had arrived he said I had 20 minutes, less than half that time had elapsed and suddenly he had to go.  He asked me for my card and said he’d get back to me (yeah, right).  So much for starting off the week with a dry spell-breaking sale.

I went back to the office, arriving in the early afternoon, hoping that there’d be an experienced agent or two and I’d be able to get some advice as to what went wrong.  My manager was busy all day with other things, so I couldn’t call him.  Unfortunately, no one was around, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.  It could well be that I did nothing wrong, that it was an impossible situation right from the start, but I’d like to hear that from someone who knows for sure.  I did quite a bit of telephone work during the rest of the day, but didn’t accomplish much.  My stack of active and lapsed customer cards is just about fished out by this point, I should be able to get some new ones later in the week.  It’s also looking as if I’ll have to start doing some direct business solicitation, which is something I dread doing but which also seems to be working very well for some other new agents in the office.  Working the customer cards is a lot less nerve-wracking but simply might not be enough.

Gym: a two-mile run on the treadmill at 5.0 mph.

Postscript: At a meeting this morning (Wednesday), I recounted this customer’s tale to an experienced agent.  Her succinct reply was that the customer undoubtedly was too stupid for any sort of reasoning to be effective.  There really wasn’t anything else I could have done.

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 5:02 am  Leave a Comment