How to Sell Insurance to Skeptical Consumers

Every independent agent faces the same question each day: “How do I convince consumers they should buy something they don’t believe they need?”

Selling insurance isn’t like selling material items people want. Consumers will gladly pony up for an iPhones or a nice car, but they don’t want to think about what insurance is protecting them from: death, illness, fire, liability—the list goes on.

An even larger hurdle, though, is the insurance industry’s bad reputation. Many people believe insurance companies are out to take their money and will automatically fight any claims.

When Stealing Share, Inc. conducted research for various insurance companies, the brand company found a few common themes regarding consumer perceptions of the insurance industry. Here are three misconceptions consumers have about insurance—and what you as an agent can do to counter them.

Consumers view insurance companies as unfeeling entities. When insurance companies say they care, it rarely resonates, even with white-collar professionals. This is the most difficult hurdle because few people believe any company cares more about its customers than its bottom line—a misconception that’s especially acute with insurance companies, because insurance is mostly a low-involvement category until the policyholder has to use it.

An effective brand message is the best way to counter this issue, but any message must align with the belief that insurance companies are unfeeling. Ask yourself these questions: What do consumers seek in their lives? What are they seeking when considering insurance? How might they feel if an employer forces them to seek a particular structure of insurance, such as a health savings account?

Here’s an example of a smart sales message: “We know other companies or agents may have tried to get the most possible money out of you, while failing to fulfill their promises. Instead, let’s do what’s right for you, your company and your family.”

Continuing to ignore a belief just makes it even stronger. Approaching a negative belief head-on eliminates it as an issue. Remember: This message should be about the customer, not you. The moment you begin talking about yourself—either in person or in an advertisement—you’ve lost your audience.

Consumers ignore fear-based messaging. Fear-based messaging not only indicates a scam to consumers, but also presents them with a topic they don’t necessarily like to think about. Advertising for life insurance is especially guilty of this. Questions like “What happens when you die?” or “What will your family do when you’re gone?” may have worked decades ago when life insurance was a relatively new idea. At its best, it is a category benefit.

But today, audiences have become immune to that approach and consider their own investments as protection against such an outcome.

Everyone is subjected to thousands of message per day. Even the logo on a pen is a message. Humans, though, have a filter. They only hear messages which pertain to them.

Insurance agents must understand the emotional reason behind wanting to protect something with insurance. Too much messaging today is superficial and paper thin.

The solution to fear-based messaging is simple: Stop doing it. Instead, focus on defining who your customer is when they buy insurance. A better way to sell life insurance: “It’s what a good father would do.”

Consumers find insurance policies confusing. And that gives rise to the belief that insurance companies are deceitful. Policies have variations on variations, papers upon papers and language that simply goes over the heads of many consumers. Even agents sometimes have trouble deciphering everything.

To potential customers, this feels like an attempt to intentionally confuse them so they can’t understand the fine print. Simple is best. Make everything you do, including how you explain policies, as simple as possible.

Most consumers believe insurance is out to get them. Brand is about the customer: who they are when they use yours. Developing a brand like that is hard work—and requires both in-depth research and prioritizing emotion over rationality.

Over his 25-year career, Tom Dougherty, president & CEO of brand company Stealing Share, Inc., has helped national and global brands such as Lexus, IKEA and Tide gain market share.