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Brutal Truth Tenderly Told

We need to tell stories well in order to sell, and the annuity story is not told well. Those are the core messages of our two main features this month, combined into one sentence.

The “story” theme came out of Publisher Paul Feldman’s interview with Bo Eason. Bo was redeemed by his own story, and he explains how people can find theirs.

Bo had a short, brutal NFL career as a safety with the Houston Oilers for four seasons. Even though at 6 feet, 2 inches and 200 pounds, he was a mere waif in pro football terms, his sheer will was a force to be feared. He wouldn’t tackle; he would spear opponents helmet first, hoping to inflict a career-ending injury. He was one of the reasons the Oilers were known as the bad boys of the NFL in the mid-1980s.

I am not a rabid football fan, but I have a deep appreciation for the pain surrounding the sport because of a one-man play, Runt of the Litter, that Bo wrote and starred in. He “plumbed his depths” as a way to propel his acting career after injuries ended his football career, and he ended up redeeming himself.

Who would have thought a driven jock could be a serious actor? Probably nobody but Bo. He proved it with his drive, just like his will shaped him from runt to NFL player. Who would have imagined that he could write a moving play about football? Again, he just did it. When he couldn’t find decent parts as an actor, he created his own part. Then he practiced for 18 months with a renowned acting coach in order to perform it.

He also uncovered a gift for everyone else. You are engaged in his story when you watch his play, but you’re also watching your own play. Bo learned that is the product of a true story told well. By the way, “true” does not mean absolute accuracy in detail, but true to the message. In fact, his play is a fictionalized version of his story. It might seem ironic, but fiction allowed Bo to be more accurate.

The power of the story is also an answer to a question posed by our main feature this month, “Why Are Consumers So Afraid of Annuities?” The question is important because many Americans are frantic about their retirement security and want a dependable income.

A survey from The Phoenix Companies showed the gap between need and perception. According to the poll, 71 percent of Americans would buy an annuity to meet certain needs, such as a predictable monthly income, but only 20 percent plan to buy an annuity.

That seems pretty goofy. Like the LIMRA research in our feature story, the Phoenix study reveals that people want what annuities do but they do not want annuities. Why? Because people don’t know anything about them. The Phoenix poll showed 53 percent of people were not familiar with the products.

Companies do not advertise annuities much. It could be because they have a hard time getting past compliance to get the message out. Or it’s because they don’t have a rich tradition of advertising, beyond getting their name out. Or most likely it’s because companies rely on distributors to get the word out.

That’s where agents and advisors step in. Annuities are a personal sale. A client has to release control of a considerable amount of money in exchange for a guarantee. That requires an equally high amount of trust.

So that is not a sale. It’s a pact between you and your clients. They give you a sizeable chunk of their life savings, and you give them the security of a guarantee. Not the company and not the government. You.

A deal like that requires an an eye-to-eye understanding and an inspired level of confidence. Bo’s story shows how “getting personal” builds intimacy, which engenders that kind of trust.

The interview featuring Bo shows how to find that story and craft it. He has an effective way of locating a defining moment and elevating it to a promise. It turned into a soul-searching exercise for him. Maybe it will for you as well.
Whatever comes out will probably improve your sales, but even more important, it will clarify your purpose. Who can ask for more than that?

It is certainly what your clients want. They need to know you are a real person who has made ensuring their safety and security your mission rather than just your job. They want to be able to trust. But here’s the thing: You have to go first.


Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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