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The Three-Act Sale

The operative word in Life Insurance Awareness Month is the third one. In fact, it is one of the key goals of the insurance industry right now as the central importance of life insurance seems to fade.
The successful products of the moment speak to other needs such as long-term care. Those address key consumer concerns, so I am not dismissing them by any means. But the essence of life insurance as a core of a family’s security seems as dated as a crinkled savings bond certificate tucked in a drawer. 
Yet everybody knows life insurance exists. What do we mean by awareness? Isn’t it more like appreciation? If consumers don’t appreciate the value of life insurance, then why should they even consider fitting it into the family budget?
That, of course, is why master storytellers are the greatest life insurance salespeople. This edition of the magazine is full of the lessons they teach. 
A special pullout section includes sales strategies from the legendary New York Life salesman Ben Feldman. He said he sold ideas, not insurance. He achieved his greatest success when he bundled those ideas into a story arc to connect with the prospect’s imagination.
Our main magazine feature is a compelling collection of stories telling how advisors became advanced. Those transitions in themselves usually followed the recasting of a person’s own story. Linda Koco encapsulated that in a paragraph:
Lee Davis was five years into the business when he made the decision to become a “very valuable advisor to small business owners.” This put him on the road to advanced sales.
That places you right into Lee Davis’ journey, looking down the route toward what’s next. This would be toward the end of the first act. (That previous sentence is a little foreshadowing of what’s coming later in this letter.)  
Publisher Paul Feldman’s interview is with Dave VanHoose, who sees sales as something of a stage show. He says that you have to capture attention and inspire imagination with your presentation. At the center of it all, of course, is the story.
You will see in a sidebar that Dave describes how to tell a story in a three-piece structure, which is a fundamental form for stories. Let’s take a moment to examine how the three-act story can be a model for any message you want to convey.
In the earlier example from Linda, we had the exposition of the first act. Who is this person? If the listener cannot identify with the character, then the story is not engaging. 
Paul Reiser, who created and starred in the ‘90s series “Mad About You,” used to talk about the wide variety of people who told him the show was absolutely, positively about their marriage. Even Asian immigrants would tell him this.
So, it doesn’t matter if the listener looks nothing like you or is even from a different culture. When you connect honestly with the character, you are setting a scene that others can inhabit. 
If you are conveying a story about a client whose empire crumbled because he died and did not have insurance to sustain the business, then the listener needs to identify with the client. 
You don’t have to fill in all the details; people will do that if they are engaged. Sometimes the sparest stories are the most effective because they require listeners to apply their own color. An obvious example is Ernest Hemingway.
Now, if you just say, “Yeah, well, that client died and the family had to sell the business because he didn’t have insurance,” that would probably just go splat on the floor. Struggle is the essential element to any story.
The beginning of the story can explore the client’s work to build his business. He’s successful and busy. And then, in steps the would-be hero — you. You tried to tell him he needed to protect the business and his family. Maybe later, he said. After all, he was industrious, young and immortal.
The fickle finger of fate sends down a bolt to spark the “inciting incident,” the gunshot propelling the second act. In this case, it is incurable brain cancer. He has some health insurance to cushion some of the expenses, but costs are nevertheless draining resources from his business and family.
He certainly can’t get life insurance any longer, so he watches as his family struggles while he dies with the full knowledge that they are in for a world of hurt when he goes. Might these details be too awful to share with a client? If you spare the pain, the listener will not feel the peril. Rising crisis is critical for the story’s effect.
During the second act, the client dies, leading the family to sell not only the business but also their home to cover the medical and final expenses. Mom had to take on two jobs, and the three children had to fend for themselves to get through college or start working right after high school.
Now we are squarely into the third act, where the action de-escalates and everything is all better. All better? But how can that be? This family is incinerated toast!
This is the unique third act of the sales story. When you bring the listener out of the spell of the story and into the moment, they see their hero before them. They can resolve their own bad story with life insurance.
You can build a library of these stories for different situations. Think back to your clients, and probably every one of them can illustrate some benefit of insurance when put into the context of the three-act story.
You can start by putting your own story into this structure. You might be surprised by a greater awareness in your own life. 
Where are you in your story?  

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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