A canned sales pitch can be a very demanding proposition. It all depends on the attitude with which it is delivered. I will never forget a little Boy Scout coming into my yard one hot summer day when I was mowing the grass. He was selling those huge one dollar chocolate bars which you can just imagine adding two inches apiece to your already hyperextended gut. I was sweating like Bill Clinton in front of a Grand Jury and when he approached, I cut the engine and got down on one knee to check the gas level in the mower. He must have been around ten and had on his uniform, complete with the neck scarf which had to have been choking off any comfort he could have expected on that mad dog summer day. I was on one knee; he got down on one knee as well. He had the candy in one hand and in the other he had a laminated piece of paper with a script on it. I looked at his sincere little face and then I looked down at his script. Just as my eyes landed on the first word, he began to recite his sales pitch. It was a couple of paragraphs and probably about as long as this writeup is at this point right now. He recited the spiel word for word without ever taking his eyes off of me. I bought the whole box of chocolate bars.

He was very good at what he did because he was doing it sincerely. Someone had drilled it into his head that he would sell more merchandise with this method. He believed whoever told him that, and it was coming true. The same thing happens to salespeople all over the world every day. I don't care what it is they're selling, there is a canned sales presentation for it. If the salesperson remains in the field for several years, it is likely that he will abandon the canned presentation and use his established clientele to forge more personalized strategies which require a bit more creativity. But that doesn't happen for a long, long time. When someone first gets into the sales business, they have to be taught how to sell. Having a canned sales talk is the tried and true method for these lessons.

It is quite likely that the organization offering the draw against future commissions to the new salesperson will set up elaborate training programs to make sure the new recruit can deliver the canned talk effectively. Some might even go so far as to have an honest-to-God fake doorway in the training room which the novice has to knock on and walk through. Other recruits or the trainer will play the part of the prospect and the trainee will pitch the canned talk to them as if they were a real live prospective buyer.

For life insurance salespeople who began back in the heady days of the late 20th Century, the most oft-used canned talk was "You'll earn a fortune." It was a method of selling life insurance as a savings vehicle to young folks, even if they didn't have families of their own yet. When the kids come along, the need for life insurance should have been self-evident, and (even if it wasn't) there were plenty of other canned talks for moms and dads. They involved setting priorities about where and for what how much money should go if "something should happen" to one of them the next day. There were also canned talks for business owners which revolved around buy-sell agreements, stock redemption plans, key man insurance, etc.

However, young recruits in the life insurance business probably know a lot of other young folks like themselves, and it is a lot easier to start out selling to folks like yourself. This is one of the things that made the presentation by the Boy Scout so amazing that hot afternoon. How many times have you gone to the door and had a kid try to sell you something with a downcast look, shuffling their feet, mom or dad out in the car with the engine running, and a line like, "You don't wanna buy no cookies do ya?" That's no good. It doesn't sell. They don't want to be out there doing it, you don't want to hear it, and mom or dad would rather be at home watching Seinfeld reruns.

The "You'll earn a fortune" pitch for young life insurance agents in the 70s and 80s was designed to show young working folks that if they didn't save some money (starting right now, dammit!) they were going to be screwed when they woke up one day and found themselves a 65 year old who had to go out and pick up aluminum cans on the side of the road to supplement their meager Social Security checks (even if Social Security was still solvent at that time, which most young folks tend to believe -- rightly or wrongly -- "it won't be"). One of the closing lines was, "If you continue to save money at the rate your're currently saving today, how much will you have in ten years? Twenty?" The answer was almost always, "Jack shit."

The laminated brochure began with a picture of a young man standing in front of a stack of money covering most of the page. This was supposed to represent the amount the young man would earn over his lifetime. (There was another brochure with a picture of a young woman. And one with a young black man and one with a young black woman. There wasn't one for Hispanics at the time, but I bet there is now.) Then the sad tale began of how the young man would work all of his life, earning these piles of money, only to find in old age that he'd squandered it all frivolously, grasshopperishly as opposed to antly, leaving the older version of himself destitute and pathetic. All it would have taken is a little dedication to set aside a small amount of money each month which would grow tax-free in a life insurance policy and solve this potential financial disaster.

The entire presentation took about 20 minutes and was quite effective IF the person giving it really was sincere. And I mean sincere like a Baptist preacher when it comes time for the offering.

One of the things that helped close the deal at that time was the Jimmy Carter era of outrageous interest rates. Life insurance policies were paying a rate of return on money at up to 13%. Thus, illustrations could be run where money would double in just a few short years. You couldn't quite use the Rule of 72 where you divide the interest rate into 72 to find out how many years it would take to double your money, since there was a cost for the life insurance itself to be factored in, but it was still a darn good rate of return.

I'm sure there are several of those old plans still in force which were sold with the "You'll earn a fortune" pitch. And I would bet that some of them have been very beneficial to some clients. Nowadays, in the world of the lowest interest rates in modern history, this type of approach doesn't work so well with any investment based on what Alan Greenspan decides to do next time he saunters up to Capitol Hill. But that doesn't mean young folks shouldn't still consider this fact very carefully. You actually will earn a fortune over your working lifetime. It is very sad to see folks who never take a few dollars out of every paycheck to pay themselves as an old man one day. If you don't want to use life insurance to do it, try to do it somehow. If your company offers a 401(K) plan, put as much in there as you can each year. If you qualify for an IRA, put as much as you can in there each year. These are, like life insurance, tax deferred savings and you're making money on your money already just from the amount you didn't have to pay the IRS that year.

Just consider this: A full leaf bag of crushed aluminum cans will only net you around $5 these days. You really don't want to be doing that when you're back's already shot from a lifetime of work.

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