The psychology of selling life insurance (1922) Edward Kellogg Strong

The psychology of selling life insurance

The psychology of selling life insurance


Life underwriters have long been seeking some treatise on psychology that would explain the principles of selling life insurance, in non-technical language. Such is the purpose of this book. 

The salesman's two most difficult tasks are to interest the prospect and to close the sale. These two tasks are both very directly related to the psychological factor of desire. In this book, the salesman is acquainted with man's native and acquired desires or interests and is shown how man's needs for insurance may be translated into terms of desire so that the prospect will finally want that which life insurance provides. 

When he comes to desire the service insurance renders, the problem of closing largely disappears. In order to make every principle as concrete and practical as possible, they are taught in connection with the study of five complete sales -interviews and portions of several others. In the past, the theory of selling has been presented either by psychologists writing on psychology with reference to selling or by salesmen writing on selling as explained by psychology. 

In either case, the treatment of the subject has generally,  though not always, been limited to a description of the mental processes of the individual which are to be aroused in the various stages of selling. The subjects of attention, interest, desire, and the like, have been analyzed, often with great detail. The studious salesman has been enabled to learn a great deal about imagination, reasoning, and persuasion. Personally, I feel very strongly that this descriptive approach is largely futile. The power to apply the abstract to the concrete is not so widely diffused as we would fain believe. 

A study of mental states is interesting, but what the majority of salesmen most need to know is the specific method to be taken in inducing a mental state favorable to buying. In other words, the salesman must come to appreciate the cause and effect relationships between what he says and does and what the prospect thinks and feels. 

The present volume, accordingly, presents the theory of selling, not in terms of mental states, but in terms of what the salesman must actually do in order to secure certain desired results. These principles could be described and applied in a few pages if the goal were merely an understanding of the subject. Just so the moves in the game of chess can be learned and the principles understood after an hour's explanation. But one cannot play chess merely by comprehending. 


And the salesman who would be successful must feel as well as understand. He must make the principles of selling a part of himself; they must come to be an integral, unconscious, and spontaneous component of all his thinking and acting. To bring this about he must spend much more time and effort upon their acquisition than is usually devoted to reading a book. And it is with the definite purpose of forcing this increased effort that the assignments have been introduced at the end of each lesson. A vast number of individuals are responsible for our present science and art of selling. Credit can never be given to most of them, for their ideas and practices were passed on to others with scarcely any appreciation of what was being done. 

To a few, definite references can be made, and this I have tried to do throughout in the form of footnotes. From E. L. Thorndike, who was my first instructor in many of the topics presented here, I have quoted extensively regarding man's native behavior. 
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