February 12, 2014

Having Fun While Experiencing Constant Rejection

NY Life’s chief learning officer says advisors need to make the switch from seeing barriers of resistance to passionately desiring to solve people’s financial problems

Sales statistics—the number of no’s you have to hear before getting to yes—can be kind of grim. Is it possible to succeed at it, while also having a good time?

According to Morris Sims, the head of New York Life’s advisor training, having a good time may actually be the key condition to succeeding at sales.

That is because an advisor doesn’t get good at his job until he can finally reframe what he’s doing from trying to impose a sale on a reluctant prospect to nobly helping people take care of their vital financial needs.

Sims is in a position to know, having spent nearly 30 years at New York Life, 17 of them as head of NYLIC (New York Life Insurance Co.) University, whose robust advisor education has earned the firm recognition by Training Magazine as one of the top corporate trainers, and not for the first time.

The New York Life exec has both personal and professional experience in the importance of proper motivation.

“I was trained to be an engineer, but after doing it for five years, I wasn’t liking it, I wasn’t having any fun,” the former chemical engineer told ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview.

Sims found selling life insurance to be much more fun, and has also found that success awaits his field agents — who also sell mutual funds and variable annuities, among other investment products — who ultimately make that same discovery.

He cites the example of one agent who had no previous sales or financial services experience, having been an elementary school teacher.

“She was kind of a slow start — in fact a very slow start,” Sims recalls.

“After about four months, she was questioning whether it was the right thing to do to stay in this business,” he continues. “But when she focused on how it was really about meeting with people and helping them with their problems … her business flourished.”

She started reaching out to the network of affluent people she knew in her community, and reached her firm’s chairman’s council multiple times as well as being named her office’s Agent of the Year in a ceremony to which Sims accompanied her.

The breakthrough this agent made was the realization that “it all comes down to relationships,” as Sims puts it.

“If you don’t like meeting new people every day, then chances are you’re not going to be successful doing it," he says. "You’ve got to like helping people meet their needs for future financial success. It’s not the easiest thing in the world because folks today are a little more cautious talking about their finances.” 

Indeed, those grim sales statistics mentioned earlier are a daily reality. Sims, who interestingly notes that each of New York Life’s 119 nationwide offices has varying ratios, offers something of a composite:

“If you talk to 70 people on the telephone, I’d be really happy if 10 gave me a face to face appointment. Of those 10, I’m going to get to make a recommendation to six to eight of them. A closing ratio of 50% should make about three sales for a new rep. If you’re an established agent chances are they’re going to go with your recommendation.”

Numbers like that mean that an advisor will face a fair amount of rejection, but Sims emphasizes that nearly all the rejection comes in the in that first conversation an advisor has with a prospect. It’s downhill from there.

“If I can sit down and have a conversation with you  and you’re willing to share your hopes and dreams and where your assets are today and you trust me to tell you those things, then when I come up with a recommendation, chances are you’re going to listen to my counsel,” he says.

Since, as Sims puts it, “people aren’t going to wake up on a Saturday morning and say ‘Gee, I think it’s a great day to go buy some life insurance or plan for retirement,'” the advisor performs a vital task of initiating a conversation about finances, and must see it through that framework rather than focus on the inevitable resistance.

And that’s where New York Life’s training comes in — to provide the relationship skills and product knowledge needed to engage in these sensitive conversations.

“You have to have the skills and knowledge to say “Tell me all about your hopes and your dreams"; then you have to have the analytic skills to determine how to help him get where he wants to be,” says Sims, whose title at New York Life is chief learning officer.

“Our training is geared to taking someone who doesn’t have investment experience and making them a qualified registered rep,” he says. “Then once we do that, the strategy is to continue their training throughout their time with New York Life to make sure they are very well prepared with respect to our product line.”

“It’s not a baptismal, it’s not dumping them in water and expecting them to get religion,” he says of NYLIC’s ongoing training sessions. But the efficacy of that training, which is heavily though not exclusively computer-based, has a lot to do with the homework.

“When we get them live on line, we talk about ‘this is how you provide [advice to] a suitable prospect who has this need’; Then they have to do it.”

So if the topic is mutual funds that accumulate money for retirement, then the assignment between then and the next class — usually about two weeks later — is to have a conversation with a client or prospect about how this product might help them meet their retirement needs.

“We’re trying to help people make good solid suitable decisions about their finances," Sims says. "What is their problem? What is it that they need? Then we show them solutions and help them choose the suitable option.”

It’s not so hard, Sims concludes, when one recognizes that “everybody is in sales” in some way, noting that this writer needed to convince New York Life that this interview was worthwhile.

But “while almost anyone can be trained to do it, if you don’t like it,” you’re not going to be good at it, says the former engineer who says he “fell in love” with helping advisors improve their performance.

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