“There are 2 basic traits that anybody ought to have if they’re going to be successful in the life insurance business,” says Sid Friedman. “Ego drive and empathy.”
Friedman, who is president of Corporate Financial Services, a Guardian agency in Philadelphia, Pa., has been successful in this business for 47 years.
“These are two very driving forces,” he says. “By ego drive I mean you’ve got to want to see your name in lights.”
Empathy, the other trait Friedman sees as necessary, describes those agents who “understand the prospect clearly. They put the prospect first. They can stand in their shoes.
“If an agent doesn’t have either of these two things,” continues Friedman, “there’s a very good chance they’re not going to make it.”
In talking with agents who have made it, one finds a similarity in attitudes, hardships, and success stories.
One element of the business Friedman continues to focus on is service. “The service doesn’t have to be good–it has to be outrageous! If you don’t give good service, you might as well close up shop.”
With insurance companies running more efficiently and keeping a close eye on costs, many of the services once provided by the home office have fallen on the agent. “Life insurance agents have taken more responsibility for themselves today,” he says.
Successful agents in the field are spending a lot of time servicing their business.
“Each year, we run an inforce ledger on all our policies,” says Roger Bozarth, president of The Insurance Advantage, Orlando, Fla.
“I think our clients appreciate us keeping them abreast of what’s going on,” he continues. “If everything is going well with the policy, I do a little referral prospecting along with it.”
Prospecting is often considered by many as one of the most difficult parts of the business. Today, agents are prospecting in a number of different ways, but in talking with top agents, working from referrals appears to be a preferred method.
Friedman agrees that providing good service leads to more referrals. “Give people what they expect, and even more,” he says. “And when you ask for referrals, theyll be happy to do it because you’ve just overwhelmed them.”
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is to always get referrals,” says Paul Couture, a New England Financial representative with The Patriot Group, Worcester, Mass.
Friedman says “prospecting is continuous, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I prospect 100% of the time.”
One form of prospecting Roger Bozarth uses is direct mail. “We still do it, even after 26 years,” he says. His firm sends out about 100,000 letters a year, and has seen some extraordinary success with it.
“The biggest prospecting surprise I’ve ever had came from direct mail,” explains Bozarth. “I got a phone call one day from a gentleman who said he was going to buy $50 million in second-to-die coverage. I thought it was a joke!
“This was a result of a letter he had gotten from us,” says Bozarth. “We wrote the whole $50 million, with a single premium of $8 million–you just never know who’s going to call.”
In another instance, continues Bozarth, “I got a phone call from a gentleman who said, Im 83 years old and I want to buy as much life insurance as I can.’”
Bozarth says, “He had just gotten a letter and he called me. I picked up the phone and there he was.
“After going back and forth,” says Bozarth, “the gentleman ended up purchasing $28 million of coverage, a tremendous case.”
Another way successful agents expand their client base is by affiliating with another professional, such as an attorney or CPA.
“Prospecting–that’s what has been most successful in affiliating with a CPA,” says Corey Hart, a New England Financial representative affiliated with the Hart Financial Group, Austin, Texas.
“All business owners have a CPA that they see at least once a year,” says Hart. “It’s a natural fit.
“I had some good advice early on,” he continues. “Somebody had suggested the best way to get rolling in this business was to affiliate with a CPA because they had access to a lot of clients, and they were a real trusted advisor.”
Finding a CPA to work with came easily for Hart–it was a result of a client’s request. “One of my clients asked me to run something by his CPA,” describes Hart. “When I did, I realized the CPA was getting asked these types of questions on a regular basis, and he didn’t really have anybody to turn to. So, we started a relationship.”
“I’ve got an association with lawyers and CPAs all over the country,” adds Bozarth. “When we get something that is new or innovative, I touch base with them to tell them about this new concept or product.
“That’s the kind of call you like to get–a CPA calling with a client that your new idea might work for,” he says.
“I would tell someone who’s starting out to affiliate as quickly as possible with a senior agent or a CPA; preferably both,” says Hart. “That will shortcut your time to success.”
Paul Couture agrees. “Find a senior agent that does a good job and learn from him.”
Some agents have had success targeting a specific industry. “With New England Financial’s advanced marketing firm approach, we target a specific market,” says Couture.
“We go to meetings, we join associations, we give seminars to the organizations,” he continues. “We really get involved, and now these people are much more approachable.”
The advanced marketing firm strategy employed by New England Financial has brought continued success to some of its top producers while adding the valuable training new associates need.
“What’s helped my practice quite a bit in the last few years was putting together a professional team, or a mentorship team,” says Hart.
In Hart’s agency, a junior associate does a majority of the service work, while senior agent Hart focuses on top-tier clients. Hart feels that this method helps provide better service to his policyholders, and helps “grow the firm to meet the needs of your growing client base.”
“Teamwork is a big factor to success,” says Couture. He says that agents who are just starting out in the business should “start the mentor relationship immediately.”
Couture explains, “When I first came into this business, I did some joint work which was helpful in learning the business.”
Agents who are new to the business can learn valuable lessons from its successful producers. “If someone just getting started can call on enough people, and stay with it for 3-5 years, they’ll get a real understanding of what’s going on in this business,” says Bozarth.
He advises new agents to “start calling on people with money immediately.” He adds, “Those people spend a lot of money on insurance.
“I would say to new agents that they’re coming into the business at the best time ever,” Bozarth says. “The things you can offer today are some terrific things, they’re brand-new.”
Hart agrees. “Product evolution has really come a long way. I think what the consumer has access to today, years ago was only available to the wealthiest clients.”
Hart is referring to the state-of-the-art asset allocation models and professional money management benefits that are available to any client. “Its a much more consumer-friendly environment,” he says.
One of the things young agents need to remember, says Couture, is to “always put the client first, even if you make less money. Put your clients first and the money will take care of itself, you’ll get more referrals, and people will be happier.”
Sid Friedman tells new agents, “‘You’re not a life insurance agent, you’re a small businessman who just happens to be a life insurance agent.’”
And, whatever you’re asked to do, do more,” he says. “You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got.”
Couture tells new agents to “develop good work habits quickly, and work smart.”
One of those habits, says Hart, is following up with people. “If you tell somebody you’re going to call them, put them on the calendar and follow up,” says Hart. “Do what you say you’re going to do.”
Friedman agrees, “Do what you say you’ll do, and do more.”
He adds that to be successful “you’ve got to have the ability to promise a lot, but deliver more. The best guys in the business all have discipline, all have follow through, and all do it right.
“You need to have the ability and the courage to follow through on everything you do,” Friedman says.
A common theme that rings throughout discussions with successful producers is their love for what they do.
“You get the best of both worlds,” says Hart. “You control your own destiny, you have unlimited income, and you fill your day with activities you enjoy.”
Hart adds, “Its a struggle when you start out, but eventually things will start to turn around and it can be a really fun business. I love it!”
“Really and truly, this is the best job of anybody I’ve ever known,” describes Bozarth. “I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.”
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.