Some Ways To Reach Your Next Level Of Success

Agents, at all different stages of their careers, are looking for ways to climb to the next level of success. How that next level is defined will vary with each individual.

For one agent, it could be defined by a company production club or by Top of the Table. For another, perhaps it is breaking into a new market that is not only lucrative but also intellectually challenging. For another yet, it may be defined by earning more money while working less, allowing more time with family.

Here, I will address some of the behaviors and skills that separate the thoroughbred sales professionals from the plow horses.

Change Your Surroundings. Surround yourself with people smarter and more successful than you. This rule is probably best exemplified by a friend of mine who at age 39 has become an elite producer. He is considered by many to be among the smartest, most competent professionals in the insurance industry.

Yet in a quiet moment with me he admitted his discomfort. “How can I grow; who will I learn from,” he asked me, “if I am the smartest person in the room?” He answered his own question as he described to me the brain trust he was in the process of developing among non-insurance professionals. Those relationships–with lawyers, accountants, business managers and investment bankers–have helped him to better understand big business and have even landed him on the board of directors of a public company. He loves being the least knowledgeable (and least wealthy) one in the group because it helps him grow both personally and professionally.

While that producers experience might be unique, any agent can do similar things. When I began my career as an agent 20 years ago, I was fortunate to meet and become friendly with some of the top producers in my agency. Those people played a critical role in my early growth. As I became successful in my own right and my career took its own unique shape, I became part of an interesting study group where the student/teacher roles flip-flopped depending on circumstance.

Sell Solutions. If you arent already doing this, you need to start selling solutions, not planning techniques and not products. I was in a meeting with a trust officer recently. She asked me how I was different from other insurance professionals. When I gave her my answer, it took her by surprise. “I am the horse,” was my response. “Other agents come in with the cart.”

By leading with split-dollar, premium financing, ILITs, FLPs, CLTs and other planning techniques, we often place the cart before the horse. The horse, the driving force in the sale, must always focus on where the client wants to go. We can never assume that two clients in different circumstances want the same results–we cant even assume two spouses in the same household want the same outcome. Therefore, we cant talk solutions until we clearly understand objectives.

Selling solutions sounds like a simple clich?, but in practice it requires knowledge and finesse. Very often, the problems we are looking to solve are not clearly visible in the clients current frame of reference. The real skill here is for the agent to take his education and training in a broad range of products and sales techniques as the foundation for asking probing, thought-provoking questions.

Successful clients dont want to be told what they must do; they need to discover it on their own. They dont want to believe that the answers to their complex problems fit into neat little pre-fabricated cubbyholes. Our job in the sales interview is to facilitate the discovery process.

Upgrade Your Market. If you want to catch big fish, you need to stop hanging around the trout farm. Agents are always looking for ways to upgrade their markets. They hear about life sales bearing annual premiums exceeding $100,000. “Why cant I find cases like that?” an agent might ask, feeling as if he is gawking at a big fish through the glass wall of an aquarium.

We were all taught early in our careers to develop centers of influence–people who have enough clout to refer you to their friends and clients. In looking for centers, CPAs are often thought of as the best referral source. But not all CPAs are created equal. Some focus on nothing more than tax preparation, doing a volume business six months of the year. Others only do tax returns for their business and professional clients.

In trying to target a CPA, learn about his or her practice and areas of specialty and ally yourself with only those serving your target market.

Some CPAs do much of their work with medical practices; others work with businesses of different sizes or industries. In some areas of the country, certain CPAs specialize in business management for high-income individuals who are not business owners or professionals, e.g., athletes and entertainers. In any case, if you want to land big clients, learn to network with advisors who work with big clients.

By just taking a few of these steps, you can reach your next level of success.

Steven R. Craig, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, has played the role of insurance agent, general agent and home office executive. He is based in Encino, Calif. You can contact him via e-mail at srcraig47@aol.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 6, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.