Applying A New Approach To An Age-Old Problem One answer to getting people to move out of chronic denial
By Terry McMahon
Nobody woke up on that infamous morning of September 11 thinking that a plane was going to crash into their building. Then the unthinkable happened.
The 9/11 tragedy was a reminder that most Americans are financially unprepared for the unthinkable. To our industry, 9/11 was a challenge to take a new approach to preparing the many millions of people who need our help.
This is not an easy challenge because it’s normal for people to believe bad things won’t happen to them. They think they won’t die or become disabled in an accident or by sickness. Yet, they can’t conceive of themselves living to 99 years old.
Because of their thinking on these life and death matters, they put off making decisions. They won’t take action on their own behalf. They suffer from denial, a chronic disease of epidemic proportions, which leaves millions of Americans underinsured and underinvested.
While denial is the number one reason so many Americans are financially unprepared for the future, the number two reason, I believe, is that our industry hasn’t formulated an effective message to get more people to act. Historically, we have lacked a message and approach strong enough to end the epidemic, as evidenced by plummeting retention rates and difficult recruiting challenges.
In the last few years, however, a new approach has emerged that offers our industry hope for solving this long-term epidemic. This approach is Dr. Csaba Sziklai’s Advocacy System.
Dr. Sziklai, a clinical psychologist, created the Advocacy System several years ago to enable producers to prospect and sell as an advocate for the client and especially for the people (family members, etc.) who depend on the client. Producers can use the approach to position themselves as advocates working on behalf of the client and his/her dependents (those people who are not at the table), rather than as sales representatives working for commissions.
As managing partner of New England Financial’s Maine/New Hampshire agency, I began implementing the Advocacy System at our firm in early 2003 and am delighted with the results.
Since adopting Advocacy, our agency’s production is up more than 20% and our recruiting has improved significantly. More importantly, Advocacy has allowed us to acquire a high level of trust among clients and forge strategic alliances, even among large companies.
The language of Advocacy, which has a much different fragrance than the commission-scented words our industry has spoken for generations, challenges leaders of businesses and other organizations to consider their obligation to the people who depend on them. The reaction to this approach has been dramatically positive.
We’ve had success with large Fortune 100 organizations, large national associations, credit unions and nonfinancial professionals, such as lawyers and others. We’ve found that most business executives, as well as leaders of other organizations and heads of households, will do the right thing live up to their obligations to others when we approach them as an advocate rather than as salespeople.
Advocacy has also improved the culture in our firm. As advocates, our agents are happier because Advocacy makes helping people their mission. So far, just over half of our 50 agents have adopted Advocacy, learned the system and are using it.
All of my new recruits are now trained in the Advocacy System. Fifteen of my top 20 agents are advocates. The second-highest producer in the firm, who is only in his first full year in the business, credits Advocacy and focusing on strategic alliances for his fast start.
As an advocate, this producer speaks with confidence. That’s because he knows he is speaking for the best interests not only of the client, but for those people not at the table, the ones who depend on the client for their financial future. Example: The employees of business clients and the spouses and children of heads of households.
We’ve used Advocacy to remold our firm’s culture away from the old money-driven model to one that emphasizes service to clients. As a result, the quantity and quality of recommendations we receive has increased because now clients feel obligated to help their friends by recommending us.