In the column I wrote two weeks ago I mentioned that this month marked my 50th year in this business that I have been privileged to serve in a variety of ways. Along the way I have observed a few things that may be helpful to people who are in personal production, and my hope is to lift a few of them up in future articles.

When I see the kind of preparation new people have to endure to enter our business and the kind of licensing that is required today, I am so thankful I came in when life was much simpler. Oh, things were tough then also and the numbers not in the same league with today’s mega-numbers, albeit that aspect is somewhat relative. But the focus was narrower and one did not have to be expert in so many dimensions of what we today call the financial services business.

But then that begs the question–can one really be expert in all facets of a business as broad and diversified as financial services? No doubt there are some who can claim that distinction, but I suspect many more cannot. This, I believe, is particularly true of new people, for it takes years of experience to attain full competency in all areas of financial services.

For this reason it seems to me that there will be a growing tendency for field people to do joint work. To best serve the needs of a prospect or client it might be best to bring someone in on a case who can fill in the gaps in your own expertise. Doing joint work has been around forever–but one of the things I have observed is that most people do not do it well. It is to that issue that I would like to offer a few suggestions born out of my own experience.

There are two primary impediments that get in the way of effective joint work. The first is the unwillingness of an agent to forego any part of the control over a client for fear of diminishing his or her own role. The second, and closely related, is our own ego. It is difficult to admit that someone else may be better able or qualified to solve a problem. If you are going to call someone in for joint work (or help), those two issues must be confronted. You may ask yourself which is more important: stroking your own ego or making a sale. If ego tops making the sale–forget joint work.

Fortunately, I learned this lesson in my former business prior to entering the insurance business. In that business I worked extensively with salesmen employed by automotive parts jobbers. My role was to make joint calls with them and provide expertise in the product lines I represented. The typical automotive jobber salesman handled at least 90 products and could not possibly be an expert in all of them–therefore salesmen were accustomed to bringing specialists with them. Some handled joint work well–others did poorly, and again, it was always because they could not subordinate their own ego and admit that they didn’t know everything about all products. At times I wondered why these types even brought me around to their customers because invariably they made me feel like excess baggage–and I’m sure that was the impression left with the customer. Very few sales resulted.

But the savvy guys knew better, and their objective was always to best serve the customer and make the sale. When we arrived at the customer’s place of business I was introduced as an expert, usually the only one in the area, and uniquely qualified to solve the prospect’s problem–or create a new profit center. Far from relinquishing stature with the customer these salespeople enhanced their relationship because they cared enough to bring in a resource to better serve the needs of the customer. Selling under those circumstances was a pleasure and everyone profited.

My suggestion to field people today is the same that I gave automotive jobbers 60 years ago. Plan your strategy in advance–with the understanding that the objective is to build a clientele, not an ego. The expert should be introduced to the case in an unselfish way and presenting full credentials and experience to deal with the prospect’s or client’s situations. The role of the expert is to provide technical information bearing on the client’s problem and solutions to be considered. The role of the other agent is to help the client make the purchase. He or she should ask the questions the prospect should be asking, making certain there is clarity in the presentation.

Even the seating arrangement in such an interview is important. I believe it is best if the control agent sits along with the prospect facing the “expert.” That avoids the appearance of a two-against-one situation that sometimes makes buyers uncomfortable. Again, this seating arrangement enhances the idea that the control agent is helping the prospect to buy. Planning in advance and being clear on who does what will avoid the chaos that can kill a sale. Joint work–well planned and well executed–can be very effective and productive.

Once, while attending a meeting in New York, I chanced upon Ben Feldman sitting in an open booth talking to himself. When I approached he looked up rather sheepishly and said, “I was rehearsing.” He was getting ready to call a very important prospect and he was rehearsing exactly what he planned to say in order to get an interview. Greatness is always preceded by careful planning and attention to detail.