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Life Health > Life Insurance

MDRT: The Spark For The Spark Plug

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There are many reasons that I admire the Million Dollar Round Table, but the primary one is because it honors selling and salesmanship. You cannot qualify for the MDRT by giving advice or counseling, unless such activity results in a sale. It measures success in tangible terms that impact upon individuals and society.

One of the things that amazed me when I first entered the insurance business was the tendency of agents to obscure the fact that they were salespeople. It was surprising to me because, in my former life as a salesman calling on auto and industrial accounts, there was considerable prestige that went with the job. Throughout the chain of design, production, distribution and marketing in my former company the salesman was considered the most vital link. Everyone understood there was not much point in producing something unless there was a means to sell it. Indeed, the salesman was the spark plug that kept the entire engine running.

There was also a great deal of pride that went with the job, for throughout my territory there were countless businesses that relied upon me and other salespeople to bring them information about products that would improve their business. Even today, after a lapse of 50 years, as I ride around the state, I still can see remnants of my handiwork as a salesman. There is a huge copper mine that has saved tens of millions of dollars because of equipment I sold the company that solved a vexing problem of production. An aircraft manufacturer used an idea (and a piece of equipment) that I brought to it to solve a problem that had stumped its engineers. A large sawmill increased production by 10% because of a $300 piece of equipment that I sold to keep pitch from building up on the saws.

Salespeople spread ideas about new ways of doing things and, in the process, keep the wheels turning in their own companies. Indeed, many analysts contend that the spark generated by America’s highly developed sales forces is the distinguishing factor separating America’s economy from those that are less developed.

With this as a background, perhaps you can understand my surprise to see insurance salespeople cloaking their activities with fancy titles like consultant, counselor, business planner and estate planner. Over time I have gotten used to that idea and understand that such nomenclature is helpful in getting certain types of appointments. That’s OK so long as a person never forgets that the roots of the profession (or practice) still lie in the ability to make a sale. The last time I checked that is still the primary function for which we are paid.

Years ago I heard Eleanor Nathan, wife of legendary agent Frank Nathan, underscore the importance of the foregoing. Frank was a pioneer in the sale of mega-million-dollar policies to publishers and movie stars. Frank was the role model for Robert Young in the TV series “Father Knows Best,” wherein Young was cast as a life insurance salesman. Because of Frank’s imposing presence, people who knew he was in the insurance business just naturally assumed he was a company executive. To counter this, Eleanor said, “When people ask me what is Frank’s occupation, I always respond–Frank sells life insurance.” Eleanor was one of the smartest people I have known, and she supported her husband’s business by being honest about what he did.

When I have expressed myself regarding this phenomenon, people have said, “But you don’t understand. There is a difference between selling a tangible product and one that’s intangible such as life insurance.” In my judgment, there is no greater myth than that proposition. People always buy the intangible aspect of any product. The aforementioned sawmill had no interest whatsoever in owning the gadget I sold to it. The company wanted what the product could do–that is, keep the pitch off its saws. The car dealer that I sold wheel balancers to had no interest in owning the machine–the dealer bought the item because it would make money for the company. People don’t buy life insurance because of what it is–but rather they buy because of what it will do.

Soon after I entered the business I was encouraged to become a CLU, for that was touted as the pathway to success. I was somewhat puzzled, though, for in the introductory literature there was a statement to the effect that the CLU courses were not sales courses but rather college-level education. Being a salesman (and proud of it), it seemed to me they were distancing education from being an essential part of the sales process and I did not comprehend why. I do not know if such a statement still accompanies the CLU courses, but I can state categorically that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. It was what I learned in becoming a CLU that helped me to be able to explain what it is that life insurance does–and that is selling at its best. It is hard for me to imagine how I would have been able to make some of the sophisticated sales that I did absent what I learned in CLU. CLU is still the life insurance salesperson’s best friend and a great adjunct to sales training.

But I also have observed that not everyone is similarly affected. In just about every large agency, there is at least one person who, having acquired one or more designations, eschews the role of salesperson in favor of some sort of consultative role. This type gives advice and is a source of technical information but doesn’t know how to prospect or close a sale, and those who survive do so on joint work with someone who knows how to sell.

The salespeople who provide the spark that keeps our business humming are clear that their mission is to make sales and to prospect for new people to sell, and these are the people of MDRT.


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