When I entered the life insurance business in 1956, I was told that the most important asset one should develop in order to become successful in insurance sales is conviction. Conviction about the value of the products we sell and the worth of the services that we, as agents, provide. Indeed, salesmanship had been described as the ability to transfer conviction from seller to a buyer. In the intervening 51 years, I have observed that one outstanding characteristic of people who are top producers is a deeply held belief in the work they do and the importance of the products they sell.

Occasionally a “flash in the pan” comes along with impressive sales results and where “making a buck” is the only motivation. But in most cases that individual is hawking a gimmick and seldom ever persists. It is hard to sell what you really don’t believe in for very long.

But how do you acquire conviction when you are new in the business? Some come into our business as second or third generation life insurance people and, since they have lived with our business their whole lives, bring with them an inherited conviction. Others may have experienced tragedy in their own lives, the death of a father for example, and have seen the magic of life insurance at work, thus conveying a measure of conviction. But for the vast majority of recruits, including me, we start from scratch with little or no knowledge or conviction about this great business.

In my own case, conviction came slowly at first. Knowledge of our products and their application came more quickly from study and company training programs. In the early days, I was grateful when people bought from me and I had the inherent feeling that the sale benefited me more then the buyer. I now realize this as evidence of a lack of deeply felt conviction. I suspect that the subliminal reason was that I was a bit shy in prospecting in those early months. But gradually this all changed as I witnessed how our products benefited others and I realized how vital our message was to families and businesses.

I had a lot of help along the way. In the first year or two it is not likely that you will personally witness very many instances of our products in action — for it is only over time that you will see the results of your own sale and activities. I acquired most of my early conviction vicariously by listening to the experience of others who had been around longer. This occurred most often at local life underwriter monthly meetings. Through the experiences of a variety of speakers and from numerous companies, I came around to understand the full measure of the services and products we provide. I had read about such things in books and in training manuals, but there is no substitute for hearing it first hand from someone on the firing line. I will always be grateful to those producers who, in my early years, shared their experiences and helped to instill in me the convictions about our business that I still hold today.

Over the 51 years I have attended hundreds of meetings: local underwriter and CLU chapter meetings, MDRT, AALU, NALU/NAIFA, CLU institutes and forums, company meetings, local and national seminars, as well as industry meetings (ACLI, LIMRA, LOMA). At these meetings I have listened to thousands of speakers on every subject imaginable. Out of this experience, one thing stands out most; it was the words coming from the fellow life insurance producers who did most to inspire me and develop this strong sense of conviction.

In recent years some of the speakers at the meetings I attended extolled the virtues of other financial products and services. As important as these products are in helping people save, or if lucky even become wealthy, they still did not meet the same criteria as life insurance. I don’t ever recall hearing about how a person selling mutual funds saved a family from the economic tragedy of premature death or a business that was saved when a partner died. In the event of disability, other programs die whereas a well-designed insurance plan continues to live and serve to stave off economic disaster.

That is why I am such a believer in the industry’s LIFE program whose centerpiece is the “real life stories” featured in their national advertisements. These are real people and their real stories of how we and life insurance have made a difference in people’s lives. That is the stuff of which conviction is made — conviction that can open not only doors, but hearts and minds as well.

Along the way I also studied a lot to be able to apply knowledge behind my conviction. CLU, LUTC and company training were important in helping me to become technically competent. But it was the first hand association with other producers that built my conviction so necessary for success. CLU and LUTC gave me the tools of the trade and MDRT membership attested to the fact that I knew how to use them. But it was a deeply held conviction that pulls it all together.

As I survey our marketplace today, and in particular, the low attendance at local association meetings I cannot help but wonder why. Why are so many producers missing this opportunity to become more fully immersed in this great business? Perhaps there are many who believe that technology is the road to success. Technology can provide information, but it is no substitute for the interpersonal relationships at local association meetings where conviction is nurtured. High touch beats high tech!