Yogi Berra reportedly said “you can observe a lot just by watching.” If this is the case, then I’ve been able to observe a lot by watching the best practices of top life insurance professionals. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of the best agents in our industry. Through watching them in action, I’ve been able to observe universal practices that make them so successful.
Certain qualities are commonly shared among these agents. Vision, hard work and persistence are important, but specific activities also make the best producers a cut above the others. During trying economic times, more than ever, these practices will separate the top agents from the rest of the pack. The following are 5 best practices that can be universally adopted by agents seeking to join the ranks of the most successful.
1. Working with professional advisors
When I started in the industry 30 years ago, some sales trainers sought to teach agents how to work around attorneys and accountants. They classified it as a competition for the client’s affection and business, and the goal was to end run the other advisors. The simple truth is that most top agents I work with are masters at culling the cooperation of professional advisors. They nurture a relationship of trust and teamwork, and help the professional understand that the agent can help rather than hinder.
Behind the scenes, the agent constantly works to demonstrate how his or her personal relationship skills can help the advisor team break through the client’s natural resistance to accepting advice. If any one skill most demonstrates the successful execution of this strategy, it is the agent’s ability to understand the professional advisor’s world.
The successful agent knows how the accountant is paid, what the attorney’s potential liability may be and how they both run their practices. Instead of seeing these professionals as “deal killers,” they realize these advisors want to keep the client well advised and out of trouble. When the agent offers information, service and trustworthiness, both the accountant and attorney see the agent as an ally.
2. Using scripts
The most successful producer I’ve ever worked with was a walking Wikipedia. This mega-agent, a former college professor, mastered the art of using scripts. He took the information needed to sell life insurance, both the factual and emotional, and mentally categorized this knowledge into bite-sized pieces.
When working with a client, a comment or question would trigger the agent to pull up the appropriate script and deliver it succinctly to the client. Because the agent had done his homework and knew the subject matter and had systemized his sales skills, he was able to watch body language, anticipate objections, and always be one step ahead.
When producers tell me they don’t believe in using scripts, I can only think their failure in the business is an inevitable outcome. It dooms the agent to reinventing the wheel with each sale, requires defensive selling, and simply wastes too much valuable time. The game is more often won by those who prepare and execute than by those that rely on mere talent to win the day.
3. Study groups
A popular saying in the 1990s was “none of us is as smart as all of us.” I’ve noticed that many of the consistently successful producers are involved in a study group. They realize they are rarely the smartest and best at all times, so they seek to grow and learn from others.
The study group is a formalization of this practice. Some producers are looking for quick and easy sales ideas from others: “What’s working; who’s got a hot product?” Where I’ve seen the bigger results, however, is in using the study group for strategic insight and planning. Many big hitters have been willing to come to the group, expose their practice and seek advice about what’s missing and what opportunities exist. It is no exaggeration to say that agents who were on the brink of total failure have ended up as top performers by leveraging their involvement in study groups.
4. Joint work
Joint work isn’t for everyone. Some agents are naturally “lone wolves.” In many cases, however, the math states that 2 plus 2 equals 8. Much like a good marriage, opposites attract and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The most solid joint work examples are where the relationship is symbiotic. One producer is the technician; the other is the closer. One has the market; the other the skill.
In all cases, however, trust is the common element. As long as trust exists, how the relationship is structured can vary. The most successful duos truly have one client base, and the income is shared evenly. But many agents have their own client books and simply work together when the case dynamics call for a team approach. In both cases, the agents have learned to swallow their egos and to trust each other.
5. Eschew obfuscation (keep it simple)
Our industry has highly educated experts who use sophisticated financial modeling to be successful. They perform a valuable service and are well paid for their efforts. But the most successful players keep it simple–and are sincere.
Life insurance, more than most financial products, entails advanced concepts. It can be tempting to use this advanced knowledge as a leverage point with the client. But the agents who flourish take the complicated and made it clear. Rare is the client who wants the information to be arcane; even rarer is the client who will buy what is not understood. This does not mean that the successful agents are simply good at telling stories.
In advanced markets, winning producers craft the message that is appropriate for the audience. One consistently leading agent explained to me how he segments his selling by the nature of who is receiving the information: pictures for the client; numbers for the accountant; words for the attorney.