In the late 1980s, Don Speakman was making a little over $18,000 a year as an underpaid assistant at a printing company. Needless to say, he was struggling to make ends meet for his family. So when he was recruited by a manager who thought he might be a good risk, Speakman became an advisor and started the laborious process of learning to sell financial products.

He was not alone; he had three friends to keep him company. These four musketeers started out by giving public seminars on retirement planning. But while his colleagues fell by the wayside, Speakman survived and thrived. Today, with annual commissions far in excess of $1 million, this Pittsburgh-based advisor is a member of the exclusive Million Dollar Round Table’s “Top of the Table.” And he does it while working only two days a week.

Here are a few of the traits and techniques he uses to outdistance the competition, work a whole lot less, and make a whole lot more:

Put your activity on a point system - Low activity is the single biggest reason that producers fail. That which gets measured, gets done. Speakman’s effective method of keeping himself on track is a daily point plan. He assigns 10 points to a face-to-face interview, five points to a phone call by which he is trying to sell, and one point to dialing the phone. His goal is to hit 50 points – or he doesn’t go home.

Work with clients you enjoy - Many peak performers say that not only do they target a niche market, they also focus on select individuals with whom they enjoy doing business. Speakman says the hardest people to deal with are the technical types like engineers, accountants, and doctors. These professionals most likely have some knowledge of technical product issues, but that little bit of information can make them dangerous to their own interests, and potentially unpleasant to take on as clients.

The people you enjoy the most are often the same people with whom you will make the most money. To see if this is true of your book, analyze your business and find out where the most money is. Think about these clients – do you really like working with them? If the answer is yes, and it should be, then spend your time finding more of those who fit the profile that emerges through your analysis. If the answer is no, start looking at the hidden costs of dealing with difficult clients.

Constantly seek out referrals - Speakman uses a newsletter to stay in contact with his clients. But he also uses it as a referral marketing tool. Speakman encourages referrals by giving away a Cross pen to anyone who comes up with three people to whom he can send a newsletter. This is a low-pressure way of generating new prospects.

Market yourself every day - The way top producers look for new business is often more innovative than methods used by lower producers. Speakman includes a lottery ticket in a pre-approach letter. He sends the ticket with a cover letter that begins, “Are you depending on luck for your retirement?” At the bottom of the letter, he signs off: “If you don’t win, call me.” It may be a gimmick, but it’s fun, and it works.

The bottom line: Top producers have a different mindset than less successful advisors. They stay focused on their long-term financial gain while being obsessed in the short term with building solid client relationships. They are fanatically devoted to their own success, but they never put themselves ahead of their clients. Emulate them, and you’ll find yourself in their ranks someday soon.

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