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Go For The Gold

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For two weeks in February I spent most of my evenings watching the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The performances were spectacular and I marveled at the accomplishments of the young athletes from around the world. Watching them, however, can also be a great way to develop an inferiority complex. When I think about how hard it is for me to just stand up or walk on ice and then to see what those skaters can do, it does induce a bit of inadequacy to my self image.

But then I realize that these athletes were not endowed with these abilities at birth. They may have been born with a certain amount of talent, but it has taken many years of practicing and training and a disciplined work ethic to bring them to their present level of perfection in their chosen field. Going for the gold is all about work and sacrifice.

But is that not true in any profession or endeavor? The doctor, the dentist, engineers and scientists all require training and practice to engage in their professions. But it is the degree of discipline in their work ethic and habits that usually determines their level of achievement.

This, I believe, is especially true in our business. There may be a few born salesmen or saleswomen, but most of those who are successful get there by training, practicing and working hard.

Some years ago, I approached Ben Feldman in the lobby of the New York Hilton. He was sitting in a phone booth talking to himself. As I came near to him, he looked up kind of sheepishly and said, “I am getting ready to call a prospect and I was practicing my approach.” Even Ben, who had already captured the “gold” in our business, still had to practice.

The same is true of others who have reached for and gained the medal podiums of our business. I have known many, if not most of them, and they all have much in common. They have professional designations such as CLU and ChFC, evidencing that they have learned the tools of the trade. And they are listed among the highest levels of the Million Dollar Round Table, demonstrating that they know how to use those tools. But all of them are disciplined in their work habits. Of course, there are some who have reached a point in their careers where they can more easily attain their goals, but in the beginning it was work that brought them to the top.

I was fortunate that early in my career I had a mentor who taught me a lot about work ethics. Before my life in insurance, I traveled the state of Arizona as a salesman for a major industrial and automotive corporation. My territory was widespread and for the most part, small towns and large copper mines. During this period I became friends with Fred, a 3M salesman, covering many of the same accounts that I did. We often arranged our travel schedules to coincide so that at least we had company in the evening while dining in the small towns we covered. Fred was older than I was and I learned a lot from him during those dinner conversations.

For example, when Fred and I were calling on accounts in a town 150 or 200 miles away, we left home early enough to arrive at the first account when they opened at 8:00 a.m. We were usually away from home three or four nights a week and when it came time to return home we did not leave until all accounts were closed at 5 or 6 o’clock, thus arriving home at 9 or 10 p.m.

Fred was very successful, managed his money well and profited from the increase in the value of his 3M stock. He did so well he was able to retire at age 55 and live comfortably until he died at age 96.

When Fred retired, the company had to hire three salesmen to take his place, for the new hires worked a lot different schedule. If they were working a distant town or account they left home at 8 a.m. and started to work when they arrived hours later. They also left the territory in time to be home at 5 p.m. At the time, Fred said, “If I had known that other salespeople did not work as hard as I did, I might not have retired so soon.”

Observing my schedule, which I had copied from him, Fred encouraged me to look into life insurance selling where I might be better rewarded for my talents. I heeded his advice, made the move and brought with me my work ethic. Compared to my old job, selling insurance was easy and I was home every night, even though sometimes it was late in the evening.

My point is that education, intellect and personality are all important, but give me a salesperson who, as the old saying goes, “Worketh like hell.” One of the reasons immigrants, particularly Asians, do well in our business is that their early life was a struggle just to survive. I suspect the same is true of the many Asian medalists competing on behalf of a wide variety of countries in the Olympics.

There are lots of people in dead-end jobs who work hard and are poorly rewarded. We have a lot to offer such people for they already have the primary ingredient for success–a strong work ethic. With proper training and practice they can be the next generation of those who “go for the gold.” We need them for our field force is aging, and they need us.