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Moving Beyond the Many Messages Imparted in Atlanta

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This year’s annual meeting of the Million Dollar Round Table, held in Atlanta June 5-8, did not disappoint. In terms of educational value, the signature mix of main platform and focus sessions were, in my view, on par with the high-caliber content of previous conventions, which I’ve been attending for NU since 2004. Question is, how much meeting content will attendees actually take serious enough to act on?

As always, the main platform sessions were full of inspirational moments. Walter Bond, a former star NBA basketball player with the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons, recounted that cultivating a positive attitude helped him to overcome a devastating injury to become the first rookie agent in the NBA to play as starter on opening night.

Feliciano Financial Group President Jose Feliciano, the eldest son of deaf and mute Puerto Rican immigrants, described how a group of 400 skilled workers and volunteers banded together to construct a 2,249 square-foot house in less than three hours.

And Tracy Hunger, the 2008 Grand Prize winner in the LIFE Lessons Scholarship Program, told the 5,800 attendees how she faced down adversity. By age 18, she had lost two parents to illnesses–both uninsured–and was left to raise a younger brother on her own, all while working two full-time jobs and pursuing college coursework in nursing.

Complementing the motivational talks of the main platform were nearly 50 afternoon focus sessions that offered participants expert insights into such diverse topics as protection, retirement, practice management, sales, marketing, and MDRT’s unique “whole person” curriculum.

Brett Davidson, chief executive of London, U.K.-based FP Advanced Ltd., offered key insights into a critical component of effective marketing and practice management: client segmentation. In a workshop on marketing to women, Christi Cooke, the founder of Majority Marketing, Vancouver, B.C., detailed how savvy advisors use client success stories and testimonials in marketing pieces to help the female prospect “see herself” (identify with) planning scenarios and recommendations. These advisors create client events that are not only educational, but that are also “empowering,” “entertaining” and help them to “connect” with others who can add value to their lives.

One of the most challenging aspects of practice management for advisors is learning how to generate a consistent flow of quality referrals to client prospects. On this topic, MDRT attendees got plenty of helpful tips from two presenters: Erik Vos, consultant and principal of Budapest, Hungary-based Erik Vos and Associates, who spoke during an afternoon workshop; and Referral Coach International President Bill Cates, a main platform speaker I heard during the final day of the conference.

To secure referrals, said Cates, advisors have to start with the proper mindset: Rather than regard the request for introductions to prospects as self-serving, they should view referrals as opportunities given to clients to help others like themselves identify financial priorities and achieve goals and objectives.

Cates touted techniques that, he said, consistently prove effective in producing referrals. Examples: creating business cards that state “by referral only;” and holding client appreciation events that, by reinforcing already positive impressions among satisfied clients about the sponsoring advisor, yield more introductions to prospects.

Additionally, said Cates, advisors should get in the habit of asking for referrals as part of a “value discussion:” asking the client what parts of the engagement they find most valuable; treating the request for referrals with importance; getting the client’s permission to brainstorm for names of prospects; and suggesting names or categories of people who might be open to the advisor’s services.

There was, in sum, an abundance of valuable information imparted to eager listeners in Atlanta. But the question arises: How much of the inspirational messages, insurance planning techniques and best practices do MDRT attendees–or, indeed, conventioneers at other industry gatherings held throughout the year–actually absorb and apply when they return to their offices? If producers executed on even a small fraction of what they learn, the impact on their practices could be huge.

From my own experience, all too many don’t follow through, often because they lack the discipline to do so. And perhaps this failure speaks to the need to offer incentives (such as a discount on admission to a future meeting) to attendees who commit to implementing something they learned at the MDRT gathering; and who agree to regularly providing results on the effectiveness of the education.

This is, perhaps, a big undertaking. But I suspect that MDRT would enjoy greater growth in its membership if the association could demonstrably show, year after year, how much more successful advisors are in their practices for having attended the annual meeting.