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How to succeed in the middle market by really trying

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Going through the initial interview process to begin my career in the financial services industry, I shared a concern familiar to most young producers. Would I have the ability to make money given the fact that I would be working primarily with middle-class families with limited income and assets?

I distinctly remember expressing my concern to my general agent Jeff Erekson and associate general agent Brady Murray at Salt Lake City’s Allegis Financial Partners, a general agency with the companies of OneAmerica. Their response has been instrumental in the development of my career. Interestingly, it did not involve any particular product or specific sales idea. They simply explained that there are certain fundamental habits that, if developed and executed consistently, would produce success at a high level in this industry.

While my own experience in the financial services industry may be limited, the number of times I’ve watched new producers enter and leave the industry is rapidly growing. Every producer is taught the fundamental habits necessary to excel. So why do a large number of producers enter the field so excited to succeed, yet fail within a short period of time?

I believe part of the answer is given by Albert Gray in his essay, The Common Denominator of Success, where he describes the common element among successful individuals as the ability to “form the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do.” Gray then suggests successful people develop these habits because, “successful [people] have a purpose strong enough to make them form the habit of doing things they don’t like to do in order to accomplish the purpose they want to accomplish.”

I have observed that producers serving the middle-class market do not fail primarily due to a lack of good products, product knowledge or even a lack of knowledge regarding the work habits they should develop. Producers fail because they lack a purpose strong enough to inspire the discipline necessary to form the habit of consistently doing the less desirable tasks necessary for success in our industry.

See also: Closing the Middle-Market Life Insurance Gap

Paramount to the success of any producer servicing the middle-class market is a clear understanding of (1) the habits that must be developed in order to build and maintain a successful practice, and (2) a purpose that will inspire the consistent execution of those habits.

Forming the right habits

One fundamental habit I feel is crucial in working with middle-class clients and establishing a successful practice is consistent high activity.

See also: 4 Habits That Increase Life Insurance Sales Activity

Activity refers primarily to the tasks of obtaining referrals, setting appointments, holding appointments and closing cases. While many of these tasks are considered “undesirable,” they are critical to our success. Closing a large case is exciting, but the vast majority of elite practices I am familiar with have been built upon a foundation of high case count and high activity — not a handful of large cases.

Forming one’s purpose

While habits describe what we should do, purpose defines why we do it. A strong purpose will inspire the discipline to consistently maintain high levels of activity and sales. Defining purpose is a very difficult task because every producer is driven by unique motives.

For example, I understand the value of being a guide for my prospective clients and their loved ones. I also feel a deep desire to strive for excellence and success. That burning desire to succeed, coupled with a desire to be an influence for good, drive me to maintain high levels of activity in my practice.

A strong purpose and drive to get results will naturally cause you to adjust your work habits and sales presentations to get those results. For example, early in my career it became evident that in order to build a successful practice, I would need to understand why my middle-class prospects did not take action.

Through experience, I learned most families don’t feel they have the means to do the things they know they need to do financially. This lack of confidence would often result in a refusal to meet with me or any financial professional. Understanding my prospects’ lack of financial confidence led me to develop simple sales and prospecting presentations that positioned life insurance as part of a foundation for future financial success. These adjustments seemed to help my clients to feel (1) confidence in their ability to succeed financially, and (2) comfortable working with a financial professional.

I believe that purpose and commitment cannot be taught, but purpose and commitment can be motivated and even inspired. So how do you identify and develop a purpose strong enough to inspire you to consistently do those things failures will not do?

My personal experience

As I contemplated my goals the first year of my career, I was encouraged to focus on producing a large number of cases rather than seeking primarily large commission cases. The benchmark suggested by every elite producer I spoke with was to pay 100 life insurance cases your first year — meaning helping 100 people protect their futures and those they love.

I consider the early months of my career to be among the most difficult months of my life. I had experienced disappointment in the past, but the result of such past disappointment had never had a significant influence on my ability to survive financially.

A turning point in my career occurred one evening following a particularly difficult day. All of my pending cases for that month had backed out, and I felt an immense combination of disappointment, despair, frustration, self-pity, jealousy and fear. I remember walking into an empty office and just lying on the floor. After nearly an hour, I determined that I could either quit and allow the industry to beat me or get back up and start calling new prospects until I succeeded. I decided to get back up and start making calls.

See also: Succeeding As an Advisor — at 23

Later that year, I evaluated my progress toward my goal. I was behind. I still felt strongly that I needed to pay 100 cases. However, my desire to spend time golfing, boating or socializing had gradually become greater than my desire to be disciplined in doing the things necessary to pay 100 cases.

As I considered what I needed to change to achieve results, I sent an email to our entire agency of approximately 100 producers. In it I pledged that if I did not achieve my commitment, I would travel to each office in our agency and purchase dinner for every producer at the restaurant of their choice.

I felt that revealing my 100-case commitment to each individual in our organization would motivate me to refocus my daily efforts on those activities most critical to achieving my goal. For me, accountability to the entire agency created the sense of purpose I needed to succeed.

Few experiences in my life have produced the satisfaction I felt when that last case paid.

Identifying a strong purpose is more about asking the right questions than being spoon-fed “correct” answers. As you continue to establish your practice with middle-class families, I invite you to consider the following questions:

  • What is my purpose as a producer?
  • Is my purpose strong enough to yield the discipline necessary to form the habit of performing those crucial tasks failures will not?

I believe we belong to the best profession in the world. I get excited and anxious every Sunday evening to wake up Monday and get to work. The opportunities to succeed and progress in this industry are limitless. However, the financial products we offer will only benefit middle-class families if we have the purpose-driven discipline to form the habits failures will not.

For more on the middle market, see:

Closing the Middle-Market Life Insurance Gap

Selling to the Middle Market — What to Keep in Mind

Middle-Class Military Families Supplement Coverage with Commercial Life Products


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