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Passing the success torch: lessons learned from 3 sales gurus

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Times have changed, but a few key success principles remain constant. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a prospecting and closing superstar to succeed in our business. Each of our experts achieved success through a rare combination of focus, care and hard work. Below, these gurus share success secrets learned from decades in the insurance trenches so you can hit the ground running.

Get to know Maureen Ryan, financial representative at The Bulfinch Group in Boston

In the Boston area, Maureen has built a substantial client base of physicians and dentists. However, it wasn’t always that way. Maureen says, “When I started in this business, I worked with people in all industries. That was a mistake. I was spread too thin. It was not until I focused on a niche that my business took off.” Maureen admits that she is a workaholic, working days, nights and weekends, but that level of commitment has placed her performance among the top echelon of agents in the country.

Meet Robert “Bob” Wernecke, CLU, president of ECA Financial Services in the Phoenix area

Bob’s insurance career started back in 1968 when he walked into Metropolitan Life and told them he wanted to sell insurance. Of course, he was immediately hired because nobody volunteers to sell insurance! Bob’s career aspirations were inspired by his mother, who told him you have to be in commissioned sales to make what you’re truly worth. “I like getting paid what you’re worth based on what you do,” Bob says. In addition to owning an insurance and benefits company, Bob is one of seven Life Trustees for The American College Board of Trustees. He also serves as the chair of the Audit Committee for NAIFA and was inducted to the Hall of Fame for the Phoenix chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals in 2011. And, The American College honored Bob as the Alumnus of the Month in May 2010. You might say the sun has been shining on Bob’s career. In his words, “It’s true – luck will shine on you if you work hard.”

Get acquainted with Lynn Johnson, financial services consultant in San Luis Obispo

Lynn began her insurance career back in 1980. She had recently graduated from Cal Poly and was searching for a fulfilling career in a small California town where there weren’t a lot of opportunities. For the first four years, Lynn focused only on life insurance. Then, one day at a conference, she attended a Paul Revere breakout session. The presenter explained the benefits of niche marketing and told Lynn about a hospital endorsement program. It was an appealing opportunity and Lynn jumped in with both feet. Today, she operates a thriving disability insurance practice, specializing in insurance for physicians and medical residents. In Lynn’s words, “Be persistent and keep at it. There’s no easy way to make it in this business. You have to do the work.”

Want to know our gurus’ top 10 success secrets? Read on.

1. Seek mentorship. All three of our experts think it’s imperative for new advisors to find good mentors. Bob says, “Invite a potential mentor to lunch (even if you can’t afford it) and ask for guidance. Choose mentors who will be very candid with you and tell it like it is.” Lynn is thankful for two mentors who influenced her career – in fact, after 30 years in the business, one of them still gives her ideas and insight to this day. Maureen gives this advice to new agents: “Find out who the top producers are at your agency and involve them in joint cases with clients. You will learn from the best and your cases will close more quickly.” She also recommends developing a circle of advisors, such as CPAs and estate planning attorneys, as well as joining NAIFA where new agents can gain exposure to best practices to grow their businesses.  

2. Understand your life purpose. “In our office, we help anyone who needs help. We understand that whatever you sow, you also reap,” Bob says. He further explains that spiritual development helps with purpose development. “When you develop spiritually, you see others as valuable people who you want to help. It’s no longer about making a sale.” To better understand one’s life purpose, Maureen recommends that advisors hire a life coach as soon as they can afford it. She says, “It made a big difference for me. My life coach asked, ‘If you were to die today, would you be satisfied with what you have accomplished?’ This reflection made me realize what’s important to me and that I could do more. It motivated me to connect with as many people as possible to positively impact their lives.” And because charity is also key, Maureen worked harder to earn more so she could give more away. She figured out her “why.”

3. Make an emotional connection. You can only be successful if you are passionate. Lynn is passionate about disability insurance because early in her career, she was disabled by a back injury caused in a waterskiing accident. “When I talk to clients, I often share my story. It’s a great way to explain how policy provisions work,” she says. “I also share my clients’ stories. People think they’ll always be able to work and they don’t comprehend that everything can change in a moment. Stories grab their attention. I often share a true story about an anesthesiologist who was coming down from the 18th floor of a Vegas hotel when the elevator lost its brakes, resulting in compression of his spine. That story puts a pretty significant image in peoples’ minds and lets them see that disability can happen to anyone.”

4. Always put the client first. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Bob reminds us. Lynn strives to always demonstrate that she has each client’s best interest at heart. “You have to be willing to show them all the available options and customize a solution for them,” she explains. Maureen’s goal is to turn every client into a mini-financial expert. “No one wants to be sold,” she says. “My job is to provide information so they can make the best choice. Ultimately, I invest so much time into my clients that they call me for advice about everything – even simple decisions like the most advantageous way to fund a new car purchase.”

5. Believe that every human is equal. Bob remembers a time early in his career when he felt nervous about speaking to someone very successful. A mentor told him: “Never be nervous about interacting with another person. If you think someone is better than you because of who they are, how much they make, or what they do, it’s really dangerous. It shows that you may also think you are better than other people because of who you are and what you do. Neither is true. Everybody is equal. Never think of yourself as less or more.” This advice stuck with Bob throughout all the years since, and because of it, he is truly comfortable talking to everybody.

6. Be an expert. “You have to have more expertise than everyone else,” Maureen says. “If you sell disability insurance, you have to understand every line of your company’s specimen contract, as well as other companies’ contracts so you can articulate the policy features to your clients in layman’s terms. Clients are relying on you to find them the best contracts for which they can medically and financially qualify.” Lynn agrees that expertise is essential. She has found there are a lot of agents who dabble, but not many who really specialize, in her field of medical income protection. “Make the extra effort to learn your product and market,” she says. “Study the policy provisions, talk to people who have experience, and run claim scenarios. I find that by explaining claim scenarios under each option, I can simplify concepts and help clients better understand product differences.”

7. Target market and be the “mayor.” Both Lynn and Maureen’s careers took off when they honed in on a niche market. By specializing, advisors can truly become experts. It’s important that advisors figure out who they want to work with and then create a major market presence. For example, Maureen nests at a hospital and makes sure that everyone at the hospital knows her, much like a town’s citizens know the mayor. “When I walk down the halls of a hospital, a million people say hello to me,” she says.

8. Get a strong support team. When advisors are new in the business, they do everything themselves — which takes them away from important activities like talking to clients. Lynn discovered success by partnering with an expert disability insurance distributor. “Find a partner who will provide a strong back office support team. Behind the scenes, there are always battles to be fought. Having a specialized distributor to assist is essential. One person cannot know or do everything,” she says. Bob recommends hiring staff as soon as you can. “Have your team take care of mundane tasks so you can take care of clients — that’s what you get paid to do,” he says.

9. Apply ingenuity. When the cardiology department of a hospital refused to let Maureen provide seminars for its residents, she started a financial study group for them offsite. Eventually the program director learned of it and started attending. He then recommended Maureen to the graduate medical education director, who was skeptical. However, after agreeing to go through a three-month sample financial planning experience with Maureen, the director became her client and her biggest advocate. He agreed to let Maureen conduct seminars for the entire hospital and to do her marketing. “You have to use a little ingenuity,” Maureen says. “If you hit a roadblock, you have to find a new way.”

10. Continuously improve. All three of our gurus admit that good enough is never enough. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do my best and improve my performance every year,” Lynn says. “When you’re self-employed, it’s an inside job. You have to set aside the time to work your system. If I don’t do it, it’s not going to happen.” Bob thinks that personal development is crucial. “To accomplish more, you have to be more,” he says. “This is about more than continuing education. You have to work on your inside. Education is a lifelong pursuit, not  a destination. Stand on the shoulders of giants; learn from their experiences; and leapfrog forward. Experience is the best teacher, but it’s also the most expensive,” Bob explains.  

In closing, our gurus want you to know that success is not easy, but the journey is certainly worthwhile. If protecting others is your life purpose, you’ll discover great satisfaction in this industry. You’ll rest your head at night knowing that you’ve helped people, and you’ll wake up in the morning eager to get started again. Isn’t that a noble endeavor?

See also:

How to overcome 19 straight nos

The fine art of management

9 ridiculous sales lines you should never use


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