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3 top producers share their prospecting secrets

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For independent advisors and agents, nothing is more important than attracting a steady stream of prospects that could (they hope) become long-term clients. It’s the lifeblood of the advisory industry.

For that reason, experienced financial planners typically advise that if you see enough people you will eventually gain enough clients to have a successful, sustaining practice. So all you need to do it get out there and talk to as many people as possible and your business will grow in leaps and bounds. Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no.

Simply putting yourself in front of the general public on a regular basis is unlikely to result in a thriving business … unless you target your audience more precisely and thoughtfully.

In this more targeted approach, you seek out those people in your community or business sphere that would have a legitimate reason to hear you speak or a true need for your services. In that way, you are more likely to see more interested prospects and engage more clients.

How an advisor actually gets before potential clients varies. It could come from the tried-and-true methods like workshops or seminars or an alliance with other professionals, or via more recent innovations, like social media. But the theory behind it is always the same: Getting a motivated prospect through your door.

When Retirement Advisor spoke to three successful advisors specializing in three distinct product types — annuities, life insurance and long-term care insurance — about lead-generation techniques, the overriding theme that emerged was one of casting a wide, but well-thought-out net in an effort to gain prospects and clients.

There are some lead generation strategies that are to be avoided, however. Buying leads was seen as an ineffective and expensive way to reach prospects. Solely pushing products was also cited as a no-no. While there is no single golden ticket, what they have found to be successful can be helpful to any advisor.

“Commit to doing it for at least a year.”

The commitment Marc Silverman refers to is to doing workshops. Yes, workshops, the lead generation method that usually makes most advisors groan with frustration. But Silverman, CLU, ChFC, president and CEO of Silverman Financial, Inc., says that if you choose your audience wisely, workshops can be a fruitful avenue to attract prospects and clients. He strongly advises against sending out invitations to the general public — unless you want to be a star on the plate-licker circuit where the only people who will show up are those looking for a free meal.

Therefore, in his home base of Miami, he targets pre-retirees who work for the utility company, the phone company and the Florida Retirement System.

“They all have one thing in common: They are eventually going to retire,” Silverman says.

Therefore, they have a reason to come to his workshop where he discusses retirement planning issues revolving around their pensions plans, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and his latest workshop topic, Social Security.

See also: 24 Social Security facts you need to know

Though Silverman does about $25 million a year in annuity premium, he never brings up products during his workshops. Nor does he tell participants when to retire (which would run afoul of the regulators). Rather, the purpose is purely education and he stresses that he is simply “applying for the job” of helping them fund a secure retirement. Typically, it costs between $500 and $700 to host a workshop. 

Here are his basics for running successful workshops:

  • Schedule for either a Tuesday or Thursday, starting between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • Talk for no more than an hour, then serve dinner.
  • Keep the attendee list to around 20-25.
  • Get your presentation compliance approved.

Out of that 20 or so, Silverman says he typically gets between six and seven appointments. “I don’t understand these people who say they get 20 out of 20 appointments,” he says. “I don’t believe them, I really don’t. Or they are saying something to entice people to come in and they are coming in for the wrong reasons. In any given workshop, if you do it properly, you are probably going to get 35 percent to 40 percent that will come and want to see you.”

How he first contacts those attendees begins with some old- and new-fashioned prospecting methods. For instance, one of his staffers, who once worked in the telecommunications industry, drops fliers announcing the workshops at that office. Attendees at workshops are encouraged to take fliers for future workshops home to distribute (“Some may throw them away, but some will take them back to the office and pass them out,” Silverman says.).

Using a database of about 4,000, Silverman sends out emails, and his company’s website regularly announces the 35 workshops he does a year. “We never seem to have a problem filling the workshops,” he says.

Follow-up is a must, Silverman stresses. He details an example of just how effective following up can be.

Recently, he held a workshop and two of the attendees, a couple, made an appointment to see him. However, they had seen him three years earlier, but he had forgotten about the meeting.

“I just didn’t remember them, but I had all my notes from the meeting,” he recalls. “They did invest with me last night, and it was the result of them meeting me three years ago. So as long as you have a system in place for following up and staying in touch with people you will generate more sales down the road, more business for you and you are helping people.”

He books appointments with 20 people each week, and currently has north of $330 million in assets his clients have invested with him.

“We see close to a thousand people a year,” Silverman says. “When you see a thousand people a year, about 25 percent to 30 percent of those people will do business with you in a given year, and 70 percent will not. But I’m planting seeds. There is always going to be an element of the public that is going to be retiring and they have to put their money somewhere.”

For those advisors who have given up on workshops, Silverman says to stick with it, at least for a year.

“They do one or two workshops and they get maybe one appointment,” he says. “And they say, ‘I just invested X number of dollars, I’m not doing this anymore.’ That’s the wrong approach. When you commit to doing workshops I would say commit to doing it for at least a year, if not longer; otherwise don’t even start. Because if you don’t commit to doing it for at least a year, you will fail.”

“A more empathetic approach.”

Philip E. Harriman, CLU, ChCF, a partner with Lebel and Harriman, LLP, and former MDRT president, characterizes his firm as one of the largest providers of life insurance in New England. Since his Falmouth, Maine-based practice deals mostly with business succession/estate planning issues, his leads come mostly from referrals from other professionals such as HR executives, attorneys and CPAs, as well as existing clients. Like Silverman, the clients he seeks are those who would have a true need for his specialized services.

“I don’t look to generate leads that are designed to have someone sit down and discuss whether they want to buy any particular product,” Harriman says. “Rather, we want to work with people who are ready to start taking a holistic approach to their retirement accumulation phase and then the retirement distribution phase. That approach causes clients to think a bit more broadly than ‘Do I need a product?’ Instead, we seek to provide a way in which they can think about their lifestyle needs in retirement, and do they have an income to support that lifestyle. Finally, do they have lifeboats to financially get into if something goes wrong with their plans.”

To gain referrals from existing clients, it all begins with getting them comfortable enough to divulge intimate details about their family and business dynamics, providing good service and simply asking them for referrals.

“One of the things we want them to know is our work is private and no one will know of our work with you unless you choose to tell them and we hope you will tell as many people as possible because that’s how our business grows,” Harriman says. “It’s not uncommon after a client has worked with us and had an outcome that exceeded their expectations, they’re always saying, have you ever talked to this person, or that company. It’s almost an organic approach to making sure that everybody we encounter knows of the additional resources that we have here in the company, and are comfortable sharing that with their centers of influence, their neighbors, family members.”

Harriman’s firm also partners with CPAs and attorneys, preferring to work with them under a registered investment advisory agreement. “The strategy there is that most consumers when they are about to embark on an estate, executive benefit or business succession plan, they are going to turn to their attorney and accountant,” Harriman says. “We want them to know that we have this unique expertise in life insurance, annuities, investments, and more importantly, that we have expertise to help them use these unique financial instruments in ways that serve the client’s goals.”

Harriman also conducts educational workshops for HR executives to help them understand employee benefit structures, and how they can be used to attract and retain key personnel.

Likewise, he further canvasses for family businesses that may have a “gap” in leadership. In those instances, he models tactics that can be utilized to bring in an executive to run the company until the next generation is ready to take the reins. “We help show them a way to attract that person and incentivize them,” Harriman explains. “The fact that an annuity or a life insurance contract or long-term-care policy is used in combination to accomplish that goal, they are not buying a product as much as they are solving a problem.”

What doesn’t work, in Harriman’s opinion, is the time-worn (and worn-out) mantra of “smile and dial” as many people as you can, and if you listen to enough rejections, you will finally get someone to say yes to an appointment. And if you get enough appointments, you will put together enough proposals and you will finally close a deal. “Playing the numbers game doesn’t work.”

So what does work? A more targeted approach? “I call it a more empathetic approach,” Harriman says, “demonstrating you really want to understand how they think, how they feel, and what matters to them. And once people feel understood, they are more receptive to listening to your recommendations. If they feel you just smiling and dialing to get appointments and putting proposals in front of them to close the deal, they have an instinct that says this guy is more interested in his quota than my situation.”

“Not a cold call person.”

When she began her career in long-term care insurance (LTCI) back in 1988 as a marketing manager for Blue Cross in Chattanooga, Tenn., Phyllis Shelton gave cold-calling a try. After three calls (“One person was too old to talk to me, one person was rude, and one person was polite but thought I was calling to mow his yard,” she recalls.), she soon realized that prospecting method simply was not for her.

“I’m not a cold call person,” she says. “I get my feelings hurt. I take rejection personally, and for a salesperson, that’s a death knell.” It’s also why she eschews paid-for lead sources, since those services typically require call colds.

What she realized was that she was better at educating people about LTCI. So she went to community groups — women’s groups, church groups, whichever one that would have her — and booked seminars to talk about LTCI at any time of the day. Her only stipulation was that there be a mixture of people of different ages and income levels. “That worked wonderful,” Shelton says, “because to this day, that’s what people need — education.” Most people, she says, mistakenly believe LTCI is “nursing home insurance for old people,” instead of an insurance policy that can help people live in their homes.

From those seminars, about two-thirds to 80 percent would say they wanted an appointment. About half of those would actually set an appointment; ultimately, Shelton would sell about 80 percent of those who came in to meet with her.

But Shelton did not succeed on seminars alone. She expanded her prospecting efforts via alliances with producers in other areas of insurance and financial services. Those partners, in turn, would send out a letter to a client they perceived as possibly having a need for LTCI (and would qualify for the policy), mentioning Shelton’s company, LTC Consultants, in Nashville, Tenn., of which she is president.

“Because the agent had written a letter, most of them would see me and I would close most of those if they were eligible,” Shelton says.

Another avenue Shelton has success with in generating leads is through worksite workshops on LTCI. For that prospecting method to be fruitful, she recommends aligning with a health agent that already works with a company and then getting the company to sponsor the workshops.

Prior to the workshops, a letter is sent to the employees’ homes and a series of emails blasts give them a taste of why the seminar would be of import to them. Then the open enrollment period with limited underwriting begins, followed by group meetings and then private consultations for those who desire it.

See also: 3 ways to pitch worksite LTCI

How does she get the employer to buy in? By emphasizing that LTCI is really “productivity” insurance. “If the employer doesn’t offer it, we’re going to see an immense amount of caregiving in the next 20 years that is going to cause employees, particularly female employees, to go part time or drop out of the workplace. That is going to hurt the employer,” Shelton explains, adding that sometimes an employer will contribute to the premium.

Outside of the worksite, prospects can be found almost anywhere. Shelton says that she hands out a book she wrote, “The ABCs of Long Term Care Insurance” to anyone she senses might have a need for LTCI. In fact, she gave the book to the eye doctor who performed Lasik surgery on her eyes. Soon after, he called her and not only bought a policy on himself and his wife, but also his two adult children to the tune of $27,000 in annual premium. (This year, she estimates she’ll sell about $350,000 in LTCI premium.)

For agents starting out in the LTCI, she advises to network and join trade groups like NAHU and NAIFA. Taking advantage of social media via a regular blog that goes out to your database of clients is another good prospecting tool. In two years, Shelton says that she has gained 15 clients from her blog alone.

Another nugget of advice? Go younger when prospecting, and make sure they have the assets to purchase a policy. When she started in the business back in the late ‘80s, she targeted people in their 40s. “I saw actuarially this product would fail if we focused on older people because they wouldn’t have that many years to pay into it before they had a claim,” she says.

“When I started I sold to 40 year olds in 1988, ‘89, ‘90 and they are still on the books today,” she says. “That is good for the carriers to have business with that long of a tail. By all means, I want to get to people in their 40s or early 50s, and the worksite is great because you get to people of all ages, and then their parents as well.”

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