Editor’s Note: This article originally published in July 2013. Dates and ages have remained unchanged from the original piece.
David Johnson has never wanted to be anything other than an insurance agent.
His grandfather started selling insurance in 1962. His father started selling it five years later. And Johnson joined the family business, the Johnson Financial Group in Norcross, Ga., immediately after finishing college in 1996.
“I’ve never been on a job interview, never put together a resume,” Johnson says. “I watched all my friends in college trying to figure out what to do, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I knew I wanted to work with my dad.”
Unfortunately, his passion for insurance sales didn’t translate to actual insurance sales. His first year in the business, Johnson worked endlessly … and sold just a handful of policies.
“Whatever methods I was trying were not working,” he says. “I didn’t know how to build a clientele out of nothing, and that really is the job.”
Undaunted, Johnson set about learning better habits, and within a year, he was an MDRT-level producer. Today, he has 2,500 life policies on the books and sold 107 of those in 2012 alone.
This is how he did it.
A year of failure
Johnson left college single — and he’s pretty sure his love of insurance had something to do with it.
“We all knew uncool people in college,” he says. “But nobody knew anyone selling whole life door-to-door in the dorms.”
Yet, despite all that zeal, when Johnson joined the business full time after graduating, he ended up failing. Miserably.
In his first year of selling, Johnson sold just five policies, total, each with a $1,000 commission. How did he survive on so little income? Well, he didn’t. Unmarried and with no kids, he was, fortunately, living at home with his parents at the time.
“There was no way I could have even supported myself,” he says. “I was failing pretty horribly. Things were really bad.”
The trouble was, Johnson didn’t know why he wasn’t selling more. He bought long prospect lists from other companies and sat at his desk, day in and day out, cold calling and setting up appointments. In those days, the SIMPLE IRA was new, so he was focused on contacting small businesses to pitch them the product.
Johnson kept track of everything he did, and in that year, he made 1,500 phone calls. He ended up with 147 appointments. And out of those, he sold his paltry five plans.
“I thought, ‘Look at all of this that I’m doing and how little I’m getting paid for this,’” he says. “But it was all just needle-in-the-haystack kind of stuff.”
A recipe for success
Johnson went looking for help and found it in the methods of Wayne Cotton, the founder of Cotton Systems, which helps financial advisors boost their sales activity. “I listened to what he was saying, and I said, ‘Okay, I can do what that guy is describing,’” he says.
Johnson took away four key lessons from Cotton:
- Have a client profile. Cotton believes every advisor is naturally good with a certain kind of person, so it follows that the advisor can sell more if he or she strives to only meet with that type of person. “The idea of profiling really shrunk the world down for me,” Johnson says. “Which I needed.”
See also: How (and why) to target a niche market