The simple secret to sales success

By Stanley Mountford

An overwhelming percentage of new agents fail within the first two years because of a lack of prospecting.

More than 30 years ago, I was a new agent attending my first life insurance sales forum in San Jose, Calif. The main speaker was the legendary Ben Feldman. For those new to the financial services industry, he was the first mega-salesman in our industry and is considered one of the greatest of all time.

I arrived at the auditorium an hour early and convinced a doorman to let me in so I could get a front-row seat. It was no secret Ben was so shy he would agree to speak only if he could sit down to be interviewed. Therefore, the stage was set with only two chairs. For two hours, he softly answered the questions asked. It didn’t take long to understand why he was a great salesman.

Ben shared with us the story of his success. In the 1940s, he applied to multiple insurance companies and each told him he would never succeed in the business because of his quiet demeanor. With great persistence, Ben continued to apply and finally received a job at New York Life in their lowest sales position: debit life insurance agent. Debit agents traveled from house to house to collect small premiums on a monthly basis.

From this lowly point, Ben’s amazing career went on to span 60 years, as he worked his way up to selling multimillion dollar policies to the wealthiest families in America.

As a young salesman full of ambition, I was determined to meet Ben. Ten minutes before the break, I moved to the side of the stage to wait for him to exit. As Ben approached, I stuck out my hand and nervously said, “My name is Stan Mountford. I’m new to the business and just wanted to meet you.”

He grasped my hand and asked how I was doing in the business and I replied, “Mr. Feldman, they say I’m doing fairly well. I have been in the business for two years and have qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table.”

“Well Stan, you have discovered the secret to our business,” Ben replied. “Mr. Feldman, I don’t know any secret to our business,” I said. “Stan, you may not think you know the secret, but you do.”

“Mr. Feldman, what is this secret that I know, but don’t know?”

“Stan, you’re getting yourself in front of people.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes, Stan, that’s it. You can’t sell anything without getting in front of people. The more people you meet, the more you will sell.”

Of course, Ben was right — no prospects, no sales. It is amazing how many financial professionals do not understand this simple principle. An overwhelming percentage of new agents fail within the first two years because of a lack of prospecting.

If you walk into any life insurance agency, you will see “Salesman of the Month” plaques proudly displayed on the walls. You will also notice the same names repeated over and over again. What do you think they are doing differently from their colleagues? Many might think they have higher-net-worth clients. This may be true; however, their success is rooted in the fact they simply reach out to more people.

When Ben Feldman was asked why agents dislike prospecting, he answered, “Fear of rejection!”

All of us fight call reluctance, no matter how long we have been in the business. If we allow ourselves, we will do a variety of busy work to avoid prospecting.

Ben was right, the secret to success is simply getting in front of people.