This one secret guarantees success for advisors, Pt. 2Article added by Jeffrey Reeves on April 15, 2009
Jeffrey Reeves MA

Jeffrey Reeves

Denver, CO

Joined: March 24, 2010

My Company

We left Joe, Rich, Ralph and Robert at the National Insurance Advisors' Annual Meeting in Las Vegas paying tribute to Wise Abraham. However, I have yet to reveal the secret that Wise Abraham gave them; the secret that allowed them to be at the top of their peer group.

Those of you who are already at the top of your game may think the secret a bit fundamental, perhaps even simplistic. But that would be a mistake. You would not be at the top of your game without Wise Abraham's secret.

Before we reveal and describe the secret, let's take a look at the time between the day Wise Abraham shared the secret with our four heroes and their 25th anniversaries.

Joe... the plodder

It took Joe several years to comprehend fully what Wise Abraham had shared with him. Joe recognized that his understanding and feel for small business would be his strongest asset. He decided to prospect mostly among that group.

At first, when he met with small business owners he would jump from topic to topic; health insurance one day, buy-sell agreements the next, voluntary plans the next, and so on. Joe would also take any appointment at any time in any part of town. He spoke with many but sold only a few... just enough to survive.

Joe also distracted himself with periods of elephant hunting -- looking for the "big" case that would allow his career to take off.

Unfortunately, he found an elephant, a listed corporation that was bidding a portion of its employee benefit plan. Joe worked diligently for months collecting data, working with several major insurers preparing proposals -- and neglecting almost everything else.

The good news is that Joe won the bid. The bad news is that the board director heading the committee charged with approving changes to the employee benefits plans had a nephew with an insurance license. So, Joe returned his attention to the small business owner. He decided to focus his prospecting on just one specific product, group health insurance. Joe became an expert and his business took off.

However, Joe soon discovered that his small business clients were pigeonholing him. While he was growing his health insurance book of business, he was missing the other business he could be writing. Once he recognized this shortcoming, Joe made a few changes to his prospecting and selling processes and began winning more of his small business clients' insurance business... you know the rest of the story.

Rich... the planner

When Rich left Wise Abraham's office it was with enthusiasm and confidence. Rich's natural tendency to analyze and re-analyze made the secret that much more intriguing to him.

During the next several months following his separation from the agency, Rich studied day and night, learning everything he could about insurance, savings, investing, budgeting and every other topic related to how people handle their money.

As his confidence grew, Rich went back to the people he had spoken with while at the agency, mostly good friends and family. He earned their respect and their permission to help guide them in their personal economic adventure. Rich was especially attentive to the needs of professionals, since several of his family members worked in professional practices. They responded with commitments and signed applications. They also began sending their family, friends and neighbors to meet with Rich.

Rich also began writing and speaking publicly about his quest for better ways to help American families build better personal economies, and about the principles and practices that his clients were adopting at his behest. He wrote several bestselling books on the topic, published hundreds of articles, and gave hundreds of speeches and talks to thousands of people.

It wasn't long before the insurance company that Rich represented recognized the value in his approach and asked him to train and educate other insurance advisors in his techniques. You know where that led to 25 years later.

Ralph... the planter

Ralph left Wise Abraham's office with the stride of a man vindicated. He immediately developed a plan to continue his prospecting and marketing the way he had begun it with the agency.

Ralph would always buy his prospects a breakfast or lunch at their first encounter. Even when the prospect was a good friend or relative, Ralph wanted to let them know that the relationship was most important to him. He also wanted them to know that he was committed to them and to the wellbeing of their family.

At these initial meetings, Ralph would never ask for any information or attempt to make a follow-up appointment. Instead, Ralph would ask his guest what they looked for when they considered engaging the services of an insurance and financial advisor. Ralph made it clear that he was interested in their thoughts about how he could be the best at his chosen profession.

It didn't take long or too many meals before Ralph was writing applications on a regular basis and receiving introductions to other prospects - usually over a meal that was paid for by a client.

Ralph's business grew steadily over many years, and 25 years later -- well, you already know that part of the story.

Robert... the player

As Robert rode the elevator to the lobby after his talk with Wise Abraham, he realized that he had nowhere to go. He had no close friends with whom to share his failure or plan his future. His family had disintegrated years earlier, communicated only rarely, and were scattered across the country.

The closest friends Robert had were his associates from the agency, Joe, Rich and Ralph, and they had already left the agency and started new careers... or so he thought. When he finally arose from the funk of failure, Robert contacted Ralph. Ralph, of course, invited him to lunch. Ralph also invited Joe and Rich to join them in a mini reunion. At lunch, each told the story of how they were going to put Wise Abraham's secret into practice. Each, that is, except Robert, for he had not fully embraced the secret.

After an hour of conversation, Rich suggested that Robert consider becoming a broker. Rich noted that he was always on the lookout for new and innovative products for his clients. His thinking was that Robert turned to his fellow insurance and financial advisors in his time of need and that, perhaps, helping agents might be both comfortable and profitable for him.

Joe chimed in with encouragement. The requirements of his group insurance practice consumed most of his time and he was continually looking for help finding ancillary products to sell to his groups. Even Ralph thought Robert could help him by introducing him to other insurance and financial advisors that specialized in areas that he didn't want to deal with.

Robert took their observations to heart and embraced these three men as brothers. At last he understood how he could use Wise Abraham's secret to create a successful career for himself in the insurance business.

Opening the door to Wise Abraham's secret

What is the secret our four heroes learned from Wise Abraham that allowed them each to achieve success in such disparate segments of the insurance and financial services business? What are the two essential and inseparable components of every successful insurance practice?

We alluded to what the secret is not at the beginning of this essay: Selling skills are important, but they aren't essential to success. Many successful insurance advisors have mediocre selling skills. Of course, developing good selling habits and skills can make one more successful, increase one's income and create more clients.

One might also conclude from the stories of our heroes that building and maintaining relationships are essential components of success as an insurance and financial advisor. There is no doubt that some relationship skills are essential to the business of selling anything; however, there are retail insurance selling opportunities that require minimal relationship skills.

Wise Abraham's secret

Wise Abraham's secret is simple and elegant. It's simple because it is an expression of common sense and known principles. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It's elegant because the application of those principles to an individual person and practice provides an inexhaustible array of unique patterns. No two snowflakes are alike.

The simple part: the first essential

"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." -- William Shakespeare

Each of our four heroes struggled to adapt himself to a system an insurance company imposed on them. The system the insurer mandated was already outdated in 1975, but insurance companies still blindly rely on it in today in 2009. Worse, this approach still produces the same miserable results -- and more than 95 percent of those who enter the insurance and financial services business fail and leave the industry entirely.

The first essential tip to success as an insurance and financial advisor: Measure your values, principles and strengths against the needs of the people you intend to serve, the company you intend to represent, the products you are most suited to sell and the industry you are entering.

That's not an easy task. Most who enter the business are not aware of the scope and diversity that the insurance and financial advisory career offers. It's easy to be engulfed in the culture of one company and never learn of the myriad opportunities that are waiting for you. What one company promotes as a "business opportunity" may look attractive. It may seduce an applicant based on entirely false premises and promises. How do you respond, then, when it becomes apparent that the opportunity relies on half-truths and often does more damage than good to the folks you intend to help?

If you find out early, it's pretty easy. You can just pack it in and move on. But what happens when you make the discovery after you are an established producer with one company and your income relies on perpetuating their myth?

Ours is a lonely business at its heart. We may have a company backing us up, we have peer groups and clients, and we may have associates and affiliates, but, when you get to the core, we each stand on our own.

On your own, you had better be your own person and not an indentured servant or a programmed clone. On your own, you better trust and believe in the companies you represent and the products you sell. On your own, you better know and relate to the needs of the constituency you intend to serve.

You enter this business on your own. Remember, however, if you enter under the aegis of an insurance company that demands you melt your snowflake self into a droplet of water in their pool, you must measure your values and principles against those of the company recruiting you. If there is no match, move on. Insurance companies that demand that every agent preach the same gospel are not looking out for the agent or their clients. They are only looking out for their bottom line.

The elegant part: The second essential

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." -- Matthew 7:24-27

Self-knowledge and industry knowledge are your foundation -- the rock upon which to build your career. As you progress in your career, you will constantly be shoring up that foundation with new information about yourself, the industry you chose, the best practices of the best insurance and financial advisors in the industry, new companies and new products, new applications of old products to new situations, tax law changes, and on and on.

You won't earn a penny or help a single client if all you do is nurture self-knowledge and know more than everyone else about products and services, principles and practices. Your foundation will remain a hole in the ground. It will ultimately fill with debris from the winds of change.

That brings us to the second essential component of a successful career as an insurance and financial advisor -- choosing the people you intend to serve. Each of our four heroes was a success in a very specific market. Each market encompassed prospects with a specific set of characteristics and a significantly limited geographic area. Let me illustrate.

Joe... the plodder

Once Joe recognized his personal capabilities and limitations, he settled on the small business community as his market. At first, he scurried around trying to sell anything and everything to anyone who would grant him an appointment. This shotgun approach didn't pay off. Joe took a step back and realized that he needed to focus his prospecting activity. He began by prospecting for group health insurance clients only. He soon found himself succeeding -- and failing. He was gaining group health clients but losing other selling opportunities. He was also covering a lot of territory, but often for only limited benefit.

Joe adapted to the situation rapidly and began introducing himself and his services in a broader context -- explaining that group health insurance was the foundation of his relationship with his clients. He went on to expand the discussion to other insurance and financial issues.

Joe also discovered that his client base increased as he limited the type of business and size of the territory he attempted to reach with his marketing. Joe quit calling on attorneys, accountants and other professional practices as prospects, and started forging relationships with those practices as a way to support his clients.

Joe chose to focus his prospecting on blue-collar businesses with 10 to 50 employees within a few miles of his office. He discovered that there were more than 1,000 businesses that fit his criteria within a 15-minute drive from his office.

Rich... the planner

Rich knew exactly what he intended when he set out to create his career as an insurance and financial advisor. He decided that his analytical mind would allow him to communicate with other professionals who shared and appreciated analytical thinking and planning.

Rich started by sharing his plans and his approach with siblings and other family members that had careers in medicine, dentistry, accounting, engineering and law. Their response and suggestions helped immensely. The sales he made to them got him off to a good start. The referrals they gave him helped even more.

However, because Rich took such great pains to be thorough in his case research, analysis, design and documentation, he soon overwhelmed himself with paperwork. His sales track required several visits, which slowed things down further. Pretty soon, Rich's rate of income slowed too. Happily, Rich's analytical nature came to the rescue.

Rich realized that he could not afford to spend hours driving to and from appointments and waiting in anterooms while his prospects finished a client interview or patient treatment. He also knew (remember, this is the mid-'70s) that his professional prospects expected him to visit them and not vice versa.

Rich moved his main office from the central downtown location of his Midwestern hometown to a centrally located professional building that allowed him easy access to most of the professionals he expected to work with. He also discovered that much of his business was coming from medical doctors with specialized practices. He began focusing his prospecting on these types of doctors. Before too long, Rich gained positive notoriety in the medical community. He earned the right to speak about insurance and financial topics at local meetings.

Ralph... the planter

Ralph was able to leverage his self-knowledge into consistent and significant production from the very beginning of his career. Ralph never sought out a prospect that he could not meet at a local restaurant for a meal. Ralph focused on his chosen market from day one.

Ralph was never a sophisticated planner like Rich, nor was he focused on a narrow market segment, like Joe. Ralph was a typical American nice guy. He focused on the needs and wants of his family, friends, clients and those he encountered along the way.

Ralph bases his simple practice model on his personal commitment to relationships and his firm belief in the efficacy of the life, health, disability and long term care products he sells to his clients. What makes Ralph's story so compelling is that he never strayed from the path of being a well-informed, compassionate insurance and financial advisor to individuals and families.

Ralph didn't allow himself to be moved off track by opportunities to write business insurance, group insurance or other specialized products. When Ralph had the chance to sell these specialized products, he would introduce the prospect to an insurance and financial advisor that was knowledgeable on the subject and gracefully bow out.

Robert... the player

Robert, you'll remember, chose to focus his energy on serving America's insurance and financial advisors as a broker. He discovered that he was more comfortable dealing with his peers than he was dealing directly with clients.

Robert's first brokerage programs grew out of his relationships with Joe, Rich and Ralph. Within a month or two he was able to secure several brokerage contracts in response to requests from his friends. Before too long, Robert had dozens of agents that relied on him for products and product support.

As time went by and Robert's practice grew, requests for support started coming from all across the U.S. Robert was only temporarily distracted by these far-flung siren songs. He soon joined with other brokers from around the country to form a loose confederation of likeminded brokers who referred business to each other based on geographic location.

Robert now serves both a local network of devoted insurance and financial advisors and a national network of peers in the brokerage side of the business.

Wise Abraham's secret

The insurance and financial advisory business is the most amazing business in America. Every person who enters the business can succeed by knowing and practicing Wise Abraham's secret.

The simple part: Self-knowledge and industry knowledge

It's not enough to know about products and processes. Every approach to insurance and financial advising has some truth in it. Every product in the market has an application. However, in many cases a modicum of truth masks an abundance of greed and ignorance. You must measure what you see, hear and read against greater truths -- your values and principles, your capabilities and limitations, and the wants and needs of the clients you hope to serve.

Beginning your career as an insurance and financial advisor is a daunting task. You may have to interview several companies to find one that feels good for you and that seems to have qualities and characteristics that fit with you, your values and your principles.

This may still lead you in a direction that doesn't allow you to succeed. It sounds trite, but, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again." Re-measure yourself and your knowledge. Define your career on your terms.

The elegant part: Focus

The single dominant reason a person fails as an insurance and financial advisor is a lack of focus. The number of opportunities, applications, products and territories available to you in this business is so large and so diverse that it's easy to become distracted first by this one, then by another, then again by a different one.

If you expect to succeed, you must limit your prospecting scope by products, demographics and geography. To do otherwise is to plan for failure. You may -- and likely will -- make sales from a much broader group of prospects as your practice matures, your knowledge increases and your current clients introduce you to their friends, family and associates.

Nevertheless, you should never expand your prospecting beyond your reach.

Wise Abraham's secret in one sentence (more or less)

Knowing who you are and consciously choosing whom, where and how you prospect guarantees your success as an insurance and financial advisor.

Everything else is secondary. Nothing else guarantees success. Of course, you need to...
  • Develop relationships

  • Study sales techniques

  • Stay abreast of the developments in your specialty and, to a lesser extent, the general industry

  • Gain the knowledge and recognition derived from professional designations

  • Involve yourself in your community

  • Join professional organizations

  • Participate in charitable activities
None of that will protect you from failure, however.

You will naturally gain clients outside of the universe you build with your prospecting activity, but you cannot chase prospects outside of the universe you build with your prospecting activity and succeed.

*Note: There are rare individuals in the insurance and financial advising business who defy the predictive nature of Wise Abraham's secret. They are the exceptions. There are only a few Warren Buffetts, Michael Jordans, and Yo-Yo Mas in the world. Exceptions always prove the rule.

*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.
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