Process is indispensable to a great sales career

par Susan Yellin | June 21 2016 07:00AM

Bruce Etherington at the 2016 Canada Sales Congress | Photo by PhotoVisions

When Zak Goldman first came onto the insurance scene 15 years ago, he had immense success right from the get-go. But he cautioned advisors attending the 2016 Canada Sales Congress in May not to follow in his footsteps.

“Don’t do what I did,” Goldman said. “I can tell you right away that it didn’t work and I’ll tell you why.”

By his second year in business he had about half a million dollars in business. But a year later he flamed out, making nothing.

“I realized I had to do more. I had to do more for my business and more for myself.”

Turned out what Goldman was lacking was a process. And he urged younger advisors and those struggling to get ahead to take his advice. “Activity will define your success,” said Goldman, now a partner at Toronto-based Sterling Park Financial.

Know your numbers

He recommended advisors determine how much they want to earn in a year and then break it down into how many policies they have to sell.  “[With this process,] I’m not scared anymore. I have the activity, I know my numbers. And as soon as you know your numbers, you will have confidence.”

Then make a weekly checklist, he suggested. Write down specific numbers of phone calls and emails to get the kinds of clients that generate revenue. Then book the meetings. “If you don’t have activity, you are not going to be what you want to be.”

Process, said mentor, advisor and entrepreneur Bruce Etherington, is indispensable to a great sales career.

Etherington said advisors should make it a habit to call prospects and let them know how each step in their process is supposed to evolve.

He cited a survey that said only 14% of advisors ask for referrals, leaving some markets wide open. To counter that, he suggested advisors meet with their top 20 clients and ask them for introductions to prospects that are responsible family and high net-worth business people. 

“Do not use fear as a stumbling block. Use it as a stepping stone – a booster rocket for a reason to pick up the phone and make a difference in someone else’s life.”

Etherington, who has been a member of MDRT’s Top of the Table for 36 years, said his team shares with prospects what they can expect at Hamilton-based Bruce Etherington & Associates.  As part of his process, he tells clients how he can help them reduce income tax, eliminate capital gains tax on estates, preserve capital, increase yield, transfer intergenerational wealth tax free and grow the amounts they can give to charity.

Brand and trademark it

Not only should you and your clients know your process, you might also want to brand it and trademark it, noted David Wm. Brown, a partner with Al G. Brown & Associates, based in Toronto.

Brown’s firm came up with the name of Estate Preservation Process™ for its process, which he uses as an opener. When asked to delve further into the subject, Brown tells people it’s a sophisticated process that requires more than a five-minute chat and uses the occasion to get the person’s information so his office can set up a meeting.

A smooth and ongoing procedure

To ensure a smooth and ongoing procedure, he also reports his activities to a project manager. This manager’s sole responsibility is to make sure projects are completed by specific individuals in the office, ensuring they stay on track and the flow of work goes through a pipeline until it is finished.

Brown also said he makes a point of setting goals every 90 days, assigning people to make calls, set up meetings and make presentations.  “We all sit down and we all know what job has to get done at any particular point in time.”

Maybe it’s because Aurora Tancock first came from the service side of the insurance business that she understood that processes need to be in place to ensure she is giving her best to her clients.

Now a certified financial planner and president and owner of Aurora Tancock Financial Services Inc. based in St. Catharines, Ont., she understands that many people are open to being educated and to having someone give them financial peace of mind should there be a disability, illness or death in the family.

“They are not coming in to see me because I have better products [or that] I can guarantee them better returns: they are coming in to see me because they want someone to help them better organize their finances,” she said.

Tancock receives many new clients from referrals who have already told prospects that they will need to complete a checklist for items to bring in for their first meeting plus complete a spending plan. In the end, this process gives her a closing ratio of more than 90%.

“I think sometimes we spend too much time just pushing the product and chasing the client until they become clients – or we can become part of their lives, be there to see them achieve their goals and live their life dreams. At the end of the day, if we help others achieve their dreams, chances are we will achieve ours.”

Toronto-based Judy Byle-Jones was a registered nurse for 10 years before she decided to switch from looking after the physical health of patients to improving the financial health of clients.

When Byle-Jones identified her target market as women professionals, she did a lot of networking, serving on boards of directors of women’s clubs and taking part in committee work.

Part of her process to gain new clients meant distributing her business card and collecting cards from others – sometimes coming home with as many as 20. Now she has refined that strategy.

“Today, I often don’t take any business cards at all and if I do I may have two or three. One of my standard lines is: ‘my cards are at the printer’s, but please give me your card and I will contact you and continue this conversation at another time.” On the back of the card she puts the date, place of event and the topic of conversation.  “This way,” she said, “I am in control of who I speak to and I have already pre-identified who I am interested in.”

Purpose-driven wealth management

At Kari Leoganda’s Richmond, B.C. financial and insurance firm, the emphasis is always about process rather than product.

Under a process she calls “purpose-driven wealth management,” Leoganda takes her prospects along a “concern discovery path,” helping them determine their goals at their current stage of life by asking them a number of pertinent questions. 

“Just like you go to see your family doctor, the doctor will not simply prescribe drugs without knowing [the problem]. See me as your financial doctor – I am going to ask you tons of questions in order to identify what your real needs and values are.”

Using this five-step method, she said, advisors’ closing ratio can grow from 50% to almost 90%.

The first step is filling in the “concern discovery path,” a questionnaire to identify current concerns – whether single or married, a business owner or multiple shareholders.  Next is determining the client’s priorities and aiming goals toward that eventuality. Leoganda then sends out a recap email, what was achieved and what other items of information she needs to complete her analysis.  She also outlines the next steps, including a second meeting for a strategy presentation.

Unlike all the other advisors speaking at the CSC, Chris Funnell does none of his interviewing face-to-face. Rather, his medium of exchanging information is via the telephone through his company

Funnell discovered more than a decade ago that he could get numerous leads from his website for people looking for term life insurance.  He quickly realized that about 40% of the leads were bogus, but 60% were valid and were coming from people who had serious interest in buying life insurance.

He learned through a trial and error process that when he returned their phone calls, he was mindful of everything from his pitch to the words he chose and the questions he asked. It was “the difference between closing one in 24 leads and closing one in six – that’s about a 300% in applications and 400% in commissions.”

The amount of business he was doing on the phone caught the attention of his managing general agency (MGA), so he put his entire process and protocols in writing for the MGA’s approval. He got it.

“I know that many of you think of the phone as the ugly stepchild of selling – second fiddle to face-to-face selling. I understand that.  But I find the phone is a very warm, personable and emotional medium where you can connect really well with your clients and prospects.”

Just like in face-to-face meetings, Funnell asks open-ended questions and then he sits back and listens as people tell him about their goals and values.

“What sealed the deal today is the same thing that sealed the deal 20 years ago with a three-martini lunch – which is a personal attachment to our prospects, understanding what our buyers want and delivering results. So it’s conversation, not technology that is the key to proving yourself worthy of your client’s business.”