Sales and prospecting tips to renew and refuel your business

By Susan Yellin | June 18 2013 06:52PM

When Reh Bhanji’s mother-in-law opened up a dry-cleaning store in Woodbridge, Ont., he immediately thought this would be a perfect venue for prospecting insurance clients.Using what he called “the fishbowl method,” Mr. Bhanji, now a regional sales director with Desjardins Insurance, placed a clear, empty bowl beside the cash register. On it, he stuck a note encouraging patrons interested in winning free dry cleaning to put their business card in the bowl. Who doesn’t want free dry cleaning? The number of cards in the bowl answered that question.

Shortly afterwards, Bhanji called up each person. “I told them they won free dry cleaning and at the end of the day, I introduced myself and was able to start my prospecting process in the late 1990s.”

An insurance friend of Bhanji’s copied the idea for a high-end restaurant in downtown Toronto, but with a twist. When the friend called the name on the business card he told the person that he won a free lunch at the restaurant – and that lunch was with the insurance broker.

With prospecting an intrinsic part of an advisor’s toolkit, that story was just one of many imparted by speakers to the close to 900 people who attended the inaugural Canada Sales Congress in Toronto in May.

Here are a few others.

Succession vs contingency plans

New advisors hoping to ask a more seasoned professional about their succession plans often get turned down because no one wants to think that they will be stepping down any time soon, says Andrew Guilfoyle, a founder of Guilfoyle Financial.

A better idea is to ask about their contingency plans: what happens if a client wants to reach you while you are on vacation or if the advisor falls ill?

Mr. Guilfoyle and an advisor friend agreed to a contingency plan deal a few years ago. The friend thought he wouldn’t need Guilfoyle’s services for some time to come.

“But he came into our office two years ago, feeling quite down,” Mr. Guilfoyle said. “Unfortunately, his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s and he had to make a decision as to whether to look after his clients or his wife. He chose his wife. So out of this terrible situation, we actually made hundreds of new client relationships.”

Feedback forms

Mr. Guilfoyle’s company hosted a client meeting with four speakers. The clients were asked to fill in a feedback form rating the food, the venue and the speakers. They were also asked about how speakers could improve their presentations and any names of people they knew who would benefit from a similar presentation. Good prizes were given out to clients, but to qualify, they had to make sure they filled in all the questions – and included at least one name. The next time Mr. Guilfoyle met with the client he asked the best way to approach the prospect. With this scenario, he managed to get 78 prospect leads.
Reverse prospecting

There’s prospecting, then there’s reverse prospecting: Ted Polci who has been in the insurance business for 45 years, believes strongly in getting a professional designation and most importantly, developing centres of influence to help bring in referrals. So it’s no wonder that Mr. Polci, a founding partner of First York Insurance Agency Ltd., likes to spread his name throughout accounting and law firms as an insurance person who can be trusted.

He gets 80 per cent of his clients from referrals, and the remaining 20 per cent from “reverse” prospecting. In this latter situation, a client will name drop a potential prospect, but doesn’t give a direct referral. He will ask his client if he can tell the prospect that he is known to the client’s firm. Or, Mr. Polci will call someone in the know – perhaps another client or a business owner – tell her that he is trying to meet with this third party and whether he can say that the two of them have a business relationship. “Four or five of my very best top 10 clients have come from this method. It’s a very effective way of prospecting.”


Yes, it may sound passé but it works, said Justine Zavitz, a certified financial planner with Zavitz Insurance Inc. As a young insurance advisor, Ms. Zavitz learned she had to adopt the passion to speak with conviction if she wanted to make it in the business – a difficult task given she had little experience and even less confidence.

“I learned very early in my career to build your credibility through networking. It is a long process but it yields great results. It includes becoming involved in your community in a number of different ways. It can help you position yourself strategically in the areas where you want to find your target market, but it also involves networking within your industry. Join your association and be engaged in it. It will teach you professionalism, new strategies, provide you with mentors and open the door to great opportunities.”

The quiet dinner

Edward McQuillan likes a nice 1985 Chateau Bordeaux and when he is invited for dinner he brings a minimum of two bottles of wine. Recently, he brought together a group of clients, all with similar interests but who didn’t know each other. Mr. McQuillan, vice president of The McQuillan Group Inc., invited the group to a private dinner at a club, created his own menu and brought along some wine from his private collection. He asked an art curator to come and talk about wine labels. The clients became so engaged that what was supposed to be a 15-minute talk by the art curator turned into a 45-minute question and answer session.

“We didn’t talk insurance, but I will call them two months before their age change and see what happens,” said Mr. McQuillan. “Will this adventure pay dividends? I’m not sure yet. We’ll have to wait and see, but it was fun.”
In doing so, Mr. McQuillan follows his own motto of engaging clients in what’s important to them: “Charity, spouse, children, grandchildren, land, business succession – it doesn’t matter. Find out what it is, and then insure it.”

Words of wisdom:

Develop a trust relationship with the underwriter – just like you would with a client, said Micheline Varas, senior vice president of CustomPlan Financial Advisors. “Thank them. Take them to lunch. We have to remember that the underwriter’s [actions] are as crucial to our clients’ futures as we are.”

Keep a year’s expenses in the bank: It could take months to close a deal on a high net-worth client and smaller commissions can be bumpy, said Peter Creaghan, partner with Creaghan McConnell Group Ltd. Don’t forget that staff and rent need to be paid in the meantime.

Lead a seminar, don’t let someone else do it: “Be a star of your own seminar,” said Justine Zavitz. “People will call the person who seems to have the most knowledge when they need them,” she said. “In the end, you have built a short-term and a long-term pipeline to live off of.”

If you hear about a good idea, move on it quickly: Reh Bhanji provided a few ideas to those at the Congress but told them that if they liked a suggestion, they had 72 hours to implement it. Why only 72? After that he said, you tend to forget.