Transform failures into learning opportunities

By Susan Yellin | August 18 2014 09:00AM

Sales has always been a tough profession, especially so, said speakers at the Canada Sales Congress, in the life insurance and benefits industry where many prospects still immediately dismiss the products as being overpriced and unnecessary.Failure to close a deal – and sometimes even to get to that important first call – is not unusual. In fact, some speakers said, using the Granum Method, out of 10 potentials, only three will invite an advisor to make a presentation and only one will actually end up signing a contract.

But that doesn’t mean advisors should let disappointment run their lives. Bill Bell, a partner at Bell Pascal, started selling insurance when he was 17 and after 54 years in the business, said failure has never been a part of his vocabulary.

“You have to eliminate the word ‘failure’,” Bell told the 1,200 attendees at the 2014 conference in Toronto. “I replace the word with ‘experience.’ Anything, any time that something goes wrong, I look at it as another experience – it happened, it’s behind me, let’s move on. I never look at it as failure and hopefully, it’s what I learn from.”

Centres of influence

Experience also comes from mentors and circles of influence, a number of speakers said.

Barry Pascal, partner at the father-son firm of Bell Pascal, said it’s key for advisors to surround themselves with people who they enjoy working with and with whom they are proud to work.

Pascal said it only makes sense that when people in the industry get together subjects revolve around commissions and overrides, and the like.

But he said when it comes to choosing strategic partners, a different tack should be taken. “You want to choose people who raise the game, who challenge you. They help you figure out where you need to go to meet the clients’ needs.”

Pascal suggested that people choose a mentor who they admire and make the mentor proud of what you have accomplished.

Even successful business leaders turn to mentors to help them over the course of their careers, said Richard Cooper, partner at Creative Planning Financial Group.

“Those of you who work with a mentor will find out that you have greater confidence and go on to realize greater success in your profession,” said Cooper, adding mentoring is a two-way street. “Mentors wind up benefiting much the same way as mentees do. They all learn new ideas to help each other in their businesses.”

A number of speakers at the conference were able to point to such life insurance leaders as Joe Dickstein and Lawrence Geller as some of their mentors.

Others who can help advisors along are centres of influence, but like mentors, you need to pick and choose who you want to help you, said Roger Thorpe, president, Thorpe Benefits Inc.

Thorpe said it is the advisor’s responsibility to constantly manage and educate their centres of influence (COIs).

“Some people like to define great COIs as ambassadors and strategic alliances. As much as we need to evolve these relationships we also need to weed and trim once in a while,” he said. “So for every coffee meeting you have with a potential COI, you must constantly evaluate your efforts and must constantly look at the potential of these relationships. It’s better to concentrate on 10 great COIs than to spread yourself thin against 50 weak ones. My suggestion is to find...a COI who believes in you and what you stand for.”

Thorpe also suggested advisors look at the companies these CIOs lead and ensure they provide for the health needs of their employees. Thorpe said healthy businesses turn into more successful companies and leaders who exemplify healthy lifestyles can be positive role models.

Study groups

Pascal said he has also joined a study group of three business associates, noting that in these groups, people share confidences, support each other and figure out problems together.

Advisors should also take a page from some of their best clients – successful business people who have been able to make it to the top partly on the basis of their ability to prioritize what is important to their business, said Cooper.

Like top clients, figure out your business plan ahead of time, he suggests.

“At the beginning of each year I take the time to set goals,” said Cooper. “On paper, I lay out a series of monthly goals, with business and income I expect to earn and I review them regularly. I remember my father saying: ‘Goals give you a reason to get up each day, they give you focus and give you momentum.’ He was right because in hindsight, if I ever feel that I have lost momentum or focus, it’s because I lost sight of what my goals were.”

Advisors can then translate those processes over to their clients, said veteran advisor Bill Andrew who started in the life insurance business in 1956.

Andrew said he tells clients that there are five times in their lives when they are going to want to have money available for future delivery: money when they retire, money when they die to cover expenses and financially aid their families, savings for advanced education for their children, funds for business opportunities and money in case of disability.

Andrew then asks his clients to list them in the most important order. “I try to get the client into the act and prioritize. Most people don’t think about these things except for maybe 30 seconds in their car. So you are helping them by asking questions and what’s going on in their lives.”

A number of speakers – each who was asked to give 10 helpful practice management suggestions in 18 minutes – talked about the importance of letting clients tell their own story, sometimes by asking thoughtful questions, but then also listening to what they had to say.

The art of not talking

“Learn the art of not talking – in other words, listen,” said John Firstbrook, president & CEO, Firstbrook Group of Companies. “It’s true – my family and friends will tell you that I love to talk. But I’ve also learned that as a professional salesperson we must listen far more. This happens in many points in the sales process – [such as] the fact find – learning what problems they have. Ask a prospect how they see themselves solving their own issues and listen to their ideas.”

The most important time comes when the advisor presents the solution to the client, said Firstbrook. “Listen twice as much as you talk.”

Throughout the years there may be a tendency to lose interest and regard selling insurance as a service rather than “an experience,” said Julian Wise, principal at Wise Advisory Group Inc.

But Wise said advisors need to be as excited about the product and what they are doing to help families as they are about the sale itself.

“We don’t look on service as service,” he said. “We sit back and say: how are we going to create experiences for our clients? Because giving service is just like filling the milk can – creating experiences is when you help people transform their lives and look at them in different ways.

“So when a client calls and says that they have an issue, we don’t say: ‘It’s no problem,’ we say: ‘That’s what we do for important clients like you.’ So take the word service out of your vocabulary and replace it with the word experience. Look at all your processes to see how you would be able to create experiences for your clients, not just deliver service.”