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Success Tips from the 75th Annual MDRT Meeting

These hints can help you succeed in seminar selling and get you into the good habits of Top of the Table producers.

By Ayo Mseka

Thousands of the world’s top producers met in Nashville this June for a rare occasion—the opportunity to attend MDRT’s 75th Annual Meeting. For four action-packed days, they heard the best in the business share their secrets for success.

Those who wanted to learn what it takes to master the fine art of seminar marketing received some helpful hints from Gary F. Thomas, CLU, ChFC, who went from the home office to Top of the Table in six years. His seven secrets of seminar success are:

1. You can’t have a successful seminar if no one comes.
To get qualified prospects to attend your seminars, you should start with your existing clients, advised Thomas, founder of The Wealth Group. Invite some of your better clients or prospects to these seminars, he added, and tailor the program to their areas of interest. And if you want to double the number of attendees, offer at least two alternate dates for the seminar. To reach beyond your clients and prospects, you should also use direct mail, which will allow you to “pack more information and motivation into the invitation package than any other means.”

As you send out invitations, you should try not to invent what is already proven. “Find a list broker that specializes in financial services and rely on them,” he advised. “They are experts that can save you a lot of time, effort and money.”

2. Little things matter.
Because prospects are quick to judge you in seminar marketing, everything matters—from your initial contact with them before the seminar to their first impressions of you and the seminar environment. So you should make sure that your invitation is clear and well written, the seminar location is attractive and well maintained, there is ample seating and guests are greeted and made to feel comfortable.

3. Seminar prospects are already sold.
Prospects who agree to visit with you after attending a seminar are already sold, he said. “Make sure you don’t un-sell them.” During the first meeting, listen to them carefully and discover their fears and danger zones. Then provide the appropriate solution, even if it is not the one that gives you the greatest compensation. “Take off your salesman’s hat and put on your advisor hat,” he advised. “You will watch your results head for the stratosphere.”

4. The principles of good salesmanship apply.
These principles are the same that have enabled you to have a successful sales career, he pointed out. They include:

  • Ask for commitment. You should not let your prospects drift away before asking them to complete a seminar-evaluation form, he advised. This form solicits relevant client-contact information, identifies the clients’ interest in attending future seminars and allows them to ask for an appointment. In general, about 20 percent to 40 percent of attendees will want to see you immediately. However, you should call all of them, he added. “You are now ready to convert your seminar prospects into seminar clients.”
  • Know your subject. Another law is to make sure you have mastered your presentation and materials. Go back to the time when you were a new agent and memorize your seminar presentation so that you can deliver it with commitment, enthusiasm and no hint of a struggle. “It is almost impossible to communicate the proper enthusiasm for your message if you waste energy in trying to remember things or in worrying about your presentation when you are in front of your prospects,” he pointed out.
  • Keep it simple and sincere. If you overload attendees with information, it will be impossible for them to focus on the key points. Stay focused on your subject mater and make sure you drive home the main topics. In seminar selling, he said, “more is less. The more you tell your prospects, the less they will remember.”

5. Mail them until they buy or die.
Each year, Thomas’ firm sends every client and prospect at least 16 pieces of mail, including product and concept letters, and birthday, anniversary and holiday letters. His favorite is the Find the Money letter, which surveys the clients’ interests, income and available funds. “Don’t waste the time, energy and resources you have spent by not staying in touch with your prospect,” he urged. “To do so is a major error and will cost you money.”

6. Hold a lot of seminars.
Thomas personally conducts about 50 to 60 seminars each year. His favorites are client-appreciation seminars, to which about 200 clients attend, together with their friends and families. His company also hosts educational seminars on a wide range of topics, including taxes, estate planning, long-term care and insurance.

7. Have fun.
Thomas ended his presentation with an enduring truth: Most successful people do not need to be taught; they simply need to be reminded. “Much of what is required to have a very successful practice that is built on seminar marketing is simply courtesy and common sense,” he concluded.

How to “bear-proof” investments
From Bobb Meckenstock, CLU, attendees received useful advice on surviving—and thriving—in today’s unstable financial markets. According to Meckenstock, the tragic events of 2001—the Sept. 11 attacks, a recession and 11 interest rate cuts—have changed the lives of Americans forever. People are now starting to re-evaluate what is important to them and hopefully, they are discovering that it is not just money or the pursuit of money, but the “little things.”

If he had to sum up the last year in two words, they would be safety and security. People want these two qualities, he emphasized, and they want them now more than ever. “Fortunately,” he added, “both are inherent in the insurance industry.”

As the industry returns to the basics of selling life insurance, annuities and retirement plans, annuities appear to be the perfect answer, he said. They are built for safety, stability and security, and are delivered from an industry that has always been the foundation of financial strength. “Help your clients understand this, and together, you can ‘bear proof’ their investment strategies,” he concluded.

The seven habits of top producers
On hand to describe the seven habits of a highly effective Top of the Table producer was Rick Thomas, CLU, and CEO of Thomas Financial Group. According to Thomas, the seven habits of a top producer are:

1. They rest when they get there. As he explained it, his firm begins with the end in mind. It establishes goals each year, which will ensure its 18 percent compounded growth rate. In the ‘70s, he had to hold about 350 meetings in order to make 100 sales because, occasionally, they did not make a sale during the first meeting. It still takes about 350 marketing meetings to achieve 100 sales, he pointed out, but today, many of those meetings are with “technical buyers” like accountants and attorneys.

The firm also sets time, premium and commission spread goals, as well as goals for each phase of its business. “These goals are consistent with our growth rate and with our 29 years of experience,” he added.

2. They get there “firstest with the mostest.” “It’s all about time,” he stressed. “We want all our associates to be smart, fast and relentless. We believe speed is also vital in response time for critical issues and have a 48-hour rule to contact clients on subjects of concern.”

3. They make a business that is “hard by the yard become a cinch by the inch.” The knowledge that an 18 percent compounded return means a business will double every four years can make execution a daunting task, he admitted, unless that task is broken down in small pieces. To do this, he starts each year with his calendar to determine how many workday opportunities he will have. For example, he has estimated that he will have 200 working days this year to achieve his personal paid goal of $3.5 million of first-year commissions. This means he has 40 weeks to submit $4 million of written business, which breaks down to $100,000 per week or $20,000 per workday.

4. They inspect what they expect. The firm has a monthly, companywide staff meeting to review its goals and make mid-course corrections, as necessary. It reviews goals and standards in nearly every phase of the business, including marketing, underwriting, client service turnaround, in-force business growth and commission spreads.

5. “If they can’t do better, they have to do different.” To cover 350 marketing meetings, Thomas uses an associate producer, a full-time staff member who meets with clients, advisors and centers of influence on his behalf. She takes applications, gets trust work and legal documents signed, and gets policies delivered. “We implemented this program in 1997 and we could not have kept our growth rate without it. First-year commission growth has increased 22 percent annually since we started the program,” he said.

6. They make the exception the rule. Thomas’ firm has long determined that its competition will come from bankers and brokerage firms—most of whom are bigger than his firm and have more resources. As a result, the company’s objective is to get there faster with solutions and underwriting and deliver service expectations that are legendary. This means that its goal is to provide service “that people will talk about.”

7. They help enough people get what they want so they can get what they want. All of the firm’s associates are paid monthly bonuses based on their performance and firm production. They receive additional year-end bonuses based on firm production at three levels, the firm reimburses them for their educational expenses and offers them bonuses when they complete their educational requirements. In addition, they are eligible for the annual Stonewall Jackson award designed for those who go above and beyond the call of duty.

The firm also gives back to the community in various ways. Last year, for instance, its net production was $350 million in new face amount. “Those are dollars for future delivery that will keep people in their homes, keep businesses together, educate children and help people in our community have secure retirements,” he said.


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