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Making the A-List

Whether you are a new agent or you’re working with one, be willing to share what you know and learn from each other.

By Helen Thompson

As general agent for MassMutual in the San Francisco Bay area, Robert Fakhimi CLU, ChFC, CFP, knows that early success is not easy—even though he first qualified for MDRT when he was 25 years old. (He’s 37 now.) “We are very honest in admitting that the first two years are going to be difficult,” he says. “We don’t sugarcoat any of it.” But he has an incredible retention rate, and business is booming. “The beauty of the Bay area is that there are 14 or 15 universities that are full of brilliant young people,” he says. “Having started at 21 right out of college myself, I’m able to connect with younger people and attract them to the organization.”

Advisor Today asked Fakhimi what makes his agents successful, whether they are just starting out or rapidly advancing their careers under his guidance. Here is what he had to say:

1. Be “coachable” and be entrepreneurial. That’s right, both. “On many occasions, people are one or the other,” Fakhimi says. “Some people only want to do it their way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can get in the way because I have already figured out how to make it through the first three years.” Other attributes for success that Fakhimi points out are intelligence, professional appearance and competitiveness.

2. Work with other stars. Fakhimi invited 10 of his agents to participate in a “study group” that he moderates. They meet every couple of months and talk about sales ideas, marketing, best practices and so on. “They’re a close group and it’s great to watch them,” says Fakhimi. “The youngest is 24 years old, and they are just incredible.”

3. Build the team around its talents. “I have a cool picture of an advisor and a client in the middle, surrounded by all these people who know exactly what they are doing,” says Fakhimi. “We have full-time specialists on staff—such as our financial-planning specialist, Monica. The agent doesn’t have to do the work of a financial planner because she knows there’s a really good one three doors down.” Fakhimi also has an insurance expert, a securities expert, a pension person and so on. These are all full-time members of his team.

4. Plan on a 90-day cycle. Forget the annual business plan, says Fakhimi. By using a 90-day planning cycle, you can really focus on your goals and accomplish them in a systematic way. One example he gives is that new agents are too willing to try a little bit of everything, but that’s not an efficient way to reach their goals. “Prospecting and marketing are some of the toughest things I see new agents struggle with,” he says. “Through this system, you can lock in with a laser-like focus, and the process becomes a lot more disciplined.”

The power of belonging to NAIFA
One final note: Almost all—if not all—of Fakhimi’s agents are active members of NAIFA-Mt. Diablo. “I joined NAIFA shortly after I started in the business,” says Fakhimi. “The reason I really want them to be a part of NAIFA is that we want them to have exposure to the industry and we’re a main sponsor of our local association. But more than that, we have such a great chapter. They bring in excellent speakers, including beneficiary panels that allow new agents to understand things like disability claims and other things a brand new agent hasn’t experienced at all.”

But the real joy for Fakhimi is seeing his agents thrive and succeed. He has grown his group from 15 or so seasoned agents in 2001 to 72 full-time career agents, 51 of whom are under 40, and 30 of whom are women. And of the 11 agents he’s hired so far this year, each is new to the business. “The new agent feels comfortable because he sees the value of the agency as being a whole bunch of people who actually care about their success and who will do everything they can to make sure he gets through those first three years,” says Fakhimi.


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