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Don’t Do What Comes Naturally

If you want to grow your business, try exploring nontraditional markets.

By Kamal N. Daya, CLU, CFP, ChFC

Building a client base is a challenge for any advisor. Those of us fortunate enough to have a large family or circle of friends to draw upon for prospects and referrals may have an easier beginning. But eventually the family and friends “wells” run dry, and we have to face the world outside and all the potential rejection it holds. To lessen the chances of rejection, and increase the probability of sales success, we look to prospects with whom we feel we have a natural connection. We turn to those who share our ethnic, cultural or religious background.

But what if you find yourself with no readily available natural markets? What if your natural markets have been over-prospected, are geographically inaccessible, too small, too large or too boring? Is the lack of a natural market a liability or an asset? Does a natural market encourage you to be the best you can be, or does it limit your vision and opportunity?

My story
In 1976, I was a skinny, Asian-Indian immigrant—an ex-engineer—searching for success selling life insurance to predominantly Scandinavian, Irish, German and Dutch farmers in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. During my first three months as a life insurance agent I managed to sell exactly zero policies. There really wasn’t much of a natural market for me in southeastern Wisconsin, and I came to the conclusion that I would have to travel to my natural market enclaves in Chicago and similar cities if I wanted to make a sale. So, I got in my beat-up VW and hit the road. I enjoyed modest success, but I was miserable. Fortunately, a senior agent in my office took pity on me and suggested I try another market approach. He suggested I try selling to my “most available” local market, which was Wisconsin dairy farmers—even though I had nothing, apparently, in common with them. It was probably the best career advice I have ever received.

A different me
Working natural markets is usually comfortable, but it can often be very limiting. Like wearing an old, broken-in pair of shoes, they may be comfortable, but you may not look your best while wearing them. Working in nontraditional, or unnatural, markets can have many advantages and valuable consequences. It forces you to leave your comfort zone. It requires that you understand—honestly and completely—your particular skills, talents, strengths and weaknesses. It also means you can approach nontraditional markets with fresh eyes and can offer innovative solutions to a prospect’s needs.

My entry into the Wisconsin farm market was anything but comfortable or natural. Having no clue as to what was involved in the day-to-day operation of a farm was uncomfortable and embarrassing. Holstein, Charolais, Angus, Guernsey—they were all just cows—big, big cows—to me. What was I thinking? How could I make this work? I wanted to walk—no, run—away from this market But I persisted, partly out of stubbornness and partly out of desperation. And then I had an epiphany: I didn’t need a different market; I needed a different me. I needed to change if I wanted to get to the top.

Ask for help
I would be lying if I let you think that I got to the top of my game in the farm market on my own. Success comes more easily if you have the broad shoulders of others to stand on. In my case, it took the mentorship of sympathetic senior agents to get me started in my new market. One agent offered to work jointly with me. I would select the target, make the first contact, schedule the appointment, gather as much background information as I could, and we would then jointly prepare the sales presentation and go on the call. I highly recommend joint work to anyone interested in pursuing new markets. Partner with a more experienced agent; observe his skills and approach; and borrow his credibility and high level of expertise.

The steps to take
Getting to the top of your game does not just happen; it requires that you be more focused, more committed, more persistent, more determined and more creative than your competition. It requires you to:

1. Believe in what you are selling. Have you heard of the legendary New York Life agent Ben Feldman? His career is a textbook we should all study. Ben sold more than a billion dollars’ worth of life insurance in his career. (He’s listed in Guinness World Records.) What made him so extraordinary? He believed in what he was selling, making sure his personal life insurance portfolio accomplished what he wanted for his beneficiaries. Being a strong believer in what you are selling is one of the most important factors for achieving a successful career. Believing that prospects and clients are best served by buying the product from you is the logical corollary.

2. View yourself as an entrepreneur. Dan Sullivan, author of The Strategic Coach, observed that the most successful financial-services professionals are those who approach the marketplace as entrepreneurs. They see themselves as problem solvers, not product peddlers. They understand that their advancement is directly related to their skills, and are always improving them. They keep abreast of industry developments by reading industry periodicals; they attend skills-development workshops and conferences; they participate in peer mentoring and study groups; and they pursue professional certifications and designations.

3. Actively listen. Problem solvers develop the skill of asking penetrating questions and then actively listening to what the prospect is saying, verbally and nonverbally. Brian Tracy put it very well when he stated: “Perhaps the most powerful ability you can develop to influence others is the ability to ask questions carefully and to listen attentively to the answers. Remember, listening can build trust and credibility. … A basic rule is that you should never say anything if you can find a way to ask it instead.”

4. Be credible. You don’t get taken seriously in this world unless you can claim credibility in your field. How do we as financial-services professionals develop and demonstrate our credibility to prospects? Again, to paraphrase financial-services and personal-development guru Dan Sullivan, it starts with four simple credibility habits:

  • Always show up on time and be respectful of the other person’s schedule, commitments, deadlines and goals.
  • Always do what you say you will do.
  • Always finish what you start.
  • Always show respect and appreciation for others.

This is an excerpt from a speech given at the 2006 MDRT annual meeting. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Kamal N. Daya, CLU, CFP, ChFC, of Kamal Daya and Associates, is a 27-year MDRT member with eight Court of the Table and four Top of the Table honors, and a member of NAIFA-Dallas. Contact him at



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