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Reach New Heights

The Million Dollar Round Table meeting in Denver inspired, motivated and delivered great ideas for running a more successful business.

By Maggie Leyes

The MDRT annual meeting is all about inspiration and motivation—and that’s exactly what the more than 7,000 attendees from 76 countries got. Case in point: Keynote speaker Ben Stein worked the crowd into a frenzy—like a modern-day financi-vangelist. He hit the right chord because he understands. This Ivy League educated economist and lawyer, entertainer and author understands exactly what agents and advisors do—and will do: Save this country. “Your whole job,” he said, “is to help your fellow citizens feel secure. … You build community; you hold it together to make sure no one is left out. You guys are the [country’s] safety net.”

He stated, in absolute terms, that variable annuities are “the best way to invest in the stock market.” And if your clients bring up Suze Orman’s name, saying she is not in favor of VAs, Stein had this response for you to use: “Tell them to read Ben Stein. While she was playing with Barbies, I was in the school of economics.” (And, we might add, headed for Yale Law School where he graduated as valedictorian.) He said that if there was one takeaway from his speech it would be this: “When you call up your people to talk to them about variable annuities, you are doing them an incredible favor.”

New heights
But perhaps we’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves. Stein took the stage on Wednesday, June 13, the last day of the annual meeting. The journey began on Monday, when MDRT President Philip Harriman, CLU, ChFC, officially opened the proceedings and told attendees that being in the Mile-High City of Denver was the perfect place to “reach new heights”—the theme of the conference.

But reaching new heights—unimaginable heights—often comes at a price. Difficulty and suffering were transformational elements for two main-stage speakers. Take Li Cunxin. His early childhood was one of starvation and deprivation in a family of nine in the countryside of Mao’s Communist China in the early ’60s. The hand of fate—in the form of a teacher—intervened, and at age 10, he was chosen to train for the national ballet. The 15-hour days of training, and being away from his family were, he admitted, often more grueling and painful than his years growing up in his village.

Through determination, passion and help from generous people along the way, he was able to escape his country and became one of the top ballet dancers in the world. “Without passion,” he said, “we cannot reach our highest goals.” But that was not his final act. He made the successful transition to the world of finance. Currently, he is a senior manager at one of the largest stock-brokerage firms in Australia, Bell Potter Securities Ltd.

Then there is the story of Dan Miller, educator and school administrator, who had the opposite experience. Throughout an idyllic childhood, he cultivated his basketball skills and at the age of 18, found himself on the cusp of his dream: playing college ball on scholarship. Destiny had other plans, however, in the form of polio. Despite losing most of the mobility in his legs and right arm, he has done what other people—who have the full use of all their limbs—can only dream of doing: getting his pilot’s license, playing the guitar and forming a band, obtaining a masters degree in physical education and then teaching elementary school children—even achieving a 13 handicap in golf.

Both men had a common message; Miller expressed it concisely: “Remember, heartache, pain and suffering come to everyone. Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.”

Something for everyone
There was also plenty of specific advice to help agents and financial advisors improve their practice. From learning new closing techniques to pumping up your disability income (DI) insurance sales, there was something for everyone—from every country. Here are a few highlights.

There are three myths that prevent you from reaching your potential, said Jim Ruta of Expert Institute, in his main stage presentation “Crack the Code.” The first is that you think you can do everything; the second is that you believe “professional” equals “complicated” and the third is that you feel “if you build it, they will come.” In fact, these three myths prevent you from reaching what you deserve, stressed Ruta. Here are some steps to help you get beyond these myths:

Specialize. You can’t do everything, nor should you, he told the audience. To be successful in this business means you need to specialize. “No one has time for general advice anymore; they don’t have time for average,” he said. “Expertise is the No. 1 thing your clients expect from you. If you’re not giving expert advice, what type of advice are you giving?” The key, then, is to do fewer things for a smaller group of people.

Be simple. This is especially important in your marketing material. Remember, said Ruta, that the expert takes the complicated and makes it simple; the amateur takes the simple and makes it complicated. Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs; avoid abbreviations; and spell out acronyms. “Keep in mind, it’s not about you; it’s about them—your clients,” he added. “So change wording such as ‘I will’ to ‘you will.’”

Forget your “elevator speech.” It serves no one, he said, to keep what you do a secret. Let people know what you do, and make that message simple. Ditch that 30-second elevator speech. Instead, replace it with five to eight words that “carve out your mission,” said Ruta. In response to the question, “What do you do?” you can say, for example, “I preserve family legacies for people who care,” or “I help build better retirements for everyday people.”

Referrals the right way
What prevents advisors who want referrals from asking for them? The answer is the same for most advisors, said Dan Richards of Strategic Imperatives, in his breakout session “Rethinking Referrals.” They are concerned about appearing pushy, and they don’t want to put clients under the gun. “So, we have to find an approach that addresses both of those issues,” he said.

Traditionally, asking for referrals has fallen into two categories: direct and indirect. Richards gave an example of both to show why they don’t work. Imagine Peter is your client and is sitting across from you. The direct approach would be to say, “Peter, are you happy with the job I’ve done for you?” When the client says yes, you then reply, “Peter, I’m delighted to hear that. Tell me, Peter, who among the people you know could I help in the same way? I could take their names right now.” This method of asking for referrals is the pressure-based approach, said Richards, which can “make clients squirm.” Often they reply with a noncommittal, “I can’t think of anyone, but I will certainly let you know if I do,” and you end up with no referrals.

The indirect approach would go something like this: When Peter replies that he is happy with the job you are doing, you say, “I’m delighted to hear that. I’m hoping to add more clients like you to my practice. Should you know of someone who you think I could help, who would be interested in a second opinion, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pass my name along. Would you feel comfortable doing that?” Now the pressure is off. “But,” said Richards, “no pressure, no stress generally means no results.”

The solution is to be specific and ask close-ended questions. “The more specific the question is, the better the result,” he said. For example, imagine that Peter is a partner in a mid-sized architectural firm. The referral conversation might go something like this: “Peter, over the past five years we’ve worked together, you’ve often mentioned your partners Pat and Joan. Is either of them someone I should talk to?”

This example came from a real advisor, said Richards, who was trying this approach for the first time. And while the client’s response was, “Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know; I’ll ask them,” much to the advisor’s surprise, he did. And the client called back that afternoon with this response: “I’ve spoken to Pat and Joan. Pat’s happy where he is, but Joan would be most interested in hearing from you.”

Dl—the “two-for” sale
In his session, “Making Top of the Table With Disability Income Insurance,” Thomas R. Petersen, RHU, FLMI, of Petersen International Underwriters, asked the audience for the main reasons agents and advisors sell life insurance. What they came up with will probably not surprise you: personal needs, financial planning, protecting the family, business needs and business planning.

When Petersen asked them for the main reasons agents and advisors should be selling DI insurance—he was really posing a trick question. The correct answer: It’s the same list—the same reasons. His point? DI insurance sales should be a “two-for” sale. “It’s the same story you just told to sell life insurance. It’s the same story and the same need,” he said. “So, the ‘acquisition’ cost to sell DI is zero.”

In every instance in which you sell life insurance—and for the same reasons—you should be making a DI sale, said Petersen. That one small addition to your practice, he said, could propel you to Top of the Table status (or if you have yet to make MDRT—that could be your goal). He then went on to give some 40 examples of how you can add a DI insurance sale to your client’s current portfolio.

It all comes back to life insurance: Where life insurance is needed, so is DI insurance. Are you offering a business client keyperson life insurance? That meets the business’ needs if the finality of death strikes, he explained. But what happens if that keyperson is disabled—what happens to the business then? The same goes for a buy/sell agreement. If the owner is disabled, he becomes what Petersen termed “dead productively.” This is a clear-cut opportunity for a DI sale.

Loss of future earnings, bank loan indemnification, severance agreements—these are all opportunities for you to make a DI sale. Petersen advised the audience to approach the DI discussion with their clients in this way, “I found a financial hole in your plan, and I have a product called disability income insurance to plug it.”

Keeping it young
Seniors are not who you think they are. That was the lesson Norman Bouchard, CSA, of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, imparted in his breakout session, “Mastering the Art of Communication With Older Adults.” They are a very powerful group—and the 85-and-older group is the fastest-growing segment of America’s senior population. “To sell to them, you have to care about them,” he said. “If you don’t care about them and understand the aging process, you can devastate their lives.” In working with seniors, you need to:

Focus on women. “Whom do you think you’re speaking to?” Bouchard asked. After age 85, women outnumber their male peers seven to three. “At this age, the old boys’ club is dead. Women are the ones that make the buying decision,” he said. “If you aren’t selling to women, you aren’t going to make the sale.”

Offer products they need. Get in touch with a reverse-mortgage specialist. “Their home is their greatest asset,” said Bouchard, “and there are a lot of myths about reverse mortgages, so do a lot of networking with a specialist.” And, long-term care insurance is “absolutely vital.” The sale isn’t hard, he assured listeners, if you talk to the caregivers, because they understand what is involved in providing long-term care.

Chop off a decade: As people age, they function seven to 10 years younger than their chronological age, said Bouchard. (Think about it, just how old do you feel?) So, think twice about putting pictures of elderly people on your marketing material; they don’t identify themselves with those people.

Keep in mind how senses and bodies age. As eyesight begins to fail, many older people don’t like to drive at night, so Bouchard recommends that you arrange daytime appointments with them and avoid evening seminars. When speaking with older clients, compensate for their diminished hearing by lowering your tone instead of raising your voice (as they lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds). And, during appointments, take it slow. “Nothing is fast with the older population,” he said. “Take things one at a time, like signing paperwork. If you try to rush them through it, they will not trust you.”

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