This is the case of the 10,000-pound door. When an agent reaches his office in the morning, the door only allows him in; it won’t let him out. No matter how much he wants to step out during the day and see clients—no matter how much he wants to build up the financial-services side of his business—it just doesn’t happen. His hours are filled with transactional work and property and casualty (P/C) sales.
As a field sales associate with State Farm, I help multiline agents like you grow the financial-services side of their business. And guess what? It’s a lot easier than you may think. You don’t have to be a financial whiz, and you don’t have to spend hours blindly calling up P/C clients, hoping one will give you an “in.” Your best prospect is right at your fingertips—in your client file. His name is Mr. (or Ms.) Business Owner.
A receptive audience
I have yet to go into a multiline agency that doesn’t have a sizable number of business owners in its client file. These clients have already been sold the basics like workers’ compensation, liability and auto insurance. Yet, it amazes me how many agents never take the natural—and easy—next step of asking these clients about retirement planning or life insurance. What a shame! At the end of the day, this is a pretty receptive audience.
Think about it. Business owners generally have a need, they have the desire to fix the need, and they have the money to put a solution in place. What they don’t have is the time to pick up the phone and call you. That’s where you come in. The highest compliment you can pay a business owner is to take the lead. Here’s how to get the ball rolling:
Step No. 1: Set up a casual lunch meeting with him. Just call and say, “Hi, Mr. Smith, you’ve been a client of mine for several years … I like to keep in touch with my business-owner clients to see how their business is doing. Are you free for lunch one day?” I have rarely seen an agent turned down by one of his business-owner clients. (Even business owners have to stop and eat, after all. Besides, going to lunch gives them a welcome break from all the interruptions of the day.) Or, just stop by and extend the invitation in person, either on your way to the office or when you’re out photographing property. When one of my agents did just that, the business owner replied, “You know, I’ve been meaning to call you for two months—I need more life insurance.”
Step No. 2: Reorient your thinking. As you gear up for the lunch meeting, remember a few things: First, nobody expects you to have all the answers to their financial-planning questions right off the bat; they just want somebody to get them the information. Second, don’t go to the meeting with a product in mind. With financial services, it’s more about uncovering a need and going from there.
Step No. 3: Make it a conversation, not an inquisition! It’s lunchtime, and you’re sitting opposite the business owner. This is your chance to make that personal connection. You might say, “You know, I’ve done your workers’ comp, I’ve done your liability insurance, but I don’t know much about your business … how’d you get started? What exactly do you do? How long have you been in the business?” From there, move into questions that uncover possible areas of concern, while keeping your input to a minimum. Here are a few good questions to ask: “If I had a magic wand and could wave it over your business—and make your biggest headache go away—what would it be? What irritates you day to day? Who runs this business while you’re gone?”
The answers I have received are just unbelievable. At one of my last appointments, the business owner said, “You know, I have four fabulous managers—without them, I’d be dead.” “Well,” I asked, “have you done anything to make sure they don’t leave you?” The business owner replied, “No, not really.”
Don’t bring up any products during the lunch appointment. Toward the end, simply recap the conversation: “You said you might be interested in looking into ways of retaining key employees. What I’d like to do now is take this information back to my office and really go through it … then try to put together some options, and get back to you.” Conclude the conversation by setting up a second meeting, held no later than a week away. If you’ve already uncovered the need, the business owner will be excited to meet with you again.
Step No. 4: Send out a “discovery” letter. The next day, dash off a note to the business owner. Again, take care not to go into product details. Instead say something like, “I enjoyed meeting with you. Here are the issues we talked about and that I’m working on now. If you have any questions, give me a call. I’ll see you at noon, a week from now.” One of my agents goes on one appointment a week, and already has enough business on the financial-services end to keep him busy.
To push open that 10,000-pound door. Take the time to visit your business-owner clients. They may be looking for help, but just don’t have the time to ask for it. Most insurance companies, for their part, have specialists available to assist you in this type of work. Call them. If need be, bring them along to the second appointment. Your clients will thank you for your help, and refer you to other business owners.
Jim Dorschel, LUTCF, a field sales associate with State Farm Insurance and a former agent with New York Life, is president of NAIFA-Palomar (Calif.). You may reach him at 858-945-2154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.