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D. Scott Brennan

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D. Scott Brennan has been an MDRT member for over 35 years and served as MDRT’s 2013 President. Brennan has multiple Court of the Table and Top of the Table qualifications and is an MDRT Foundation Legion of Honor Excalibur Knight. He is the 75th recipient of the John Newton Russell Memorial Award. Brennan can be reached via email at scbrennan@financialguide.com.

Unlocking Emotional Intelligence To Improve Client Relationships

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For every 10 prospects you encounter you might have an introductory conversation with three of them, and one of those three might become a client. While the right product and expertise might help you increase the number who convert to clients, what if there was a way to bring more people in for that introductory conversation? Surprisingly, a bit of emotional intelligence can go a long way.

According to a recent study conducted by MDRT, 85 percent of Americans would be more likely to trust recommendations from financial advisors if they demonstrate emotional intelligence—a staggering statistic amid an era of distrust. In this time of historic turmoil, advisors seeking to reassure, reposition or even retain clients must exhibit genuine empathy and compassion—traits that have come naturally to me throughout my 42 years in the industry. For those to whom emotional intelligence does not come with quite as much ease, there’s still good news: It is a skill that can be learned, honed and perfected with a bit of practice.

The heart of sales
A philosophy developed by Larry Wilson of Counselor Selling that has resonated with me throughout my career is the idea of viewing sales as a bicycle. Ninety percent of the importance is in the front wheel, which represents social skills, while the other 10 percent is technical and product knowledge. Product knowledge is critical, but like a bicycle, it’s useless without the front wheel.

This isn’t just a theory—the data supports it. According to the same MDRT study, Americans are more likely to trust advisors who listen to and acknowledge their clients’ needs (57 percent), communicate in easily understood ways (57 percent), follow through on their word (55 percent), and show they care about their clients as people (52 percent). These majorities contrast with just 30 percent of Americans who say they would be more likely to trust the advice of advisors with up-to-date websites; even fewer (25 percent) say the same for advisors who regularly recommend relevant content. While possessing technical skills like digital literacy makes business operations more efficient, it does not by itself communicate trustworthiness.

Practicing active empathy
In all facets of my life I practice active empathy, spurred by a belief that if someone passes through my life they should be better for it. When I meet with clients, I’m looking for a connection. This starts with an attitude check before a client enters the office. If I’m not uplifting to be around I’m not going to build that connection, so before my meetings I make sure to set aside any negativity I’m feeling and shift my focus to a spirit of generosity and goodwill.

During meetings I focus on asking open-ended questions, beginning with the most critical one: In the short time we have together, what would you like to cover so that when you leave here, you’ll say, “That was a good meeting?” Another critical question I ask most clients is, “What does contentment look like to you?” This helps me understand where their priorities are coming from and how I can help them, while letting them know I’m invested in their success and happiness—if they know good people are pulling for them, it helps motivate them to achieve their goals.

Open-ended questions also provide the benefit of allowing the client room to speak so I can sit back and listen. I’ve made a good living by listening and asking questions—if I talked for more than 50 percent of the meeting, it didn’t go well. I live by this standard in my practice, along with another golden rule about listening: If you don’t know what to say, silence is better. You don’t always have to have the perfect response to everything—sometimes just knowing someone is listening and understanding can make a client feel cared for and heard.

Thoughtful gestures
Meetings aren’t the only opportunities to demonstrate emotional intelligence. Each Monday I begin my day by writing encouraging, handwritten notes to people who I know are struggling. Whether they’re experiencing an illness, injury or other hardship, I know a handwritten note will brighten their day. After all, when I look through my own mail, the first envelopes I open are those that are handwritten. It’s clear these notes have an impact—if I bump into someone around town who I haven’t written to in a while, one of the first questions they ask is, “Where’s my note?” I enjoy writing these notes just as much as others enjoy receiving them—it helps me set a positive intention for the week ahead, which keeps my mood elevated and my focus on my clients and others who turn to me for support.

Sometimes even small gestures can make all the difference. It seems simple, but—outside of the pandemic—a hug or a supportive pat on the shoulder, when appropriate, can make someone feel comforted and secure. That said, these gestures are best if you are confident in your emotional intelligence and ability to distinguish when the person on the receiving end would welcome them.

But with in-person contact limited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the more physical elements of emotional intelligence are unavailable. That’s not, however, an excuse to let emotional intelligence slide as we continue to build and maintain our relationships. I may not be able to meet face-to-face with my clients right now, but I can still pick up the phone and make sure I’m using a caring voice and supportive statements.

Building emotional intelligence
For me, emotional intelligence is not rocket science—it’s a matter of being kind, using the right words when they’re available, and knowing when to say nothing when they’re not. I recognize that what comes naturally to some may take more practice for others to master. There is an element of emotional intelligence that can be innate—as a young child, I took a test at school that was intended to determine what career would best suit me. It’s no surprise that while engineering and science were listed as areas to avoid, sales was deemed to be my best fit. But even for me, someone who finds meaning through connecting with others, interaction didn’t always come naturally. When I was younger I was quite content to not talk much, and it wasn’t until later that I came out of my shell. You can work on and improve emotional intelligence—and even the most emotionally intelligent people can always get better.

To build these skills, I recommend starting with the basics by reading up on the topic—look for articles and books on interpersonal communication and body language for starters, and put what you learn into action. Professional associations with like-minded peers and resources contain a wealth of knowledge, and I often look to those offered by MDRT for the latest information and opportunities to grow.

Creating an emotional intelligence checklist of sorts, with quick tips like asking open ended questions, doing a mood check before a meeting, and paying attention to body language, is a great way to ensure you’re exhibiting your skills. Eye contact is another important factor, and it helps to look right at a person’s forehead when in conversation with them. Be conscious of your own facial expression, too—having friendly eyes makes you more approachable and helps others open up to you. These little considerations and gestures add up.

Writing notes to people who are struggling, checking in on how they’re doing, offering help where you can, sharing a compliment when appropriate—these eventually become second nature and, before you know it, you’ll be confident in your emotional intelligence. By centering my practice on compassion, empathy and emotional intelligence, I’ve built a large and wonderfully diverse clientele over the years. I’ve written life insurance on a garbage man, a Fortune 500 CEO and everyone in between. Emotional intelligence has set the groundwork for successful relationships with everyone who has come through my door. With time and effort anyone can build the emotional intelligence that will bring clients in the door and lead to lasting, fulfilling relationships.

Satisfying The Benefit Appetites Of Association & Affinity Members

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Association and affinity group leaders who are looking to attract and retain members in a tight economy can find it challenging. While people join association and affinity groups for a wide variety of reasons, a MetLife study, The Affinity and Association Marketplace: Expanding Business Opportunities by Understanding Member Preferences by Association Type,1 finds that recommendations from friends, family and colleagues appear to have the greatest influence over a person’s decision to join.

So not only is it important to maximize the member experience to retain current participants but favorable word of mouth can help drive growth.

One-third of association and affinity group members reported being receptive to obtaining insurance through their primary association, yet only 14 percent reported having actually obtained insurance through this channel. This gap highlights a business opportunity.

Potential Ways to Increase Perceived Member Benefits

Not surprisingly, people who are interested in acquiring insurance through their association or affinity group cite rate advantages as the main reason. However, there is also a value to the membership of knowing that an insurance product has been vetted by an organization’s leadership. Communicating the advantages of the special rates and the efforts undertaken to make the offering available may help pique interest.

Some insurance products are currently more popular in this channel than others. The top insurance products currently sold in this marketplace are liability insurance, disability insurance, and accidental death and dismemberment. However, it appears that members who are interested in obtaining insurance through these affiliations are most interested in obtaining life insurance, health insurance and automobile insurance. Again, the differences between interest and access can spell opportunity.

Opportunities and Challenges

While there are some general concepts that apply to the affinity and association marketplace, the truth is that these groups are diverse, and some types of groups are more receptive to buying financial protection products than others. But even for some of the more “challenging” situations, having customized tactics and a deep understanding of the marketplace can help convert potential customers into actual purchasers.

The MetLife study looked at eight different association types—unions, credit unions, lobby/political associations, professional associations, government associations, alumni groups, special interest/social/recreational groups and affinity groups—each of which exhibit a distinct set of membership preferences. These insights help to highlight the challenges and opportunities in bringing financial protection products to the membership of each.

As a result, the MetLife study categorized the targets into three groups: prime targets, targets with educational challenges and targets with the highest hurdles.

Prime Targets: Unions, Credit Unions and Lobby/Political Associations. These groups report a combination of higher than average interest in insurance products as well as moderate to high access to insurance products via their association and affinity group. For instance, 48 percent of union members express interest in purchasing insurance products through their association. Interest is also high for political association members (45 percent) and credit union members (40 percent). The high interest and high access are likely indicators of an engaged and active membership. According to the research, it appears the greatest opportunity for the brokerage community lies with these prime target groups.

Targets with Educational Challenges: Professional, Government and Alumni Groups. These groups currently have high access to coverage and report moderate levels of interest in purchasing insurance through their association. Approximately one-third of members in these groups would like to obtain insurance through these relationships.

Targets with educational challenges represent the second greatest opportunity in this market, as an insurance representative can partner with the group to modify the existing product portfolio as well as increase product promotions, thereby heightening member education and interest in the offering.

Interestingly, alumni group members have a high number of recent graduates who therefore may be first-time buyers that need more guidance about their product buying decisions and tend to retain their membership for decades. Therefore, products that appeal to diverse life stages may be particularly appealing to this segment.

Targets with the Highest Hurdles: Special Interest/Social/Recreational and Affinity Groups. These groups may be a challenge to insurance professionals due to members’ reported lower levels of interest in insurance products. However, affinity group members do express expectations that their membership in these groups will provide access to discounted products and services in general.

To make a mark with targets with the highest hurdles, some creativity around product offerings, as well as the need and value of insurance products will likely be needed. Additionally, affinity groups typically have large membership populations, thereby providing a powerful opportunity for member segmentation that can in turn drive the success of the program.

Member Communication Considerations

Like any successful benefits program, effective communication is key. The diversity of members in both association and affinity groups demands a multi-channel communication strategy. Many association members prefer direct channels for learning about their association insurance offerings, through the mail (39 percent) and email (27 percent). When it comes to enrolling for coverage, people expressed a preference for paper applications via the mail. Not far behind is a preference for enrolling through an association’s website. For service of the coverage, however, direct contact is preferred—40 percent of members prefer to work directly in person with an agent.

In targeting the association and affinity market, clearly a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Rather, tailoring the insurance products to a given association/affinity group’s membership, along with the preferred communication channel and methods, will be a better formula for business success.

Association and affinity group leaders are focused on retaining members and attracting new prospects to their organizations, often by increasing the value of membership. In light of economic challenges, the idea of financial protection has gained appeal. Providing membership access to discounted insurance products they will appreciate, at little or no cost to the organizations, can help both the members and the administrators meet their needs and objectives.

1. All statistics, and other facts, provided in this article are based on the results of the study conducted in conjunction with “The Affinity and Association Marketplace: Expanding Business Opportunities by Understanding Member Preferences by Association Type,” a white paper written by MetLife. To contact the members of various association and affinity groups, MetLife worked with Ipsos to conduct an online survey. A total of 3,700 interviews were completed between late September and early October 2011. The research targeted a representative sample of the general population and members across eight key types of associations.