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Don Levin, JD, MPA, CLF, CSA, LTCP, CLTC

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Don Levin, JD, MPA, CLF, CSA, LTCP, CLTC, is now the Strategic Relations Director for the Krause Agency following their acquisition of USA-LTC. Levin is the past three-term chairman of the board of the National Long Term Care Network and the past president and CEO of USA-LTC. Levin has been in the long term care industry since 1999, during which time he has been an award-winning agent, district manager, regional sales manager, marketing director, associate general agent, general agent, and divisional vice president. Levin is also a former practicing Attorney-at-Law, court-appointed arbitrator and is a retired U.S. Army officer. In addition to his various law and life and health insurance licenses, and the above designations, Levin has also earned Green Belt certification through GE’s Six Sigma program and is a graduate of GAMA International’s Essentials of Leadership and Management. He has also taught Managing Goal Achievement®, Integrity Selling® and The Way to Wealth® to hundreds of leaders and salespeople over the past fifteen years. He previously possessed FINRA Series 7, 24, and 66 licenses. Levin earned his Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School, his MPA from the University of Oklahoma, and his BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Defense Strategy Course, U.S. Army War College. He is a published author of fourteen books in a wide range of genres. Levin may be reached via telephone at (800) 255-1932. Email: donlevin@krause.com.

Mechanics Of The Marketing Plan

You are now firmly established in a relationship with your strategic partner, having established a firm business and marketing plan on how to reach out to their existing and potential client base. So, what is next?

There is an absolute kaleidoscope of materials available for use in marketing your products. These include client letters, newsletters, phone calls, email drip campaigns, and our favorite, marketing events. The beauty of marketing to our clients and those of our centers of influence and strategic alliance partners is that we can do what we want to do and write it off our taxes as legitimate business expenses. One of our former advocates had been a member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) but was forced to leave the tour when he became a full time caregiver to his mother. Subsequent to her death, he became a passionate LTCI advocate, and combined his passions for golf and insurance by working with a State Golfing Association and putting on workshops at local golf clubs throughout the state. We contributed dollars utilized to fund junior scholarships in exchange for their efforts in filling seats at our workshop events. It was truly a win-win-win scenario as those in attendance would sign up for a needs analysis with a member of our team. This was a perfect cohort to market to because they had the requisite health and wealth by virtue of their participation with golf, and after our workshop were usually very motivated to see us.

“Marketing is nothing more than doing all the fun things that you enjoy and inviting your clients to join you. The best part is that you can then deduct it as a business expense.”

The keys to any successful marketing strategy are:

  • Consistency in both planning and execution. Plan the work and then work the plan.
  • Determining a master marketing strategy and establishing a timeline for implementation.
  • Develop or acquire materials that suit your marketing purposes.
  • Conduct events that clients find attractive, relevant, and of interest to them.

As we noted earlier, the critical aspect of your professional partner’s role is the management of client relations. Ideally the advisor is in regular communications with his client base, and as a matter of course is conveying ideas regarding products, plans, and strategies. Quite often with long term care insurance and similar products they may be at a loss as to how to do this in an effective manner. To this end, a letter such as the following may be a natural way for the advisor to introduce the concept to his clients.

The Initial Client Letter

[Advisor letterhead]

[Client Name] [Date]
[Address]
[City, State, Zip]

Dear [Client]
It is an immense pleasure working with you to plan your financial future and to maximize your assets. I feel confident that we have established the financial plan best tailored to your needs and wishes for the years to come.

I have become increasingly aware of the financial and emotional risk facing my clients over the age of fifty…namely, the high costs associated with long term care. Most of us know someone who is receiving care at home, in assisted living, or other long term care facility. I had hoped the Federal Government would include long term care in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and in subsequent legislation. Some progress has been made in the availability of Partnership plans in a number of states, but the accompanying cuts in Medicaid means that this problem largely remains the responsibility of each of us to look out for ourselves and for those we care about.

An increasing number of my clients are concerned about this risk. It was reported by the Federal Government’s Agency for Health Care Policy and Research that seven out of ten couples, reaching age sixty-five, can expect at least one partner to use a nursing home sometime before the end of their life. Depending on where you choose to receive care and the quality of care that you require, the annual cost of an extended stay in a nursing home will range from $90,000 to $140,000 per year! With the stay in care averaging over 2.8 years, this amounts to a substantial reduction of your principal investments. Is it any wonder most retirees count outliving their resources as their greatest fear?

A more recent study reports that almost half (48%) of patients currently in skilled nursing homes do not require such a high level of care and need not be in a nursing home! Which brings me to the most important point associated with this critical planning: The value of assuring one’s ability to “age-in-place,” to stay in the comfort of your own home, avoid overwhelming caregiving costs, and maintain choice and control of your own destiny.

After a lot of research, I have found a dependable solution to this problem. I am proud to be able to offer the services of agent name. Mr./Ms. , and his staff of professional long term care advocates, know all about the different types of care and the products available that cover this kind of risk. What impresses me most about Don and his staff is their ability to explain the complexities of the plan in understandable terms, as well as to tailor a plan to fit the needs of the people that they are consulting with at that time. After spending some time with Don or one of his associates you will have the information you need to make an informed decision on whether or not long term care insurance coverage is appropriate for you. We also have a wide range of product offerings available to tailor to your specific wants, needs, and desires.

This is such an important issue to you, that I have asked , a member of my staff, to give you a call within the next two weeks to set up a time for Don or a member of his staff to meet with you for a Needs Analysis. Everyone associated with Don is a true professional on this subject, and better informed than I am about the options available to cover this imposing risk to your financial future.

Don and his staff have my highest recommendation, and we are proud to consider them as trusted associates in serving you and your needs. You will be able to trust his professional guidance in making the best decision for your particular circumstances. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to safeguard the future of you and your family.

Sincerely,
[Your signature block]

P.S. If you choose not to meet with Don or a member of his staff for any reason, please return this letter to me so that we will know that you have considered this advice, and that we may update your file accordingly.

TO: [your name]
Thank you for your attention, and kind recommendation to consider long term care insurance at this time. We expressly decline to meet with [your name] at this time to discuss long term care insurance coverage and understand the potential financial ramifications of this decision.

Client Signature(s)


While a letter such as this will provide some level of defense for the advisor in the event a long term care crisis arises, and they themselves become a target of an ever growing and successful plaintiff’s bar, we obviously prefer to be proactive and positive by providing protection to the client rather than merely a “CYA” type letter for inclusion in the client file.

The intent of this letter is to serve as a warm introduction of the concept of long term care insurance, you, and to pivot on the strength of the relationship that the advisor enjoys with her clients.

As previously noted, we also encourage you and your new partner to sponsor joint events to which you can invite your own clients as a sign of appreciation but also to encourage them to bring friends along in hopes of developing even more clients.

We have been raving fans of client events that are both tokens of appreciation to our existing clients and become referral events by virtue of our clients inviting their friends to accompany them to the event. We have found that if the venue is a nice restaurant that it is extremely easy to subliminally convince our clients to in turn “host” their friends at our events. As producers we were extremely successful at converting these guests into new clients which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new premium.

Take A-ways:

  • Marketing events create awareness of our products and available solutions; agents complete the sale.
  • It all starts with making your elevator speech part of who you are and what you do.
  • Say “thank you” to those you know and get to know everyone you don’t know.
  • “Every partnership requires either a Managing or General Partner to drive the ship. Accept the fact that in most cases this will be you.” —Don Levin

In the next article, we will address the key elements of building memorable marketing events.

Going To Market

“Vision without execution is hallucination.”
—Thomas Edison

In previous articles, we have addressed the process by which we can convert referrals to appointments with potential strategic partners by getting past the gatekeeper, engaging in meaningful conversations with the principal, and establishing mutual expectations.

As a result of these meaningful conversations the business plan is now complete, and you also know that your partner is committed to bringing the protection afforded by long term care insurance to her clients. We know how much money your partner would like to see the partnership generate, and it is now time to get down to brass tacks and to determine the how we are going to bring this product to market. Just as we always strive to do with our own regular clients, it is imperative that we are only setting aside our time for quality appointments.

By definition, a quality appointment is one in which the client(s) are health and wealth qualified, and eager to see us. In as much as they are working with a financial advisor/planner or elder law/estate planning attorney, we can generally assume that the financial aspect of qualification is not an issue. Let’s face it, even in the general population a lack of financial qualification represents a very small portion of our applicants who do not receive an offer of coverage from the carriers.

You will have to decide to what degree you want your partner or her staff to pre-qualify the health of your prospective applicants. We would recommend that this review at least cover the “knock out questions” so that you a) do not waste your time or theirs, and, b) you walk into the interview with some idea of what products, and, c) what carriers would be appropriate.

The last element, the “eager to see you” part, is completely dependent upon how the interview is positioned by the advisor and how he or she creates the appropriate level of urgency. To this end, they must feel the urgency to have you meet with their clients. Naturally, this is based on their personal commitment to the protection afforded by long term care insurance products.

The first logistical challenge is in numbers. First, ascertain how many clients they have and, if an older advisor, how much longer they plan on working. That may sound odd, but the age of the average producer in the industry today is creeping upwards of 59, and managers north of 64. For this reason you want to do some math together to determine over what period you are going to see these people.

Next, do they have clients to be immediately “cherry-picked,” e.g., ready to purchase, already in the buying cycle, or expressing a predisposition to our products because of family experience or their own health concerns? If so, you will want to have them contact these clients and schedule an appointment as soon as possible. The success of writing business will serve as an adrenaline boost to them and will enhance their commitment to establishing more selling opportunities for you both.

In terms of organizing the campaign, if they have a sizable base of clients, another way to create urgency is to use birthdays as a trigger for initiating contact with the client. The fact that we can often “save age” on these age-attained products is another way to create urgency in both the advisor and the client in scheduling an appointment sooner rather than later.

Another means by which to create urgency in the advisor is to demonstrate that we can help them substantiate their ongoing value to their clients and help retain them by being that added dimension of service that can serve to differentiate the advisor from the myriad of other advisors with whom they compete on a daily basis.

It is also crucial to constantly be reminding your partner that you are not a “one man band,” and that you actually bring an entire organization to the table with depth in all areas to include, but not limited to, marketing, service, training, compliance, and the capacity to enhance his or her stature with their clients as well as potential new clients that you both may garner in the course of client appreciation/referral events.

As the LTCI Planning Advocate responsible for the point-of-sale activity, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of constantly managing the relationship. In other words, “out of sight, out of mind” will definitely apply here. You need to have a strong presence in his or her office at the beginning so that the urgency they feel does not wane, just as we have to safeguard that a client’s urgency does not ebb and flow as it is prone to do during the buying cycle.

In this series of articles we have endeavored to keep the “How To” of the process simple and straightforward and would encourage you to do the same.

  • Keep the process simple and in front of your partner as often as possible.
  • Review the desired methodology again and again—it is critical that your partner manages the client relationship—this is how he/she earns his/her portion of the sale.
  • Establish a timeline of events that need to occur in order for this process to be successfully launched and be replicable on an ongoing basis.
  • It is imperative that you completely map out the campaign launch and attach firm dates, especially if the nature of your partner’s primary business, e.g., the impact of tax season on a CPA or investment advisor, could be an obstacle to a successful launch.

Additional thoughts:

  • Communication is always the critical element. At the beginning it will dictate whether you ever get off the ground in your budding relationship. Once you have business in the pipeline, it is important to keep your partner informed during the pendency of the application so that if the client reaches out to them for an update they will appear as if in control and knowledgeable.
  • The key is to get them engaged and the pipeline primed, so a new potential income stream can begin for their business. Additionally, they feel both the gratitude and professional admiration from their clients as they close this exposed flank in their financial defenses.
  • Working with Centers of Influence is an endless source of referrals and needs to be carefully cultivated and cared for as one would a fragile garden.

In our experience, the actual marketing of our services to your partner’s clients is both rewarding and a lot of fun if you establish a plan and then execute on the plan. These marketing activities can be traditional in the form of letters, emails, newsletters, telephone calls, or non-traditional in the form of social events. We would encourage you to really think outside the box and consider activities that have a long “shelf life” and that will help you grow your business exponentially by having your first generation clients become your personal marketers! The key is to adopt a methodology that both of you are comfortable with employing to bring clients in that maximizes the relationship that the financial professional has with her clients. Initially it may be by utilizing her ongoing methods of communication to include letters, emails, and phone calls, but hopefully will progress to face-to-face interviews and appointments (ideally) conducted in the financial professional’s office—or via Zoom, as this methodology has exploded in popularity especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial tone utilized by the advisor is critical. She should strive to identify the problem of long term care as it applies to the public and to the individual client and their family, the inherent risks associated with it, and then propose a potential solution: You. This effort also allows the advisor to create a layer of insulation against potential liability by asking the client for an affirmation that they have been advised about the product and services that you can provide and that they are expressly declining the opportunity to meet with you. A sample letter such as the one found in next month’s article is one that could be utilized. (Note: While you can provide this letter as a sample for the advisor to utilize, we strongly encourage you to have it complied not only by the advisor’s compliance department but yours as well, given that you and/or your company are being mentioned by name. When in doubt, have it reviewed!)

As previously noted, we would encourage you to really think outside the box and consider activities that have a long “shelf life” and that will help you grow your business exponentially by having your first-generation clients become your personal marketers! There is no greater marketing mechanism than satisfied clients who wish to share you with their friends, family, and business associates. In a future article we will share a wide range of such marketing events.

Take A-ways:

  • Over communicate with your partner throughout the entire relationship.
  • These clients belong to your partner. The partner has always had all the answers; feed them the information they need to continue this important relationship.
  • Plan the work and work the plan—often.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to marketing…and have fun with it!
  • It is imperative that the client relationship be managed by the professional partner.
  • All professionals will welcome additional clients—your job is to help them grow their business. Nothing will solidify your relationship quicker than referring them to a new client.

More Than Dollars And Sense: The Business Plan

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
—Bernard Baruch

Up to this point we have determined the “why” and the “purpose” of the partnership. Now it is time to formulate the quantifiable objectives your new partner(s) is/are seeking. Asking questions like those asked in the home interview with the client makes this a dynamic experience.

In about 30 percent of the relationships you establish, commission splitting will not be an issue because your strategic partner is not [insurance] licensed and it is illegal to share commissions with them. For this reason, attorneys, fee-based planners, and other non-licensed professionals will not care about this aspect of the partnership. For these people, one alternative method in which you can still “sweeten the pot” for them would be for you to absorb some of the marketing expenses, e.g., you pick up the tab at your joint breakfast/lunch/dinner events. This may sound cost-prohibitive to you, but trust me that picking up a $1200 dinner tab with the prospect of generating $75,000 of commissionable premium is truly a win for you!

For those who do desire to share in the commission, I suggest that the conversation go something like this:

“Jane, in terms of income, just how much money would you like to generate from introducing long term care insurance to your clients?” This is often the moment of truth, and this is when you will ascertain her sincerity, level of commitment and true objectives. Based on your “warm up” conversation, you may know that your partner is contemplating sending a child off to college or desires to purchase a vacation home or new car. Knowing the source of this newfound motivation will certainly make it easier for you to keep them focused and engaged.

If they throw out a number such as $100,000—a number that I have very commonly encountered—be prepared to break down what it will take for them to achieve this number.

I have an actual Excel spreadsheet that will do this for us, but I will often explain it this way:

“Okay Jane, you want to bank $100,000 in long term care insurance commissions. To do this we will assume that we are going to be 50-50 partners; that we will close 80 percent of the clients with whom we sit (this number will be closer to 100 percent with proper Need development), and that 80 percent of them will in turn have the requisite health to qualify for this coverage. If they are already working with you, I am not going to worry about whether they have the financial assets and ability to pay for this coverage.

Further, assuming that you are in line to receive 50 percent of the sale, at $4000 per average household premium, that means you will net $2000 of premium per sale. At 65 percent commission, you will garner $1300 per sale in first year commissions. That means that we will have to place 76 policies, submitting 96 annually, and setting 120 interviews per year or about 2.4 interviews per week. If you can get me in front of that many people on an annual basis, I will put $100,000 in your pocket. This of course will be sweetened by the stream of annual renewals that you will also be receiving for the life of the policy.

Regardless of the answer, we remind them that they will have the ability to earn up to 50 percent of the production credit or premium, which will then be subject to the commission structure of their personal contract. In most cases, street compensation is more than enough to keep them actively engaged and, after receiving their first commission check, very enthusiastic.

Over the years I have worked with any number of producers who have used arbitrary methodology to determine how the production credit will be split between the advisor and planning specialist. I would suggest that you make life easier on yourself and the advisor and eliminate this stressful aspect of the discussion by simply being honest and forthright and suggesting that the standards of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) be applied to the partnership. This is especially important if you are working with multiple partners in the same firm. Having different compensation structures in place is a recipe for disaster.

Before jumping into that aspect of the negotiations I have found it useful to preface it with a quick review of some basic assumptions that goes something like this:

“Jane, as I mentioned to you earlier, I have no desire to take your client list. I personally do not like cold calls, I know your clients won’t like receiving cold calls, and, upon learning that you gave me their name and number, may take great exception to that and may want to have a few choice words with you. It is a lose-lose-lose proposition and may even create problems for both of us in terms of violating Do Not Call statutes.

I also want to reiterate that you earn your portion of the commission by retaining control of the relationship with your clients. They trust you; they appreciate you and know that you have their best interests at heart. For this reason, I want to become your trusted associate on this one aspect of their financial plan. I don’t merely want “access to your book of business” but rather are offering you a turnkey marketing system comprised of me, thirty other agents, a general agent and his staff, as well as multiple carriers fully equipped and capable of providing support at every stage of the process to bring this valuable coverage to your clients.”

I then suggest that you again confirm what financial expectations that the advisor or firm may be harboring. After they have put this number on the table, you can then proceed to outline the terms of the MDRT program. If I accompany the agent to this interview, the dialogue will often go something like this:

“Jane, as you may recall, there are five aspects to the MDRT Standards for splitting commissions. We have found that utilizing them has made life simpler and more agreeable for everyone.

The first 20 percent is assigned to the owner, or agent of record, of the client. In this case, you clearly own the client relationship and are entitled to this first portion.

Secondly, who is setting the appointment? As I mentioned, your value to our partnership is the ownership of the client relationship. If you are broaching the subject of long term care with your clients in the course of annual reviews, phone calls, and other follow ups, and are the instrument of getting me in front of your client, ideally here in your office so that you can be involved as well, you earn that 20 percent as well.

The third piece of the puzzle is the actual sale. Now, if you are here in the office, make the introductions, do a review of their portfolio, and then excuse yourself while the agent conducts the interview, but come back at the end to validate the plan design and to solidify the sale, we will split this 20 percent with you, bringing you to 50 percent of the commissioned sale.

The fourth piece is awarded to the person who is doing the heavy lifting in terms of the application processing, obtaining medical records, and completing all aspects of the sales process. This clearly will rest with the agent.

The final piece is awarded to the agent of record who will conduct post-sale activities and additional follow up. Again, this will go to the agent.

When all is said and done, you are now 50-50 partners, and you earn your portion by managing your client relations, setting appointments, and facilitating the introductions here in your office. Should you opt to do less than this, then we can naturally adjust the split accordingly. So, again, you have the opportunity to earn up to 50 percent of the sale. Does that sound fair to you?”

I have found that when you position the split in this light, there is no disagreement, and you are still affording them choice on how to conduct their business. I would also recommend that you frame up a mutually agreed upon Vision and Mission Statement that adequately portrays your common goals for the partnership. With this plan in place, you can now move on to the marketing plan which is key to all success that you will enjoy in this budding relationship.

Take A-ways:

  • Be in the position of offering your strategic partner a choice on how much of the commission they are willing to work for.
  • Using the MDRT standards for commission splitting eliminates both subjectivity and oftentimes any feelings of greed on the part of your strategic partner.
  • It is important that there just be “one deal” on the street associated with your agency in terms of commission and premium splits. More than one can be a disaster and ruin your reputation.
  • Since many consider money as the root of all evil, it is imperative that you establish a clear understanding regarding the sharing of commissions or how they will be compensated if commission-splitting is not an option.
  • Other motivating factors for the partner may include client retention, asset protection, and the concern for client well-being. This is the Need aspect of the arrangement. Emphasize these points on a regular basis.

A Tale Of Commitment: The Chicken, The Cow, And The Pig

“We can do most things either the easy way or the hard way. We always have that choice. Marketing to professionals is most assuredly the easy way.”
—Don Levin

In last month’s article we covered many of the “ground rules” necessary to make a strategic partnership successful. This month we are going to talk about perhaps the most important ingredient: Commitment.

Implementing the tenets of Marketing to Professionals on behalf of myself or my agents has been a personally rewarding experience over the years. As a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks I know that these relationships either flourish or wither on the vine depending upon mutual expectations and commitment among partners, and the presence of both a business plan and a marketing plan.

Since you have already been through the home interview equivalent of Warm Up while initially setting this appointment or being introduced to one another, it is now time to move to the Need section of the interview and obtain answers from your prospective strategic partner to the following questions:

“John, why am I here today? What is the main reason that you want to introduce the protection afforded by long term care insurance to your clients?”

After asking these questions, sit back, close your mouth, and open your ears. Take notes as you would with a client interview and let the professional provide you with the “why” or the purpose of your partnership. The why may range from wanting to protect their clients’ assets, to safeguarding their own professional income strategies, or to shelter themselves from the ancillary liability of being in a fiduciary relationship with their client. The reasons will vary. The importance of this step is ascertaining their motivation by slowly peeling the onion.

We also want to know if the advisor has had any personal experience with long term care in either his family or with any of his existing clients. Over the years I have found that there is nothing more powerful than a personal witness of the devastating effects of caregiving on a family. Where this experience is present, the advisor will be a true believer and in turn possess the urgency to bring this vital protection to his clientele. If he has dealt with this in his immediate family, we want to personalize it by having him bring the past to the present by relating his role in this experience:

  • How did he feel when confronted with this issue?
  • Who was the person who required caregiving?
  • Who provided this caregiving?
  • How long did it go on?
  • Who bore the burden of the expense?
  • Was he personally involved in the caregiving?
  • How did it impact his life?
  • What was his role?
  • Where did it take place?

In any event, we want to bring him back to the event much in the same manner that we do with a client! If he has experienced this caregiving with a client, we want to know:

  • What was it like for the family and for the client?
  • What role did he serve in the process? How did this make him feel?
  • What impact did it have on his practice or firm?
  • What was the ultimate financial outcome for the client and for his firm?

Of paramount importance is the question of whether he has his own long term care policy. If he does, why? If not, why not? Just as with the client, we need to know the level of commitment this person has to our product, the degree of need he associates with it, and the level of urgency he will convey to those who will hopefully become your mutual clients.

Over the years I have loved to accompany an agent to these meetings, because as the “outsider” to the budding relationship I can often say and do things that the agent cannot do for herself.

To this end, I will often orchestrate where everyone sits just as we take charge in the Home Interview with clients. Why is where people sit important? Because my objective when accompanying an agent to these preliminary meetings is to help forge not only a working relationship but a true partnership of equals.

For this reason, if we are sitting in a restaurant or coffee house, I will endeavor to have them sit together on the same side of the booth or to position their chairs at the table so that they are sitting near one another, and I am across from them. I never want it to appear that it is a two-on-one in our favor, but rather that they are the team, and I am the odd man out. We never want our agent to feel subordinate to the financial professional but rather an equal in terms of professional acumen and technical ability. Our greatest commodity is, in fact, our expertise and advice which is why we should all be thinking in terms of offering solutions and not product.

I will then say to the advisor, “John, the relationship that you are contemplating with Jane will either flourish or wither on the vine dependent upon two things: Mutual expectations and commitment. The mutual expectations can be defined in terms of a business plan which may be as simple as, ‘How many clients do you want to help each year?’ or, ‘How much money do you want to make?’ and a marketing plan which will define the ‘how to’ associated with getting Jane in front of your clients so that she can be the point of sale subject matter expert in regard to long term care insurance products. We’ll talk about these two plans shortly.” (We will address the business plan, and the mechanics of the marketing plan, in subsequent articles.)

We will then continue to wear the “black hat” and carry the water by addressing commitment so that the advisor is fully aware of the level of the agent’s commitment to making this relationship a successful one and to take another barometer reading in terms of the advisor’s own commitment.

“Before we talk about these plans however, we believe that it would be appropriate to talk about the commitment requisite to making this relationship a success. Allow me to illustrate how we define commitment by sharing a story with you…”

“Farmer Brown had a wonderful farm on which he grew a number of different crops and had a great many animals. He and his family were largely self-sufficient and took pride in the fact that they could feed themselves with a well-rounded diet. The Browns took good care of their livestock, and in some cases, they were as much a part of the family as were the family dogs and cats. One day, out in the barnyard, the Cow, the Chicken, and the Pig were having a conversation about their commitment to the Brown family.

“You know, I really like the Browns. As people go, they are okay in my book. That is why I provide them with Grade A quality eggs for the breakfast table 365 days a year. Nothing is too good for the Browns,” said the Chicken. “Oh yeah? You call laying some eggs commitment? That’s easy stuff! Where do you think the milk, the butter, and the cheese that they eat every day comes from, hmm?” asked the Cow. The pig, in the meantime, was being reflective as he listened to this exchange, and after scratching his chin with his hoof, said, “I gotta tell you both, you both have it pretty easy. Eggs, milk, cheese, butter. Big deal. You want real commitment? Me and the other boys are providing the bacon for breakfast and the ham for Sunday Supper! That ladies, is real commitment.”

At this point, I will look the advisor in the eye and state, “Jane is committed to this relationship. I have seen her deliver the utmost of commitment and technical expertise to other partners over the years in a very consistent and professional manner.”

“So, John, how would you categorize yourself in terms of commitment to this relationship? Are you the chicken, the cow, or the pig? How committed are you to this new partnership? Jane is going to do everything humanly possible to be another professional member of your team that will always place the interests of your client ahead of everything else, and to be a natural complement to you and to make you look good to your clients.”

Some might think this a juvenile approach, but historically great lessons have been taught in parables, and this is a modern-day parable that I have used for many years with a great deal of success.

Once you know that the professional is committed to the concept of long term care insurance, then we can proceed to develop the business and marketing plans which will provide the framework of the partnership and establish milestones, the adherence to which will insure success of the venture, but, most importantly, provide a new generation of clients with the protection they so sorely need today to safeguard their tomorrows.

Take-Aways:

  • Commitment is everything; without it we have nothing more than an illusion.
  • As with our clients, partners who have been “touched” by these (long term care) experiences make better partners.
  • It’s a numbers game; just as with selling, not every prospective partner appointment is going to be a match. It all boils down to Need, Urgency, Value…and Commitment.

The Second Meeting: Ground Rules Of The Relationship

(Fourth in a series)

Last month we talked about the first meeting between you and your prospective strategic partner. The first meeting was all about getting to know one another and determining whether there is synergy between the two of you. Remember you want to integrate your service into his and not disrupt their core business. If there is sufficient reason to believe that this is potentially a strong match, and that a working relationship can be established, set up the second meeting.

The second meeting is all about establishing the ground rules of the relationship and determining who will take on what portion of the workload. This is a key element in determining whether this relationship is going to flourish as desired or wither on the vine.

Once you find yourself in the second meeting with your interested professional partner prospect you need to discuss how the process will work in terms of marketing to their clients; setting the client appointments, conducting the appointments, communication back to the firm about their clients on a weekly basis, and the tracking system used to follow the applications to policy issue.

As a result, the following are the key questions that must be addressed during the second interview:

  • How is the business owner going to let the clients know about this new service? (Note: We will discuss marketing in a later article dedicated to the Mechanics of the Marketing Plan, and the most effective way to get clients out of the file cabinet or computer database and to a home or office interview.)
  • Who will be the Champion at the firm that will be responsible for the ultimate success or failure of their new senior services venture?
  • Who will be available and accountable to us during the initial launch and on an ongoing basis after launch? Most firms will appoint one person to be the driver of the new business and that person would hold the other people/employees in the firm accountable.

In some firms, it is solely the owner who contacts clients and meets with them to review their accounts and financial plans, while in other firms there may be an accounts manager or assistant who maintains this relationship and will be the person in contact with the clients and arranging the interviews. In other firms, communications may be in the form of newsletters, updates, email, or conventional letters that serve as an invitation to the client to come in for an appointment.

Because you are going to become an integral part of the advisor’s professional staff, it is imperative that the professional partner has a person designated to manage the calendar of the long term care agent’s availability each week or month especially in those cases where there are multiple advisors in the same office all of whom may be looking to book appointments with only one agent. To accomplish this, we recommend some form of calendar sharing program where administrative people can view the one shared calendar and book appointments.

While the use of a shared calendar software may sound like an overly obvious thing to mention, we have found that “the devil is in the details” and this is one aspect of the relationship that you always want to go smoothly so as not to become a source of embarrassment for either one of you if multiple appointments are scheduled in conflict with one another.

In addition to scheduling actual (selling) appointments, it is also important to establish ground rules regarding what is going to be a governing and acceptable response time to one another. Often there will be issues which require joint decisions that will enable the partnership to move forward and to flourish. Both parties need to be comfortable with the parameters that are selected. The parties need to be mutually respectful and return one another’s emails and phone calls within 24 hours to keep the service at a level geared to serving the client most efficiently.

If you plan to deliver a series of seminars, workshops, or client appreciation/referral events, it is especially important to establish firm ground rules and to delineate responsibilities for all of the actions necessary for these events to be properly planned and executed. We cannot stress enough the importance attached to the use of a comprehensive checklist which identifies all tasks and the person who will bear the responsibility for each task. These tasks may include:

  • Who is going to bear the costs associated with the activity;
  • The coordination that usually will begin approximately twelve weeks out for each activity;
  • Site selection;
  • The program or activity content;
  • Materials to be utilized;
  • Compliance approval for materials to include invitations; and,
  • The ancillary follow-up with all attendee’s and materials that will be utilized.

Other issues to be addressed and identified:

  • Who will call the clients and introduce the new service?
  • Who has the best relationship with the client at that firm?
  • Will the partners or the staff call?
  • Identifying when invitations will be made. Most owners have close contact with between 50 and 100 clients, which is a nice start but certainly is only the tip of the iceberg in firms with 1000 clients or more. What happens to the other 900 clients the owner knows, but does not have that strong of a relationship with?
  • Accordingly, how many customers does this firm have to contact that have health, income, and assets suitable for a long term care preservation product?

As we venture deeper into larger firms with multiple advisors, and often multiple levels of advisors, it is imperative that everyone shares the same mutual expectations and level of commitment. If this does not occur, you may find yourself bitterly disappointed. For example, if each of six partners at the firm has one thousand clients, you would logically assume that you would have access to six thousand clients. You will only have access to each partner’s clients if that partner has bought into our business model. What you may experience is that one or two partners of a multi partner firm will join your cause. If they have success and it doesn’t cost the other partners a loss of clients or provides them with an increased revenue stream without an ancillary time drain, they may join you as well later. They will send the partners over the hill first and if they do not have arrows in them when they return you may have a shot at working with them.

The servicing planner or long term care agent needs to keep the owner and other participants supplied with current information each week on their clientele. This failure to communicate is why most relationships do not successfully launch or survive past the first couple of client referrals. If we take a moment and place ourselves in the shoes of the professional partner, we see that he is agreeing to enter into a partnership with another professional who is going to be a total reflection on him. We are asking him to trust a third party to work with his clients. We must be respectful of them, as they must be respectful of our clients that we refer to them, as we mutually build a larger client base. We must control the delivery of information through answering questions or researching answers for the clients. If and when clients call the partner to discuss the planning you have done for them, make sure the partner is apprised of what is going on with that case or he or she may be cast in a poor light that is not going to benefit either one of you. If the partner is ever in the position where he or she has to tell the client “I do not know, I need to call my specialist,” not only is that an extra step, but it also creates stress which may lead the partner to determine that the relationship is not to his liking. He will soon feel it to be a burden that he will rid himself of by stopping the referral process, and usually the agent never knows what went wrong.

The second appointment should also be used to manage expectations and establish a timeline that all agree to honor. The timeline should consist of milestones and dates of completion which will be checked off before launch. Items to be addressed include:

  • Any potential insurance state licensing;
  • Any state mandated LTCI partnership courses;
  • Appointment process from the insurance company;
  • The length of time the firm will require to profile their data base with clients to call about our new service; and,
  • The length of time to deal with any requisite compliance issues such as materials that are to be utilized with the marketing portion of the program.

At the same time, unless you are subject to an umbrella contract that binds both you and the partner, you should also address what the profit sharing for you and the firm and the firms planners looks like, who will be the lead champion at the firm to drive the success of the new program, how many partners are going to be involved, and other important elements the firms need to make the other partner firm work with their existing dynamics. The financial aspect of the relationship and what a potential split looks like will be addressed in a later chapter.

Marketing to professionals is incredibly rewarding and is a great way to exponentially expand the scope of your individual business and allow you to leverage yourself in ways you may not have previously considered. While it is rewarding, and the pros far outweigh the cons, be mindful of the fact that most professionals are very territorial and fear that you may directly or indirectly compromise the relationship that they enjoy with their clients. Therefore it is imperative that you establish, upfront, the scope of your relationship, e.g. you will only talk to the client about long term care insurance or a hybrid life insurance product that contains a long term care rider, and be subject to a non-compete as it applies to all other products. Other challenges include having to manage around the various egos you will encounter, as well as the need to make everyone feel good about going into business together. You will be engaged in a solid relationship if the decision makers do not need to be right all the time and, more importantly, if they can listen and learn about new ways to succeed that we have already proven in our field as we have served our own clients.

You want to integrate a system for each firm so it works for them. Do not plan on each firm doing things the same way. While a good bit of what we are addressing is easily replicable, the nature of relationships will dictate the manner in which you may have to modify your agreement. The good news is we can be versatile and integrate into most firms in the country and help as many clients in the senior planning areas of asset preservation and income preservation, as well as providing independence, control, and quality healthcare later in life.

Take Aways:

  • Each firm has its own identity and culture. Never forget this fact. We need to integrate ourselves into their space.
  • This is a business process—know it and respect it.
  • Life and business is all about commitments. Both parties must honor them.

The First Meeting: Getting To Know You

In last month’s article, entitled Getting Past The Gatekeeper, we talked about how to get past the dutiful secretary or receptionist (gatekeeper), establish contact with the financial advisor or attorney that you have identified as a potential strategic partner, and how to set an appointment in which to discuss a potential partnership.

So, you were successful and now have an appointment with a professional with whom you may or may not determine that a working relationship will be appropriate. What is the next step?

Prior to your first meeting with any professional partner, it is imperative that you learn as much as possible about the individual that started the firm and whether that person is the same person that now runs the successful enterprise. Reviewing websites, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms is an excellent starting point.

With this information in hand, you are now prepared for the first meeting with your potential new partner. Just as with the home interview, we want to get that person talking to us by asking open ended questions after conducting the necessary warm up and small talk. Topics for warm up can often be gleaned during the social media review.

Because we noted for them while setting the appointment that we are potentially in the position of referring clients to them, it is imperative that we find out exactly what kind of client they desire. We can do this by asking them to describe their ideal client, their average client, and the very client that they avoid. Ask them to share the actual demographics of these various client profiles. Taking notes while they are talking communicates that you are serious about wanting to bring them the desired client and is less for you to remember in the future. It also communicates that they are also auditioning for the role of your partner!

After we talk about the demographics of their typical client, we want to do an even deeper dive with them and their practice to ascertain the degree of success enjoyed by this potential partner. Some questions to help you get started:

  • When was the business started?
  • Why was the business started?
  • How was the capital acquired or was it built on sweat equity?
  • What differentiates this business from the competition?
  • What prompted him/her to own his/her own business?
  • What will their company look like in five years if all goes as planned?
  • If five years from now they look back to gauge their success, what transpired for them to have achieved this success?

You need to get a sense of their value system and what they admire. A few questions that you can use include:

  • How would they capture the essence of the “why” they are doing what they are doing?
  • Assess how passionate they are about their business.
  • You can directly ask them about ethics and integrity by sharing your own feelings about these topics and see how they react. An emphasis on primarily serving the needs of the client is always a friendly conversation starter.

Once you get a feel for how the operation runs and what makes it thrive, you can start positioning how your services can help them retain clients and grow their core business.

  • Would they welcome an additional income stream? College tuition for their children? Additional retirement for themselves? That vacation cottage or fishing boat that they have always dreamed about. It is good to find a motivating factor just as we do with our producers.
  • How important do they think long term care insurance is to their clients’ wellbeing?
  • Are they aware of the risk that they themselves face if they do not recommend long term care insurance as another facet of protection to the financial well-being of their client and their family.

Learn as much about them as possible on the first visit. Determine whether you can envision yourself working closely and for long hours with this individual. If not, do not proceed! Do you initially trust or have a good feeling about this person or firm? Remember, you are not desperate and that there are many other professional partner offices that would love to offer senior services that address long term care and Medicare/Medicaid issues and welcome your assistance in doing so with their clients.

Some questions you need to ask about the clients and households serviced:

  • Do they have the requisite health and wealth for your products?
  • Do their clients have discretionary income not only for the initial purchase, but subsequent premiums?
  • How many families/households does the professional currently serve?
  • How many families/households would they like to serve in the future?
  • How do they envision growing their practice to reach these goals?
  • How can you and the services you can bring to the table help in achieving these goals?

Other questions to ask the prospect on the first visit:

  • Have they ever known anyone who has needed any type of long term care? Particularly in their own family! If so, ask the usual “What was that like for you?” type of questions to get them talking about it.
  • Do they themselves own a long term care policy? Why or why not?
  • Is it important to them that their clients work with a highly skilled and trained long term care specialist?
  • Is it important to them to maintain the appearance of independence and objectivity in working with a long term care advocate? (Note: being a broker representing multiple companies is usually preferred rather than the appearance they are working for a captive one company agent.)
  • Does he have goals like ours for their clients? (Wanting them to have quality care later in life, have a written plan and transfer the financial risk to an insurance company, to maintain their independence and control, avoid government programs like Medicaid, have professional assistance in planning and managing care and to have the peace of mind that comes with a plan.)
  • (We will discuss commission sharing in a later article)
  • Does he understand and want additional residual income coming in when he retires?
  • Does he realize this income, called insurance renewals, will either increase the value of the firm or he can exclude the insurance renewals from the eventual sale of their business and keep it for part of his retirement income?
  • Does the owner perceive any liability if he/she does not offer long term care planning to their clients from the clients or their family circle?
  • Will the owner reinforce and help us manage the process with the firm’s employees? If it is a larger firm, it is critical that the owner/principal agrees to a policy of Endorse and Enforce.
  • How many employees does he have, and does he have a marketing department?
  • Do they perform client reviews now? If so, have him explain the process to you.

Remember you want to integrate your service into his and not disrupt their core business. If there is sufficient reason to believe that this is potentially a strong match, and that a working relationship can be established, set up the second meeting.

Take A-ways:

  • The first meeting is critical and is all about finding out about them and not you.
  • The focus that you convey must remain on building their primary business and not selling LTCI.
  • You are of immense value to them–is your proposed partner of equal worth to you?

Getting Past The Gatekeeper

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones that you did do.” –Mark Twain

So, you have conducted a home interview and successfully educated the clients and helped them make an informed decision to purchase traditional or non-traditional long term care insurance. You may have even sold them some life insurance or an annuity with which to pay for the long-term care policy, and even though they reaped immense value from your time together, they were still reluctant to provide any personal introductions to either family or friends.

The good news is that they did give you the name and telephone number of both their financial advisor and estate planning attorney. So, what do you do with those professional referrals that everyone will most assuredly provide you?

When you pick up the phone and dial the number on the business card that your client has thoughtfully provided you, as well as permission to use their name, a live person answers the phone and you very quickly grasp that it is an administrative assistant, secretary, office manager or, in other words, the gatekeeper!

The Gatekeeper. We all have one or wish that we did. They provide a valuable service in shielding the professional from unwanted solicitations and interruptions.

So how does one get past the gatekeeper? It is easy. In your most professional and casual voice you are going to say “(insert your name) for John Smith please.” When he/she immediately reacts with his/her trained instincts and further queries “What is this in regard to?” you are going to say quietly and firmly, “Mike and Mary Client.” Often, her reply will be a very subdued, if not cordial, “One moment please.”

After a brief pause, this should then be followed by another voice coming on the line, namely that of the planner/attorney/advisor, John Smith. The next move is yours and is truly a lot of fun, and goes something like this: “Hi John, (insert your name) here. I am a long term care planning specialist with XYZ Insurance, and I had the pleasure of meeting with Mike and Mary Client last evening and boy do they think the world of you! I mentioned that I have the need of a financial advisor in this area because I sometimes have clients who will ask me for a referral, and when Mike and Mary heard this, they made me promise that I would call you today!

Naturally the professional on the other end of the line is flattered, and even if other insurance producers have approached him, you have been referred by valued clients of his and he must give you the time of day. There may or may not be a response from him at this point. If there is, it will be geared towards your [now] mutual client.

“So, John, before I waste your time, or mine, are you accepting new clients?” This will naturally relax him just as warm up is designed to do in the home interview with the client. Now, unless he is at the end of his career and has no desire to implement a succession plan, he will undoubtedly be more than receptive to the idea of additional clients. Please note that we are not promising anything at this point, and merely making a natural inquiry as to whether he would entertain additional clients.

Just as we do not sell to the client on the phone, we also do not “sell” to the advisor on the phone. The purpose of this call, as with any lead, is purely to obtain a firm qualified appointment with a partner that is qualified and eager to see us.

“John, because of Mike and Mary’s recommendation of you, as well as your interest in taking on additional clientele, I would very much like to meet with you to find out just exactly the type of client you are looking for demographically, because I would not want to send you the wrong type of client. I also want to spend some time with you to determine whether it would be a good fit for you and me to work together. Quite frankly, I have clients and other professionals provide me with introductions all the time, and sometimes it takes me back to the nightmares of blind dating. I am going to be in your area both Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, are mornings or afternoons better for you?”

Sound familiar? The old either/or close is designed to keep them choosing between Option A and Option B, resulting in the desired response: An appointment. This appointment can be in the office, for a breakfast or lunch, a cup of coffee, or a drink at the end of the day. That is entirely up to you. The reference to the blind dating is of course designed to be a takeaway and to put you on even footing with him, i.e., you are not willing to work with just anybody!

Again, we do not want to get into a protracted discussion on the phone, but merely to set an appointment. After that you are going to do your due diligence, check out any potential websites that he may be operating, membership in any professional organizations, as well simply employing social services such as Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

If you feel comfortable with the way the call is going you may want to ask an additional question before getting off the phone, such as, “Do you recommend long term care insurance to your clients?” This is particularly appropriate (and safe to do) if Mike and Mary have clued you in that he does bring it up during his regular advisory consultations.

Firm up the appointment time and place and get off the phone. Mission accomplished.

That is how you get past the gatekeeper. If you do not have a client’s name to utilize, you can usually get past the gatekeeper by saying that you “were referred to the advisor or that John has come to our attention as someone we may be able to refer clients to, assuming that John is accepting clients. Is he available to chat a moment to confirm this with me?”

The key is to pick up the phone and to utilize all your centers of influence to grow your network of professionals to whom you can make referrals and even better, receive them back. This takes us back to Ron Willingham’s Law of Psychological Reciprocity. By initiating the process with a referral to an advisor, you place him in the position of “owing you one” and thus the relationship is born.

If the question comes up, feel free to reassure him that you are not merely looking for access to his book of business, but rather, are offering him a time-tested, completely effective turn-key marketing system by which he can offer to his clients the protection of long term care insurance and more importantly your professional services in this critical decision-making process.

Takeaways

  • It all starts by asking our clients and COIs for referrals to their financial and legal advisors.
  • Getting past the gatekeeper requires the use of a process albeit a simple one.
  • Nothing happens unless you pick up the phone.

Next Month: The First Meeting: Getting to Know You.

Modified excerpts from The Right Combination by Don Levin and Todd Bothwell ©2014. All Rights Reserved.

Choosing Your Strategic Partners

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him. —David Brinkley

I have long been a proponent of building a long term care insurance practice by generating selling opportunities through strategic partnerships with other legal and financial professionals. This is in contrast to fostering a reliance on company—or internet—generated leads. However, I want to clarify that these relationships must be with the right partners that share the same fundamental paradigms or it will be a tremendous waste of your time, energy, and resources.

Just as it is important to discover what is motivating the client to investigate long term care insurance as a potential solution to their long term care planning needs and financial strategies, it is equally important to discover the why a professional partner may be seeking to work with you!

  • Is it to protect their clients and their families?
  • Is it to safeguard his own professional cash flow?
  • Is it simply an alternate or additional income stream for the professional in what might be a down market?
  • Is it to ward off potential liability down the road for when these clients go into a care situation that warrants the liquidation of their assets and they or their heirs may be less than pleased and initiate legal action against the professional?

This last option has become far more prevalent as the courts have been extremely critical of both the advice a professional does and does not tender to a client! The big question for all of us is whether the heirs are going to find our business card in the safe deposit box attached to key documents? If so, will they write us a thank you note or a legal complaint?

In any event, do not be in any great hurry to forge a relationship with another professional. What? Turn down the opportunity to add someone to my network of strategic partners? Yes. The reason is that it might not be a good fit, and you could waste valuable time and resources pursuing a relationship that will not bear fruit or could even be counterproductive in terms of your brand development.

For example, if this professional does not personally own a long term care policy himself/herself, odds are against them being a strong advocate of the product with their clients. To this end, even if they recommend it to their clients and do not own it themselves, when asked by a client about their own coverage, odds are there is not going to be a sale made unless the professional does not qualify for the coverage—which becomes a strong positive message to the client.

In the event the professional does not own a policy, the next step is to suggest that he and his spouse sit with you for a [mock] home interview under the guise of learning exactly what you will be doing with their clients. If this interview takes place and they opt to purchase a plan, then you have hit the mother lode! There is no greater advocate than a convert. This is also an opportunity to build some goodwill for the partnership by offering to either allow them to submit the application over their own signature (assuming that they are properly licensed) or sharing the commission.

If they refuse to sit with you, the word “next” should flash through your mind, because this dog is not going to hunt!

For the most part you are going to discover that these professionals care about their clients as much as we care about ours, and they have a great affinity to protecting them from forces that can harm them. As a result of this concern, they are going to want to address the issue of long term care with their clients. They may very well already be doing it during annual interviews. Our experience has been that while they care enough to broach the subject, they simply lack the skill set and/or knowledge that you possess to adequately educate the clients and assist them in making an informed decision that results in action.

Some professionals you encounter may be suspicious of your intentions. They may have been inundated by other insurance professionals offering an array of products to their clients. Some may be leery of you and view you as an interloper only interested in gaining access to their book of business. On this point be very clear—we are not interested in their books of business. We do not want their client list or to engage in cold calls that we find frustrating and often the client finds aggravating and may cause harm to their existing relationship. Rather, we want to offer the professional a turn-key marketing system by which they can bring the protections afforded by a long term care insurance policy to their clients by making you a trusted member of his or her staff. This is a different mindset that we have found to be very disarming, if not down right shocking to the professional. Try it, it works.

If you meet a professional who is simply in it for the money, we call this person the Mercenary. That may work for you, but you must insure from the beginning the degree of their commitment. Later, when we talk about how we present the professional with the opportunity to earn up to 50 percent of the sale, we must know that they and their staff are going to fully engage in our newly formed partnership and not merely pay lip service to it.

For those who are simply looking to expand the scope of their practice with additional product offerings, that is okay as well. The key is to ensure that they understand that unlike disability or a Medicare supplement, this is decidedly not a commodity sale. While some clients will choose to buy purely on the recommendation of the professional, in most cases if they do not in their heart of hearts feel the need for this additional insurance platform they are not going to buy. For this reason you must ensure that the professional is “trained up” to understand just how important a LTCI policy is to the plan that he/she is preparing for their client, and they must sincerely believe that it is an integral part of this plan.

Just as with our clients, the professional must recognize and feel the need, the urgency, and recognize the value of our product if this is going to be a viable partnership.

If you are working with a professional who is not life and health insurance licensed, and therefore ineligible to receive a portion of generated commissions, you may be able to offer them other forms of non-compensation such as the sponsorship of client appreciation events, referral events, educational workshops, etc., the cost of which you bear in exchange for the opportunity to educate their clients. We will share more on this later as well.

Like everything else, none of this is going to work for you unless you make the commitment to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur. As such, you will engage in marketing, networking, and prospecting as these activities become less an event and more a way of life.

Take Aways:

  • It is critical to acknowledge the goals and objectives of the Professional Partner.
  • As with our clients, it is all about creating Need, Urgency and Value.
  • It must be the right relationship…do not be afraid to say “next” while marketing to professionals.

(Excerpted from The Right Combination by Don Levin and Todd Bothwell© 2014. All Rights Reserved.)

Smarter, Not Harder

“I grew up in New England. I think I was brought up with the Puritan ethic: That if you worked really hard in life, then good would come to you. The harder you work, the luckier you get. I’ve come to believe that it’s the smarter you work, the better.” —Ken Blanchard

As I creep ever closer to being “older,” I have determined that at this stage of my (professional) work life it is not about working harder, but rather, working smarter. I can proudly say that I no longer labor within a 65-hour workweek, and can categorically state that my work productivity, efficiencies, and income have not suffered one lick. In fact, things have never been better.

Over the years we have discussed with our producers in several of our monthly sales meetings and during our weekly Growth and Development calls, that working smarter, not harder, is all about the need to identify and prioritize the demands on our time, and to develop a schedule that reflects our business plan. Key takeaways revolved around use of the LTC One Card, developing the requisite self-discipline, and the use of an accountability coach/partner. There is no such thing as “time management.” We all receive the same finite allocation of 168 hours per week and can only magnify our productivity by employing these tools.

In preparing this article, I thought about how I have done these things in the various professional careers that I have enjoyed, to wit: Army officer, attorney-at-law, LTCI advocate, sales leader, and author. I thought about the behavior-focused strategies available for one to improve his/her self-management. The alpha and omega are goal planning.

This was an interesting exercise, and I ranked the strategies in the following manner: Self-set goals, positive self-talk and rehearsal, management of cues, self-observation and exploration, and finally self-reward and punishment. The most important strategy for me has always been setting and achieving goals. Because the brain is truly a goal-seeking mechanism that deals in absolutes, not distinguishing between positive and negative, I always have my long term and short term goal lists, and my daily to-do list with which to attain the former. I am equally convinced that the best goals truly are characterized by the acronym SMART, and this is what I attempt to always convey to my followers.

For many years, I always utilized my ride into the office to rehearse my day and to organize myself. The most concrete example of positive self-talk that I use to teach this principle involved my preparation for taking my Series 24 FINRA exam. There were two possible scenarios: The first, in which I failed the exam (like many of my peers had done) and had to take it again, or the second, where I passed the exam, and then attended our national agent conference down in Orlando, FL, and was literally toasted each night at dinner as news of my successful completion of the exam spread throughout the organization. The desire to achieve this positive outcome was enough to motivate me to continue to plod on through all the practice examinations and review sessions while continuing to travel extensively and to simultaneously build a new house and relocate my family. The actual celebration of my accomplishment exceeded my expectations and reinforced for me the power and importance of positive self-talk.

I am also always reassessing what I do and how I do it, to be better tomorrow than I am today. I like the use of positive and visual reminders and will often provide like items for my followers to in turn motivate and inspire them to achieve their own dreams and desires. While maintaining a large regional office in Cincinnati years ago, I had a well-equipped phone center in which several of my agents would spend regular time. As I determined what their individual hot buttons were, e.g., the sailboat, the Corvette, the lake cabin, I would post pictures of these things in their respective phone carrels so that they could stare at these hot button motivators and work hard to achieve their individual goals.

Finally, I am a big believer that (positive) self-reward is a better modus operandi for me than the utilization of punishment. One of my followers in Virginia liked to call me for authorization to indulge his sweet tooth at Dairy Queen whenever he was successful while with clients. The phone calls “authorizing” these indulgences were an opportunity to hear him critique himself, and for me to provide coaching and feedback. Over time, the calls were not necessary to drive his success, but we continued them as just a means of communicating and maintaining accountability. All of this notwithstanding, I have had to learn how to celebrate my achievements and to realize that the end of one race does not immediately have to mean the start of the next one. I even shocked my wife a few years ago when I opted to “celebrate” and bask in the glow of simply completing one of my CLF courses rather than immediately jumping into the next. There may just be something to this celebration thing!

I for one do not believe in coincidence. While some people chalk these incidents up to karma or fate, timing is everything. Just as I had thought that this article was complete as a first draft, I received a phone call from a peer who wanted to talk about this very topic! During our 45-minute conversation we compiled the top ten things that have worked for us over the years as we both endeavored to truly work smarter, not harder.

  1. Start the day with a regular routine. Review your list of things to do, assign priorities, and get to it. Clear email, and then get away from the computer. It can be the single largest distraction. For me it truly has been an “on your mark, get set, and go!”
  2. Maintain a daily list of things to be accomplished. Mine is titled ST2D—Silly Things To Do. I will often also assign priorities to the individual tasks using a simple assignment of A-B-C. I know that I always feel good when I clear the list! There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than when I can line through the task when it is complete. As an added incentive, I will boldface the task while it is in progress. If it is a glass ball that I can not afford to drop, I will highlight in yellow.
  3. Do not let others steal your time. Avoid email—it is the number one time stealer. As much as possible, I clear email twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon and avoid it the rest of the day. This especially applies to social media prompts such as Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms that invite you to see what you are missing. This is the dreaded FOMO—fear of missing out. Do not fall prey to it.
  4. Leave time at the end of the day to review what you did accomplish and what you need to rollover to the next day as a priority. What did you get accomplished? What was a miss? Establish the list for the next day before you leave your desk for the final time. I will often create a “Week at a Glance” of as many of the daily tasks, appointments, and must-dos that are on that week’s agenda.
  5. Have a plan and work the plan. One of my top president’s club producers utilized four colors to control his calendar and designated personal time, family time, phone time, appointment time, and he did not allow anyone to upset the color scheme.
  6. Good meetings start and end on time. There is no greater time drain than meetings. Do not have meetings for the sake of having a meeting, and when a meeting is necessary, start it on time and end it on time or even a few minutes early. No one will ever complain about getting a few minutes back for their own use.
  7. Take a break. Partially to give myself a break mentally, but also to preserve the health of my neck and back, get out of your seat at least hourly and spend five or ten minutes walking, stretching, and recharging. I have found that this simple modification has served to make me far more productive than any other change implemented in the past ten years.
  8. Avoid the trap of multitasking. For as much as I used to pride myself on being able to multitask, I have learned from many years of trial and error that focusing on one task at a time and clearing it from the list is the more efficient way to work.
  9. Fool Yourself. I know that my energy builds as I see more of the list disappear as the day goes on. As a result, I will often start the day with some easy, “C” level tasks, just so that I can line through them. It is a psychological game I have played with myself for years. For the same reason, “eat that frog” early. A task that you do not want to complete is going to loom larger and larger as the day goes on. Just address it head on and eat that frog before it gets too big to swallow.
  10. Avoid touching it twice. I have always prided myself on being efficient and using no more than a single in-box, out-box, and hold-box on my desk. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my predecessor as the Squadron Adjutant in one of my military assignments had no less than sixteen such boxes with inane labels as “hot monkeys,” “jumping monkeys,” and “screaming monkeys.” The first thing that happened after he left the office for the final time was that thirteen of the boxes disappeared. My goal has always been to take whatever piece of paper from the in-box, action it, and if possible, put it in the out-box. It would only go to the hold-box if it warranted further action in the future.

So, bottom line: Are you happy where you are at in your sales career? If you are…that is incredible… and congratulations. But if you are not, I offer you a simple challenge.

No one can change their business life overnight, but if someone will work hard each day to make it better, well it could be life changing. Six weeks to being a superstar!

Choose five things (from the list of ten) on the list above and commit to implementing them for one week. This is not a trick. Simply pick the five things that would be easiest for you to integrate into your daily process.

If you like the results of the first week, add one additional point for week two, one more for week three, an additional one for week four, another in week five, and the last one for week six. Again, you choose the point that you add each week.

I have never professed to have all the answers. I just know that as things continue to speed up, time is our most precious commodity. As an attorney it was my stock and trade. It is no different now as a sales leader or producer. It really is all about working smarter, not harder, and taking advantage of available technology, processes, and work practices, and using them all collectively as a force multiplier.

The Power Of The Pen

For a long time now, we have been sharing with you just how powerful the internet, social media, and the “electronics” with which we have surrounded ourselves have become, and the importance of engaging in all forms of social media to reach potential clients. What I want to share with you now is a bit anachronistic, but something even more powerful: The Power of the Pen, or more precisely, the power of the handwritten note. As we look for ways to stay connected in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, I must confess that there is still no better way to do it than with a written note. I have also found that there is nothing more personally rewarding for me than to take the time to compose and send a handwritten note and to then wait with anticipation for the inevitable response from the recipient.

Many years ago, my wife taught me the power associated with writing a note. After seeing the incredibly positive impact these notes made with the recipients I was hooked, if not out and out addicted. Over the years I have written thousands of such notes while improving business, church, and personal relationships. If you want to really distinguish yourself in the eyes of your centers of influence, strategic alliance partners, clients, and even your friends and family members, take the time to write a handwritten note. Despite access to either personalized cards and stationery or handmade cards from my wife, my biggest challenge: Keeping the notes legible. With each passing day, this challenge has become an ever more daunting task for me. Do not undo the good of the thought and the act by sending something that needs to be forensically deciphered.

Truth be told, sometimes writing the notes can be a chore. I began the practice of writing “pillow notes” of welcome for producers and managers who may be attending conferences with me. I can remember one national agent conference at which I wrote over seventy-five of these handwritten notes. I started writing them two weeks before the event and finished the last of them while seated on the plane bound for our conference venue. Having the hotel staff place them in the room of the recipient, often accompanied by a small token gift of esteem or “goodie bag” made attendance at the conference an experience for the recipients. On more than one occasion over the years, I have been told by these people that the note was the thing that they cared for the most.

After writing a couple dozen notes at the ILTCI conference a few years ago with only an occasional acknowledgement, the power of a handwritten note was reaffirmed for me a couple of weeks later with a friend of mine. With no ulterior motive, this gentleman went above and beyond the call of duty and performed what I considered a true tender mercy in going out of his way to do me a tremendous and unsolicited favor with the family history (genealogy) work in which I have been engaged. I was so touched by it that the next morning I arose early, and even before I went to work out I sat and penned a note expressing my heartfelt gratitude to him and popped it into the mail so that he would receive it at his home.

The next week when I again saw him, he was standing a little taller, his chest was a little bit more pronounced, and he had a smile on his face from ear to ear. He said that he had never received a note like mine, and that it would thereafter be a treasure to him. We have since collaborated on some projects and a friendship has taken root.

I know that professional associates and staff members with whom I have worked over the years have appreciated the notes and even saved them as “badges of honor,” decorating their office cubicles with them, and that clients have on occasion been genuinely overwhelmed by them as well. More than a perfunctory thank you note that some of us were taught to send after a successful interview that led to an application being submitted, I have always tried to prepare these notes to validate them and their decisions.

Writing any sort of correspondence by hand is going to be noticed by the recipient, especially when they are bombarded day in and day out by digital correspondence. Imagine their surprise and joy when they receive something that is handwritten and personalized to them. When was the last time you hand wrote a note? A posting on a Facebook account may be public praise for the recipient but misses the mark with what we are attempting to accomplish with a handwritten note. Emails do not count! Texts even less! I will go as far as to say that I have come to hate email, and the only thing worse than a poorly drafted email is a perfunctory text message, especially if it is chocked full of abbreviations.

Just last week I received a handwritten note in the mail, and just from the smooth script with which the envelope was addressed to me I knew who it was from, and my anticipation of the actual contents soon placed it in the same category as an unexpected early Christmas present. I was not disappointed after carefully opening the envelope.

I have had the lesson that taking a few minutes to send something personalized and handwritten carries a lot of weight with the recipient and reflects positively on you, the sender, reinforced repeatedly over the years. I have also learned that it is important to use quality stationary and to take your time so that you really do express the desired sentiment. Confidentially, I have been prone to even compose a draft of the note on a piece of scrap paper to avoid errors. I promise you that if you find the commitment to try this and allocate the modest time investment required of this endeavor, this effort will pay you huge dividends. Over the years I have found nothing with a greater return on investment than the time and effort associated with penning these notes. Try it this week because I know you will be more than pleased with the results.

Maya Angelou got it right when she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Remember that co-workers, subordinates, bosses, clients, prospects, and particularly friends and family, are all people with feelings that need to be validated. Take the time to personalize and humanize all your communications for maximum results.

“The strokes of the pen need deliberation as much as the sword needs swiftness.”
—Julia Ward Howe

Over the years, I have learned that there are two great powers in this world; one is the sword, and the other is the pen. There is often a great competition between the two, but as we attempt to make sense of the violence and tumult in the world around us, I know that wars have never started because of a kind word penned in the proper spirit.

I am reminded of a passage in John Maxwell’s 25 Ways to Win with People:

“When you give people credit verbally, you uplift them for a moment. When you take the time to put it in writing you have the potential to uplift them for a lifetime.”

I cannot say that each of your notes are going to be as dramatic as what Mr. Maxwell confides, but I know that one of my prized possessions kept for more than forty years is a handwritten letter I received from one of my NCOs after I had left my unit in Germany thanking me for my leadership and personal investment in he and the rest of my assigned soldiers. The fact that he took the time to find an address for me at my follow-on assignment in the United States made it even more poignant to me.

Share a kind word or thought with someone you know today. It may be the difference in their having a good day or a bad day.