I am a voracious reader, but I can’t keep up. Seems like every week someone announces a new book that is appealing to me to read. “So many books, so little time,” right? One benefit of my limited capacity is a forced sorting-out that takes place just by the passing of time. What seemed like a great book when first announced soon fades under the weight of severe criticism or dies from lack of general support. Titles that intrigued me initially lose their attraction as soon as something else appears. This is the same principle at work with items in the salad bar. How many times have I begun to spoon some garbanzo beans onto my salad plate when green peas, black olives or chopped eggs caught my attention instead?
It is eminently clear that writing a book and having it read are very different things.
Question: Have you read one or more of the variations of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books? Apparently, many people have. According to www.chickensoup.com:
- The Chicken Soup for the Soul book series of over 250 titles has sold more than 110 million copies in the U.S. and Canada.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul books have been translated into 43 languages, have been published in over 100 countries, and have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide.
The first book must have been an immediate best seller, right? Wrong.
Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield had the idea in 1993 that “People could help each other by sharing stories about their lives.”1 As motivational speakers, they came across myriad stories and shared these in their talks. So they compiled the best 101 stories they’d been told in a book. Instinctively, they knew they had a best seller on their hands! Not a chance. It was a huge struggle. They took the book to New York, hoping to sell it to one of the big publishers, but every single one turned them down.1
Publishers were not breaking down their doors for the opportunity to get “Chicken Soup for the Soul” to market. Then, when the book was in print, they had a tough time getting anyone to buy it.2
What happened? What led to the above-mentioned success?
Every day they did five specific things that would move them closer to their dream of selling books.2
Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield believed their book served a great purpose. They worked hard, and innovatively, to promote it. They were motivated more by their belief that people would benefit from reading their book than by their hope to earn millions of dollars.
Example: “One day we sent copies of the book to all the jurors in the O.J. Simpson trial. A week later, we received a nice letter from Judge Lance Ito thanking us for thinking of the jurors, who were sequestered and not allowed to watch television or read the newspapers. The next day, four of the jurors were spotted reading the book by the press, and that led to some valuable public relations for the book.”3
Point #1: If you have something valuable that you believe will benefit people, it is imperative to promote it and get it into as many people’s lives as possible.
Point #2: You have goals for 2020. You have long-term dreams. Challenge yourself to do five specific things every day that would move you closer to your objectives.
Life Insurance for the Soul
From the very first day I began selling life insurance I have been a believer in its intrinsic value to families and businesses. How do we know life insurance serves a valuable purpose?
- If it did not serve a public good, why would Congress have granted life insurance its amazing tax advantages in the very first Federal Tax Code?
- The very founding and history of life insurance reveals legal and economic structures created out of the simple intention to protect families from the death of the income providers.
- Even my faith informed my enthusiasm for life insurance. The New Testament contains this instruction: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”4 Life insurance is expressly designed to benefit orphans and widows.
Sitting in my cubicle in the captive agent office where my career began, bubbling over with enthusiastic belief in the great importance and value of life insurance, was essentially equivalent to me writing a book that nobody wanted to read. I needed to get launched and there were two critical steps required:
- Establish Credibility
- Make Connections and build Social Capital
Credibility is an asset when building a financial services practice.
There are many ways to develop credibility, including:
- Gain success through hard work (success really does beget success).
- Maintain customer-focus.
- Earn credentials and designations.
- Volunteer in community service organizations.
- Study and learn.
- Prepare well for every appointment.
- Keep commitments.
- Follow-up efficiently and punctually.
As a young agent, I needed to establish credibility.
I pursued and earned designations (CLU, ChFC), joined the American Red Cross Planned Giving Committee and learned the “Consultative Selling” approach, which put the customer first. Still, I needed something more in order to overcome my young age, especially in the small business market.
I decided to write an article based on the financial applications inherent in the “law of the cumulative effect of little things over a long period of time.” (This is a phrase I discovered in the books by Ron Blue, including Master Your Money). I went to the Public Library and looked up the names of the editors and publishers of magazines serving the various industries represented by small businesses in my city. Every industry had its own publications. Tool and Die. Electrical Supply. Heating and Air Conditioning. Printing. Machine Tool. Packaging. I sent off my article to dozens of them. Lo and behold, ten or so magazines published it. Not only did these magazines notify me as to the future issue in which my article would appear, they subsequently sent a copy of the volume that contained it.
Armed with the magazine containing my article, I cold-called small business owners in each of these industries. It was simple to get past the receptionist because often the issue containing my article was there on a table in the lobby and I only had to open the magazine and point to my photo and name.
My article as door-opener worked so well that I sent the article to the “Cincinnati Business Courier.” The publisher at the time was named Scott Bemis. (Scott was the publisher of business journals in Indianapolis and Rochester, NY, and the Cincinnati Business Courier, before going to Denver in 1996 to become president and publisher of the Denver Business Journal).
Scott liked it and wanted to meet. His offices were on the 45th floor of one of Cincinnati’s tallest buildings. We discovered a shared faith and a similar sense of humor. We hit it off instantly.
Connection—“Can I Come?”
If every new customer does not lead to more customers, then all customers are, in a sense, nothing but individual dead-end streets. The quickest way for a person to give up as a young life insurance agent is to continually wander down one dead end after another.
Connecting with people involves both deep one-on-one relationships and broad social capital based on active referral-gathering and networking.
Scott Bemis said he was in a Bible study group with other business owners.
At that time, I was inspired to be courageous by the great book, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay. I was focused on getting appointments with people who absolutely, positively did not want to see me. One way to get in front of successful people is to be introduced to them personally by other successful people.
So, when Scott mentioned his Bible study group, I asked, “Next time you go, can I come?” Scott was pleased to have me attend. At that first event I was introduced to multiple business owners. For example, Bob owned a customer-driven manufacturer of products for niche vinyl coated markets; Mike owned an executive search firm; another Mike owned a metal re-surfacing company. These men eventually introduced me to many other business owners.
(Note: It is difficult to operate without self-interest. My intentions for attending Scott’s group, or any other function I sought invitations to, were clearly driven by the desire to meet new people. The behavior I had to avoid was to use these occasions as pure prospecting opportunities. In each instance, I stated clearly what I did for a living, and that I was curious to meet people. That being said, it was also imperative that I not approach any person until we had become acquainted over the course of many encounters.)
Point #3: Asking “Can I come” is the easiest, best way to connect with successful people through other successful people.
Summary and Application
- Life insurance is something that has tremendous utility for solving the real-life concerns of real people. Because it is valuable, it must be promoted.
- To earn the right to tell the story of life insurance to others, the independent financial professional must establish credibility.
- Credibility is earned through hard work and innovation.
- Credibility is only important if your life intersects with others.
- Connections with other people and social capital are the key to success.
- Simply asking, “Can I come?” is a proven method for making sure each relationship is not a dead end.
- Success draws nearer when we commit to doing five specific things every day that will move us closer to our goals.
Many independent financial professionals believe as strongly as I do in the intrinsic value of life insurance. Some of them face a seemingly high wall between themselves and people needing their services. To get out into the market and change lives requires both credibility and connection. It is my hope that the above anecdotes from my story will prove useful.
- Put Your Dream to the Test, John Maxwell.
- James 1:27 (ESV).