My career began in retail sales. My official title was Sales Representative. I represented the products of one carrier. The company assigned me the task of completing the Project 100. This was an opportunity to define my natural market. The idea was to record the names of family, friends, neighbors, teammates, fellow church attendees, and other people I happened to know. The expectation was that I would list 100 names. The problem? I started selling in a city I had never lived in before and where, other than my in-laws, I knew literally no one. My natural market turned out to be total strangers!
Thank heavens for orphan policyholders! My company provided me with a thick pile of orphan policy cards, small pieces of paper with the information related to a policyholder. It listed the policyholder’s name, address, policy number, policy type, issue date, premium, and premium mode of a policy written by an inactive agent. All I had to do was look up the names in the phone book (remember those?) and call them.
In addition, my company sold property and casualty as well as life and annuities. Their advice to me was, “Use the Criss Cross City Directory to look up the phone numbers for people living in good neighborhoods. Call them and ask when they had moved into their house—specifically, which month. That is roughly the anniversary of their homeowners insurance policy. Tell them you will contact them thirty days before the next anniversary in order to provide a competitive quote.” This process was called “X-Dating.” (Looking for the expiration date of the annual homeowners policy.)
My wife and I got married two weeks before I entered life insurance sales. She got used to me making X-Dating calls and orphan policyholder calls.
- My very first day, the sales manager who hired me was promptly fired.
- That same day, the regional VP who prompted the former’s departure also fired another agent who he saw “windowing.” (This, I later learned from another experienced agent, was the technique of holding a form up to the window so as to trace the signature onto a part of the application that the agent had forgotten to have the applicant sign.)
- My very first week I sold a policy on the second of several scheduled appointments! The sale would earn a commission of roughly $1,000! I promptly postponed the rest of the week’s appointments to the next week based on the rationale that at age 23, I did not need to be greedy. I mean, $50,000 per year was all that someone like me needed. Well, both my district manager and my wife strongly disagreed with this decision.
- I sold a policy to a wife of a police officer worried that her husband would be killed in the line of duty. He returned home just as I was leaving. I met him standing beside my car on their driveway. He was in the process of writing me a ticket for expired license tags. The fine for the ticket exactly equaled the commission I had earned on the term life insurance policy I had written.
- Before selling life insurance I never before had a use for a briefcase. My wife helped me pick out a brown one with a leather handle and a hard case. Excitement built as I stuffed its pockets full of my business cards, brochures on whole life, blank applications, and all the other necessary forms. On the first appointment with my new briefcase I placed it on the floor beside my chair as I met with a young mom who owned a life insurance policy on her life purchased by her parents. As I enthusiastically explained the advantages of replacing her old type of policy with the sparkling new whole life products we were selling then, I suddenly became aware of a scratching noise. Looking down I saw her cat step out of the briefcase and immediately noticed the moist, stained piece of paper now covering the cat’s deposit.
- As it turned out, life insurance was very much in the news in my new community. Apparently, a small group of agents for another carrier decided to forego sending their clients’ applications to the insurance company for underwriting and processing. Instead, these enterprising agents simply printed their own policies and collected the premiums using checks made out to themselves. Actually, this had worked well for them for the previous four years. Then someone died. The newspaper headline proclaimed, “Scam Committed by Local Life Insurance Agents.” The fallout for me was that every person I met wanted proof that I was, in fact, a legitimate agent.
- My company had a marketing tool available to me. I could send letters offering prospects a free road atlas (young people, ask someone older what these were). At the bottom of the letter it read, “No agent will call.” Well, when people ordered these atlases, I promptly delivered them in person. When they would object, and point to the letter stating, “no agent will call,” I would offer the same rejoinder every time—“Maam (Sir), back in the office the other agents all took a vote. Turns out, they think I am the closest thing to ‘no agent’ that we have.” Usually, they would laugh and let me in.
The Sign I Was on My Right Path
My wife heard my X-Dating pitch dozens of times per day. Significant numbers of people were less than happy to share with me the month in which they bought their home. This was, they informed me, “None of your business.”
I canvassed the better neighborhoods and business parks letting people know what I did for a living and expressing confidence that I could surely help them. Here is how I described what I did: “I help the unprepared plan for the unexpected.” From the reactions I received, it was clear to me that most people were either already prepared, believed they had a plan, or had no idea what to expect.
Honestly, I began to question my career choice.
Marie owned a small whole life policy issued by my company years ago when she was pregnant with her first child. Now she was much older, her kids had grown and had their own families, and her husband Frank had advanced dementia. She explained why she had agreed to meet with me. “If something were to happen to me there needs to be money available to place Frank in a nursing home for his care.” The life insurance would be that source of funds.
I wrote an application for life insurance on Marie, it sailed through Underwriting, and I delivered her policy a flashing six weeks later. That was in July. I placed the file in my desk drawer and went about finding other people who needed the products I sold.
At 11:30 PM on the Friday before Labor Day, I was in bed sleeping next to my beautiful wife when the phone rang. We had a house phone (young people can look it up on Google) on the table next to the bed. I answered it in a fog.
“This is Marie. Marie C____.”
“Marie. I live with my husband Frank. You sold me a Life Insurance policy about two months ago.”
“I need your help. Frank somehow got out of the house. Maybe I had forgotten to lock the deadbolt. He’s gone, Dave.”
“Sorry to hear that, Marie. Truly. But why are you calling me? Did you seek help from your kids? Have you notified the police?”
“The kids won’t help. They want nothing to do with Frank. The police would only scare Frank.”
“Okay, but why me?”
“Dave, you listened to me. You helped me buy the policy that would take care of Frank. You are the only one I know who I can trust. I know you care.”
“I am heading your way immediately, Marie. It will take me about fifteen minutes, maybe twenty.”
When I arrived, she asked me to drive her pick-up truck while she sat in the truck bed yelling his name. We drove all around, in concentric circles. Sometime near 2:00 AM we found him wandering down a dark street about four miles from her house. We gathered him into the passenger seat, Marie took over driving and I climbed into the truck bed. In short order he was safe at home in bed. Marie expressed immense gratitude.
I went home to my worried wife proudly bearing the knowledge that I was on the right path.
Signs that You Are on the Right Path
I read an article in “Forbes” that contained this paragraph:
“When you do something that makes you feel alive and connected to your purpose, you’ll think ‘I am on my path now!’ You feel like you’re doing exactly what you were meant to do.”1
As an independent financial professional, a brokerage general agent, a home office employee, or a wholesaler, you most likely already know if you are on the right path for you. If you are still wondering, here are some simple techniques for clarifying whether or not you are on your path.
Anticipation: If you wake up each day excited to see who you will meet or what the day will hold for you, you are probably in the right place. There will always be drudgery. Every position has responsibilities that are menial, repetitive, and sometimes even annoying. When these are offset by the adventure of seeing what comes next, you can persevere through the mundane. If each day feels to you like an unopened bag of snacks, and all you have to do to get enjoyment is to open it, you are on the right path.
Means, not Ends: People date other people in order to find someone to marry. People sometimes marry in order to have kids. People then want their kids to be raised so they can get their freedom back. Others work furiously so that they can retire early. In other words, people believe their fulfillment will happen someday later… after…eventually. The truth is, today is your present. A gift. To slide through the next twenty-four hours with eyes fixed on sometime later is to waste today. When you find that the work that you do, the people you meet, and the process of serving others is all the fulfillment you need then you know you have found your purpose. It is about the journey and not the destination.
Learning: When people stop being curious or give up pursuing knowledge of their work, industry, or how others in their field achieved great success, that is a sure sign they are no longer on the path. In financial services, the learning never stops. There is always an area of expertise that is waiting for exploration. If it has been a while since you learned anything new, maybe you are on the wrong path. (If you are reading this article, you are evidently still learning!)
Sharing: When we know we have something special, it is rare that we want to keep it for ourselves. (An exception might be your secret fishing spot!) A sure sign that you are where you need to be is the habit you have of sharing with others the things you are learning, doing, or the success you are having. Are you a mentor? Do you participate in a study group? Have you spoken to groups of people new to the industry? If you are doing these things, you are most certainly on the right path.
My purpose became clear the minute I heard Marie say, “You are the only one I know who I can trust. I know you care.”
To know that you are doing what you were meant to do is rewarding. Uncertainty regarding your purpose is debilitating. It is hard to dredge up energy for what is drudgery.
There is an ancient proverb that says, “Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart; a wise person draws from the well within.”2
Nothing is better than knowing that you are on the right path, that you are constructively deploying your talents and experiences in the right way, and that you can see the impact you are having on the right people. I hope that describes you.
If it doesn’t, maybe you just need to draw more deeply from your well.