Many years ago, while I was serving as a senior sales leader, I worked for a very charismatic chief sales officer. Physically resembling George Hamilton, from onstage he could charm and inspire our sales force to achieve unprecedented sales. He was an expert at crafting a lofty vision but was quick to point out that “the devil is in the details,” which is where people like me would enter the picture. I can recall several times standing in his office, with him in front of his white board, with pen cap clenched in his white teeth, his marker charting the route of our future endeavors and having him turn to me and ask, “Can you do a White Paper on this?” My answer was of course “yes,” and I would set about to attempt to bring a semblance of order to the details and assign clarity to the chaos that he had created.
A good friend of mine loves to quote Vince Lombardi and remind me that the winning coach began every training camp much the same way as he attempted to inspire the newest rookie and the most seasoned veteran by uttering, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” They would progress from that utterance and begin building their plan for the season, precept upon precept, play upon play, yoking detail and discipline together in the same harness in an effort to pull the wagon called Success.
John Wooden, the man named coach of the century by ESPN, led the UCLA men’s basketball program to ten NCAA championships in twelve years, with a streak of seven in a row, clearly establishing himself as the pre-eminent coach. Incredibly, his teams could also boast of 88 consecutive victories, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories, and eight undefeated Pacific Conference (Pac-8) crowns. What made Wooden and his teams so dominant and so successful? It was majoring in the details and discipline.
What did majoring in the details mean to John Wooden and his players? It meant that at the first squad meeting each season, usually several weeks before the first practice of the season, Wooden would personally demonstrate how he wanted players to put on their socks each and every time. He would instruct them to roll the socks down over the toes, ball of the foot, arch, and around the heel, then pull the sock up snug so there would be no wrinkles of any kind.
Wait, there is more. Then he would instruct them to carefully check with their fingers for any folds or creases in the sock, starting at the toes and sliding their hands along the side of and under the foot, smoothing the sock even more so if possible. Extra attention was paid to the heel because that is where wrinkles were most likely to occur. He would watch his players do this in a further effort to promote a “conscientious” mindset on the part of the player.
Why so much attention on socks? Because wrinkles, folds, and creases in socks can cause blisters. Blisters can interfere with performance during practices and games. Since blisters were preventable by this rigid attention to detail, it was deemed a responsibility of each player to ensure maximum performance so as not to detract from the team effort.
But how valuable are well fitted and donned socks if the shoes are not equally correct? True to form, when a new player walked on to the UCLA campus, Wooden did not ask him what size shoe he wore, but rather, would measure his foot. Wooden had learned over the years that parents often bought shoes a size larger in anticipation of continued foot growth on the part of their athlete, which meant that the athlete might not really know his true shoe size. Wooden would measure his foot to ensure a proper fit because shoes that are even just a little too big let the foot slide around, which in turn can cause blisters, especially if there is a fold or wrinkle in the sock. Next would come instruction on how to properly lace and [double] tie the shoes to preclude any wardrobe malfunctions on the court.
What do shoes and socks have to do with what we do as financial advisors and insurance professionals? Everything. From our first contact with prospects to discussions with clients we must remain vigilant of potential wrinkles in our socks that can lead to blisters that blow up the sale.
A final lesson from Coach Wooden that was a real “Aha!” moment for me: The Four Laws of Learning. The four laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition. The goal is to create a correct habit that can be produced instinctively under great pressure. To make sure that this goal was achieved, Wooden ultimately expanded the four laws to eight laws: explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition.
For many years I was a contract trainer at General Electric Financial Assurance and instructed new agents in a week-long training session on the finer points of how to create the requisite need and urgency on the part of the client and demonstrate the future peace of mind value of owning a long term care insurance policy. To accomplish this, I would carefully explain the thought process behind the concept being presented, demonstrate it at the white board or by role playing it, force them to parrot it back to me in front of one another, and then, in a series of ten weekly follow on sessions, attempt to instill this sales process in them by regular repetition. Just yesterday, on one of our weekly Growth and Development training calls, we talked about the importance attached to beginning the interview with a proper focus on warm up.
So, what is the big deal about warm up? What is it? Why is it important? Athletes in all sports engage in warm up exercises so as to prevent injury to their bodies and to maximize performance. For us, warm up is about building rapport and trust with the client. It is about lowering shields of suspicion and doubt. It is about them viewing us as their advocate and advisor and not simply as a salesperson interested in closing the deal or submitting another application. It is about being professionally competent and being able to present a range of solutions to our clients that allow them to meet their needs, wants, and desires within a prescribed budget.
No matter who is defining the standard of Success, the Alpha and Omega of success can always be found in attention to detail. It is solid pre-qualification of applicants, good field underwriting during the interview, asking the extra question, and providing the underwriters with a letter in which we provide them the reasons to say yes to coverage. Success in our business is definitely linked to placement rate and constitutes the only number on the scoreboard that counts. Let us smooth those socks, double tie those shoes, and serve our clients.
“Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.”—Coach John Wooden