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.

Don Levin, JD, MPA, CLF, CSA, LTCP, CLTC, is chairman of the board of the National Long Term Care Network and the managing general agent of PNW Insurance Services, a national brokerage which offers long term care insurance, short term recovery care, life insurance and annuities to the general public across the country. The long term care planning specialists and staff of PNWIS are proud to offer comprehensive individualized planning solutions to their clients while also working through a strategic alliance of financial planners, estate planning and elder law attorneys, CPAs, and other businesses and organizations.

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 nine books in a wide range of genre.

Levin may be reached via telephone at (509) 348-0206. Email: dlevin@pnwis.com.