I am a good fisherman. I stink, however, at catching fish. You would enjoy having me casting a line beside you. We would talk about a wide variety of subjects, laugh together and enjoy the water and sky. If you are competitive, you would certainly enjoy catching more fish.
This is my 35th year in the life insurance business. Imagine that you and I could sit together in the parade bleachers and watch a procession of all the financial professionals we have each known, walking briskly by. We would recognize the MDRT qualifiers, the award winners and the sales leaders. Figuratively, we would nod and say, “Those people can catch fish!”
On the other hand, a throng of people will pass, smiling and waving back, who have only ever had mediocre success. These are some of the nicest people we have ever met. Quality people. Trustworthy people. Friends of ours.
What if you turned to me, quizzically, and asked, “Dave, what caused some of these people to reach high levels of success while the others muddled along for years and years?” This article is the answer I would give.
The reason I stink at catching fish is that I have never learned to think like a fish.
Fish eat, and therefore chase bait, in accordance with the season, the time of day, the conditions of the water, the weather, rising or falling barometric pressure, and the natural cycle of insect larvae and available prey. To catch a fish is to provide something that resembles what they expect to see, when they expect to see it and in a manner that resonates with them.
Fish have three sensing mechanisms they use to find their prey. They are sight, smell and sound. Colors matter because they change dramatically as they go deeper and therefore become darker. Red is the first to change to black. Yellow appears to get brighter. Some lure manufacturers smear the outside of their products with a scent attractant. Some species of freshwater fish have a lateral line, which is a major sensory element. These fish use their lateral lines to detect water motion. This motion can be generated by the fish itself, water currents or by some external moving object. This motion detection ultimately results in finding food. The senses work together to confirm that the lure presented is actually good to eat.
It is not how awesome I think what I am casting looks, or if I am casting and retrieving continually. What matters is how the fish perceive the lure I am presenting.
Thinking Like a Client
I urge you again to look down from the parade stands at the truly successful financial professionals. You are going to see people who think like a client.
Unlike fish, humans are sentient beings with self-awareness and an appreciation of past, present and future. While fish act and survive according to instinct, humans have the ability to remember, plan and anticipate.
Just like fish, however, human beings have a natural life cycle.
The successful financial professional knows that clients live in a stream of time, hurtling toward the future. They also know this about clients:
• While they intuitively know time passes quickly, the days, weeks, months, years and even decades seem to pass imperceptibly.
• They look up now and then only to discover they have reached a transition.
• They are generally consumed with today and have trouble keeping their future selves in sight.
John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
Consider these examples:
1. If you graduated from college, you remember the students looking at each other in surprise and asking, “How did the four years go by so fast?” (You may also remember that many students reached graduation with no job lined up, no plans for graduate school and only a vague idea of what was next.)
2. You were likely the parent watching your child pull on a backpack on day one of first grade as you thought back to what seemed like yesterday when you brought your baby home from the hospital. (You could not imagine this same child starting college in twelve years.)
3. You have attended the retirement party for the retiree who asks where the years went. (While a better question may be, how many years are ahead and how will I afford to live?)
The successful financial professional presents solutions appropriate for each stage in the client’s life, but more important, realizes that the client only subconsciously knows what it means.
While a fish cannot fathom the unexpected, clients know that risks are lurking out there because they know people who have died prematurely, developed disabling conditions, required assisted living services or have out-lived their assets. Knowing that risks exist and preparing for them are two different things. The successful financial professional knows that clients are predictably unprepared for the unexpected.
Presenting Clients with What They Need and Want
Clients will take action on a plan when three conditions are met:
• Credibility is established
• Relatability is demonstrated
• Ideas are sound
Credibility is like a lure that looks like real food. It is genuine. Authentic. The successful financial professional is personally financially responsible, can produce testimonials of satisfied clients, can be researched on social media, has designations, is connected in the community and works with other advisors (CPAs, attorneys, etc.) in teamwork fashion.
1. Is my own financial house in order? (Am I prepared for the unexpected?)
2. Am I still growing my knowledge of the business?
3. Have I asked my best clients for testimonials?
4. Have I achieved distinction through earning designations?
5. Do I work in concert with CPAs, attorneys, money managers, and other advisors?
Relatability is like a sweet smelling lure. The successful financial professional listens carefully, demonstrates understanding of the client’s individual situation and communicates with clarity. The solutions are presented with the client as the hero.
1. Do I demonstrate respect for each client by sending an agenda ahead of each meeting?
2. Do I take careful notes during each meeting and repeat what I learned at the end to show the client I listened?
3. Do I know my clients well enough to use their vocabulary, make reference to things important to them and use the names of their family members and business partners in designing their story?
4. Do I present the client as the hero who loves others by resisting procrastination and making important decisions?
Ideas that are sound can be seen from a distance as having merit, and yet, they become more convincing under closer scrutiny. They have the feel of matching the client’s life today and plans for tomorrow.
1. Have I attended to my reputation so my good name arrives before I do?
2. Do I attend to details in developing tailored solutions?
3. Are the ideas I present practical and palatable?
Our industry is in a period of tremendous pressure and rapid change. We have experienced many difficult periods before. The secret to resilience, to be able to succeed in the face of obstacles and change, is to think like your clients.
May you be better at serving clients than I am at catching fish.
The opinions and ideas expressed by the author are his own and not necessarily those of North American Company for Life and Health Insurance or its affiliates. North American Company does not endorse or promote these opinions and ideas nor does the company or agents give tax advice.