Back in November 1994, I wrote an article for Life Association News magazine entitled, “Success Starts at 100 Lives per Year.” At the time, I had been in the life insurance business with Northwestern Mutual for 13 years. In the article, I discussed the importance of writing at least 100 lives per year and my techniques for doing so. If a new agent could accomplish this, his or her success in our business would be guaranteed.
As a younger agent, I frequently made presentations to Northwestern Mutual general agencies on the topic of activity and what I was doing to create and grow my budding practice. I will never forget former general agent Gene Storms (Minneapolis) who asked me to give this presentation on three separate occasions. I asked him, “Why again?” on the third request, and Gene responded, “Because new agents as well as the older ones need to hear this. What you do will never go out of style.”
Fast forward to January 2012, and I’ve been in the life insurance business for 31 years, having consistently written between 300 and 450 lives per year — for a total of more than 13,000 career lives and more than $1.7 billion of life insurance in force.
We are all creatures of habit, and the work habits we learn early on tend to stick with us forever. In order to produce at a very high level and maintain this, I still do things I learned from day one. Every agent can adopt the following four habits.
1. Be organized and efficient
Being organized and efficient is critical early on. As a new agent we have no clients and a lot of time — which we can use to find clients. As we grow and mature, we develop more clients, and our time starts to shrink. Why? Typically, there are life events that come about, like marriage, children, outside activities, etc. So veteran agents need to be really organized to service existing clients, develop new ones and participate in many different activities, with less and less time.
2. Work hard for at least nine hours per day
Working hard every day for nine hours is important. I still see between four and six people per day — sometimes via conference calls but, most often, in person. Our practice has grown to a national basis, so it becomes difficult to see each client personally. Based on the strength of our relationships, our clients feel very cared for even if we speak on the phone. The key things I do every day are seeing people and prospecting for new clients. It takes great discipline to stay focused daily to maintain a high level of productivity.
3. Never make a cold call and work through referred leads only
Forget cold calling! I have never made one cold call in 31 years. It’s my belief that if I’ve done good work for someone, they will gladly refer me to their friends and associates. I enjoy calling all my referrals personally because it shows that I care and that I’m not “too busy!”
4. Provide clients with unbelievable service
Providing service that is second to none is just the right thing to do. My clients know that I will make sure they are properly cared for even when they are not buying a new product. This, in itself, shows our clients that we care and leads to new referrals because they share their experience with their friends, relatives and business associates.
There are certainly many different approaches to doing business. Whether you are new in the insurance business or a veteran, having consistent activity will lead to increased production. Now, this does not necessarily mean you have to write 400 lives per year or work to exhaustion, but it does mean that being focused, structured and disciplined is very crucial.
Change is opportunity! My path changed in July 2003, when I moved into the independent market. This led me to become the managing director of Risk Management Services at Kolb+Co., an independent-owned accounting firm in southeastern Wisconsin. Having thousands of clients and very strong relationships allowed me to make the change with great ease. Our practice has continued to grow, and I still maintain a high level of activity because activity rocks!
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