For some in the industry, the word “storyteller” might carry a negative connotation, but for Mark Pruitt, a gift for gab is a differentiator. He uses stories and anecdotes that inform, educate and cut straight to the hearts and minds of his clients. Along with his production, marketing and practice management skills, being able to connect with people on a very deep and impactful level made Pruitt our choice for 2012 Advisor of the Year.
While sitting in Mark Pruitt’s Dallas-based office for this interview, I checked the time and then said: “I need to be leaving to catch my plane, but I have one more question.” One of Pruitt’s associates said, “If you’re looking for an answer, you’re going to need at least 30 minutes.” Everyone laughed, Pruitt the loudest. He knew the comment was true — he’s a talker, a natural born storyteller.
1. Location, location, location. “You don’t have to be big to have a great location,” says Pruitt. “Start with a virtual office (which is what I did). It’s the best way to start with a credible location that is affordable. You can then work your way into a full time office (as I did) when ready. ‘Location, location, location,’ as the old saying goes, works because we office in a location that people are familiar with and has easy access they can drive to. This helps in the comfort level for people who may be stressed on how to get to you.”
2. Smart growth. When Pruitt jumped into financial services in 1998 his business grew and it grew fast. Maybe too fast, in fact. He has certain benchmarks that he or his agents need to hit. In the areas close to home, they were knocking it out of the park, but that was not always the case outside of the home base. Instead of looking to see how big he could grow, he wanted to have the best organization possible. To make things easier to manage, he pulled back from offices in Missouri, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He continues to run operations in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. “The interesting thing is,” Pruitt says, “with as many as four generations of a single family line that we serve, it has taken us from New York, to California and even Hawaii. We don’t solicit in those states but we do serve clients in those states.”
7. Community involvement. Pruitt or members of his company have traveled oversees on faith-based missions to countries including Belize and Romania. He also speaks at retirement communities and helps people transition to assisted-living facilities.
A minister for 18 years with the Assembly of God, Pruitt still holds strong beliefs. “I currently attend Prestonwood Baptist, which is a very large church that has about 30,000-plus in attendance and hosts a multitude of people with different denominational backgrounds. That openness to others is why we attend there, along with the great music and programs for our family.”
13. Overtime. “We’ve had to incorporate Saturday appointments,” says Pruitt. We work from 9 a.m. to noon — and try our best not to go past noon — so we have our own family time. What has expanded to Saturday appointments is the generational division in our client base. Most retired clients don’t need to meet on a Saturday — every day is Saturday for them! What we’re finding is our younger clients, those in their 20s and 30s who are busy during the week, prefer to meet on Saturdays — it works out to be the best time for them.”
14. Considerate prospecting. Pruitt knows the power of appreciation first-hand, and he’s an expert at sharing this with his clients. “You have an individual, a client, who’s worked all his life and is now retiring,” he begins. “We ask those clients if it’s okay if we throw them a retirement party. We’ll book a restaurant, usually Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We ask the client to invite 10 of their best-friend couples to enjoy the party. We make it a big event. We have seen them come in from as far away as Georgia, Louisiana, etc. We ask that their friends think of a story, one thing about this person retiring, to share with everyone. It’s been unbelievable. You can learn more about your client than you’ve ever known. It’s very emotional — laughing one minute, maybe crying the next. The only thing we ask the retiree to do is to let these other attendees know that this guy (Pruitt) takes care of me. At the end, we give out an envelope that says, ‘Thank you for coming.’ Inside, there is a business card and a note that says ‘If you ever need anything with your estate, insurance, etc. let us know.’ This has paid dividends. At a recent party, a gentleman came up from Houston and at the end of the party said: ‘I’m retiring soon, can you do one of these for me?’ And from that meeting, we wound up writing $1.7 million of business.”