My first experience in the martial arts occurred when, at the age of 8, I visited a judo class being taught at the local Boy’s and Girl’s Club. The idea of tripping and throwing others around sounded exciting to a young, skinny kid. But what I didn’t understand was that you also got tripped and thrown when you showed up for class. And if you didn’t know how to break your fall, it hurt. Bad!
My second experience occurred when, at the age of 13, my father enrolled me in a local karate school. We had recently moved to a new city and, as the new kid on the block, I became the target of a number of bullies who found another small, skinny kid to pick on. I was the only kid in the class. Most of the members were comprised of law enforcement officers, military soldiers and a few hardcore enthusiasts who simply wanted to learn how to fight.
Years later, I found myself training in yet another martial arts discipline alongside four of my children competing in a 4-state tournament circuit. Nearly every Saturday, my kids and I traveled “somewhere” to compete. We spent hours of preparation and driving, all to climb into a ring facing one opponent after another as we tried our best not to get hit while trying to clobber the guy on the other side of the ring.
For years, my family terrorized the tournament circuit. I held fighting titles in my division for three consecutive years, and my youngest son, Joshua, held similar titles in his division for two years. My two youngest daughters also competed, and together we filled our house (and our dojo) with more than 50 trophies a year, including several Grand Championships.
Our success was predicated on one thing: preparation. Being an instructor, and a lifelong student of the martial arts, I understood that to compete (and win) at a high level, you had to train at a high level. We regularly trained with high-ranking instructors, and found every possible opportunity to invest in ourselves by learning from the best in the business. My children and I spent hundreds of hours in the dojo, exercising and conditioning, working the heavy bag, sparring, and practicing the same techniques, sequences and countermoves countless times.
But the relentless hours of training paid off when we walked on the floor, bowed to the judges and our fellow competitors, took our positions in the ring and waited for the ring judge to say “hajime” (begin).
Preparation paid off handsomely as we fought through the competition and into the finals.
So what does this have to do with selling insurance or other financial products and services?
When preparation gives way to application, it becomes evident who came ready to perform and who hasn’t put in the time to compete at a high level. For those who haven’t put in the time to prepare, the opportunities to win quickly become scarce.
In other words, there is no trophy for simply showing up.
Yet how often do we as financial professionals walk into an appointment half-cocked or unprepared? We usually think we can bluff our way through yet another sales opportunity, living off of what we learned when we got into the industry some 10 to 20 years ago or more.
Our world, and the products we sell, have changed. With that change, the need to step up and improve our preparation has increased, so that we can give a truly “black belt” performance when it’s our time to shine.
Today’s financial products are a far cry from what was sold just a few short years ago. For instance, annuities are becoming more complex: income riders, chronic care riders, various crediting strategies and methodologies, cap rates, fees and more. With the advent of living benefit and indexed life products, the products sold today offer so much more than they did a few years ago. These financial instruments can do some very good things to help clients mitigate risk and prepare for the future, but only if you understand how they work and where they fit into a client’s portfolio.
Like learning a new style of martial arts, it’s the fine points (often overlooked) that make the difference between really “knowing” an art and simply going through the motions. Those who “learn their art” can execute it with flawless precision, and it is a thing of beauty to watch. But for far too many, it’s simply going through the motions in many of the McDojos that litter our nation.
It’s important that we not sell a product just to earn a commission. We need to understand the products we sell well enough to assure they are a “good fit” for the customer, given their circumstances.
In the past several articles, I’ve talked a lot about today’s Boomers, and the retirement reality that awaits them. The fact they will spend up to one third of their lifetime in retirement means many are facing an uncertain financial future. The face of financial planning has changed, yet I continue to see only a handful of financial professionals who are really taking the time to “learn their art” as it evolves.
Numerous professionals are now offering Social Security Optimization workshops across our nation. This is a good thing, as a wrong claiming decision can leave tens of thousands of dollars in unclaimed benefits over a retiree’s lifetime. But not all of these professionals have truly taken the time to learn the “finer points” of SSA Optimization and are simply relying on a piece of software that may not consider other income sources, life expectancy or other variables that should be a part of the income planning conversation.
Today’s clients are also becoming “black belts” in the area of research, as Boomers are among the fastest groups of those flocking to the Internet. Not only are they using this to stay in touch with family and friends, they are using the Internet to research before they purchase. Many of today’s consumers are doing their homework before your visit, and about as many more are researching you and your recommendation after you leave their home.
And there’s a lot of good information online today. I find myself spending many a lunch hour pouring through industry magazines and reading how my peers are succeeding (or failing) in their practice. I scour numerous websites on a daily basis to read articles, industry studies and third party reports that give me a better insight into retirement income planning. I read books (both good and bad) on various aspects of income planning, and enroll in training courses to hone my craft. Podcasts, webinars and other audio/video media can provide you with a wealth of information that can help you hone your craft.
This is the preparation necessary for a truly “black belt” performance when we’re in front of a client who wants and needs our help. While the preparation time isn’t glamorous or exciting, it’s an essential element of “learning the art” so when the time comes to perform, we can execute with flawless precision.
And when you’re in competition with another financial professional, be it an agent, stockbroker, investment advisor, bank or credit union, your performance in front of the client (who is judging the competition) will be based on your preparation. Don’t forget your competition is also in the ring, vying for the judge’s nod at the end of the bout. If you’re not prepared, you may be in for the fight of your life … or perhaps knocked out in the first round.
That also means you can’t wait until 30 minutes before your scheduled client meeting to call your FMO and ask for an illustration, then skim the paperwork 30 seconds before you walk in the door.
To give a truly “black belt” performance, and close more business, you have to prepare in advance. Flawless execution only comes from spending countless hours honing your craft to perfection.
Remember, there is no trophy for simply showing up.