By Karl Ohrman
Why do a dozen top life insurance agents in Pittsburgh get together monthly and share their best sales concepts and techniques with each other? Why would active competitors share creative ideas and technical strategies in an open and free exchange forum?
Please let me introduce you to a group that does exactly that. The Pittsburgh Study Group was organized in 1966 with three young agents who were inspired while attending a local sales congress. They decided to form the Pittsburgh Study Group. They promised each other that they would share ideas about how to help each other develop successful life insurance careers. The group quickly grew to a dozen members and has held that number over the past 48 years.
Membership has changed over the years, but there is one original member who is still in the group. Many members have belonged for decades. Each member of the group was invited to join because of professional achievement or exceptional leadership in the insurance association community. Common traits include Million Dollar Round Table membership and designations as Chartered Life Underwriter, Chartered Financial Consultant or Certified Financial Planner.
Many members of the study group tend to be active in professional associations. A sizeable number have served as presidents of the local affiliates of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.
Members strongly believe that participation in the group has had a direct influence on the number and size of the sales they make. “The sharing is incredible,” one member said.
Growing respect for each other as well as for others within the insurance profession is another result of group membership. Members believe that they deal with others in a more professional manner than perhaps they might if they weren’t members of the study group.
Let’s see what one member has to say:
“At one meeting, we discussed prospecting. During the discussion, I realized that many outstanding prospects have been sitting right under my nose. All I had to do was to take advantage of what I already have access to.”
From another member:
“After one meeting, because of a suggestion from a member of our group, I was able to sell a substantial permanent life package rather than the straight term which the client suggested.”
Another advantage of study group membership is that it provides a place to try out new ideas before knowledgeable, caring critics. Fellow life insurance agents have special insight and can analyze a presentation better than any prospect.
In a competitive profession, it might appear to be counterproductive for these agents, all living and working in the same city, to share their ideas. But there seems to be no hesitation to do so. One member maintains, “We are very open with each other. It’s a requirement of membership. We simply don’t share a client’s name.”
Another member contends that sharing is the most exciting part of the entire study group process. “We never hesitate to share ideas,” he said. “This is one of the most open groups I’ve ever experienced. It’s exciting and rewarding to be able to sit down with your competitors and openly say ‘I’m having a problem’ or ‘I’m doing well’ or ‘Here’s something I think you can use, so let’s talk about it and see if it will benefit us all.’ I can’t picture that occurring in too many industries.”
Helping to build confidence is other benefit of participating in the group, another member said. “We have some very sophisticated long ball hitters in our group, people who are very confident about what they’re doing. That image motivates the rest of us.”
Although some agents benefit from national study groups, the local group offers several advantages to participants. The local group meets monthly. This builds better continuity and stronger relationships. The infrequent meetings of national groups would not be as effective in that regard.
Also, the expense of national meetings is a factor favoring local group membership. The only cost to each local study group member is to buy doughnuts and coffee once every 12 meetings.
How to start your own study group
Members of the Pittsburgh Study Group suggest that agents who may want to start a local study group recruit agents from various backgrounds and specialties. Look for successful agents who are willing to grow and are willing to share.
Make sure that the initial members of the new group and all subsequent members are highly successful. How can members learn from one who is struggling to make ends meet?
Also make sure that the new proposed members maintain high ethical standards. We let someone into our group some time ago. His lack of ethics came to light in early study group meetings. He soon became an ex-member of our group.
In our business, the highs are really high and the lows are very low. This is why sharing with one another becomes so valuable. Study groups help one understand and live with the highs and lows that one experiences as an insurance agent.
Karl Ohrman, CLU, ChFC, is the president of Coordinated Financial Services, a Pittsburgh, Pa., firm specializing in fundraising for nonprofit organizations across the country. Karl may be contacted at [email protected].