We all dream of landing the big case or winning over the elusive client. But that kind of success doesn’t just happen.
It takes preparation, patience and networking. While being in the right place at the right time can be a factor in winning the big case, having the right kind of expertise to give that big client what they need most can make the difference.
Three advisors share their “big case stories” with InsuranceNewsNet and provide their insights on how to win a big case of your own.
‘No does not mean never’
Sometimes it can take years for a seed to sprout and grow into a big case.
Jeff Chernoff met an attorney in his community through a business club they both belonged to. When they followed up over a cup of coffee, the attorney mentioned that her business insurance was up for renewal and asked Chernoff to meet with her and her husband to review her coverage.
Chernoff is vice president of Insurance and Trust in Tampa, Fla.
The meeting with the attorney and her husband went well, and they signed an agent of record letter over to Chernoff, giving him their business insurance account. But things hit a wall when Chernoff asked the attorney whether she had considered buying key-person insurance.
“Her response was, ‘My husband is a financial advisor. We don’t need to talk about that.’ I thought, ‘OK, fine.’”
But even though the key-person insurance discussion stopped, Chernoff’s business relationship with the attorney continued. Three years later, he brought up the topic of insurance again.
“I had a conversation with them, and I asked them, ‘Is this something that interests you?’ At that point in time, her husband had transitioned out of the financial services industry and had moved into becoming the chief financial officer of that small law firm. And she said, ‘You know, it does kind of interest me. Let’s talk about it.’”
Chernoff said he explained the benefits of key person insurance using a cash value policy. “I explained how this can be a benefit and how you can supplement retirement savings if it’s done correctly,” he said.
His client decided to take out a policy on her top-producing attorney. It was the largest life insurance case Chernoff had written after being in the business for six years.
Chernoff said his ability to continue the relationship with his client even after being told “no” was a big factor in his landing the sale.
“We continued the relationship, we were never deterred about being told ‘no,’” he said. “I was comfortable with being told ‘no’ and not upset about it and then when the time was right, asking the question again in as gentle a way as possible.”
Chernoff said he learned several lessons from this particular case.
“First of all, ‘no’ does not mean ‘never.’ Second, if you keep a relationship positive, you never know the opportunities you will generate from that. And don’t be shy or don’t be unwilling to simply ask the question — you might get a ‘yes.’”
The client who gave Chernoff his first big sale ended up giving him another big sale two years later.
At a conference on advanced planning, Chernoff learned how a business owner or a business can have a 401(k) plan with a profit sharing plan. He also learned about a defined benefit plan that can hold cash value life insurance and would be a good fit for attorneys, particularly attorneys who are age 50 or older and plan to work another five to 10 years.
He thought his attorney client would be perfect for this plan. He reached out to the territory manager of the company that offered the plan to learn more, and the manager introduced him to a third-party administrator.
“After interviewing him, it was clear to me that he was an expert in his field, so any opportunity to partner with him was going to be a success for me, especially in terms of how he approaches the cases with his clients,” Chernoff said.
The next step was to find record keepers, which Chernoff did through his broker-dealer. “I found one that works really well with small plans with less than $250,000 in assets, I found another one that is comfortable working with midsize plans of $500,000 above and I found another one that’s comfortable with a $1 million plan.”
With his experts lined up and his information gathered, Chernoff approached his attorney client and asked whether her firm offered 401(k)s.
“They said, ‘No, we talked about it a few years ago, but it didn’t make sense for us at that time.’ So I broke it down in terms of how they can maximize saving for retirement. They were interested in learning more, so we sat down with the third-party administrator, we went over everything and they agreed to sign the deal.”
The law firm put about $30,000 into the plan the first year, Chernoff said. From there, the firm’s contributions increased to $125,000 annually and then to $300,000. “It just kept building and building,” he said. “And I believe I’ll be in the business long enough to keep creating this long-term relationship.”
Chernoff credits his membership in his professional association with making him aware of the service he could provide. But he said the time he spent researching the plan and assembling a team of experts to help create the plan also led to his successful sale.
Another of Chernoff’s clients, a small-business owner, was interested in obtaining a cash value life policy for his two children. A few years after buying the policy, the client reviewed the coverage with Chernoff and told him he was bringing in a new business partner and was interested in life insurance to fund a buy-sell agreement with the new partner and his existing partners.
After putting that plan in place, the client asked Chernoff to assist his wife in creating an individual retirement account, as she planned to invest funds accumulated during her career in education.
“All because my client wanted life insurance for his two kids,” Chernoff said. “Three years ago, he said to me, anytime I have an insurance thing or investment thing, I’m coming to you first because clearly you take care of me and you take care of my family.”
‘You have to know your stuff’
Sometimes it takes a village to help land a big client. And the successful advisor will be the one who can work with that client’s “village” of other professional advisors.
Eryka Morehead is president of Collaborative Planning Group in Omaha, Neb., where she specializes in working with young business owners who need help with estate planning and business succession planning.
To land a big case with this particular market, “You have to know your stuff, technically,” she said.
“Our firm has had a lot of success working with those types of individuals, because we have a lot of technical knowledge on the estate planning, business succession planning side. And so we can kind of help facilitate and work hand in hand with their other professional advisors.
“When you know your stuff, you can well represent yourself in the room with the client’s accountant, with their attorney, with their financial advisor,” she said. “All clients have their team. I think that in our industry, especially on the life insurance side, people will work to place a policy or have siloed conversations with the client regarding the life insurance.
“When you don’t have all the client’s professional advisors on board, all working off the same blueprint for the client’s overall planning goals, it makes it much harder to help the client implement life insurance for a funding strategy or as a protection solution if the rest of the team of advisors isn’t on the same page.”
Morehead said her expertise is in bringing all the team members to the table to design the client’s overall plan and complete all the steps necessary to put the plan in place.
Being successful in landing the big client is about more than simply knowing the product and how it works, Morehead said.
“You also need to understand all the ancillary lines that the product touches,” she said. “For example, with life insurance, you need to understand who the owner will be, who the payer will be, how the beneficiary is going to work. You must make sure you have the technical acumen for all the legal side to be able to participate in the discussions surrounding the structure.
“That’s how you then build a reputation with the other professionals so they end up loving the work you do for that client. Then they start seeing you as a resource the next time a situation comes up that needs a similar solution.”
Trust is another factor in landing the big client, Morehead said.
“You build trust by your technical knowledge, people need to know that you know your stuff,” she said. “But you also build trust with good and pure intentions. Sometimes we work with clients where we think the case will go one way and it ends up going another way. But at the end of the day, when you’re working with that team of professional advisors, it becomes clear what better options or better choices are available for that client.”
Morehead said she was contacted by an estate attorney who was concerned that their client was being pitched an insurance product that might not be appropriate for their needs. She was asked to come in to review the insurance the client had in place at that time.
“Whenever we do a review, we also need to get the client’s tax returns, copies of trusts, financial statements — because in order to review an insurance strategy, you must understand the context of the client’s entire situation,” she said. “After reviewing the strategy and walking through the technical aspect of the product that the client had been presented, we pivoted and went toward a more comprehensive planning approach as opposed to merely suggesting a product.”
Morehead said she believes “a product without a plan may or may not work. But if you have a plan and then you place the product, you’re specific on what role the product will play. And when the product is properly matched with the client’s plan and goals, it just makes sense.”
At the end of her second meeting with the client and professional team, the client told her, “We feel like we’re not being sold a product. For the first time, we feel like we’re starting to develop a plan.”
The planning paid off when the client agreed to a plan that included twice as much life insurance as what they originally had been pitched.
Several years ago, Morehead worked with two business partners who had an age difference of about 15 years between them. The older partner wanted to discuss estate planning while the younger partner wasn’t interested.
For a two-to-three-year period, Morehead worked with both partners on business planning. During this time, the younger partner realized he was ready to begin the estate planning process. Morehead played the part of the coordinator, getting the other professionals together to help him with his plan.
“Over the last seven years, our relationship has continued to build, continued to develop, and there have been multiple steps along the way where they have needed to purchase more insurance for this or for that — multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars in premium,” she said.
Morehead worked with the owner of a large cattle operation who said he didn’t believe in life insurance. But he also realized he needed to protect his business, so Morehead helped him assemble a team of experts and brought them all to her office. The business owner brought his chief financial officer to the meeting as well.
“We even ended up working one of his oldest children into some of the conversations as well, because there were a lot of moving pieces and parts going on with this organization. But we were able to help get the estate plan and the trust set up. And then we did place a significant amount of life insurance in order to infuse liquidity into the estate.
“And then separately, they worked on some estate freezing techniques with their estate attorney. So it was kind of a blended effort of a gifting strategy and life insurance building some liquidity into their plan.”
Morehead said she is undaunted when she hears a prospect say they don’t believe in life insurance.
“We don’t have to call it life insurance. It’s not a religion. We don’t have to believe in it or not believe in it. It’s a tool, and we need to find out if that tool would be helpful for their situation.”
‘It doesn’t come overnight’
“Persistence pays off” is Danny O’Connell’s motto when it comes to landing the big case. O’Connell is CEO of Next Level Insurance Agency in Addison, Texas.
“If somebody goes dark on you and you don’t hear anything, you know people want to do business with someone they know, like and trust. And that doesn’t come overnight. That takes time,” he said.
One of O’Connell’s biggest clients came to him after his firm did some cold calling. It was a large employer, looking to renew their employee benefits contract.
“They didn’t renew until Jan. 1. And I was introduced to them the January right after they went through a renewal process. I knew that I was competing with some other people, much larger firms than we were. So, we took a holistic approach. We brought in all the different components that they may need.”
During the process of bringing the team together, O’Connell said, one of his partners warned him that the owner, a woman, wouldn’t do business with him because she didn’t like doing business with men.
“That was disappointing, but we went through our process,” he said. “We got some options from one of the carriers who I thought would be really competitive. And they weren’t.”
O’Connell eventually had a meeting with the business owner and told her upfront, “Before we go through this entire process, I just want to be sure that this is even a possibility. I don’t want to waste your time.”
To his surprise, the business owner agreed to continue with the process. As O’Connell and his team began working on a proposal, he learned that a year earlier, the owner had been determined to work with a close friend who was in the employee benefits business. But she decided to perform some due diligence and look at other providers.
“We continued to do our work, continued to stay in communication and continued to do our part,” O’Connell said. “And ultimately, we wound up winning the group.
“It was what the executives were looking for. We provided a transparency that they had never been given before. We provided the ability to forecast and work on things and see trends, see numbers and things they never had seen before. We’ve had a great relationship with this group, and we went through their last renewal last year. And they’re pleased because they really got what they were looking for.”
In another case, O’Connell was able to win the benefits business of an 1,800-person company that initially approached him to solve one of the employees’ main sources of pain — a technology platform that didn’t work well. The technology situation eventually was resolved. But O’Connell wasn’t satisfied to stop there.
“The advisor they were working with thought they were automatically going to renew their business on a three- or four-year deal and then move on,” he said. “But for our clients, we want to tell the story and we want to paint the picture and we would explain our strategy. Most of our competitors are like, ‘You send us the numbers and we give you a quote.’ But because we were able to tell the story and have a strategy, we got a much better outcome than this other advisor.
“And ultimately, we wound up winning the group and being able to meet their deadlines and save them a boatload of money — $240,000 in the first year.”
O’Connell said relieving the frustration of his clients’ employees and giving them more options are some of the keys to keeping clients happy.
“What are the little things that we can do to avoid that frustration? How can we educate people? How can we guide them to get on the right plan so that they have a better experience, less frustration, fewer issues with their employer, fewer customer service issues? In most of life’s situations, you get what you pay for. But you must have somebody who’s willing to educate and go where your client needs you to go, and service their people the way that we all want to be treated.”