The edge of autumn is a strange place this September.
After this broiling summer, when COVID-19 flared rather than faded, we are missing our routines. Usually in the cooling refuge of September we can settle into the reassuring rhythm of the kids going to school and our pushing back into serious business leading up to the holiday season.
This year, school is anything but normal, with many destined to revert to remote operations after COVID-19 outbreaks. Insurance sales and financial advising were supposed to have returned to some semblance of the old normal in the fall, enriched with some of the skills and wisdom we earned during the shutdown.
The events of the summer led many of us through a hard pivot to the understanding that we likely will have some degree of COVID-19 restrictions until next summer. And we will be living with deep economic repercussions for years beyond that.
This Life Insurance Awareness Month finds the whole industry struggling for footing.
As we went to press, public companies were releasing second-quarter results revealing a bloody lot of red ink. Much of that was due to difficulties with sales, but low interest rates were even more damaging to the bottom line. As a result, carriers are changing and replacing products and reduced sales to older age groups, although companies are slowly reopening to older applicants.
In this month’s feature, we meet a few people in different levels of AmeriLife, an insurance marketer that is broadly diversifying its business and sales techniques. Other marketers are doing similar things, and AmeriLife is just an example of one that has been able to build business by scaling up part of its operation rather than having to reinvent itself.
But an important point that became clear in the story is that although the company’s organization might have helped individual producers be successful, it was ultimately up to the person.
One of the company’s office managers said the people who usually got things done continued to get things done.
“Our top producers have figured out a way like they always do,” Joe Young said. “There are several in my office who haven’t missed a beat. There are some who have had their challenges, but I think with technology today, you can pretty well figure it out.”
Activity breeds activity — it’s as true today as it has ever been. In fact, Scott Brennan, the person featured in this month’s interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, said he still uses the metric he learned from the One-Card System decades ago: 10-3-1.
That means for every 10 calls, a salesperson can expect meetings with three prospects that will yield one sale. Al Granum developed that system during his insurance career following his Navy stint in World War II.
Granum used the tracking system as the manager of Northwestern Mutual’s Chicago office, supposedly getting almost all his agents to qualify for the Million Dollar Round Table back when a million bucks was really something.
Granum worked until he died at 91 in 2014. His passion and drive were represented in what he called the Magnificent Obsession, which was to get 1,000 active clients in a career. With that kind of base, a producer was guaranteed a rich vein of business in follow-ups and referrals.
The Scary Thing
Like Granum, Brennan is still at it with no sign of quitting. Although he is not working as hard at 64 as he did in his hungrier years, he is still putting in the time and making connections.
Perhaps the most illuminating thing he said during an interview filled with gems was that he is still making the calls that scare him.
Here is someone who has won all the awards you can win in the business, and certainly does not have to worry about a secure retirement. But he is still challenging himself by pushing himself outside his comfort zone.
For someone of that caliber even to admit being scared on a call is a testament to his character. He wants his colleagues in every stage of their career to know this business never magically becomes easy.
Brennan wants people to know that they are not alone — everybody struggles. Most salespeople have to pysch themselves up for that tough call.
A lot of older agents decided to retire rather than try to sell in this crazy time. Brennan is hitting the phones and figuring out how to use tech to make his sales when he could just as easily take a well-deserved rest on his laurels.
It is not that he’s a machine. Brennan admitted that he has thought about quitting hundreds if not thousands of times. The discipline keeps him going.
A sense of community with fellow agents also drives him. He called what he shares with his colleagues a “hard-won dignity” that is tested day after day. He emphasized community and a sense of gratitude.
His gratitude is hard-won as well. We were not able to get this into the issue in the edited version of an interview filled with great material, but Brennan has battled leukemia for the past 12 years.
That experience has left him with sensitive taste for the sweetness of life. He treasures his days and counts himself as lucky as George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, when Jimmy
Stewart realized how wealthy he was in having friends and family.
We are all having some degree of that experience. These are days when we see how easy it is to lose everything.
These are times when it is not about winning at all costs but earning the hard-won dignity of being there when people need you, of showing up and being there when it counts — even when you’re scared.
Steven A. Morelli