Throughout my CLF Designation through the American College (http://www.theamericancollege.edu/), I was exposed to many great books. The one that made the most profound impact was the 25 Secrets to Sustainable Success, by Phillip Richards. It had the most actionable and practical ideas for someone in my position. I highly recommend it. Below are my notes from the book. As always, I take notes and pick out the points that speak to me most and I like to collect them in one place. I can’t encourage you enough, however, to pick up the book on your own.
25 Secrets to Sustainable Success
By Phillip C. Richards
Phil Richards’ 25 Secret Shortcuts to Agency Building
- Vision first, then strategy, tactics and execution
- Client, customer, company – when values are clear, decisions are easy
- Hire slow; fire fast; the 7/35 rule; energy + ethics; recycle
- Cop, coach, consultant; dictatorship to interdependency
- Chinese table tennis – do what you’re best at; delegate the rest
- Teach, teach, teach. Today’s readers = tomorrow’s leaders
- Servant leadership; compliments are verbal sunshine; monthly notes reports
- Think tombstones; growing others; changing lives forever
- MARS Group – critical numbers; ownership; deadlines
- Forget the computer – focus on creativity + relationships
- Life insurance focus, the flywheel, controlling relationships, the miracle
- Specialize – markets, recruits, products, services; people love specialists
- Blended, not balanced, agents; praise publicly, criticize privately
- Written goals – private vs. public domain BHAGs
- Habits – 30 day rule; commitment, not involvement
- 20,000 rejections – shorten the pain, videotape everything
- Worst deal becomes your only deal – open book; fair not equal
- 80/20 rule applies to companies, agencies agents
- Mentoring culture increases revenue, decreases costs – GAMA/MDRT mentoring
- Study groups for managers; Sales Builder groups for agents
- Coach, don’t coax – who cares more, Coprolite
- High-performance, no-excuse culture; freight train
- Quarterly reviews; The Big Why; deliverables; no change – no change
- Inspect what you expect; expect only what you inspect
- Live where you want; with those you love; doing the right thing, on purpose.
“Changing Lives Forever.”
Chapter 1 – Charting your Course: Mission, Vision and Values
Your mission is your purpose, the reason your business exists. Your vision is what you want your organization to become. Your values define expected behaviors in your organization.
“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse. However, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.”
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
Chapter 2 – Making Tough Decisions Easy
“When values are clear, decisions are easy.”
Faith. Integrity. Growth. Service.
Growth – growth means many things to us. First our belief in lifelong learning. Unless a person is committed to this proposition, a life of relentless atrophy is predictable.
“Unless I am expandable, I am expendable.”
Service – Ten years ago, customers would stay with you unless you did something that caused them to leave. Today, they’ll leave you unless you give them a reason to stay.
Chapter 3 – Hire slowly, Fire Quickly. Recycle people into different positions
While thinking about what a firm in our industry should look like, the term “sanctuary” kept recurring in my mind. A sanctuary is what advisors should expect, especially in the beginning f their careers when they are overworked, underpaid and subject to constant rejection.
Each new person will affect your organization either positively or negatively. So hire slowly. You want to make sure that, to the best of your ability and within the confines of the systems that you’re using to identify good people, you choose those candidates whose pull on your organization will be in the right direction.
7/35 Rule. Most of our character is formed by the time we are seven years old. “Tell me the earliest thing you remember. How far back can you go?” Positive people remember a positive experience and negative people remember the negative.
The Big Four. Once you are fairly certain that you have found a candidate you want to hire, it’s time to ask yourself the four big questions:
- Would I be happy to take this person home to dinner and introduce him to her to my family?
- If the CEO of my company walked in today, would I be very proud to introduce this person to him?
- Would I be proud to walk this person around the whole company on the first day, introducing others to the newest member of our team?
- If I had 20 people lined up at my door for the same job and had only one position open, and I hadn’t met the other 20 yet, would I still make this person that offer?
If I can answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then this is the person I want. All of these strategies support a simple but critical goal: to establish the culture of the organization and then hire to that culture.
- Loyal people will do things you ask of them, but only if you ask.
- True talent is rare, and when found, simply must not be lost.
- Never underestimate the esteem you as a leader possess with your team.
“Every person you hire has to have integrity, intelligence and maturity. Once you have those, look for the four E’s – positive energy, the ability to energize others, edge (the ability to make tough yes or no decisions) and the ability to execute – and for passion.” –Jack Welch
Chapter 4 – Cop, Coach, Community. From Autocracy to Interdependence.
The Three I’s.
During the recruiting process, we’re looking for people who are malleable. We’ve found that people who understand and respond to what we call “the three I’s” – Impact, Independence and income – tend to be coachable. We’re looking for young people who want to come into this business because they want to have an impact on the lives of their fellow man. Impact is the most important of the three I’s. Number two is that they will serve their fellow man in an independent manner, once they’ve advanced out of the “cop” and “coach” phases. They won’t have to ask us when they can play golf once they’re successful. The third concept we go through in the interview is that their income potential will be similar to that of a physician if they follow our guidance in the beginning and succeed in this business.
“Discipline without freedom is tyranny. Freedom without discipline is chaos.”
Chapter 5 – Chinese Table Tennis. Do What You’re Best At; Delegate the Rest.
Frank Sinatra Didn’t Move Pianos.
“A man who loves what he is doing will never work another day in his life.”
Chapter 6 – Leading Through Teaching.
“Teachers affect eternity because they never know where their influence will stop.”
Chapter 7 – Servant Leadership. Great Leaders Are Servants First.
Compliments are Verbal Sunshine. In a servant-leadership environment, there are many compliments. When people do something good, it’s important to catch them at it, recognize it, remind them of it and tell other people about it.
Because there’s a lot of rejection in our world, it’s vital that our offices be sanctuaries, places of refuge.
Swimming Coach story – “Now, the next time this thing happens, all you have to do is use some of the great attributes you have, and you’ll get right over it.”
Praise Publically, Criticize Privately.
Personal touches are important. If your firm is to get scale and grow, you need to come up with ways to connect with your advisors so they know that the management team in their organization cares. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Often people care more about how much you care than about how much you know.” When I review monthly reports, it’s a way of saying that it’s not about me; it’s about the advisors who live in a world of rejection, and it’s about my compensating for that rejection by giving them verbal sunshine, reaching out to them and acknowledging their worth, which I hope improves their self-image. People can’t outperform their own self-image. Our job is to constantly help our advisors improve their self-image.
“Everyone can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
Chapter 8 – The Mars Group. Creating the Infrastructure for Your Success
Critical Number. To ensure that we reach our goals, everyone in our organization has a critical number – one number – that tells us every day whether we’re winning or losing. You don’t wait until the end of the year to find out whether you won; you have to measure yourself in more frequent and focused terms.
Each of our advisors has a critical number as well. Every new persons’ critical number is 30 forward appointments on the books.
During their first year, we ask advisors to bring their books. During their first year, we ask advisors to bring their books with them into meetings, and we literally count the appointments. Its accountability. These meetings are held weekly for brand-new people as long as they’re hitting our numbers. If they begin missing our numbers, we go to daily accountability via email. We call this ‘intensive care.’ They have to send their manager an email every morning stating what they plan to accomplish that day and an email every evening before they leave, reporting what they actually did accomplish that day.
Quarterly Deadlines Eliminate Foxholes. You may have heard the metaphor that some people crawl into a hole, pull the hole in after them and hide in it. They’re in denial; they refuse to confront the brutal facts. I call these hiding places, ‘fox holes.’ They jump into the foxhole to avoid the contest, the arena. You only have to read, ‘the Wall Street Journal,’ or your hometown newspaper to know that all publically traded companies are measured on a quarterly basis. The Wall Street analysts say, “This is what you said you would earn over the past three months, and this is what you earned. On the basis of that, we’re going to recommend that people buy your company’s stock, hold the stock or sell it.”
“The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way and who will be sharing the adventure with them.”
Chapter 9 – Focus on Relationships.
The singular skill that most advisors possess that allows them to succeed in our great business is their ability to form relationships with clients by earning their trust. While other characteristics are important and necessary, face-to-face people skills are clearly paramount in our business.
For that reason, our advisors need not worry about having their positions outsourced to other countries.
Field leaders should focus on ways to convince advisors that they would be well advised to spend time in front of people and leave the computer work to others who have different skills and responsibilities.
Instead too many of them spend hours at the keyboard preparing logical arguments for a sale, even though they know from their training and experience that the client’s ultimate decision to do business with them will be largely an emotional one based on trust, not on numbers.
We constantly coach our advisors that, ‘If you do $20-an-hour work, that’s what you’ll be paid. If you want $400 an hour, then spend the greater part of your time with clients and prospects.’
Learn from Southwest Airline’s’ Success.
Keep as many of our planes in the air as possible. Not on the tarmac. In 1996, HBR published an article about how Southwest Airlines is able to keep its planes flying longer hours than it rivals and to provide frequent departures with fewer aircraft.
Southwest’s strategy was to schedule flights based on 15 minute turnarounds at the gate. The company eliminated first class seating, meals, seat assignments, baggage transfers and travel agents. And they fly and service only one type of aircraft.
Ask, ‘Will this keep the advisor in front of people?’
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creature of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
Chapter 10 – The Flywheel. Life Insurance Puts Client Relationships in Motion.
“If you are willing to only do what is easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.”
–T. Harv Eker
Chapter 11 – People Love Specialists
Chapter 12 – Blended, not Balanced.
Chapter 13 – Goals Change Behavior.
Columbia University was playing another Ivy League team for the football championship. Four days before the championship game, Columbia’s coach, Lou Little, picked up a telegram at the athletic department for a young man who had tried but couldn’t quite make the team for four straight years. The telegram reported that the young man’s only living relative had died. So the coach delivered the telegram to that young man. The kid looked at Lou Little and said, “Coach, I’ll be back for Saturday’s game.”
On the morning of the game, the kid came up to his coach and said, “I want you to put me in the game. I know I haven’t made the first team yet, but let me in for this kickoff. I’ll prove to you that I’m worthy of it.” Little could see that the kid was emotionally distraught, and he made all kinds of excuses to avoid letting him play. Finally he thought, “Well, he can’t do much harm on the kickoff. I’ll put the boy in.”
As the crowd roared on the kickoff, the boy tackled the opposing team’s receiver on the seven yard line. So Little left the kid in for the next play, and he made the next tackle, and the next. He made practically every tackle and was the reason why Columbia won the championship that day.
Afterwards, all the guys were pounding the kid on the back in congratulations. When they were all done, Lou Little went up to the kid and said, “Son, I don’t understand it. Today you were an All-American. I’ve never seen you play like this in four straight years. What happened?”
The boy looked up at his coach and said, “Well, Coach, you knew my Dad died, didn’t you?”
He said, “Yes, I handed you the telegram.”
The kid said, “You know he was blind, don’t you, Coach?”
Little said, “Yeah, I saw you walking him around campus many times.”
The kid replied, “Coach, this was the first football game my dad ever saw me play.”
Touch another man’s sensitivity and he is capable of anything.
“Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”
Chapter 14 – Habits. All you need is 30 days and a commitment.
Helping New Advisors Develop Good Habits. Remember, during the first 90 days, they’ll do anything you tell them to do but very little of what you tell them to do thereafter.
So I explain to our new advisors that we’re going to force them to do thing our way in the beginning. Someday they’ll be able to add their own creativity and talent to financial planning. But they have to know how to paint a Rembrandt first; they have to know the right way to do things. They have to be professionals first. Our clients deserve no less.
- In their first 90 days at North Star, we ask new advisors to be smart enough to trust us. We ask for faith. We want them to do things because we tell them to, because we know how to bring them from where they are now – which is apprehensive – to being successful financial advisors. That’s what we’re good at. That’s what we do. The shoemaker makes good shoes because that’s the only thing he makes.
“If you’re going to fail around here, you’re going to fail my way.” – Al Granum
Neither the system nor the life insurance business is on trial, you are.
- In addition to having 30 appts on the books, we want to create habits in our advisors for participating in telephone drills and always – not sometimes, not when they feel like it, but always – being on the lookout for centers of influence and referred leads. We know they are capable of doing these things because that’s what we tested and interviewed for and that’s what they said they could do and what they committed to do when we hired them.
- We teach them the systems to succeed, and the key to their success is in the execution. It isn’t about them; its about the execution of systems that work. Those systems will set them free and give them time to do the things they enjoy doing.
- The people who succeed and rise to the top will make that commitment: “I’ll do what I need to do to be successful in this business.” In the beginning, they don’t know what needs to be done. We do know. We’ve done it. This is not guesswork for us. We specialize in bringing people from feelings of apprehension to a predictable path to success.
Losers Quit. But winners never stop trying.
“Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.”
Chapter 15 – 20,000 Rejections
To succeed in this business, an advisor needs 300 clients. Using Al Granum’s 10:3:1 model, an advisor needs 10 suspects to get three prospects to get one client. So an advisor will have to make presentations to 3,000 suspects; 900 of them will become prospects; and finally, 300 of those – only 1.5 percent of the total number of people the advisor originally spoke with – will become clients.
I’ve calculated that during the process of obtaining 300 clients, an advisor will get approximately 20,000 rejections, either on the phone or in person. The best salesperson in the world may be able to obtain 300 clients after only 15,000 rejections. And the worst salesperson might get to that goal with 25,000 rejections. But give or take 5,000 rejections, it will take 20,000 rejections for advisors to obtain the 300 clients that they will serve in this business.
Controlling the Duration of the Pain
Advisors have no control over the number of rejections. We don’t make the rules of life, but we are responsible for knowing what they are. There is, however, one thing that is totally within their control: the duration of the pain. Stated differently, advisors can decide to get through all of the pain associated with those 20,000 rejections in the first three years of their career, then get a life and really begin to enjoy this business. Or they can stretch the pain out over 10 or 20 years. The unfortunate fact is that I’ve seen people who spend their entire career – 40 years – in pain because they still haven’t been rejected 20,000 times.
So the one thing that advisors can control is how long they choose to suffer. That motivates many of our young advisors because they get it. They say, “What would I want to stretch it out? I’m going to get all of this pain out of the way in a hurry.” The more times we repeat this to our newer advisors, the more of them will throw themselves into the fray. It’s fun to watch the lights go on, one at a time.
I tell the advisor that I want him to have 20 lunches over the next month, I want him to call up each of those 20 people and invite them to lunch. And here is what the advisor should tell each client: “This is not going to be a business luncheon, and it’s not going to be a review of your portfolio. It is going to e a personal ‘life note.’ By a life note, I mean that I’ve really been thinking through my practice and where I want it to go. I did an analysis of my practice, and what I learned was that the people I really enjoy working with are also my best clients. The reason I called you for lunch is that you are one of those 20 people. The thing you have in common with the other 19 people is that you’re a small-business owner. You’re an entrepreneur. You work very hard and are very successful. You’re serious about your future and about the continuation of your business if you were not here and the well-being of your family if you were gone. I’ve decided that I’m going to hand off those clients who do not meet that profile to other, newer people with less experience in our firm or to other advisors for whom these clients are better fit. I’m going to focus on and specialize in people just like you. To do this, I’m going to focus on and specialize in people just like you. To do this, I’m going to need your help. I need you to identify and help me access people who are just like you – serious, successful, entrepreneurial business owners. Will you do that for me?”
“The secret of every man who has ever been successful lies in the fact that he formed a habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do.”
Chapter 16 – Your Worst Deal is your only Deal
A business reflects the values of its leader. Every organization is perfectly aligned to get the very results it gets. It’s a logical argument – an organization’s alignment produces its outcome, and that alignment begins with its leader.
*Adopt habits and values that you want your organization to reflect – if you want to change your organization, begin by looking at yourself, changing your habits and examining your values. Then work to attract a following of advisors who embrace those values.
Chapter 17 – The Universal 80-20 Rule
I discovered that the 80-20 rule is universal; it applies to all levels of our industry.
Spend Time at the Top. Getting Referrals Through Respect
The first way is with the use of the magic word ‘respect.’ Instead of just asking for names in the profile markets, our advisors learn to ask clients for the names of the people they most respect in that market. For example, if an advisor is working with a dentist, instead of just asking for referrals to other dentists, the advisor asks for information about dentists that the client most respects – dentists in town, from her graduating class or in her specialty area.
“If we did realize the difference between the vital few and the trivial many in all aspects of our lives, and if we did something about it, we could multiply anything that we valued.”
Chapter 18 – Create a Mentoring Culture. Increase Revenue, Decrease Costs.
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
Chapter 19 – The Power of Many. Study Groups for Managers and Advisors.
The journey toward lifelong learning, along with the lessons it yields, has taught us that we are far more effective through the power of the many than we are individually.
The lesson is clear – shared ideas morph into better ideas in the light of day.
Your Personal Board of Directors.
Study groups serve as an accountability mechanism they encourage members to share with the group what their firm or agency performance will be in the next year in terms of their metrics, including the number of cases, the amount of premium, revenue, insurance in force, persistency, advisor retention and the number of recruits. It’s a living process. When you return the next year, your presentation should include the goals you shared a year earlier, comparing those with what your actual results were.
“Good men prefer to be accountable.”
Chapter 20 – Coach, Don’t Coax.
“You can make bad wine from good grapes, but you can’t make good wine from bad grapes.”
–Pat Smith, Domain Chardonne Wineries
Chapter 21 – A High Performance, No-Excuse Culture
One of the many reasons that the job of the financial advisor is among the most sought after careers in the nation is the freedom that the unstructured environment allows. But unless the advisor is extremely disciplined, success is improbable. The opportunity for distraction, the office without walls and the absence of a time clock all contribute to the already difficult challenge presented by this rejection-filled career.
To increase the odds of successfully getting advisors beyond their first year in this business, we must establish metrics that track their activity, results and overall performance. To the extent that field management does this, our odds of growing successful advisors increase, along with our advisor retention rate.
It’s a high performance culture, and there are no excuses for poor performance. Unforeseen distractions, no matter how sad, can and must be anticipated. When used as a reason for nonperformance, they are no excuse. Advisors must be taught to anticipate that bad things do happen, and they must still validate their contract in spite of those unfortunate circumstances.
Placing obstacles in front of winners doesn’t produce excuses; it defines who the winners are. Winners aren’t necessarily the ones who win every time; they’re the ones who never give up, who keep trying no matter what the odds are. Losers are potential winners who gave up. As Ernest Hemingway told his son, “You know what makes a good loser, practice.” Successful people are those who never stop trying, whether they’re company CEOs, teachers, bread-truck drivers, physicians or ditch diggers. As long as they keep trying, without regard to monetary markers, they’re winners.
So we married the no-excuse expectation to the high-performance expectation to create a sense of camaraderie, an elite-ness, a gathering of eagles, a line of freight trains that plows through obstacles without excuses or rationalizations. Whether you’re in a spelling bee or a bar fight, these are the people you want on your team. And that’s exactly the kind of performance and can-do attitude that you’ll get if you exemplify that same behavior as a manager. That’s the culture that wins wars of any kind.
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”
Chapter 22 – Quarterly Reviews
One Key Goal. One of the questions at the top of the sheet is, “What is your key goal this year?” Advisors can have 20 goals, but we want them to focus on one key goal – the only goal that, if they achieve this year, no matter what else happens in every other arena, the year will be a success.
The Critical Number. The second question is, “What is your critical number?” That number will be different for each advisor… The critical number is the one number you fight for and have confidence in; if you make that critical number, your other goals will most likely fall into place.
Expose the Insanity of Wishful Thinking. Are you ahead, or are you behind, by how much? If behind, do you want to reduce your goal? If no, what are you going to do to change the result you’ve been getting? In other words, the advisor has to either change his goal or change his activity levels.
The Big Why. What is your motivation to hit your goal? What gets you out of bed in the morning and off to work to achieve something?
Personal Income. What was your income last year? Were you satisfied with that income? We are goal seeking animals, a term Aristotle used. We love goals and we continue to increase those goals. We convert dreams to goals by putting deadlines on them. Field leaders should strive to be the catalyst in this process. What are you going to do differently to increase your income to a level where you will be satisfied?
Lifelong Learning. This is a profession, and the litmus test of one’s devotion to it is commitment to obtaining designations. Our clients deserve nothing less. Clients want specialists, not generalists.
Contests, Challenges and Solutions. Where are you in terms of those milestones? Tell me what the three greatest challenges in your business are. What goals are you putting off? What will you have accomplished before the end of the next quarter? What is your plan to increase administrative and marketing support?
“I think it is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises – but only performance is reality.”
–Harold S. Geneen
Chapter 23 – Expect Only What You Inspect.
Every organization needs four to six metrics, or standards, by which it measures its performance. Once you get 9, 10 or 11 metrics, you simply have too many.
Execution. Three frogs are sitting on a lily pad. One decides to jump off. How many are left? Three. You see, deciding to jump off doesn’t change anything. You’ve got to actually do it.
“Quality if never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
–William A. Foster
Chapter 24 – Live Where you Want, With those you love, doing the right work, on purpose.
As I look at the professions of people with whom I’m very close – physicians, clergy, lawyers, salespeople, senior vice presidents, board members, chairmen of the boards of publically traded companies – I see that none of them have a better opportunity than we do to live where we want to live, with the people we love, doing the right work, on purpose.
Chapter 25 – Think Tombstones. What is your leadership legacy?
Changing Lives Forever.
The life insurance advisor is the fortune teller who tells you exactly what is going to happen and it always does.
People don’t instinctively do these things for themselves. But when a life insurance advisor shows them a better way, it resonates with people of character.
Here is a pretty hefty concept for our children, and one that adults need to consider. Do we want to spend our time and energy acquiring status, or do we want to live a life of meaning and testimony?
I think those in the sale of life insurance have demonstrated that they’ve chosen to live a life of testimony. There are few testimonies greater than the work we do every day to intercede in the lives of our fellow human beings to offer help at the precise moment when they need it. What is the legacy you want to live?
“Do not fear death so much, but rather an inadequate life.”