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A conversation: The journey to success

Alessandro M. Forte, Dip PFS; Tony Gordon

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Enjoy this conversation between friends and longtime Top of the Table members Gordon and Forte as they reflect on their journeys to success. Find out how they overcame their challenges and learn the ideas that took them from humble beginnings to a combined 59 years of Top of the Table qualifications.

Gordon: Sandro, you didn't get to MDRT your first year in the business. What happened? How did it go for you?

Forte: I guess I share a very similar experience with a lot of people. Most of us are taught the art of networking. I spent the first two years not working. I thought it was going to be really, really easy. Pick up a telephone. Speak to prospects. Everyone would say yes, and the rest would be history. But, unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. So, for the next three years, Tony, through your kind encouragement, I worked toward MDRT. But, at the same time, I spent most of those three years making excuses as to why I shouldn't attend MDRT. And it was only because of a kick up the backside that I attended my first meeting.

And then I probably made the second business mistake of my life, which was not getting involved in PGA, not getting involved in the Foundation, not making new friends. I thought, I'm not really sure this experience is what I thought it would be. And, as a consequence, I didn't go to my next meeting. Another kick up the backside, and I haven't missed a meeting since. Why? Because I got involved. I participated. And, honestly, I think MDRT is probably responsible for at least 50 to 60 percent of my production in the last 20 years. So what about your experience?

Gordon: Well, it's fairly well known it took me eight years to make it to MDRT. My problem was, I knew of MDRT, I'd heard about it, but I didn't really know what it meant, what it was all about. And then I went to a meeting, a life underwriter's meeting, and the speaker talked about MDRT. I thought that if there's a club for the top people in our business, then, if only for self-respect, and if this is how I'm going to spend my working life, I want to be a member of the club.

Now, my real problem was that I had no goals. I was making a decent living. I was producing at about two-thirds of the level at MDRT. I was paying a modest mortgage and feeding my family. But I didn't really have goals.

Forte: What changed then to get you to MDRT?

Gordon: Well, once I decided that this was the club I wanted to be in, I looked at the production that was required and I thought, I can't do that. Not on my own. And then I broke it down: It's only so much a month. It's too much. Well, it's only this much a week. Still a big target. But then I thought that if I made one average-size sale every day for four days of each week, and kept one day a week for planning and prospecting, then I should be able to qualify.

What I'd done was discover that there is magic in setting daily goals. If there is no other lesson anybody takes from today, set daily goals. Setting daily goals gives us a sense of urgency to do now, today, what needs to be done today. It is by the day that we succeed or fail in this business. And, amazingly, just by setting daily goals my production doubled.

Forte: Talking about goals, I remember that you always used to say to me, "At my age, if I wake up in the morning, I know it's going to be a good day."

Gordon: Did I say that? Well, you know, at my age, I forget things I said 30 years ago. You know it's true. I know that once I decided I was going to set a daily goal, I wanted to sell every day. You make four appointments a day. I knew three of them would be there. One of them has to buy. And, with that sense of urgency, I'd go to the first appointment, and he or she would want to think it over. And I'd go to the second appointment, and he or she would be a client of yours, Sandro. I'd go to the third appointment, and the prospect wouldn't be there. Does this ever happen to any of you? God help the fourth appointment. The goal is to sell today. Set daily goals.

Forte: You keep going. You normally do.

Gordon: Last point. It is hard to set daily goals. It is much easier to have a goal for the year. Because, with a goal for the year, we only face failure once a year. But, if we have a goal for each day, we have to go home at the end of every day, face ourselves in the mirror, and answer the question, Did I fail or did I succeed today? It takes courage to set daily goals.

But we will give you a guarantee. Those who have the courage to set daily goals will always, always be more successful than those who don't.

Forte: That's a good point. And I would say, for myself, as someone once said to me, "How serious are you about success?" I looked at him, and I'm not sure I really understood the question. I said, "I'm quite serious." And he looked me square in the eye and said, "Unless you're really serious about success in this business, you're not going to achieve the things you want to achieve for yourself."

It's the same with the clients and the prospects that we meet. If you ask the question, How serious are you about protecting your family in the event of your death? and they say something like, "Well, I'm quite serious" or "I'm serious," that's not enough to take them to a point of action. And, I guess, on the points of action, I've learned through my MDRT membership that there's a distinct difference between theory, and we all know what that is, and putting things into practice. The great camaraderie and spirit of MDRT hasn't just taught me lots of new things; it's really encouraged me to put things into action. And I think that dovetails really well with what you're saying. So I would agree with everything you said.

Gordon: Let's talk about activity. Because activity is essential. Can I ask a question? And please be honest with us. Please raise your hand, all those who did not make as many sales calls last month as you should have made.

Let me ask another question. Whose commission check last month was less than you would have liked it to be? Sandro, it's the same hands. Is this a coincidence? For us, it will always be a case of our activity this week producing our commission next.

On my first day in the life insurance business, I asked my manager, "What do I have to do to guarantee I succeed?" He said, "Make 15 appointments a week." I said, "What if I only make 14?" He said, "With 14, you might succeed; with 15, I'll guarantee it." I think I went through my first 25 years in the business before I had the courage to make less than 15 appointments a week. Activity—it's the bedrock of our business.

Did you know that Top of the Table members average twice the activity, twice the number of sales calls, as ordinary MDRT members? Twice as busy, working twice as hard. But they make six times the income. Is this a fair exchange? Twice the effort for six times the income?

People say to me, "Yes, but if I have to make calls, I have to face rejection." Let me tell you something. The pain of rejection is temporary. The pride of success lasts a lifetime.

Now, Sandro, I know that you have great discipline for making sure your activity is full.

Forte: I guess I call it a scientific system. Very early into my career, I remember one day opening my diary and just seeing a sea of blank pages, because there was no such thing as tablets and iPhones in those days. So I opened my paper diary, and to my horror all I could see was empty pages. And I guess my question to you is, Is that motivational or de-motivational? Let me tell you, at the time it was very de-motivational.

I again thought of an idea I believe I picked up at MDRT. What I did was I decided when I was going to work, when I was going to see my prospects. And so what I do in my diary is I block out, taking Tony's point, a minimum of 10 two-hour segments, which I highlight in yellow. But I decide when I'm going to see those prospects. And that will lead to a conversation, I'm sure, about evening appointments. But we'll come to that in a moment.

I blocked out these 10 meetings. So, first of all, I'd open my diary, and I'd see these 10 yellow boxes. And, all of a sudden, psychologically, I'm much more motivated because I can see these 10 yellow boxes. But what's interesting is, I still have a blank diary. I still have no prospects to see. But my brain is looking at these yellow boxes, and what do you imagine my brain is wanting to do with the boxes? Fill them up. So my brain would get busy filling up these boxes, and inevitably sometimes clients would say, "Well, I can't see you at 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday or 4:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Can we make it 3:00 p.m.? And I learned the odds, and every one of you knows it because you've come across someone who's probably entered your home. Plumber. Electrician. Carpenter. Usually with a little notepad and a little pencil. And you're asking them for a quote for some work to be carried out in your house. When you ask them, "How much is this going to cost?," you hear this magic sound. And it goes something like [sound]. And you kind of know it's going to be expensive, don't you, when that happens.

So when a client says to me, "Can we make it 3:00 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m.?," I don't give my time away for free and just say, "No problem," because that portrays the sense that I am not busy. And perception in our business is definitely reality turning. So, ultimately, I want to negotiate so the yellow boxes end up as close to where I originally wanted them to be as possible. And, then, I give myself an 11th red box, and the red box is my pride box. So going back to what we said about discipline, the red box can only be filled when I fill my 10 yellow boxes. So by the time I get to my 10th yellow box, I can focus on my red box.

And the promise I make to myself is that once the red box is filled, whatever business I do from the 11th red box is mine to do whatever I want with. I personally send all that money to the Foundation. I'm very proud to be an Excalibur Knight. So that's my focus. That's my pride box—what I choose to do. I'm not after a cheap round of applause. That's what I do. That's my discipline.

But what's fascinating about the system is that my brain is much more motivated when I open my diary the first day. I still have a blank diary, but I have those 10 yellow boxes to focus on.

Gordon: Great idea. Let me just share one idea about activity with you. What if we were to make one more appointment each week? Just picture this: One more appointment each week, that's all. But that's 50 extra appointments a year. Now, with 50 extra appointments for the year, 40 of them would be there. Probably 10 to 15 of them would buy. And, if you're average commission is only, say, $1,000 a sale, that's an extra $15,000 of commission.

Now picture this: When we go home from this meeting, and you're much beloved, your husband, your wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, says to you, "Did you get any good ideas?" you can tell them, "One of the speakers said if I make just one more appointment each week, darling, you can have an extra $15,000 to spend next year." What do you think your darling would say? I know what my darling would say: "Make two."

Sandro, let's talk about discipline.

Forte: Well, I think this is probably the foundation of success in our business. I know, between us, we've got lots of examples of what good discipline looks like. Somebody once told me about SMART goals. Have you all come across SMART goals before? We know what it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline. I once heard someone on this Platform say that people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.

And I realized that, sometimes, if you set the bar really high and don't quite get there, you're still going to achieve Top of the Table, for example. So I changed my SMART goals system, because the big problem for me was that most of my goals weren't realistic. I was setting myself two times Top of the Table or whatever it happened to be, and I'd have people in my life say to me, "Don't be so ridiculous." And it's something, unfortunately, we hear our parents say when we're quite young. "I want to be an astronaut." "I want to be a neurologist." And you'd hear people say, "Don't be so ridiculous." Because we all have this kind of vision of what's achievable in life based on our own experiences.

So I changed my SMART goals so that all my goals now are Stunning, Massive, Awesome, Ridiculous, and, most importantly, on the Timeline thing today. Good example: You come away from an MDRT Annual Meeting, and if you're not implementing an idea within 24 hours of learning a new system or process, there's a very good possibility you're not going to implement the idea. So I changed my focus, and I aim high. Sometimes I don't achieve those goals, but what I know is, I'm probably achieving more than the people who set their bar just a little bit lower.

I was also taught a few real fundamentals. I'm very proud to be brought up by a very old-fashioned guy. My dad was an amazing guy. He taught me the power of please and thank you and showing up on time and being respectful, a really, really powerful tool as part of the MDRT tool kit.

So what about you? You are the master of discipline, Tony.

Gordon: You would have loved my grandmother. I had a grandmother who always said that there's no such word as can't. And that was her attitude to everything. There is no such word as can't. And that's what I was brought up with. You see, I think we succeed for many reasons. Your success and the way you achieve success—they're different. But we only ever fail for one reason: not enough discipline.

And, let me tell you, discipline is like a muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes. The difference between making MDRT or not making MDRT and Court of the Table or Top of the Table is all in the word discipline. The most successful people discipline themselves to do the things the less successful people don't like doing. Now, I'm choosing my words carefully. I'm not saying we all like doing the things that less successful people don't like to do. We discipline ourselves to do those things whether we enjoy doing them or not. I don't believe there are any extraordinary people in our business. But there are some ordinary people who demonstrate extraordinary discipline.

Forte: One of the pillars of MDRT's ethos is something we refer to as Whole Person. Let's just spend a moment talking about Whole Person—fitness of mind, fitness of body. Now, I know, like me, you go to the gym. So fitness is very important, right?

Gordon: Absolutely.

Forte: It's a shame you're not an exponent of it then.

Gordon: No, no, I am, but it's a little more difficult the older you get. I actually ran the London Marathon, but it was about 30 years ago. Yes, I try to keep fit. I walk. I live on the edge of a park. I go to the gym at least three times a week because I think it is essential. You know, the most interesting thing about exercise, for me, is that it has to be done at the beginning of the day. It isn't so much the fitness it gives us; it's what it does to our self-confidence when we know that we've done something that our prospects haven't done. And when you're out running or you're out walking or you're on a treadmill first thing in the morning, you've got to do something with your mind. And what I always found was that I was thinking about the appointments that I had that day and going through the conversations and even answering the questions or objections in my mind so that I was really well prepared for the prospects for the day.

Forte: I would say, there's nothing I hate more than having to get up at 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. in the morning. It's tough. It's tough getting up early to do something that you know is fundamentally important to your well-being.

For me, Friday afternoon is my reward day. If I don't have those disciplines in my business, then by Friday afternoon, if I've not achieved my goals for the week, I don't have those 10 yellow boxes filled, then I don't go home. I stay until all those boxes are filled. Now, if it so happens I do reach all of my goals by Friday morning, then I reward myself by taking Friday afternoon off.

That's kind of like a reverse discipline. One of the things I think is very, very important is to set goals and have that discipline. Again, it's something I picked up from Strategic Coach many years ago, although I've kind of varied it to suit only my daily practices. I've adapted this now. I call it "On, In, Me." So the way I structure my time is, I focus on three key activities: "On" time, which is strategic stuff, typically, an MDRT meeting, reading a book, studying, attending a conference, meeting with a manager; "In" time, which is face-to-face client time, the generation of revenue; and "Me" time, which is time for me, time for my family.

Now, what's interesting is, when I ask people which one of those activities should go in first, most people think that it's "In" time—going out generating new business. And I would argue that "Me" time is the thing that goes in your diary first, because if you don't put that in first, if you don't focus on the Whole Person, there's a very good prospect that what you end up with is a business that runs you and not the business that you are able to run yourself. So I would encourage you to focus on yourself first. It only needs to be 20 percent of your time—maybe 20 percent strategic planning, but then 60 percent of your time "In", and you can vary it but as long as you focus on you and your family. I'm nearly 50. I've got 21-year-old twins and, now, dare I say, a grandson. And I don't want to miss out on all that really, really precious time I have with the people I love. So that's a discipline in itself, I would say.

Gordon: One of the great things I found about MDRT's Whole Person concept is that it actually teaches us that business is not the major priority. It is just one of the areas in our lives on which we should focus. And once business ceases to be our number one priority, it actually becomes much easier to get the business.

If you think about it, when is it hardest to make a sale? When we really need one. And when is it easiest to make a sale? When everybody this week has already bought from us, when the last thing we want is another sale to have to write up and administer. Then, somebody knocks on the door and insists on buying from us. So if we can reduce business as a priority or—perhaps I should put it the other way—if we could increase our families, our communities, our study, our fitness, all of the things that form part of the Whole Person concept, if we could increase the importance of those areas, we will actually find it much easier to write business.

Forte: On that subject, I know one of the challenges that many people have on the Whole Person concept is evening appointments. They're a bit of a challenge for most of us, because I guess we've been conditioned, and I suppose our perception is, and the general public has been conditioned, to believe that financial advisors only see them in the evening at their homes. How did you stop, Tony? Because I know that you have great discipline in your business. But, from my memory of MDRT membership, you were one of the first exponents of moving away from evenings.

Gordon: I have MDRT to thank for this, because my 15 appointments a week were sacrosanct. There was one appointment Monday evening, one Tuesday evening, one Wednesday evening, and one Thursday evening. At an MDRT meeting many years ago, a speaker said, "Ask people to see you during the day." And I thought, Can it really be done and still get my 15 appointments a week? So I made a decision: no more Thursday evenings. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were OK, but no more Thursdays. I still had to get my 15. And 12 months later, back at MDRT, I said, "Now I'll knock off Wednesday. No more Wednesday evenings. Monday, Tuesday, but I still have to have my 15."

A year later, Tuesday went, and a year after that, Monday. So, over a four-year period, I moved from having evening appointments to no evening appointments. But there is a funny story to this that really proves the point of what can be done. I decided if prospects or clients would not see me during the day, then I didn't want them as a client. Except for one. I had one really lovely client whom I'd always seen in the evening because he was always out driving his lorry and running his business during the day. And he always had referrals for me, so I thought he was going to be the one exception. I'd still allow him an evening appointment.

A few years went by like that, and I was getting older and more tired, and I called him up one day, and I said to him, "Jeff, it's time for our annual review. Would you do me a favor? I start early in the morning. I don't do my best work in the evenings. Is there any chance that you could get home maybe 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.? Let's meet then instead of later on." And he said, "Oh certainly, Tony, I always wondered why you wanted to come in the evening." Proves the point.

Forte: I've got to say, it was as simple for me as well. Sometimes you just have to ask the question. And you'd be amazed what prospects will say to you. Again, the perception and reality thing. We've all been taught from this kind of sales manual that no one's ever quite seen, but trainers we've worked with have somehow got hold of it, and for centuries we keep being taught the same way. Evening appointments. Ask for referrals and so on and so forth. We just follow like sheep.

Gordon: It's the same with where you see your clients. If you give a client the option: "Would you prefer I came to your business or to your home during the day, or would you prefer to come to my office?" you'll find that 50 to 60 percent of them will say, "I'll come to your office." So let's not be bound by the way the business used to work. We can create our own patterns of working.

Now, people sometimes get objections. I know that we don't. But some do. So let's talk about objections.

Forte: Again, looking at the science of our business, one of the things that I have tried to develop over the years is a way of handling objections that work, and that suits my personality, my style. I've really struggled over the years with objections. You know: "I don't believe in insurance." I know you've got really interesting ways of handling that particular one. We'll come back to that in a minute because I'd like to share it.

But, for me, I had to find a way of handling objections like, "I've got no money" and "I want to think about it"—all the things that I know we've heard a million times before. But what I've done is, I've read a lot of books on psychology. I'm a great believer in that. If you can understand the reasons why people say yes and why people say no, you're two-thirds of the way to successfully handling an objection.

So, effectively, my objection-handling technique, for want of a better expression, broadly speaking, is broken down into three areas. The big problem with objections is that we have a natural tendency, as human beings, to want to object, to push back against the rejection. So we just finished a fact find, for example. We've identified that the client might have a few hundred dollars of net disposable income. And then we hear the client say, "I've got no money." Now, there might be a number of reasons why clients already spent that money or why they perceive that they don't, but if I push against it, if I say, "But you've got $300," then I start to create conflict, which clearly is not going to help me to handle the objection.

One of the things that I would encourage anyone to do would be, step number one, to welcome the objection. Welcoming the objection is not agreeing with the objection. It's just embracing it. Like "OK, I understand. Let's deal with it." And, typically, the way I would do that is to say something like, "I'm so pleased you mentioned that. I'm so glad you've raised that subject." Of course, if they say something like "I don't like you" or "I don't like the company you represent," then don't say, "I'm so glad you mentioned that," because that would be a bit weird. But you would then say something like "Thank you for being so honest," which is still welcoming the objection.

Step number two would be to create empathy. The one thing that we, as human beings, like is people who are like us. And so empathy is best communicated with the words, "If I were you, I would be thinking the same way." All my prospects want to know is that I'm on the same page. I'm on the same wavelength and I understand what it is that they're saying to me. And that's kind of music to the their ears. But the most important part of the three-step process is the logical question. It's the question that comes next.

What I normally do is put it into the third person so that it's not a direct confrontation to prospects. And I would say something like—based on, perhaps, the example I've given, which is "I've got no money"—"If I could show you how I work with my other clients to create money that they didn't have before they met me, would that be of value?" And by ending with the words of value—because it's a logical question, a left-brain rather than an emotional, right-brain question—the answer will always be yes. Always. And you need to test this out because it's fascinating the responses you get.

Now, do I know whether I can handle this objection in the sense that they genuinely have no money? No, I don't. But what I need is the opportunity to explore this problem, this roadblock in their minds, just a little bit more.

So three steps: 1) Welcome the objection. 2) Create empathy. 3) Ask a logical question. If you ask a logical question, the answer will always be yes.

Gordon: Looking deeply though into objections, I think that the hardest decision anybody ever makes is the decision to trust somebody. We're taught all our lives, don't talk to strange men, don't talk to strange women, don't take sweets from strangers. Don't trust. Read it before you sign it. And this decision to trust is so difficult, but when people say, "I want to think about it" or "I want to talk to my uncle," they don't want to talk to their uncle. They don't want to think about it. What they cannot do is make the decision to trust.

Now, there are two ways of increasing trust. The first way is to spend more time at the beginning of your sales call getting to know the clients. Stop selling, and start solving their problems. If they will buy into their problem, then they will buy into the solution. But the best way of all to remove objections, to remove this trust barrier, is to make sure we are good at getting referrals. Because if we have more referrals than we need, then the trust question has automatically been dealt with in their mind. Somebody else, the referrer, made the decision that Sandro is trustworthy. And if he's OK for the referrer, then he'll be OK for me.

I would see an objection as a challenge. If somebody says, "I do not want your product, please go away," then you can take that as a no. But how many times in our careers does anybody ever say that to us? What they give us is some kind of a stall, and, therefore, we should look at it as a challenge. What they're actually saying is, "You haven't yet told me enough. You haven't yet persuaded me that I should trust you. Persuade me some more; give me more reasons to do business." See it as a challenge, and welcome the objection because it actually shows that they're interested.

Sandro, you asked me about the great objection, "I don't believe in life insurance." Does anybody get that? Or does it just happen where I live? If somebody says to me, "I don't believe in life insurance," I say, "You don't have to believe in life insurance. It's not a religion. Life insurance is just risk management. We transfer the risk from families or businesses who cannot afford it to insurance companies who can afford it. That's all it is." And then I'd say to a prospect, "At your age, out of every 100 people, one of you will die this year. And the insurance companies do not care if you're the one. Because 99 are still paying the premiums. They've only lost 1 percent. But if you are the one, the loss to your family or to your business is 100 percent. It's just risk management. Let's pass the risk from your family or your business that can't afford it to the insurance company that can afford it."

Now, Sandro, what have we got as a career-changing idea? Something that really hit the pair of us and really turned our careers around?

Forte: I believe that the most important time we have with our prospects is really at the first meeting. And the big mistake that a lot of advisors make is, they allow the client to take control of the relationship, so they decide when they're going to do business with us. They decide what the premium will be. They decide when they're going to think about it. And a very simple way to take control is to create a positioning piece, a couple of lines that you can introduce at the beginning of the first meeting that puts you and the prospects on an even keel, on a level playing field.

The way I do that is simply to say something like, "There are two reasons why we're meeting today. The first one, Tony, is because we are going to decide whether we like, trust, and can work with each other." Now, by using the word we, Tony now knows, as a prospect, that I get to make the decision just like he does. So, subconsciously, we've already established equality, which is very, very important.

"The second reason is that I'm going to gather some information. I don't know at this moment whether I can help you or not, but I'm going to gather some information, and one very important rule about gathering this information is that the quality of advice I'm able to give you, Tony, is based entirely on the quality of information you give me." Now, all that eliminates straightaway is Tony saying, "I don't want to give you that piece of information. I'm uncomfortable about telling you what I earn." "Tony, remember what I said to you at the beginning of the meeting. The quality of advice I'm able to give you is based entirely on the quality of information you give me." In other words, I've shifted accountability for the advice from me to my prospect, which is really, really important. Because I don't get people saying, "I don't want to give you this information." And I'm very, very proud of the fact that, in 27 years in this business, I've never, ever had a single client complaint. It's about managing expectation and shifting responsibility and accountability to my client.

So I think that that is a very, very important part of the process. I also believe that we should be looking to ask for personal introductions. I prefer personal introductions rather than the word referral. Because sometimes when we ask for referrals, we tend to get two things: a name and a telephone number, which simply condemns me to having to make a cold call the following morning and which I'm not very good at.

Personal introduction, on the other hand, is that my prospect Tony would typically call my next prospect and would introduce me prior to my making a call. And I simply establish with them when I'm going to make that call, in other words, when they're going to call. And I introduce the concept of personal introductions at the third meeting. Otherwise, if you don't, then, at the second meeting, when you typically ambush your clients who have just filled in the paperwork and say, "Now, Tony, can you think of anybody?" of course he can't, because it's the first time you've mentioned it.

So introducing the idea of personal introductions and then also looking to pre-close the sale and establishing a commitment and how serious the client is are all very important tick-box items of our first meeting. I think that, for me, this was a real career changer, because I probably didn't, up until that point, have a very well-structured process. Somebody once told me, "You've got to do ice breaking." I didn't know what ice breaking was. You've got a set of golf clubs; the lawn is well manicured; it's just white noise. It's kind of idle chitchat. It wasn't meaningful. And then I'd sit there with the fact find, and it would be like a Q&A session. And this poor prospect would be looking at the top of my head for the best part of two hours. I wouldn't establish a relationship. There would be no empathy. And I was surprised at why I wasn't closing many cases.

The career changer for me would be to have a really properly structured system at the first meeting. What about you?

Gordon: My career-changing idea is really very simple. It's when I discovered that I should stop telling people what they need. I started asking them what they want. Because what people want for themselves, their families, their businesses will always be greater than just their needs.

When my younger daughter left home, I said to my wife, "We don't need this big house anymore. Why don't we downsize to something smaller?" And she said, "We may not need this, but this is where I want to live." She also said, "You can leave if you want to, but I'm staying."

Why? Because what people want will always be greater than their needs. Now, I don't tell you this to boast, but we live in a house with five bedrooms, five reception rooms. There are three cars in the driveway. But only two people live there. Why? It's what we want. You see, when we find out what somebody wants, it repositions us. Tell prospects what they need, and we are selling to them. Find out what they want, and we are helping them to buy. It's a tiny, subtle difference, but it's worth millions in income for us. So that's my career-changing idea. It certainly put me into Top of the Table.

Now, you might say, "Well, how do you establish what somebody wants? Is this complicated?" No. It's very simple. You just ask simple questions: "Sandro, what would you want as income for yourself when you don't want to work anymore? What would you want as income for your family in the event of a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness? What would you want as income for your family in the event of your untimely death?" Once we get an income figure, it's very simple to translate that back to the amount of capital that's needed to produce the income that Sandro wants. It's very, very simple to do it. But it will generate business.

I'll give you one example. There was a young man in the UK who qualified the first time for Top of the Table several years ago. I had never met him, but I approached him at the Top of the Table meeting, and I said, "Congratulations, what changed?" He said, "I took your advice." I said, "We've never met before." He said, "No, but I was sitting in the back of the room at a meeting when you said to stop telling people what they need and start asking them what they want. It's the only change I made, and my business doubled." So stop telling people what they need, and start asking them what they want.

Forte: Good point. So, Tony, where do your clients come from?

Gordon: Well, you can cold call if you want to. But, remember, cold calling is God's punishment for not asking for referrals. I'll tell you how effective referrals can be. When I first started, I was given, by my manager 48 years ago, a sheet of paper with a lot of spaces, and he said, "Write down the names of 50 people." Now, I'd only just moved. My previous employer had moved me to a city where I knew only two people. So I put down two names; neither of them bought from me. "What do I do now?" I said. He said, "You cold call." I said, "What does that mean?" And he told me. But he also said to me, "Your job in your first year is to make 100 clients." And when I got to my 100th client, I looked back to see where they had come from. I'd made thousands of cold calls. Sixteen of the 100 clients were the result of cold calls, and 84 were referrals from the cold calls. Why? Because of that trust question that we've already discussed. So, for me, it has to be referrals.

Let me just share with you some quick referral ideas. Why don't you tell your clients, "Please don't keep me a secret." Tell every client, "Please don't keep me a secret." And you can call up clients who've never given you a referral, and you can say, "Sandro, I'd like to come see you. There's a question I'd like to ask you." And when I've got Sandro's biscuit and cup of tea, I'll say to him, "Sandro, the question is this: Why have you kept me a secret?" He'll say, "What do you mean?" I'll say, "Well, Sandro, I only take on as clients people to whom I'm personally introduced, personally referred. And you're the only client I've got, Sandro, who's never given me a referral. Why have you kept me a secret, Sandro?" And he'll say, "I didn't know." Because probably I forgot to ask him. So there's one idea.

Here's another idea. If LinkedIn exists in your country, join it. Join LinkedIn, and then get your client to join LinkedIn. And then, amazingly, you can see who your client is connected to. Pick two or three of those names that you think you'd like to have as clients. The next time you're with your prospect, with your client, you can say, "I was going through the people you're connected to on LinkedIn. Purely by coincidence, three of them are on the list of people I have to contact. What can you tell me about this one, this one, and this one? Now, obviously, Sandro, anything you and I have ever talked about will always be in confidence. Do you mind if I mention the fact that you and I know each other and have done business together?" And we've created referrals without even having to ask for them. Where do your clients come from, Sandro?

Forte: I would agree. I think that, over the years, I learned very early in my career that I've had this full diary of meetings that I've been very pleased with, and then I realize three or four weeks later that there were no meetings in my diary and it was because I was forgetting to ask.

And that goes back to the point, I guess, that I made earlier, which is kind of this training manual that we all get taught from where trainers typically tell us the way to ask for referrals. What happens in reality is, we start to ask the question at the points of sale, which I fundamentally believe is the wrong time to ask. Certainly, for the first time. What we find is that a lot of people start saying, "I can't think of anyone." So, over time, the little voice on our shoulder, which is a very destructive force in our life, starts to say to us, "There's no point in even asking this question because I'm not going to get any referrals." So, consequently, we stop asking. That's reality, and it certainly happened to me very early in my career.

So again, I guess looking at the science of this, one of the things that I do at the first meeting, typically at some part of the fact-finding process—and it can be any random moment—normally is use what we call in psychology a "trigger." For me, it's my watch. But it could be a cuff link or, for ladies, an earring or a pendant. It really doesn't matter what the physical trigger is. And all I'm going to do is very subtly, perhaps, unstrap my watch, give my wrist a quick rub, and I subconsciously embed four key instructions to the subconscious mind of my prospect.

I'll just take you briefly through what those are. So I make it a professional business practice, which basically means that I do it all of the time, to work my personal introduction, so when I come to the time when I'm going to gather these names and telephone numbers, I can lead nicely into being personally introduced. And the reason I get so many when I ask my new prospect, and the reason why I use the words so many, is that to most people so many means more than two. If I said, "Tony, the reason I get one or two every time I ask my new prospect is that there's a very good possibility all I'm going to get is one or two."

I like to think what I do is very different from everyone else. So all I'm really doing is just putting my fact find down for a moment and using these four key instructions in one sentence while there is some kind of subtle physical distraction. What tends to happen is the eyes of the client focus very much on what it is I'm doing. And so I'm able to embed the subconscious words into the mind of the client so that he spends the next seven or eight days before I see him again thinking, but subconsciously, about what it is that I've introduced at that first meeting.

The second meeting I reconnect with my trigger. I simply put my hand on my watch, and I repeat the words. I make it a professional business practice to work by personal introduction: "Tell me, Tony, who do you know whom I could work with the same way I'm working with you?" And I always get a minimum of two names and telephone numbers. It's a really, really simple process. It needs some practice, but it's a really good process.

Gordon: Tell me about your best sale, Sandro.

Forte: It was a year ago and a very, very wealthy couple up in the northeast of England that had a very substantial amount of money having sold their business. Quite traditional people. Lived in a small community. They had been approached by a number of other advisors, and they were all technically very well equipped; they knew their stuff; they worked for big companies. The problem that the advisors who had been to see this couple before I was introduced had was that they spent all of the time saying, "What you need is this. What you need is this." They didn't spend any time, really, talking to the clients about what it was they really wanted.

And that was my first question. Before we sat down, before we filled in any paperwork or I gathered any information, I asked, "Tell me, what do you want?" And their attitudes completely changed. And they said they'd seen someone from KoopBank, they'd seen someone from Barclays Wealth, but weren't impressed at all. And I picked up a piece of business last year that got me to Top of the Table—and that was just one case—by asking the simple question: "Tell me about you. Tell me what you want." Because it's never about the advisor. It can be as simple as that. It has nothing to do with product or price or my experience. And very often, as you know, it's not about talent. Goodness knows, I lack plenty of it. Sometimes it's just about putting the clients first and letting them know that you care.

Gordon: You asked them what they wanted?

Forte: Yes. What about you? You've got plenty.

Gordon: Well, funny enough, I was always a numbers man. I would expect to write between 20 and 25 cases every month, and that's what you would do if you're seeing 15 people a week, every week. Yes, there will be some good-size ones in there and some small ones, but nothing as big as the case you've written.

The most important case I ever wrote was the planning I did for my own father. He died and left my mother a widow, and, amazingly, she lived for 30 years. She lived in her own home. The last three years, when she needed care, there was money there to provide the care. The last few months when she needed residential care, then there were the funds there to pay for it, all because of what I'd learned here at MDRT. So, certainly, for me, the most significant case was the case on my own family.

It's very interesting, because I actually can remember my father's funeral, and this really brought home a lesson to me. This is what our business is really about. Because when we got back to the house after the funeral, my mother drew me aside and said, "I only have two questions for you. Can I afford to stay in my home? Can I still afford to buy presents for my grandchildren?" And, for 30 years, she stayed in her home and always bought presents for her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

Let's talk about the importance of MDRT.

Forte: We all have different experiences, I'm sure. Personally, and I mentioned this before, I'm a great supporter of the Foundation, as you know. I was very fortunate to be part of the project on Saturday and would very strongly encourage anyone to get involved in the Foundation, even if it's at a volunteer level. I know some of us find it more difficult to make generous donations. But, sometimes, just donating your time can make a world of difference.

But what's fascinating and very uplifting about MDRT is, it's an organization that keeps me really grounded. There are people I know in the audience, mostly down in the front here, who have been among the best mentors I've ever had in my life. I think it would be fair to say that when I joined this organization, I was a bit of a bull in a china shop—young and enthusiastic, and you get the love and care of people who pull you to one side and just say, "Perhaps you want to do this a slightly different way."

I think probably the thing that I've learned most from MDRT is that Whole Person concept idea of just staying grounded and focused. Staying true to who you are. We heard that from the Main Platform yesterday. And sometimes it's difficult to stay grounded. Certainly, in life at large, it's very, very difficult when you're being successful and have so many things going on in your life. It's very typical to lose focus, to lose sight of the things that are very important to you.

And the one thing I would say in summary is, MDRT is responsible for making me a better person.

Gordon: I absolutely agree with you. The reason I love coming to the Annual Meeting is it reminds me of what I've spent the last 48 years of my life doing. It's a very honorable profession. What we do is good. The last death claim I had was a 48-year-old husband and father of teenage kids. He was very popular. There were 400 people at his funeral. And every one of those 400 people were bringing condolences; only one brought money: me.

And nobody ever goes home from an MDRT meeting and does less business.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from MDRT?

Forte: That's an easy one. The biggest lesson I've ever learned from MDRT is that success in this business is not easy. It's not easy. And I'm sure everyone here today would agree with that. But one thing I've learned in my 20 years of membership is that it is simple. It's not easy, but it is really simple. Take some of the basic ideas, which frankly have stood the test of time. Everyone here today has been successful to a greater or lesser extent using the same ideas that have been so successful for so many people. As long as you implement them, as long as you take action, then success in this business is really simple. That would be my one takeaway. What about yourself?

Gordon: For me, it's self-belief. Remember, I took eight years to make it to MDRT. I finally made it, and I went home and said to my wife, busy with our two little girls, "Darling, I've qualified for MDRT." And she said, "Oh yes." I said, "Darling, I can go to the Annual Meeting." And she said, "Oh yes." Now, my first Annual Meeting was in Hawaii. Forty years ago, Hawaii did not feature in holiday brochures in my country. So I said, "Darling, I'm going to Hawaii," and she said, "Oh no, we are going to Hawaii." So we took our two little girls. It took 27 hours to get there and cost me 20 percent of my previous year's income.

But when we go to an Annual Meeting, it is not a cost. It is an investment in our careers. I met a man at my first Annual Meeting. Remember what I said earlier: I wanted to get into this club, the best of the best. And I discovered that there was another club called Top of the Table. There was no Court of the Table in those days. We're on the bus going to the convention center, and this man had a white ribbon. It said, "Top of the Table." I said, "What's that?" He told me. I said, "I could never do that." And the words he said to me then ring as clear in my mind today as when he said them, "We can achieve anything we want to achieve in this business if only we will first have the courage to believe we can achieve it."

Eight years to make it to MDRT. I went home. I tore up all of my goals. It's better to try and not succeed than not to try. Don't be frightened of setting a bigger goal if you're just doing MDRT and you set a goal to make Court of Table, and you don't quite make three times, you only make two times. Hey, that's a success, it's not a fail.

I tore up all of my goals and made new goals to make Top of the Table, and year after year ever since. So I thank that man today, who happens to be sitting down here in the audience.

Could we, in one line, just encapsulate what we might tell a son or a daughter coming into our business?

Forte: Two words. And I would encourage you to write these two words down. The words are discipline and regret. And what I would say to anyone is, which of these words are painful? Because the answer is both of them are painful. But here's the guarantee. If you don't do the first one, I guarantee you'll get the second one. And that is as true in life as it is in business. If you don't have the discipline, you will look back at some stage in your life with regret. The ifs, buts, whys, maybes don't matter to anyone when you're gone. So give yourself the best opportunity and chance for success by introducing discipline into your daily life.

Gordon: And what I would say to any young person coming into this business is this: This is not a get-rich-quick business. It can be a get-rich-slowly business. Millionaires do not cue up to get jobs selling life insurance. But there are people in this audience today who, through discipline and hard work, have made themselves into millionaires. So I would say to a young person: Have a vision. Know what it is you want to achieve with your life. Break it down. Figure out what you have to do each day, and then set about doing it.

Here's an interesting question. What's going to happen is, at the end of today, or tomorrow, you'll be heading back to your homes. And people who are not here at this meeting are going to ask you, "Well, what was it like? Did you meet anybody interesting?" And we would like you to tell them that you met a couple of guys, a couple of good friends, who have, between them, close to 60 years of Top of the Table membership. And they'll say, "Yes, yes, yes." They'll say, "What was their message?" So, Sandro, what would we want the message to be?

Forte: Well, I've actually been very encouraged by this conversation today, because my message would be quite simple. And it will be this: If he can do it . . .

Gordon: If he can do it . . .

Forte and Gordon: If we can do it, then so can you.

Corry Collins

Tony Gordon, of Bristol, England, is a 40-year MDRT member with 39 Top of the Table honors. One of the best known names in the world of financial services, in 2001 he became the first MDRT President from outside North America — with the unique distinction of having served both as Chairman of MDRT’s Top of the Table and as President of the UK’s insurance agents association.

Corry Collins

Alessandro M. Forte, Dip PFS, is a 19-year MDRT member with 19 Top of the Table honors and an MDRT Foundation Excalibur Knight from London, England. He has served in several MDRT leadership roles, including Divisional Vice President of Practice Management and Chair of Leadership and Development.


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