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Motivate a client to take action

Howard Sharfman

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Sometimes it's as simple as telling a good story.

IM A MATH PERSON, so I would love to be able to show clients a spreadsheet or a formula and have them act on that. But very few clients remember the numbers. Very few remember the spreadsheets. But they all remember stories you tell.

So what makes a great story?

It’s very simple. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s structured. In sixth-grade English, they taught me about a three, three. A good story needs to have three different points, and three different subpoints.

People can absorb and listen to three points; they can’t absorb and listen to 100 points. And just one doesn’t do it. You need to repeat things a few times. So three points, three subpoints and an ending, and hopefully the ending’s happy. So what could you do to make the story better?

You can make it shorter. Make it precise, and pay attention to the words.

I had a prospect, David. He became a client in many other parts of our business, but he wasn’t a life insurance client. He had started one of the first private equity funds. He was Sam Zell’s partner, and they were massively successful together.

I tried to sell him life insurance often. He was a numbers person, so I shared lots of numbers. I showed why it made sense for him for estate tax planning to buy life insurance. I talked about the integration. I talked about the predictability.

I showed him numbers, and guess what? He didn’t buy. So I’m sitting on my country club steps one day, and we’re both waiting for our car to be brought around. David said to me, “Howard, know why I don’t buy life insurance? Dr. Kevorkian.”

Dr. Kevorkian was the person who believed individuals should have the right to end their own lives. This client said, “I’m not doing it because when I’m 90 years old and no longer really here in the way I am, I want to be able to take my own life.”

By the way, this is the smartest person I know. Went to Yale, Rhodes scholar. Brilliant. I said, “Well, what if I’m able to negotiate a way out of that with the insurance company and say that that’s OK?” He said, “Boy, if you could do that, that’d be great.”

I walked into his office the next day and I said, “David, I have negotiated for not just you but everyone in the state of Illinois that if there is a death that happens after two years, it’s incontestable. And here’s what incontestable means in this world: You don’t have to worry about Dr. Kevorkian.”

This is a person who did billion-dollar deals. Someone with a 10-figure net worth, with loads and loads of analysts who work for him. But he wasn’t going to buy insurance based on numbers. He had something that we needed a story to talk about.

How would I know that was his concern? Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it’s getting people to talk, and sometimes it’s just sitting on the country club stairs with the right people at the right time.

The good news is that policy is still in force. He’s pretty old, and he’s totally with it and not just drooling in his soup as he said. I’ve told that story many times to clients. When they haven’t shared with me why they’re not moving forward, I start sharing stories about different people, different situations, and maybe it hits home.

Howard E. Sharfman is a 25-year MDRT member from Chicago, Illinois. He spoke at the 2019 Top of the Table Annual Meeting. Contact him at howard.sharfman@nfp.com.

 

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