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How to Create Your Playbook for Ultimate Success

When it comes to any professional sport, no team can ever win without a playbook, especially when it comes to the NFL. A playbook can be a team’s most valuable asset, and if their opponent gets hold of it, it’s game over. The playbook lays out the plan for every player on the team, so everyone knows exactly where to go and exactly what to do.

NFL teams are some of the best-run companies in the world. Why? Because everything is spelled out and everything is choreographed — from concessions, ticket sales and marketing to the halftime show. They have systems and processes in place for nearly everything.

It makes perfect sense why Maribeth Kuzmeski is on a mission to arm advisors and insurance professionals with their own playbook, to bring their game to a new level. From an early age, Maribeth fell in love with the game of  football — taught to her by, of all people, her grandmother!

But football turned into a very apt model for an advisor’s success because it is built around strategies for advancing on the field. Aren’t there days that you feel like you’re fighting for every yard and the end zone doesn’t seem to get any closer? 

Successful people learn early on that building a good plan is only part of succeeding. The sticking with it is the hard part. But it doesn’t stop there, because your plan has to change and evolve over time, especially when you experience successes and growth along the way. 

Many successful advisors have turned to Maribeth to become the best at what they do. 

She and her firm, Red Zone Marketing, specialize in working with advanced financial professionals. In fact, many readers will recognize her from appearances at industry events such as Million Dollar Round Table’s annual convention. She has written seven books, including Red Zone Marketing and The Connectors.

In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Maribeth gives practical advice on how to build a game plan and how to execute it like a pro. 

FELDMAN: What does a playbook for success look like and how do you set one up?

KUZMESKI: We start by looking at what you really want. How many clients, the types of clients, the target market — and then we put it into a very simple game plan. 

The plan is something that you could imagine putting on your wrist like a quarterback does when he’s going out. He’s looking at the plays and he says, “OK, this is what I have to do.” If we always know what our priority plays are, we get less caught up in the latest, greatest, hottest thing that likely won’t make us any money. 

It is not complex. It isn’t stuffed on your shelf someplace. It’s something that’s in front of you on a regular basis and so you can see that these are the things that you need to do to be successful. And not just you, but everybody on your team.

FELDMAN: What are some “musts” that should be in every advisor’s playbook?

KUZMESKI: Referral conversion as well as referral acquisition need to be in the playbook. 

There are two primary ways that clients come to a financial advisor or an insurance agent. They’re coming from referrals or from an active marketing tactic. So let’s talk about referrals first, because that is where most of the clients come from. 

It’s been shown that 85 percent of new clients will come from referral-based sources. That could be a strategic alliance with another professional or from somebody who knows you in the community or from a client.

What must happen today to make those referrals successful is very different from what used to happen. What happens is that you have people who know how great you are and they will tell others about you. Most of the time, we don’t even have to ask for referrals and we get them. 

The problem starts because when somebody gives a referral today, the first thing the other person will do is search for you online.

Therein lies the first step of the problem. Using a football analogy, as you’re moving down the field, you’re doing good work for your clients. Things are going well. They start to talk about you. Now you’re in the red zone, but the biggest fumble in the red zone is when somebody goes and searches for you online, they either can’t find anything or you don’t have a picture on your LinkedIn profile or your profile doesn’t say anything compelling. When someone finds your website or whatever profile you might have online, they don’t feel that you’re the right fit.

By the way, they’re not looking for you online to figure out why they should come in and see you. They’re looking for you online to figure out why they shouldn’t. Advisors and agents often give their potential clients a reason not to come in and it’s one of the biggest problems today. And it’s an easy fix.

Referral conversion is: When prospects look for you online, have you said the things that are targeted? Is your messaging precise enough so that person who goes there says, “I’m in the right place. This is where I have to go.”

 This isn’t about tweeting 20 times a day, it’s having an online exposure that people can find. It can’t be that you put up something online today and you don’t look at it again for a year. It’s something that needs to be changed consistently because it is so critical to attract new business. 

 Then the next part of the playbook is those marketing tactics that you’ll use to entice someone to come in and see you. That’s a whole laundry list of things that you could do, depending on what you feel your propensity is for doing those things. 

For example, seminars still work. If that’s in your playbook, that’s great, except what are you going to do in terms of making that seminar the best one possible. 

That goes back to messaging. If people go to a dinner seminar and they don’t schedule an appointment, it might be because of you. It may not be because of them.

A lot of times you say, “Well, the wrong people are in the room.” But if you are enticing and compelling and your messaging is precise, they may have a greater interest in coming in to see you. 

FELDMAN: What are some good, bad and ugly examples of messaging you’ve seen advisors use?

KUZMESKI: I’ll start with the ugly. It doesn’t sound so ugly, but it is if I go to an advisor’s website and I see this on the front page: “We work with individuals and families and businesses.” That is their differentiating statement. Well, that doesn’t differentiate you from anybody because if you say you work with individuals and families and businesses, what you’ve just done is you’ve said you work with everybody. 

The problem with saying that you work with absolutely everybody that could possibly be alive on earth is that I don’t actually believe you could work with everybody.

That’s where targeting and niche focus are really critical. The problem that I’ve heard from agents and advisors is, “Why do I want to pigeonhole myself? I don’t want to be in the position where an executive comes to my website and I say I work with business owners and I just turned them away.” Well, it doesn’t exactly work like that because you can use the proper niches so that you can still capture the types of clients that you want.

For instance, we call this a simple, repeatable statement of value so it’s not just a “this is our value proposition” and it’s not some plain vanilla “we work with individuals and families and businesses.”

A simple, repeatable statement of value typically is one that entices the other person by talking their language. So, an advisor says they work with corporate executives getting ready to retire from companies such as Abbott Labs.

I’ve heard from advisors who say that if they say they work with people who are getting ready to retire from Abbot Labs, what about someone who is a corporate executive at Pfizer? Is that person interested? Well, they’re not uninterested, because they know the advisor works with people like them.

So, when you get very specific about whom you work with, it is the most powerful way to be enticing to that person. Maybe it’s business owners, and that’s OK. “Business owners” would be a generalization, but it’s specific enough— if I’m a business owner and you say you work with business owners, or maybe more precisely you say you work with entrepreneurs, then I say, maybe he can work with me.

But it’s being specific in your wording. It’s not being crazy or kitschy. It’s being who you are. Typically that’s best communicated by whom you are associated with. 

So, let’s say you really do work with individuals and families and businesses. Then the question is, how can you be more specific? It’s taking a look at what the categories are. If you said you work with executives and I’m a physician, am I interested in working with you? Probably more so than if you said you work with individuals and families.

You have to be in that right position so that you’re at least not turning them away. When you’re doing it verbally, you can have a pocketful of simple, repeatable statements of value.

For instance, we have an advisor who works with all sorts of people and works with a large firm. When he went to a particular business function, he didn’t know the people there but he knew they were teachers.

He went there and they asked, “What do you do?” which is a typical question and one that many advisors cannot answer in a compelling way.

He said, “I’m a financial advisor at XYZ Company and actually we work with a lot of teachers. We’ve found that a lot of teachers right here in this county are making mistakes on their 403(b) selection.”

One of the teachers asked, “What kind of mistakes?” The next thing you know, he has a conversation started and he’s holding court with the teachers. One of them said, “I probably should come in and bring my statements because I’m probably making the same mistakes that you’re talking about.”

All of a sudden you become a lot more interesting than what typically happens to a financial advisor or insurance agent when they go to a business function and somebody asks, “What do you do?” And they say, “I’m a financial advisor,” and that person no longer wants to talk to them at all.

It’s changing the message so that it’s in your favor. The only way you can make it in your favor is by making it about them, because if you make it about you, the only person you’re talking to is yourself.

FELDMAN: You have said that having a good plan is important, but that the execution is everything. What are some tips that you give to advisors to help them execute their plans?

KUZMESKI: One of the things I hear a lot from agents and advisors is that sometimes things simply get out of control. 

The home office called and you’ve got to prepare these reports. You had a whole bunch of other things on your list and you just didn’t get to do it. Day after day, it sort of feels like that. You have to change the way that works because you have only so much time in the day. 

One thing to keep in mind is every single financial advisor is on even footing in terms of time. No advisor has more time than another advisor. When you look at some of the greatest leaders in the country and the world, they control their time. 

So you must get absolute about your time because the only thing that matters is execution. Motivation matters with execution – are you motivated to do what you need to do? Talk first about simply making time for it, then you can talk about the actual execution of some of the tasks that you may or may not want to do, but it starts off with figuring out what you’re going to do with your time.

We work with a lot of Type A, attention deficit disordered financial advisors, and their minds go a million miles an hour. They’re brilliant. They do all these wonderful things, but their time gets away from them because of that. We recommend putting 30-minute blocks of time on your calendar. It’s not the entire day blocked up with 30-minute blocks of time, but only for really critical things that you need to do. 

For instance, we have a financial advisor at a firm who says, “If I can just get in touch with my clients, it seems like everything is better.” 

He said he did not have time to call them during a typical day. I said, “Put a 30-minute block on your calendar every single day in the morning — not at the end of the day because you’ll never get to it. And just commit to 30 minutes. Tell your assistant, ‘No calls come in while I’m making these outbound calls.’”

He started doing this and found he also had to put a 30-minute block of time at the end of each day to return calls because he wasn’t reaching everybody and they were calling him back. He generated so much activity, so much new business, and ended up with something he didn’t expect, which was referrals. It was simply by doing what he knew he should be doing, which is just getting back in touch with some of his clients.

That 30-minute block of time is what did it and allowed him to help control his day. We’ve seen advisors put two-hour time blocks on their calendar and not start it at all because it’s too big of a time block. But you probably can block off that 30 minutes, unless it’s a critical, dire emergency for somebody in your family.

That has been a big game-changer for some of the clients whom we work with. 

With this particular advisor, he was calling his current clients. Those are not difficult calls. But calling to develop new strategic alliance relationships is more difficult. 

Those are the calls when you say, “I don’t feel like doing it today. I just don’t feel on top of my game.” That’s where the problems start. 

Some days you don’t feel on top of your game, but making the calls is better than not making them. If you feel uncomfortable about doing something, the key is preparation before you do it.

If you’re going to call a strategic alliance and you’re not sure what you’re going to say, it would make sense that you would spend 30 minutes on Monday figuring out what you’re going to say when you make the call on Tuesday. That’s scripting it out and feeling more comfortable with what you would say.

 Maybe doing a quick Google search and maybe figuring out on LinkedIn who this person is or who you know that he knows can make an introduction better. That little bit of preparation makes a big difference. The problem with a lot of financial advisors is that they are extroverts, and extroverts will feel like they can wing it when they go into a situation.

But the introvert would say, “I don’t know what to say” and they would put off making the call. But if the introverts and the extroverts both could be more prepared going into that call, it’s always better, especially for an extrovert because an introvert will be more prepared. 

An extrovert, if they convince themselves to be prepared, will be off-the-charts good. Otherwise, an extrovert will get off the phone and say, “Why did I say that? I didn’t mean to say that.” But if they were prepared, they might have had a better script to follow.

FELDMAN: What are some tips that you give to advisors when they aren’t feeling motivated to make those calls and take that 30-minute block of time?

KUZMESKI: If I’m an athlete and I am getting ready to go out for the big game, I may not feel my best. My legs might hurt. I might have a cold. Something might not be feeling exactly right, but I’ve got to go play.

The preparation that an athlete will do before going on the field sometimes is extravagant. I mean they will focus on visualization and meditation. 

The mind, more so than the body, is what you need to prepare for when you’re making phone calls, obviously. 

So, what do you need to do? Is it listening to music? Is it reading something? Is it just focusing and remembering why you have to do this? Sometimes people hire a coach. There are accountability coaches out there who will say, “You need to make 10 calls this week or whatever it is and I’ll talk to you on Friday.” Sometimes that motivates people.

But I think every person is motivated differently. You can set your goals for the day, set your goals for the week and then see if you’re reaching them. Some people just aren’t geared that way. 

We have one advisor who says to his assistant, “I need to do this, this and this today. If I do not do these things I’ll give you $20 to make sure I do them.” She says, “Why should I make sure you do them if you’re going to give me $20?”

Then they switched it around so that he would put $20 in a bowl when he did what he needed to do. That pile grew and then they would either have a nice dinner or he’d give the money or a department store gift card to the assistant. But it was something where they were both now motivated.

It started off a little silly and it ended up to be something that actually worked, so it just depends on what’s going to get you moving forward. 

The worst thing that I see happening is you think back and say you could have done more. You could have been better. You could have had more clients. 

You have to figure out a way to motivate on a daily basis so it’s not like you’re looking at a long time span, because it just doesn’t seem to work, especially with so many changing things that happen in the environment for a financial advisor today. You’ve just got to figure out what you can do today to keep yourself motivated.

FELDMAN: Have you found a common denominator for greatness and success with advisors?

KUZMESKI: I look at this particular topic a lot because when I first started as a marketing consultant working with financial advisors, I realized that there was something different between someone who was already a top producer and someone who wasn’t.

I looked at things like their self-esteem, self-advocacy, motivation, drive and type of personality. It really came down to their social intelligence and I wrote an entire book about this called The Connectors.

Social intelligence does not mean that somebody is charismatic and an extrovert. Social intelligence means that you can connect and communicate with the other person effectively. It is about reading the other person. Those who are really good at that seem to excel in financial services.

I make the clarification that it’s not someone who’s an extrovert or charismatic, because we think of extroverts as being connecters and maybe having a high level of social intelligence. But extroverts like to talk, and talking is not a good characteristic for social intelligence, listening is. So when you look at those who are good listeners, those who are curious, sometimes we say, “She really cares.” 

That’s a common thing I hear financial advisors say: “This is my main differentiator – I really care.” Well, a lot of advisors say that and actually there is some truth to that, but what does that actually mean? It means, when you come right down to it, that they’re able to listen and affect their clients so they feel like they’re cared for as opposed to saying I really care for you. 

It’s pretty amazing because we work with top advisors who gross more than a million dollars and some of the most successful insurance brokers, yet when we look at what they’re actually doing, there is no similarity in marketing tactics. There is no similarity in if they are asking for referrals or they’re in this niche or that niche. We used to get calls all the time – and we still do – asking what are the tactics that you’re recommending to the top advisors you’re working with?

I wish that it were some great red zone marketing strategy that I came up with, but it’s not. The advisors were successful when they came to us. We helped them get to their next level and sometimes we helped them continue and increase that social intelligence as well, though it’s not a main consulting tactic that we use. Sometimes we have to go back and revisit social intelligence because what made that advisor successful was their ability to connect and communicate.

But if they become larger and stop communicating with their clients and their strategic alliances and their staff is doing more of the communication, we see the referrals go down, business is down and they ask what’s the difference? What’s going on?

They haven’t been communicating. That social intelligence hasn’t been radiating and their staff has to be more socially intelligent and we’ve got to be able to train them to do that because social intelligence is something that we can learn as opposed to IQ or something we’re born with. Social intelligence, we can learn. We can learn the tactics of how to be more socially intelligent and on any given day we could be really socially intelligent or not so socially intelligent depending on who we’re talking with. It’s about focusing that social intelligence when we really need it.

FELDMAN: How do you improve your social intelligence?

KUZMESKI: The first thing that we look at is listening. As I said, it’s such a basic thing, but it works. 

If you think about the last meeting that you had with a client, how much time did you spend listening and how much time did you spend talking? We’ve done surveys of some of the top financial advisors for the past nine years and we’ve looked at a lot of things with their meetings – do they have an agenda, how long are the meetings, what types of meetings they have.

The top advisors consistently come in listening more than 50 percent of every single meeting. Now when we also look at it, when we get more adept – and we’ve done some focus groups on this – we have an advisor in Sarasota, Fla., who said, “If I can listen for 85 percent of the very first meeting I have with somebody, the sale just closes itself.” 

So, we got more in depth. What does that mean? Why does that happen? It’s like the relationship between a psychologist and a patient. The patient knows nothing about the psychologist; the psychologist knows everything about the patient.

What kind of questions are you asking to be more socially intelligent? I’ll give you an example of a question that a typical advisor might ask as part of a conversation with a first-time prospect. They might ask about their health because they need to know how the prospect’s health is if they’re going to put together any kind of reasonable solution or insurance policy. If prospects are not sure that they want to do business with that advisor, they will likely say good or fine and they are not telling the truth.

They don’t want to tell them because they’re not sure they want to work with them. I don’t want to give you my medical history. I don’t even know if I want to do business with you. But if we ask the question differently, we get an answer and why do we want that answer? To come up with a good solution, of course, but health is one of the top three of clients’ really important things. If we’re listening about their health we’re actually going a little bit deeper in our relationship with that person.

Instead of asking, “How’s your health?,” you ask, “What’s your biggest health concern?” They have to answer that question. It’s too big of a lie, so they’ll think about it and they’ll give you some answers. Typically when you ask a question like that, they will give you on average five answers to that one question. You might even find out about their mother’s health history, because once you open the door and they walk through it, they kind of keep going.

We call it asking big questions and it can be done with anyone by adding a few words into a regular question. The words are “the biggest thing,” “the best thing,” “the worst thing,” “the one thing,” “your favorite thing.” So when you’re talking to a business owner, you might ask in the course of the conversation, “What’s your biggest challenge?”

Business owners have a thousand challenges and they talk to very few people about any of them. They’re not walking down the street saying, “Hey, I had trouble making payroll this week.” They’re not telling anybody these things. They’re not telling their spouse, their employees or the guy they’re going golfing with. But they tell you because you might actually be able to help them. They’re divulging something that’s very important to them and when that happens the relationship changes. 

A lot of times, I’ll hear from financial advisors who have a socially intelligent receptionist who knows just as much about the clients as the financial advisor does, but she’s never been in any of the meetings uncovering all the financial planning sorts of things. But that person knows what the name of the woman’s dog is and what kind of allergies she has. You go down the list of all these things that that receptionist knows. Why? Because she was a good listener. Often I’ve heard financial advisors say, “If I ever lost this one person, I’d probably lose some clients,” because that person is very socially intelligent and connected with those clients. It’s all about those connections. 


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