If there is a first family of insurance, it’s the Feldmans.
Ben Feldman was the legendary salesman for New York Life who sold many millions of dollars of life insurance in a career that began in the Great Depression, when millions of dollars meant something. He was credited with selling more than a $1.5 billion in face value, but even his son Marv can’t say for sure how much it really was. All he knows is it was a lot.
Marv had a front row seat to his father’s greatness, but he’s done great things in his own right. After building a successful career and agency, he took on the greater task of improving life insurance awareness in the consumer market.
At the age of 60, he switched careers and became the CEO of what is known as Life Happens, which promotes September as Life Insurance Awareness Month (LIAM). In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman (no relation, by the way), Marv talks about his new mission, his father, his own career and some powerful sales advice.
PAUL: How did you get involved with Life Happens?
MARV: When I was finishing my term on the Million Dollar Round Table executive committee and I was coming off as the past president in 2003, they [what was then known as the LIFE Foundation] asked me to join the board.
I was swamped with everything and couldn’t do it. But they kept coming back and finally I joined.
When David Woods retired as CEO, they asked me if I would temporarily take over as the CEO for six months, while they had a search committee looking for his replacement. As the six months ended, they came back to me and said, “Can we convince you to take over as the CEO?”
At that point I was ready to make some changes in my own career, so it was an exciting time. I was age 60, and I said, you know, who at age 60 changes careers? But, I went from being an agent to a full-time CEO, still in the insurance business. I was still involved in maintaining my practice, but was slowing down on the production side, and moving that over to my brother and my niece.
PAUL: Sounds like you had a succession plan?
MARV: I have succession in place. I basically sold my practice to my brother, with the exception of what we call the A-type clients. I maintain those, and what’s happening is that those A clients are now being transitioned to my niece, who’s in Arizona. She’s a 30-year New York Life career agent.
PAUL: It’s still a family business then. Is the agency still in Ohio?
MARV: The original Feldman Agency is in East Liverpool, Ohio. When I started in the business, I started with New York Life in Columbus. I signed my first contract with them in 1966, while I was still a senior in college. Then I signed my actual career contract in March of ’67. So I’m coming up on 50 years as a full-time agent with New York Life.
I spent two-and-a-half years in the field, in Columbus, about 200 miles from my father. Then five years in management, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and probably would still be in management if it weren’t for the fact that my mother developed terminal cancer.
My dad said, “Can you come back to help?” Then when she passed away, he said, “Would you please leave New York Life’s management program and stay full-time to help me in my agency?” And that’s what we did.
PAUL: That’s because your mom had been working actively in the agency, right?
MARV: Yes, she took care of all the financial aspects in the agency. She was there on a daily basis.
PAUL: During your tenure, the LIFE Foundation became Life Happens. What’s next for the organization?
MARV: There are a couple of things that we’ve done. Last year, we developed and released, at the MDRT meeting, the Life Happens Pro platform.
Life Happens actually has three separate, distinct websites — only one is consumer-facing. That’s lifehappens.org.
That’s where consumers go to learn about the products, and what our products do, to get the motivation and the education that they need. Then there’s a Life Happens Pro, which is for agents and advisors.
That’s a subscription service, which will help them develop their own full marketing resource program that allows them to use all of our materials, to co-brand them, to change anything that needs to be changed — colors, verbiage, pictures. Whatever has to be done to make it compliant for their organization, we will do for them on a subscription basis.
Then there’s the Life Happens Pro Home Office platform, which has a lot of materials for the home offices to use. You can see what other companies are doing, how they’re using it, what works and what doesn’t work.
One of the things that we did change is, if a company no longer supports us, or hasn’t supported us, they can’t access anything anymore, except the consumer site. But it used to be that the companies could use us whether they supported us or not. That’s no longer the case. They have to financially support us in order to work the resources into their own marketing programs.
That was done to make sure we continue to get the funding that we need. There’s tremendous downward pressure on the funding, from the companies, because of the economic situation, with all the regulatory issues and the increased long-term interest rates that might be out there for the foreseeable future. Companies have been in cutback mode and reorganization mode since 2008. We’re coming up on eight, nine years that that’s been happening.
What we’re seeing is that there’s so much more inward focus on the companies, on their own brand, that they really lost track of reaching out to the consumers, the middle market, as an industry. And that’s why there’s a lack of trust from the consumers toward the financial services industry. It’s all about their own brands.
What we try to do is to educate and motivate the consumer and build the confidence in the industry, in all the different distribution systems that the companies use.
We’ve gone 100 percent digital and no longer have anything in print. That makes it easier for companies to use. We have more than 3,000 social media posts per year that the companies can access. Content is key in social media, as you know, and we’re making all that available to our member companies.
And by doing these types of things, it enabled us to go out and get a spokesperson this year like Danica Patrick, who’s a professional racecar driver. We were having a phone call talking about the LIAM resources and what we wanted to do for a spokesperson. One of my board members said, “Let’s do something different this year. Instead of telling the story of somebody who had a loss, let’s talk about somebody who’s in a risky profession, and why they might consider life insurance a key, because of the risk that they have.”
I threw in the name of Danica Patrick. I’m a gearhead, and I love anything that goes fast — anything in motorsports is my thing. And it turned out she was the spokesperson we ended up using.
PAUL: Didn’t Danica have an interesting life insurance story?
MARV: She did. It turned out that her grandfather died and the grandmother had to sell most of the farm in order to pay for the costs and the taxes. We didn’t know that story existed at the time we reached out to her to ask if she would be our representative, but it came out in the interview process. So not only do we have somebody who’s in a high-risk profession — and she talks about risk —she also talks about her grandfather passing away.
PAUL: For Life Insurance Awareness Month, what are some good ideas that agents could use in their marketing?
MARV: We have all of the realLIFEstories, which are videos of insurance in action. One of the things I recommend is that agents conduct either an email campaign — or a hardcopy mail campaign if they prefer to send a letter — referring clients to the links to watch these particular stories. Because these are motivational stories that talk about how a product kept a family together, kept a business together, helped the loved ones in a time of need.
We’re trying to make sure that people have the security, the dignity and the peace of mind, through the utilization of our products. That’s what we do as an industry: We create money where none existed before, for the sole purposes of creating security, dignity and peace of mind. No other industry can do that. So these realLIFEstories reinforce what our products do.
The calculator that we have on the website is a magnificent piece to refer clients to. Many times, a client or a prospect will say, “Well, I don’t know how much I need.”
And instead of the agent or advisor saying, “You need to buy x dollars of life insurance,” they can suggest going to a nonprofit foundation website for the answer. Or if they’ve embedded it in their own website, they can tell them, “This is from a nonprofit organization.” It will then calculate and tell them what the needs are.
Now we have the need, whether it’s $100,000 or $10 million, and it’s time for the advisor and the client to sit down and talk about what needs to be done.
Then you start planning based on cash flow, asset allocation and all the insurance that fits for that particular situation. But now you’re dealing with a number that the client came up with, not a number told by the agent or advisor.
It makes it much easier for the planning to take place, because now you’re doing the things that the client knows need to be done.
PAUL: Content is extremely important for any type of marketing campaign.
MARV: Content is key — that’s one of the things the agents are struggling with. So we have materials to put out there. We have short videos that they can post, maybe 15 seconds or a minute. We have a brand-new Insurance 101 animated video. We also have a new risk video that we just finished and posted. We’re trying to soften the beaches. We can’t make the sale for companies and agents, but we can help develop the mindset. PAUL: Speaking of developing the mindset, you and your dad had techniques
for doing that. The “disturbing question” is definitely something your dad promoted and that you perfected. Would you tell us more about that?
MARV: Asking those disturbing questions makes a person understand that they have a problem. How are they going to solve that problem?
Hopefully they have enough confidence in my abilities as an agent that I can come back and make the recommendations as to what they need. The recommendation might have nothing to do with insurance.
It may just be that they need to redo their will or their trust or have a buy-sell agreement. But if you don’t ask the disturbing question, you’re never going to get beyond an introduction with that particular prospect.
PAUL: What’s your favorite disturbing question?
MARV: When I was going in to see a prospect for the first time, I liked going to their office. Most of my clients were small-business owners. They had small manufacturing plants, construction organizations or mining companies.
I wanted to see their operation, and see how it worked, meet the people and see who was important, or which family members were involved. I would look around the office at the pictures, awards and plaques.
Maybe they have models of the trucks or the construction equipment, and you start asking questions about all that. All of a sudden, you see the pride that they have in their organization. They want to talk about their organization and their people. Well, that lets you know what’s important to them.
And then you ask, “Well, what is your succession plan? What’s going to happen if you have to step away? Who’s going to take over the business? Are you going to give it to somebody? Are you going to sell it to somebody? What’s going to happen? Do you have partners? Well, what happens if one of your partners dies?”
You ask about the plan and let them talk. And it becomes very obvious to them very quickly that they have issues they haven’t addressed.
PAUL: What’s normally your next step after asking about a succession plan?
MARV: You can then ask, “You’ve built a tremendous estate — what plans have you made for paying the transfer costs when you die?” And they’ll say, “Well, what do you mean?”
You start making them understand that part of everything they own isn’t theirs. “You’ve got an $11 million estate, and you’ve got at least $5 million of inheritance taxes that have to be paid. Do you have $5 million in cash?” And they’ll say, “Well, no, of course I don’t have $5 million in cash.”
You just keep asking these questions, and it becomes very apparent to the person fairly quickly that they need to do some planning. They need to figure out how they’re going to do these things, because they hadn’t thought about it. That’s my job.
PAUL: Both you and your dad sold almost exclusively using concepts and not product. How important is that?
MARV: Very! People don’t need to remember what they bought, but why they bought it. The concept-sell is what’s important, not the product-sell. That’s really the key for everything my dad did and for everything I’ve done. That’s one of the things we stress through Life Happens.
PAUL: What is the best advice that you can give to a seasoned agent or advisor?
MARV: This is one for whether you’re brand new in the business or you’ve been around for 10 or 20 years. Sometimes, we have a mindset where we say, “This person needs $5 million of coverage,” but you’re uncomfortable making that proposal, because you think the number is too big.
So what I learned from my father is to think big. Don’t be afraid to talk to your client about what they need today, and what they’re going to need three, four, five, seven years down the road. Add a zero to the proposal.
And it’s amazing how often your prospects and your clients will agree, “Yeah, you’re right, I do need to think about a little bit down the road, we do need to take care of that future planning.”
You can move to that next level of production just by thinking big, by adding a zero.
One of the keys I learned from my father was to look at how much coverage the medical exam or the non-medical will permit that person to apply for. Maybe you’re applying for $250,000 of coverage, but the medical is good for up to $1 million.
Go back to the insurance company, and ask for an alternate policy, or an additional policy, for the difference. Then when you go back to the individual, you can say, “Here’s the $250,000 that we were talking about, but as soon as I walk out the door, everything we’ve done is out of date. We need to think about the growth of your business, growth of your income, growth of your family and the increased protection that you’re going to need over the next few years.”
You can tell them the company looked at the information that was provided and they really think you should have $500,000 of coverage, not $250,000. So, here’s the $250,000 we talked about and here’s another $250,000.
I might have a term policy and a permanent policy. We can buy a little bit of tomorrow by doing this.
That’s the concept of getting the person to understand that they have to do more than just deal with the problems of today.
PAUL: That is a powerful concept. Have you seen an increase in business with it?
MARV: In my own practice, that one tool jumped my production 20 percent on average.
So if people want to do something that will give them a 20 percent jump in production, they can do that. Still keep in mind what the client’s needs are — you don’t want to oversell.
PAUL: That’s a great way to increase production without seeing any more prospects!
MARV: It’s something that we did consistently in my practice. Yes, there may be a cost with the company when you have to send back policies to be redone or to be canceled, because the client didn’t want it. But you only have to have one or two people say yes, and it pays for all the expenses for the entire year.
So if you’re making $100,000 a year and this will give you another $20,000 of income, that’s a significant increase, and you’re not calling on any more people.
PAUL: We have a huge attrition rate in this industry. What would you tell a new agent coming into this business? What is something that they really need to know or focus on?
MARV: The problem I see is one that I have. I have severe call reluctance — I’m not afraid to tell people that I have it, because I do.
I hate to pick up the telephone. I hate to make the calls. I hate to prospect. And I use the word “hate” because that’s true — it’s not dislike; I hate it
But I forced myself to do it, because making those calls, or sending out the letters when I have to follow up with a phone call, is the most efficient way of reaching the people I need to get to.
I targeted specific market segments that I wanted to reach — the closely held business owners. That’s what I went after, and that’s all I prospected for. I forced myself to send out the letters and to make the phone calls. And it worked out quite well.
So new people coming in have to determine a market that they’re comfortable with because you only have so many friends and relatives you can call on.
Ask yourself, “What is your background? Where did you come from? What is your history? What do you know about?”
Maybe you’re from the trucking industry — fine, call on people from the trucking industry. Figure out where your comfort level is, target that market and go after that market in some manner.
Find a system, develop a system, work the system and make sure that system is working for you.
So I hired people in my firm to make phone calls for me, because I hated making them. And that worked great for me.
PAUL: In the sales industry, the more you can delegate, the more successful you’ll be, because you can focus on the right things.
MARV: Focus on the right things; delegate authority and responsibility. But you have to track what you’re doing and what they’re saying. You can’t just give it to them and walk away.
We trained our clients to call our support people when they had service questions. So the support staff did the service, and if there was an area that required my intervention, they would come to me and tell me.
Or if it was a situation where they thought I should know about something because it presented an opportunity to do something better for the client, then they would let me know. So I could call the client back and say, “I see that you called my office, and I saw some of the things you want to accomplish. It might be good for us to sit down and chat, and see if we need to make any revisions in the program that you currently have.”
Hiring support staff is a business decision that agents and advisors have to make. Sometimes that’s a very difficult decision to make, especially for people who are struggling — to put more money into the practice at a time when they feel they’re not doing as well as they should.
But if they do, they’ll have an exponential return, because they’ve got that much more time to go out and be efficient in front of clients and prospects.