Jan 03 2023 / Round the Table Magazine
Break the slump
At some point in their careers, advisors hit a losing streak. A slump can feel like it will last forever when you can’t figure out why things are not working. You might even question whether you have what it takes to continue being a financial services professional. So how do you get out of this rut? MDRT members who have been there share what they did to get out of their funk and rebound.
Steven Yam Seng Yee, CIAM, ChFC, a 26-year MDRT member from Singapore, recalls a slump when he was only halfway toward requalifying for MDRT with two months left in the year. The pressure was on because his wife, Shirley Lim-Yam, ChFC, CLU, now a 23-year MDRT member, just joined the business, qualified for MDRT membership and planned to attend her first MDRT Annual Meeting with her husband. Yam had to hit his goals if he was to accompany her. He practically disappeared from the office during those last couple of months, hitting the road with the motivation to meet new prospects so he could accompany Shirley at the meeting. After almost four decades of riding peaks and valleys in this profession, his elixir for rebounding is to build momentum with activity. Rather than dwelling on the numbers you must attain to reach a goal, focus on what you can do today.
“To get back on track, I look at how I can win today,” Yam said. “To me it’s about getting back into the winning spirit, because the moment we are in a momentum, we’re in a winning spirit, and I’m winning one day at time with the activities that I’m saying I want to do.”
His first step is going back to the basics and asking himself why is it important to stay in this profession? Why am I an advisor? What’s in it for me? Yam explains that if he can’t answer the why, then staying in the slump is too easy. The answers to his whys are supporting his family and fulfilling his calling to take care of clients. If an advisor is still disheartened by how far away accomplishing their goals seem to be, then control the controllables, such as the attitude you bring into each day and focus on activities, not the numbers that remind you how short you are of your goal.
No advisor controls whether a prospect will do business with them or not, but everyone can control who they call. Yam explained that if he reaches out to 10 people but only closes one deal, he doesn’t see the rejections and ignored voicemails as a sign that there is something wrong with him. Rather, he sees the 10 calls contributed to his one success because nine calls perhaps taught him how to handle difficult personalities or sharpen his presentation to land the single sale.
“When I focus on activities instead of looking at where I am in a slump, I’m looking at getting back on track and winning one day at a time. Then I feel more confident, and it’s easier for me to get back on track,” Yam said.
Control the controllables
Another easy activity to launch during a slump is joining the Five by Nine Club. Make five phone calls before 9 a.m. “The point is to jump into your day every day,” said R.J. Kelly, AEP, MSFS, a 43-year MDRT member from San Diego, California, USA. “Typically, 8:30 to 9 o’clock is a great time to catch entrepreneurs, CPAs, attorneys and other professionals before they start their day. If you make five phone calls every day for five days in a row, give yourself a treat. Have some fun with it. Even if you don’t get a real voice, you’ve got to reward yourself for being active, for doing what you can control.”
Also, put yourself in an environment where you limit the number of distractions. Turn off notifications on your computer and your phone, and get rid of email reminders. While activities are a step toward breaking the slump, don’t overwhelm yourself with 20 activities on your to-do list. Identify the most important tasks you can take on for that day. Kelly plans just three priorities per day, so a good day for him is not getting 20 things done, but just the three. Going further, Kelly recommends identifying activities that can put things in motion to generate income 90 days from now, which is more manageable than trying to put your arms around reaching an annual target.
“Part of being in a slump is you don’t have income coming in now, or you may not have income coming in 90 days from now. So, you may have your bucket really full now, but if you’re not doing things to generate income 90 days from now, you’re going to be in slump 90 days from now,” Kelly said.
To get back on track, I look at How I Can win today.
—Steven Yam Seng Yee, CLU, ChFC
Another recommendation is to get with people who are your raving fans, who want to see you succeed, like your best clients. You can ask them for help to find “other quality people like you.” Reach out to four or five people, whether they are prospects, clients, potential centers of influence or fellow MDRT members, each week by phone or, even better, offer to meet for coffee or take them out for breakfast.
“I like paying for people’s meals, and the way I approach it is to say, ‘If you wouldn’t have any objection — and since it was my idea to get together — I’d like to treat you for breakfast. If you want to get back together another time and pick that up, that will be fine.’ Most of the time they say yes, and we’re getting connected at a deeper level,” Kelly said.
And don’t go into a cocoon. Get with fellow MDRT members who will check up on each other and act as an accountability group.
“Accountability is important because people in slumps usually are not accountable to anyone,” Kelly said. “You need somebody who has a vested interest in you being successful and will hold your feet to the fire. You have to make a commitment that will hurt if you don’t keep it.”
Talk to someone
Mathew Thomas Fogarty, CFP, Dip FP, repeatedly tried to contact a big-fee client but found she was ghosting him. The negative thoughts started to cascade into a vicious cycle of doubt. Was he losing this touch? Was he falling out of favor with the client? But a chat with a fellow Aussie and MDRT member set him straight. He told Fogarty, “You have to get out of your head” and suggested he contact the client with a script for voicemail, explaining what exactly he needed to talk to her about and to ask where their client-advisor relationship stood. Turns out the client had just taken over her father’s business and was overwhelmed by issues related to selling it. He assisted her with that matter, and the relationship emerged stronger.
Don’t stay isolated when you feel like you’re in a losing streak. Fogarty belongs to an accountability group with three other members who regularly check in on each other and talk for about an hour about their wins and losses for the week. The group calls started during the pandemic lockdowns and often turn into an inspiration session.
“If my calendar is looking light on appointments, we can discuss that, or you can look at some ideas that other people are doing, and they inspire you,” Fogarty said. “If Jamie is making 25 calls a week, maybe I should be making 25 calls, but I didn’t think about it before. It’s stuff that we know we should be doing. There’s a saying that we get a good idea, and we stopped using it because it worked.”
Another getting-out-of-his-head tactic is writing an angst list. Fogarty simply writes a list of whatever is annoying him, which helps him to stop thinking about. “Sometimes articulating exactly what the issue is on paper does help clarify it, and you don’t have to think about it. I suppose the majority of things we worry about don’t really occur, and the best way to get out of your slump is to not sit in your little office because it just gets in your head,” Fogarty said.
Stay connected and get inspired
Seven years ago, when Ana Sofia Rodriguez, MBA, was in the hospital going into labor, she was sending messages to clients to cancel meetings. The 17-year MDRT member from Panama City, Panama, dedicated an inordinate amount of time to working before her son was born. Now with a little one in
her arms, she reassessed whether a career could fit in with her new priorities.
“So, you question yourself, why do I do this? How do I go back to (being an advisor)?” she said. “Now that I have a baby that depends on me, and I need to share time with, my time becomes more valuable. How do I make the time that I am spending with clients going to meetings that sometimes don’t end up well more worthwhile? That’s the first time I questioned what I did and had a kind of a slump.”
While she wrestled with what to do next, Rodriguez was invited to be an MDRT Foundation trustee. She had not returned to her advisor duties just yet, but serving on the Foundation board, which at the time met in person twice a year, kept her connected with the profession and to the different perspectives of MDRT members. That exposure ignited her desire to come back.
“Through the Foundation, I got this wonderful opportunity to see all the work that’s being done with charities all over the world, and everyone sitting there has their own business. So, I was able to get into these conversations about business or, like a fly on the wall, listen to these conversations. Sometimes you think something is only happening to you, but then you hear about someone else having the same experience, and you immediately feel less alone. In many cases, just hearing someone who is so excited about their work rekindles something in you that you might have forgotten about the business that pushes you to take action,” Rodriguez said.
She resumed working part time at first and organized her schedule to determine when to meet with clients and when to be at home with her baby. Eventually, she found spaces in her new schedule that allowed her to be more productive and “not feel guilty about working and being a mom at the same time.” Now, she takes her son to school in the morning, goes to the office and meets clients until she picks him up from school at 3 p.m. They have lunch and do schoolwork together until about 6 p.m., when she takes on one to two client meetings before having dinner as a family and then bedtime.
One challenge she embraced after hearing other fellow Foundation trustees talk about their successes was running in the Chicago Marathon. Previously, she had not run more than 5 kilometers, but after hearing a fellow member talk about running the race 10 times, she was inspired to acquire a new habit, hired a coach and trained. She ran the Chicago race in 2019 and recently completed the Berlin Marathon.
“By being in that room with those kinds of people, you can’t help but to leave and ask, What can I do to make my life better? How can I challenge myself?” she said.
More of getting back to the basics
Cutting corners can cause a slump. Advisors forget their training and lessons learned from previous experiences and try to bring a prospect on board via the fast-track lane.
“We forget to show them they might have financial problems or opportunities and just go straight into solutions,” said Anthony Matthews Jones, BSC (Hons), QFA, a 15-year MDRT member from Wexford, County Wexford, Ireland. “If a prospect or client doesn’t realize that they have a financial area of concern, then they will most definitely not be interested in our solutions. So, our slump just gets worse.”
A slump, he noted, often occurs following a prolonged period of success where advisors feel they can do no wrong and business is easy. So, they ditch the structured process they refined over the years and jump into the fast-track lane, which only leads to delays and cancellations.
“Remember what worked and remember your process,” Jones said. “In fact, I tend to slow down my process, concentrate even more on showing my prospects and clients the problems as clearly as I can, and take the foot completely off the pressure pedal. The slump will indeed finish very quickly once your prospect asks you for solutions, rather than you volunteering them during the first meeting. Remember your first principles, your process and the reason why you became successful in the first place, and slumps become short-lived. The best motivator in a slump is a sale.”