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Caring creates a referral circle
Caring creates a referral circle

Nov 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Caring creates a referral circle

Watanabe cultivates COIs to crack open tough millennial and Gen Z markets for life insurance.

Topics Covered

Moving among circles where contacts can turn into clients is a standard prospecting tactic for advisors, but occasionally the places and activities that yield new business, like a rugby field, can be a pleasant surprise.

Motoki Watanabe, a four-year MDRT member from Tokyo, Japan, was a last-minute replacement to fill a vacancy on a rugby team. When he arrived at the pitch before the match, he was met by a highly regarded player who also was gruff and somewhat unfriendly. Watanabe introduced himself and mentioned he is a life planner. “What is a life planner?” his new teammate bluntly asked.

Watanabe answered that he was an insurance agent. The rugby player asked Watanabe to check the only policy he had back then, which was a group insurance plan from the company that sponsored the team. But Watanabe did not immediately accept that request. Instead, he invited his new teammate to watch a soccer game with his family. 

“I want people to know me and like me as a person, not as an insurance agent,” said Watanabe. “That’s why I try to avoid jumping on business.” 

They met several more times without discussing business, until one day the player implored, “When are you going to review my insurance?” Watanabe finally accepted his request and pointed out the areas in his policy where he was lacking coverage and where he had too much. Watanabe had been an advisor for just two years then, and during the next few months, his teammate referred him to as many as 40 prospects, most of whom were the client’s colleagues and other athletes who admired him.

Identify the center of influence

“Brilliant people are almost always at the center of a team, a group or an organization,” he said. “They are most likely the head of a cheering squad, the captain of a soccer team or the chorus conductor. If these powerful influencers recognize you as a nice person, they can help create a circle of referrals, just as the rugby player set off a chain of referrals.” 

Watanabe, 31, has made people within his generation his target market even though 20-somethings are less willing to purchase life insurance compared with older generations. So how did the two-time Court of the Table qualifier succeed in cultivating a difficult market?

“When it comes to buying insurance, sickness or injury could disqualify even young people from being insurable,” Watanabe said. “No one can avoid getting sick or injured. So, I advise them to buy insurance while they have a chance before it is too late.” 

People are attracted to caring people, and those personalities tend to have many relationships that can potentially create a circle of referrals. Therefore, he actively engages in making personal connections with such people. However, the strategy to draw referrals is not so simple, as these centers of influence (COIs) can be protective about who they allow into their circle. 

“The person who attracts people around him or her also cares about them. They care about their family too,” Watanabe said, adding that he has been very lucky to meet the right people, which in turn suggests he is also a COI for these people and values a personal relationship with them. 

For Watanabe, cultivating younger clients now can lead to developing a pipeline of future prospects, as his clients will have children and likely will be more open about insuring them or getting more coverage for themselves to protect their family. 

“Assuming that those children grow up, get married and have their children, there is nothing but good in having younger clients,” he said.

Well-thought-out planning

A positive attitude makes for a good impression on the younger generation, and as Watanabe’s cheerful disposition is welcomed by his clients, they’re more open to accepting his advice. 

“There is no easy and quick way to prove the validity of insurance products once they are put in place,” Watanabe said. “That’s why I carefully formulate hypotheses and consider all the possibilities before planning for clients. It is important to keep a confident attitude and share a positive outlook with the clients based on well-thought-out hypotheses.” 

Sometimes in the advisor-client dynamic, the advisor takes the lead during the meeting and proposes a solution that is not evaluated by anyone. So, the outcome could be that the plan is based on a hypothesis the advisor is not sure of, or the client buys a plan that is not right for them. 

“When it comes to dealing with people, things don’t always go as expected. When I’m formulating a hypothesis for insurance planning, I don’t aim to be perfect. I first get my Plan Do Check Act process going,” he said, referring to a four-step problem-solving technique popularized by quality-control guru W. Edwards Deming with a continuous feedback loop that allows the user to formulate and test theories. “With this process, I can get closer to the proper solution for my clients. That’s the way I do it.” 

Tetsuo Kageshima writes for Team Lewis, a communications agency assisting MDRT with content development for Asia-Pacific markets. Contact mdrteditorial@teamlewis.com