When it comes to prospecting and cold-calling, there are few stories more compelling (and inspirational) than Ben Feldman. What is equally irresistible is to speculate on what lessons from Ben Feldman can be carried forward today.
Ben spent his life in East Liverpool, Ohio, a river town of 20,000. He was one of nine children of Russian immigrants. He never finished high school and, at the age of 16, went to work for his father at $5.00 per week. Ben was short, stout, and balding, and spoke slowly and deliberately with a distinct lisp.
He began his career with New York Life in 1942, and worked there until 1993. Over his 50-year career, his sales volume exceeded $1.5 billion; with a third of it coming after he “retired” at the age of 65. During his peak year, he topped $100 million. His daily record was $20 million.
Ben developed a niche target…the owners of small industrial corporations that were flourishing in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania in the years after World War II. He would drop in on business owners without an appointment. Prior to his visits, he would gather information about the company from the standard Dun & Bradstreet reports. He knew the key players in the business, the value of the company, and if the company was profitable. On many occasions, he would drop in with an illustration that he had previously prepared for $1-2 million in coverage.
Ben was quietly brash. He knew of one prominent Youngstown real estate developer who had successfully fended off Ben’s efforts for weeks and months. Finally, Ben dropped in unannounced, and asked the businessman’s secretary to take five $100.00 bills into her boss with this note, “If I don’t have a good idea, you can keep the money.” Ben was ushered in…and left the meeting with a $14 million insurance policy.
Ben was famously known for his “power phrases”, aphorisms that were designed to woo clients and inspire him:
- "Doing something costs something. Doing nothing costs something. And quite often, doing nothing costs more."
- "The key to a sale is an interview, and the key to an interview is a disturbing question."
- "You’ll have the same problems when I walked out as you had when I walked in…unless you let me take your problems with you."
Would Ben Feldman’s Methods Work Today?
Is Ben Feldman a quaint anachronism of a bygone sales era, or a source of inspiration for financial advisors today as they consider the most effective methods to find new clients? What are Ben Feldman's keys to success that might be instructive for today’s financial advisors?
- Conviction and principles. Ben was a huge advocate for life insurance. He bought life insurance for himself. "If I don't buy it, I can't sell it," he used to say, so he kept buying until he had $6 million worth.
- Niche market. Ben's ambitious young businessmen clients in the East Liverpool region were well-suited for insurance coverage, which enabled Ben to draw courage from his cause. He really felt he was helping people, and this confidence propelled him. What Ben Feldman offerred his clients was completely in synch with their needs and concerns.
- Work ethic. He worked 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. He'd drop in on four or five prospects a day, many of them strangers. Nobody outworked Ben Feldman.
- Always forward-looking. Ben Feldman died in 1993 at 81. A few years before his death he was asked about the largest policy he had ever written. He responded, “I can’t say. I haven’t written it yet.”
Is comparing the methods of Ben Feldman to the methods of today’s financial advisor an unanswerable question, equivalent to comparing Babe Ruth to Miguel Cabrera? Possibly. Or does it just confirm that the virtues of hard work, persistence and motivation are timeless and will get a financial advisor just as far in 2013 as in 1942?
What do you think?
[For more on Ben Feldman, you may want to look for this book, The Feldman Method. It’s out-of-print, and you also may find it in your local library.]
For a complimentary list of 99 different client acquisition techniques, please download the ClientWise Learning tool that follows: