Host: Tim Martin
Guest: Joe Buzzello
Episode 7: The CAP Equation – Joe Buzzello
March 29, 2014
Welcome to Success is Voluntary, a podcast devoted to helping you become the salesperson you were always meant to be, where it’s all about helping you learn the techniques and tools that will enable you to win in the increasingly competitive world of voluntary benefits. Welcome your host, a guy who has hired and trained over 2,000 voluntary benefit salespeople in his career, Tim Martin. Success is Voluntary, selling voluntary benefits.
Tim Martin: Yes, my name is Tim Martin, and you are listening to episode number 7 of Success is Voluntary. I can’t tell you how excited I am to introduce you to our guest today. Joe Buzzello is literally one of my favorite people on the planet. His friendship and mentorship over the years has meant more to me than he will ever know. Joe’s willingness to take me on in a formal mentor-mentee relationship literally changed the way I approached sales leadership and forever impacted my family.
When I made the decision in early 2013 to leave Aflac after 15 years and join Colonial Life, well, to say the decision was agonizing is an understatement. As you can imagine, there were moments of doubt. When the announcement was made, the first person to call and congratulate me was Joe B. I missed his call, and he left me the following voicemail. It made me emotional then, and it still does today.
Joe Buzzello: Hey, Tim Martin, this is Joe B. calling at 1:30 on Saturday. Hey, I just heard the good news that you accepted a position with Colonial. I think a TSM position over a few states out there in Arizona and a couple of surrounding states, I think, and I just wanted to congratulate you and tell you I was so happy for you to get that opportunity.
I know you were never given that opportunity with Aflac, unfortunately, but I’m certainly glad that you have a hold of that now, and I know you’ll tear it up. Anyway, I was just glad to hear that you were offered that. Anyway, if you want to, give me a call. All right. Have a great weekend. Bye-bye, Tim.
[End of Audio]
Tim: As you can see, Joe is the epitome of class. Before we get to the interview, I’m going to ask you to please stick around after the closing music, as I have a special announcement you won’t want to miss.
Okay, are you ready? Are you as excited as I am? As I put together this podcast, I got to listen to this interview three times, and each time I learned something new. What are we waiting for? Let’s get to it, shall we? Well, thank you, Joe, so much for being here. I really appreciate you joining us today. How is the weather? You are in Southern California today?
Joe: Yes, I’m enjoying the rush hour traffic on the streets of Los Angeles.
Tim: Oh, boy, yeah, no fun with that at all. That’s no bueno. Joe, I know you. We’ve known each other a long time, and I always let my guests introduce themselves. I know quite a bit about you over the years, but why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your journey to fame and fortune as it were.
Joe: Well, I don’t know that I’m famous yet. I’m still working on that, but I have been blessed with a great career in outside sales. I’ve been in commission sales and leadership, sales leadership, almost my entire career. I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, in the northern part of LA County, where I still live. I’m married. I have a beautiful wife who I believe you went to college with. You guys were…
Tim: Yeah, go Devils. Yeah, absolutely.
Joe: Yeah. Go Sun Devils, and you both played in the college band together.
Tim: Yeah, ASU marching band. You bet. In fact, I showed my staff, today, that picture of Beth and Janice, myself, and Josh with the tubas and everything. I had to kind of explain to a couple of them who you were, so absolutely. I showed them the picture and told them the story. That’s a great story.
Joe: We didn’t figure out that connection for years, and when we figured it out, I went, “Oh, my god, that’s you in that crazy picture,” but at any rate, my wife and I have a 16-year-old daughter.
Tim: Very talented, right?
Joe: She is talented. She is a talented musician. She is a competitive golfer, and she is still holding a 4.10 grade average, so we’re just crossing our fingers.
Tim: Wow. Wow.
Joe: She is busy, and she is a good kid. We live here in the Valley, and that brings you current, but I broke into commission sales. I was one of those “accidental” salespeople. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but in 1979, I answered a blind ad and wound up going to work in the insurance industry with Pennsylvania Life, and I was licensed before I knew what I was even getting a license for. I was selling $39 accident policies down the street here in the San Fernando Valley before I turned 19.
I broke into the industry in the summer of 1979. Then I spent about three years with Pennsylvania Life. I joke about it. I like to say they were a horrible company, but they had great training. They weren’t really that horrible. They were a fine company, but certainly the training, being able to learn how to walk down a street, cold call, sell a loss-leader accident policy, then call back on that account three months, six months, a year later, and add coverage and add other employees.
In fact, we were doing voluntary (or what we call cluster-employer-group selling) before voluntary payroll deduction sales came into vogue, so I had moved on. I actually had one or two detours out of the insurance industry. I actually started building, of all things, a multi-level marketing business with Amway back in the early…
Tim: Showing circles, right?
Tim: Showing the plan, absolutely.
Joe: Yeah, I drew circles. I drew circles for a few years and actually wound up really having a lot of success with Amway. I traveled the West United States speaking and training, as well as building a substantial downline, but it was interesting. The person who enticed me into the business and was my mentor also wound up orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, and he went to jail. Well, he served four and a half years of a six-year jail sentence.
Unfortunately, my family and I had invested money with him. Who would have thought the person who had taught you to do very well in multi-level marketing and had mentored you was also acting criminally? That was an incredible lesson, an incredible series of lessons, but after I resigned my distributorship, I went back in the insurance industry and really almost immediately found voluntary benefits with Aflac at the time (or they found me).
Between learning the business, the B2B side of the business (because I had always been a “kitchen table” salesperson) and learning the fine art of leading and building distribution, it turned out to be a great run. Some would call it a legendary run with Aflac. In the Los Angeles marketplace, we built an in-force book of business of $120 million of in-force business, as well as we established 19 sales offices in Southern California that did not exist.
We really built that organization from scratch, and between regional and district sales managers, we developed and hired about 200 of them. Seven of them went on to become state sales coordinators with Aflac, so we left a tremendous legacy. We actually met or exceeded our sales quota, at one stretch, 11 out of 12 years with 9 consecutive years, and most of those years were not single-digit growth but double-digit growth…12, 16, 18 percent. We had a great run.
I actually stepped away from that position. I was just, quite frankly, tired and needed a rest. I was on hiatus in 2009 and 2010, and then I kind of re-emerged in the industry as a vice president of another Fortune 500 company, Transamerica. I am actually just moving away from that position now, and I’m going to be speaking and training and writing full time, which are passions of mine, so that kind of brings you up to date of what I’ve done.
Tim: Well, you kind of stole one of my questions. I knew you had done Amway and had been in multi-level marketing for several years there, but expand on that for just a little bit. What did you learn there? Because I think most of our listeners have at least been enticed by multi-level marketing if they haven’t done it.
I was with Amway when I was too young to even understand what it really was, but it really did impact my life in a very positive manner. The tapes, the books, and the meetings made a huge impact on the way I think and a lot of my internal philosophies. I did not have near the success you did in that industry, but what were some of the lessons that you can take away from that because I love getting multi-level marketing people as recruits because they just have this belief that life can get better? What did you take away from that?
Joe: Well, there are probably three or four very tremendous and impactful lessons that I carried away. I think, first and foremost, I learned it was okay to dream, and I also learned, by starting to dream and putting my dreams and aspirations forward, keeping them in front of me, that whenever you are a dreamer, I think folks get attacked. Well-meaning people can approach you and you say, “Hey, don’t get too excited. Very few people make it in that business.”
I think when someone starts in the insurance industry and they start dreaming about becoming a six-figure, a multi-six-figure earner, the same thing can apply. Someone can try to steal your dream, a well-meaning person, so I learned how to not only dream, but I learned how to create a very healthy defense around people who try to take that dream away from you. I learned to be very careful whom I associated with. I learned that certainly you have to have a support system to support the dreams and aspirations that you have.
Another lesson that I took away from that business (and this is going to sound odd), I recognized quickly there were haves and have-nots. There were haves and have-nots with Penn Life and another agency I was with between Penn Life and the Amway business, but it was more dramatic in the MLM business. I learned a little bit about the Pareto principle, that old Italian guy, Vilfredo Pareto, who made the rule of 80-20, the law of the vital few, popular.
Joe: I guess it was in the late 1800s. He observed his pea patch. He grew peas, I guess, for a living. I don’t know if he did that for a hobby. It was probably for a living, and he realized that in his pea patch, his pea farm, 20 percent of the plants yielded 80 percent of his crops and his profit.
Then he expanded the theory. He started studying other socioeconomic phenomenon, and he learned that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by only 20 percent of the citizenship. Thereby, the philosophy, the Pareto principle, came to be known. If you look at many sales organizations (and MLM is fairly prototypical of this), 80 percent of the commissions are earned by only 20 percent of the people, so there are elite people, and there are the masses.
It would seem like a negative, but it actually worked the opposite magic on me. I wanted to study what made elite producers elite, and I wanted to jump that fence and get over there as quickly as possible.
Tim: That’s right. That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with the good old boys’ club as long as you’re in it, right? There’s nothing wrong with being in that top echelon, or having a top echelon, as long as you’re in it. That’s right.
Joe: No, and I guess the other big lesson that I took away is that when I got with some of those elite producers in the MLM business… There are elite producers with every company we’ve worked with. It could be an Aflac, a Colonial, a Transamerica, The Hartford, The Guardian, RE/MAX. In any industry, in any Fortune 500 company that represents that industry, there are elite producers.
When I got around these folks, I realized many of them didn’t seem better educated than I was. I was as articulate as they were, so what separates them? I think most of them had developed better competencies. They became extremely competent at the things that mattered within their industry, their industry, and their market, so they had really honed their competencies.
I think most of them had better attitudes than the rest. Their attitudes about winning and losing were interesting, and I remember one of the greatest… I’ll call it one of those V8 moments, where you hit yourself. You do what I call the Italian salute. You hit yourself over the head and say, “Wow.”
I was complaining about people who didn’t get it, didn’t get how great our business was, and dragging people to house meetings back in the early 80s. I was starting to make money. I had bought a brand-new Jaguar and bought a home. Gosh, when I was 22 years old, I bought a beautiful home south of the boulevard in the Woodland Hills area and started to live a very nice lifestyle.
When I would drag people to house meetings and I would draw circles, expose the marketing plan to them, and they didn’t get it, it confounded me, but early in my career, it wasn’t as confounding as it was just downright depressing that people didn’t get it. I had a gentleman, an older guy named Stan, and he was an engineer. He had the horn-rimmed glasses. I was complaining to him. He was kind of a fatherly figure.
He pulled me over to the side, and he said, “Come here.” He said, “You’re going to have a tough time in the business if you don’t learn these seven letters,” and he wrote S-W-S-W-S-W-N. He tore off a piece of his yellow pad, and he handed it to me. I said, “What does this stand for?” He said, “Well, it stands for ‘Some will. Some won’t. So what. Next.”
Tim: Joe, that’s so funny. I actually have that sign in my office. I have those seven letters. I had it engraved into a wooden sign, and I put it in my office, because in the industry we face the exact same thing.
Tim: When we’re recruiting, we’re sitting there with somebody who just got laid off again, got downsized again, can’t find a job because they feel like they’re being aged out of the workforce or whatever, and they won’t go on commission, and it just blows my mind. Just blows my mind.
Joe: Well, yeah, it especially was crushing when I was at my impressionable, early period in MLM. I just didn’t get it, and I don’t think I ever got used to it, but I did internalize that the attitudes that people have, real high producers, Tim, and I know you know this, they don’t label. When someone says no or they think they have an account established and it falls apart on them, or a last-minute negative decision is made, it’s easy to label that stuff as, “It’s terrible. It’s a failure.”
It isn’t anything like that for top producers. Top producers look at every result and label it just that, no more or less, and it’s an analytic metric. It’s a result, so it’s not a failure. Every no gets me that much closer to a yes, and I also learned that top producers don’t like maybes. They don’t like question marks.
Tim: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Stop. Stop. Let’s approach that again. Say that again. Top producers don’t like maybes. They don’t like question marks. That is so important. I just wanted to hammer that home. Keep going on that. That is so massive in this industry.
Joe: Well, yeah, let me expand on that for a second, if you would like, because there are so many hopeful people and impressionable new salespeople, hopeful people. A maybe to them, sometimes, in their mind, is as fruitful as a yes. Really, all that a maybe is (if there aren’t very definite conditions that they’ve exposed alongside a maybe) is a blow-off, and perhaps it’s a no clothed as a maybe because they wanted to let you down easy, but all it really means is the salesperson didn’t do their job, again, unless there’s conditions attached to it.
I like to push a person to no as quickly as possible, and most salespeople, especially new salespeople, are afraid to do that, so a great attitude to have is, “Hey, I think a no is fine because it’s a metric result.” In fact, we know we’re going to have more noes than yeses. In fact, if you bat 300 in the major leagues, they pay you an awful lot of money. That means you’re failing to get a base hit 7 out of 10 times.
We know we’re going to get more noes than yeses, so a no is okay. A yes is better, but I learned that top producers just hate those maybes because it kind of means that they have to continue massaging that maybe or chasing down that maybe. They don’t feel they did their job by pushing it to a result, a metric result. So yeah, those are lessons I took away from that period of time, that very formative period of time.
The third thing I took away from top producers is really that they manage their pipeline better than most. So you have competencies, you have attitudes, and you have pipeline. The management of the pipeline, really, it’s an overall philosophy of what they’re going to do, and I remember one of my mentors early, early on in sales, he said, “Hey, I want you to have twice as many raw leads in your pipeline.”
He took out his pad, and he wrote, “X 2,” a big multiplication symbol, a big two. He said, “Times two. I want you to have twice the number of leads that they’re telling you you need. I want you to feel you have more raw leads and more raw inventory to work than you ever have time to work. You’ll never feel like you’re out of business if you have that kind of raw inventory.” So the philosophy of the pipeline, filling it, managing it, guiding it through.
A lot of people use a CRM, such as Salesforce, or there are a myriad of others. I don’t care whether it’s an expensive piece of software or you’re doing it hardcopy, but that’s your run where you have to be in business, and I found that people in management, their competencies, their attitude, and their pipeline… If people would just think about those three simple things every day they’d do very well in sales. They become elite producers. They become the people who we see, we think of as the finished product
I would challenge almost everyone to think about why they got in sales, or if they got tricked in with a blind ad like I did, why they decided to stay. They probably met someone. They probably met someone like a Tim Martin or someone else who had achieved multiples of six figures of income a year. They saw the car they were driving. That person had control of their time. They had relative time freedom. They didn’t have to punch a clock.
They looked at that finished product of a Tim Martin and said, “I would like to be that person. I would like to be that finished product.” Really, if we could just break down what makes an elite producer, an elite manager, what makes them tick, it would always come back to those three things. They do a better job than most of becoming competent at prospecting, presenting, closing, asking for the sale.
They have a better attitude than most people about the daily results. They never get too high. They never get too low. They maintain a solid attitude, and the attitude is really what is reflected in their behavior. They behave in a professional manner, and then they do a great job at maintaining a tremendous pipeline, so there’s always something falling out of the bottom of the pipeline to feed their family. We tend to over complicate it.
Joe: But Tim, I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.
Tim: No, I agree. Somebody you and I know both know very well…we won’t mention names…he said it so simply. He said, “If you’re in sales, go talk to a whole bunch of people, treat them real nice, and ask them to buy.” It is a little more complicated than that, but we do tend to make it way too complicated. We add so many different things and get in our own way of success so often. It cracks me up.
You get a new agent who comes in. They just come back from cold calling, and they say, “Well, what do you say when the business owner says this at the counter?” I’m like, “I have never heard that at that counter because I don’t get into selling the product or the company or any of that at that counter. I’m selling an appointment. Remember that.” So we get in our own way so often. It’s fun.
Tim: I’ve learned something today already, Joe. I mean every time. I want to thank you publicly in front of this audience, Joe. You mean a ton to me, and I know that I’ve told you that before, but I want to say it publicly. I was at a point in my career where I kind of hit a lid. My leader was a good guy, and I enjoyed working for him, but I had realized that his leadership lid was (to talk John Maxwell jargon here for a second) lower than mine.
I needed some coaching and some help. You were very, very generous with your time. It made a huge impact on my family and on my life, and I just wanted to thank you. The day that I decided to do this podcast, I decided I needed to have you on and thank you for that, so I really do appreciate that.
Joe: Oh, my pleasure. Either you’re really smart for citing me as a mentor or you have bad judgment, one of the two.
Tim: Well, I think I’m really smart. I had to have you as a mentor. It’s been great. That’s one of my motivations for this podcast, for my blog, as well. I want to pay that forward. This is about you, so I’ll get back to you in just a second, but my pet peeve is we in this industry tend to promise new recruits the world and then throw them to the wolves. You’ve seen that.
Joe: Yes, I have.
Tim: You’ve seen that. Ultimately, it is their business. Ultimately, that recruit does have to take some responsibility for their success. Can you talk to that for a minute? If you’re a sales manager, can you kind of cover what you think are the sacred duties for that sales leader? Especially that frontline first-level sales manager, what are their sacred duties to that new recruit?
Joe: Well, what a great question, and it kind of speaks to what I’ve always considered my core philosophy to be, and that is to be extremely concerned about the life that you’re taking in. It’s not just a new recruit. It’s not just a potential override on Bob or Mary who you’re hiring out of an ad in the newspaper back in the day, or today you may see them at a career fair. You may find their resume, or they might find you online.
It’s a life, and it’s a life that has possibly a spouse or a significant other and children attached. I feel it is a set of sacred responsibilities, but also the responsibility is shared, and I think all too often we err. I’ve seen new sales managers err in the balance of responsibility. They take all the pressure or stress of helping Bob or Mary become successful on themselves rather than placing it where it should be. It should be a shared responsibility that’s clearly articulated.
I’ve seen the other extreme. I’ve seen people, in pockets, with almost every organization or company I have ever been with. In pockets… I’ve seen mass recruiting and a lack of attention, a lack of training. We call it over promise and under deliver. I guess that’s what it sounds like. I’ve seen that in pockets with almost every organization I’ve been in.
When a leader doesn’t practice that, when a leader is clear in the expectations of the shared responsibility, I think they become sustainable leaders, and let me explain what I mean by that. If I was hiring Tim Martin today, I’d say, “Tim, there are a set of expectations I have. Let’s go back to the formula of competencies, attitude, and pipeline.”
Joe: “We’re going to continually talk about your competencies. I’m going to drill you every day and every week, and you need to work hard. It’s going to be your responsibility to learn how to set appointments in volume, enough volume to fill your calendar. It’s going to be your responsibility to learn the presentation we teach. It’s going to be your responsibility to memorize and internalize three rebuttals to every objection that we know exists for our product.
It’s going to be your responsibility to learn to be a professional salesperson with my mentorship. I’m going to hold you responsible for certain attitudes. Those attitudes will play out in your behavior, and then third, we’re going to build a massive pipeline. We’re going to manage it together, but it’s going to be your responsibility to keep that pipeline flowing.”
This is exactly what I’ve said probably no less than 1,000 times to a new associate or new agent: “I will work as hard for you as you’re willing to work for yourself, but I have a definite set of hours each day that I call prime time and a set that I call non-prime time. If you’re getting it, you’re putting out the effort, if you’re investing in yourself, you’re always going to have my prime time. When a few things change, that will change.
If for some reason you’re not getting it, we’re going to have to go back to basics. I may even suggest you seek additional training outside the organization. If you’re not working, that’s almost a definite. If your effort slows down, if you’re not getting this material for some reason, I can’t spend prime time with you because I’ll be robbing someone else who is working harder from that prime time.”
I’m very clear about what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do, so it’s never a mystery. I’ve never had the kind of conversation where a new associate or agent says, “You promised me the world, but you under delivered.” I’d say 99 percent of the time the conversations that happen in exit interviews are the reverse. They’re apologizing to me for letting me down.
I think that’s the kind of relationship a leader needs to forge. They’re very clear in their expectations. They’re very clear in what they will provide, but they also need to go the extra mile for a worthy cause. If there is someone who is not getting it as quickly but still working, my heart goes out to that person, and I still try to find some prime time to spend with that person. I try to put my heart out there first, but I’m very clear at what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do with my prime time.
Tim: Boy, that’s good. That is really good. Yeah, I’ve seen exactly what you’re talking about, where that new manager, especially, wants to try and drag that person to success. Then, unfortunately, what ends up happening is they get burned out, and they feel guilty about that person not making it, and they tend to reserve, or down the road they get jaded, and they don’t give the people the time that they deserve.
It’s critical that you have a way, like you just described, making sure the expectations are crystal clear on the front end, and then having enough care for the person to give them feedback. Feedback is a gift to that person. I’ve suffered from it. I’ll be honest (preaching to myself here too). I’ve suffered from it from time to time, and you know that about me because we’ve talked about it, where I’ve had trouble having that difficult conversation with somebody. It’s so critical that you do that too.
Joe, let’s shift gears for just a second. You said you’re stepping out of your current role, and we won’t get into that, but tell me what you think is happening in the voluntary benefits world period, right now. I have to have a belief that’s one of the reasons you’re kind of ramping up to speak and to author and write and those kinds of things, because of what is going on in that world and what’s happening in the broker market. Could you speak to that for just a little bit? Get the Buzzello crystal ball out, and let’s see what it looks like.
Joe: You know, I’m going to quote the philosopher Lao Tzu who wrote The Tao 2,000 years before the life of Christ, and one of the greatest lines, greatest axioms, from his writings was, “The farther you go, the less you know.” That applies to the voluntary benefits industry and the benefits industry as a whole. I think that the industry is destabilized right now. I don’t think that anyone knows exactly what is going to happen.
It’s funny. There are conspiracy theorists out there who believe that the destabilization of the industry through the Affordable Care Act was a step towards moving to single payer, and it has been described as…
Tim: Right. Socialized medicine. Yeah.
Joe: Yeah. It has been described to me, and I’ll use a different analogy to actually put it into my own. I had to find a place in my head for this. It’s like they’ve taken the frog, and they put the frog in the tepid water, and they’re slowly turning up the heat versus throwing the frog in the boiling pot of water so the frog jumps out.
I think a lot of very bright people suggested that, “Hey, this may be a four- to six-year run up to socialized medicine, something that looks and acts like single payer.” However, I will tell you that I don’t think that lessens the need for a family to take responsibility and offer and access benefits that they control and they own. I don’t think that the exposure is going to be less in the future. I think exposure is going to be higher.
I think that specialists in almost every field are going to be tougher to see. In fact, I have friends who are generalist health practitioners in the medical field who are saying, “Hey, it’s going to be harder for anyone to see a doctor, unless you’re really sick, in the future.” I mean you can look at this thing and say, “Hey, it’s destabilized,” and yeah, that’s probably true. It is a destabilized industry right now.
I think a lot of brokers, a lot of clients, are almost paralyzed by what I call the stop and start of some of the tenets of the Affordable Care Act. It seems like every day we learn that, “Well, this isn’t going to be phased in now. This is going to be phased in later.”
Joe: I think that it’s easy to be paralyzed. That wasn’t the reason I decided to make a change. My change was more about just pursuing the kind of work I really, really miss, which is teaching, training, coaching, mentoring at high levels, and I’ve really started to enjoy the process of putting my thoughts down on paper. I’ve learned how to become an adequate writer, so my move away from representing a carrier in the voluntary industry was really less about the industry and more about some of the work that I really, really wanted to do.
Yeah, it’s a weird time right now. I think if people just chill out and relax and identify that voluntary benefits, whether it’s a basic accident plan or a critical illness plan for a catastrophic event or trigger or a cancer plan, certainly life products and a lot of companies now have nice hybrid life products that offer benefits for both critical illness and/or long-term care, there are a lot of great insurance products out there that are really financial planning tools, more now…
Tim: And disability.
Tim: In the state of Arizona, for instance, nearly 80 percent of the employers in the state of Arizona don’t offer disability. I know you’re in California, where it is state run, but we have zero here, so 80 percent of the people in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, the areas that I’m responsible for, for Colonial life, have zero access to disability. It’s amazing.
Joe: Yeah, and it’s funny that in the state of California, over the years, a lot of people said, “Oh, I’m sure it’s hard to sell disability because you have paid disability,” and really, it’s just the opposite. State disability creates an awareness of how important that plan would be. It’s mandated. The employer/employee, in most cases, has to offer it and access it accordingly.
It’s interesting. It creates an awareness, and then state disability represents somewhere between 48 to 51 percent of a person’s income. It doesn’t work on that scale, but that’s what it represents, and so the first question you would ask a person is…When you’re disabled for an extended period of time, where are you going to get the other half of your paycheck from?
Tim: Yeah. Exactly.
Joe: It’s very easy to sell disability in the state of California because the state has made everyone aware, but it’s not a program that completely protects the paycheck. Yeah, these will remain, I think, not only important products but really critical products for those who still… In our society today, we know we’re not a society of savers. We’re a society of spenders, and it’s really disconcerting to me.
Unfortunately, the statistics bear out that that’s true, that we don’t have any savings, so if we’re living from check to check, if we’re earning six figures but spending six figures, we need these products. If you think about what insurance has always been, you’re transferring risk. You’re paying a premium for a pool of money when the event happens, and if you don’t have that pool of money set aside, if you’re not self-insured, which most people aren’t, well, guess what. You still need these products.
I think while the industry is unstable right now, I think that it will become more stable as people just getting used to wherever they’re leading us, wherever we go with Affordable Care. If it becomes single payer, so be it. I don’t think it lessens the need for a voluntary benefit, though.
Tim: No, no, I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I’ve been telling my team, and I think they think I’m just hyping, but I really do believe that the next 10 years are going to be the good old days of voluntary benefits, especially if we can get the federal government to land on a plan because it is creating disruption, especially with business owners and brokers. They don’t know which way is up. The stop-and-start mentality you talked about is creating a lot of disruption out there.
I’d almost prefer they go to single payer… Or do something. Just make a decision and move to it almost because it is disruptive, but if we can get that done, whatever that looks like, I think it’s going to be phenomenal for our industry, for the voluntary benefits industry. I’ll give you a quick example, and you may have heard this story before. I lost my mom in ’98 to cancer. She was a schoolteacher here in Phoenix, Arizona, had just an unbelievably rich benefits plan through the school district.
I don’t care what the Affordable Care Act ends up looking like by the time it’s done; it’s not going to look like my mom’s plan. I mean, for 28 radiation treatments, half a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, 2 surgeries, 3 hospital stays, she’s out of pocket less than $2,000 for that. There’s no way that the Affordable Care Act is going to be that good, and my dad still ended up having to sell the house as my mom was battling cancer because neither one of them worked for a year.
Joe: Yeah. Well, we hear those stories. We’ve heard them for years, and we continue to hear them. I’m a fortunate soul. I have money in the bank. I’ve earned money, and I’ve invested my money well, but I am an owner of a cancer policy. My wife, over the last five years, she has had six surgeries, and she has had two reoccurrences of breast cancer. She is in good health right now. Thank God.
We feel blessed that she is in good physical condition, but she is still being treated. She is on an oral drug right now, but that policy was significant because it enabled us to kind of take a deep breath and not have to liquidate investments. Even if you’re a six-figure, multi-six-figure income earner, even if you have a nice cushion in the bank, it allows you not to have to drain an account to go to the Norris Cancer Center and seek the best treatment even if it’s out of network.
I don’t see these products going away, so I rather agree with you. There will be a norm established in the marketplace. We’re not there yet. We’re still in this storm, but after the storm, we’ll establish a norm, and then I think we’ll get back on track. It’ll be, then, easier for us to bring our message. If that message is voluntary benefits, if that’s the industry we’re in, that will become an easier message to deliver when those norms are established, so yeah, I’m right there with you. That’s kind of what I believe, as well, Tim.
Tim: Good deal. Well, let’s talk a little bit about this new endeavor. Tell us where the listeners can find you, and I’ll, of course, put it in the show notes, as well. I’ve been reading your blog, and every time I think I write a good blog, you come up with one, and it is better. I’m still trying to be just like Joe B., so tell us about your blog, your book, and all that.
Joe: Well, as smart and as well spoken as you are, you can count on one thing for sure. I’ll be stealing your stuff and repurposing it, so…
Tim: That’s good. All I need is an invitation to the Doug Fox Invitational, and then you can have whatever you want. That’s kind of a little inside joke here, but that’s all I need. You can steal whatever you want.
Joe: Well, my endeavor to shift toward what is a passion to me, which is writing, speaking, training, coaching, my shift toward that is very modest at this point because I am finishing my last few weeks and my responsibilities in my current position as a field vice president with Transamerica. I haven’t dug in too deeply yet. In some spare time, off time, I’ve just been blogging.
If the listeners of this podcast would like to follow me, they can find me at www.commissiononly.wordpress.com. If you follow the blog, the rest of my content will be revealed. I do have a couple of book titles in development that are really involved. One of them is a book that really caters to not only surviving but thriving during your first 12 to 18 months in sales…really entering the game and really understanding the game.
It’s really not a book… It’s kind of disruptive (I hope) in its thinking because, when it’s published, it won’t teach a person how to sell, because I think we spend a lot of time doing that. I think whatever organization you join, if you make a wise choice and join an organization that has good training, I think you’re going to get that.
It really speaks to some of the things that we already talked about today. It kind of gets a person thinking the right way and developing the proper attitude and the proper behaviors because someone could be extremely competent in their ability to sell, but if they’re not managing their attitude or if they’re not managing their pipeline, if they don’t understand what to focus on, and almost more importantly, what not to focus on, but how not to get sidetracked their first 12 to 18 months, they can stick and stay in sales.
It really is what to think about, how to think, what not to think about, what not to spend time on, so kind of a what to do and what not to do about that critical period. You and I both know that most commission-only salespeople don’t make it 12 to 18 months.
Tim: No, they don’t.
Joe: They say, “This is just too hard.” I have found that it doesn’t have to be that hard. The things I’m putting into writing kind of demystify it. Think about it this way: I use the example of the pump in the desert. If you’re wandering in the desert (and that’s how we feel sometimes when we’re isolated in our daily activities in commission sales), we’re wandering out there in the desert, and we’re getting thirsty.
If we see a pump, we run over to the pump. We start pumping it. We’re willing to pump it and work that vehicle pretty hard. So we’re pumping and we’re pumping, and a little water comes out. It’s enough water to wet our whistle, but not enough to completely quench our thirst, and so we keep pumping. We get a little taste of it. We make a sale or two, and we keep pumping, but at some point, it seems too hard, and we give up and walk away. Sometimes we have no idea how close we were, but just imagine if there is a different scenario.
If there is a guy (and I think the guy, in my mind, kind of looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Billy Bob Thornton), and this guy, this very wise man, old man, was standing next to the pump, if that guy was able to say, “Pump that pump handle 30-40 times. Then take a breather. Pump it again another 30-40, and I’m going to tell you when you’re 50 percent there. I’m going to tell when you’re 75 percent of the way there,” if he was able to demystify it and tell you just exactly how close you were to that water gushing out, you wouldn’t walk away from the pump because someone was there to walk you through it and demystify it.
This first title that I’m going to self-publish will be disruptive in that it challenges people not to do certain things that they would be led to do and to focus on the things that are really going to make a difference. It’s not a book that will really teach a person how to become a fantastic salesperson, Tim. It will teach a person how to think.
Tim: Just give me one thing that a traditional sales organization might tell somebody that you’re going to tell them to do the opposite. Just one quick thing.
Joe: Well, let’s go back to the Pareto principle. This is just one of maybe a dozen of these axioms that may wind up in the book. I’m still in the editing process, and sometimes less is better, so if you’ve ever written or anyone listening has ever written, you know that you put a lot of great stuff in there, and then you pull stuff out. This is one of the things that will stick and stay in the book: Sometimes a company wants you to learn all their products and all their services.
Joe: You’ll feel compelled to learn every product and every service the company is selling, and you’ll be compelled to maybe talk about most, if not all, those products and services. Well, guess what, let’s apply the Pareto principle to this again, because it comes up countless times in our sales and leadership career. I can guarantee you that 80 percent of an elite producer’s profits come from only 20 percent of the products their company offers.
Tim: That’s right.
Joe: Why would you have a new salesperson take all that time and energy to learn all the products when really they need to be focusing on just the core products that they will sell every day? Now they can learn all those other products with their non-prime time as they move along into their fourth month or sixth month, their ninth month, but… Does that make sense?
Tim: Oh, that makes complete sense.
Joe: Yeah, it’s one of those things that…
Tim: No, no, you’re absolutely right. In fact, the company I work for (I’ll never say anything bad about any company), and I know they have their reasons, but we have to put people through a product mastery test before they can order brochures. Literally, a lot of new agents, even though I tell them not to, they will spend their first two to three weeks here trying to pass all these product mastery tests, and it blows my mind.
It is like, “Yeah, I understand that you want to have access to all the brochures,” because we won’t give them access to the brochures even until they pass their product mastery test. “But let’s go learn how to set an appointment. Let’s go learn how to get the employer, you know, good old Frank at Frank’s Welding, to tell us yes. I promise somebody will go with you and makes sure that the product gets sold. I can find people to sell the product. I promise you that. I can’t find people to go set the appointments for you.”
Joe: Yeah, you’re right on, and we’ll apply the Pareto principle again. I’ll suggest that there is a very particular type of small business that might buy any salesperson’s product, and you and I know kind of know what the demographics and the profile of that customer looks like.
Joe: Eighty percent of our profitability and our commission will come from maybe 20 percent of whom we prospect, so why don’t we figure out how to load our pipeline with more prospects that look like that, so there’s another one? It’s like there are a lot of sales leaders and sales managers who say, “There is no bad lead. Call on every lead.” I say there are bad leads
Joe: I say there are good leads, and there are bad leads. I’d say that as you get into your second month, third month in the business, and through the art and science, you’re managing your pipeline, you have to get darn good at saying, “Who buys my product. Who is my core audience? What do they look like, and how can I get more of them in my pipeline instead of chasing the other 80 percent?” There is a lot of that in the book, and it kind of even goes to personalities. Whom should you avoid around the office?
Tim: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Joe: Yeah, and you know those guys, right?
Tim: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. No, that’s good.
Joe: So it’s a little disruptive in that it’s not a book about how to sell, how to learn how to become a great salesperson. My philosophy is someone is probably going to become a pretty good salesperson over a period of two or three years if they stick and stay in commission sales, but how do we get them there?
How do we get them to that second year? How do we get them to that third year? If I can teach them how to think like a survivalist their first year, I’ll get them to their second year, and you know what? Their sales skills are going to improve almost automatically, so…
Tim: Right. Well, I’ve often said, Joe, again, if you really apply and work hard, you’ll do more in sales your second year by accident than you did in your first year on purpose, and that’s what you’re talking about.
Tim: If you can survive that first year and you can build that pipeline, and you can learn those skills, it will feel like it’s almost by accident in the second year because it comes so much easier.
Joe: Yeah, and that’s such a good point, Tim. In fact, you have to be an idiot not to naturally become better at your job the second year. You have to be so closed down and blocked off from input. If you’re just an open person, you’re going to become 20 percent better at prospecting, presenting, and closing. It’s just almost an automatic.
Yeah, so www.commissiononly.wordpress.com. I’m really kind of putting my foot in the shallow end of this pool. I’m not blogging every day. I’m blogging about once every week or week and a half. I’m building a website. I’m in the edit process of my first book, but hey, I would tell you that by the end of 2014, I’ll probably have a couple of self-published titles out there. I hope they sell well, and I hope they help people.
I have some speaking and training engagements already booked, so I hope to stay very, very busy, and part of it is a pay-it-forward thing. I feel like I have a lot of good and logical things to share that can make a difference in someone’s career and earning power, so I want to get that information out there.
Tim: Well, I tell you what, we appreciate it. The people who you have already impacted… There are hundreds and hundreds of lives. You’ve made a legacy in families, Joe, where people have built wealth that is going to be passed on to future generations, and I know you know that, and I know that’s probably, when you look back at your career, one of the things you’re most proud of, the difference and the impact you have made in other people’s lives. I know you’re too modest to say it, so I’ll say it for you.
That’s kind of where I want to end. This is a really deep question, and I don’t ever warn anybody it’s coming, and it’s this: How do you want to be remembered? What do you want people to say at the party after we put you in the ground? Because it’s not going to be a funeral. I know that Joe Buzzello is going to have a party, so what are we going to say at that party? What do you want people to say at that party?
Joe: My first reaction would be to say I hope people learned and people became better and all that warm and fuzzy stuff, but I’m not going to say that because it’s not true. Actually, selfishly, I always wanted to entertain people and make people laugh, so I know this sounds stupid, and it probably sounds very trivial and surface, but I hope at that party that they all say, “You know, Joe B. was one funny guy. He was really a lot of fun.” Yeah, that’s what I hope they would say, that I was a lot of fun, and I made them laugh.
Tim: Well, I’ll tell you, there are some stories. They’re not really PG-13 even. They’re very PG things that I’ve seen you do that just crack me up. You always have fun. That will be something that is said about you. You’ve always had fun, and I’ve always appreciated that about you and your organization. You could always tell your team… Part of it was because you were winning all the time. It’s a lot more fun to win, but you could tell that they were having fun.
Joe: You know, sometimes, even when we were losing a little bit, and I think that happens to every legacy team (you can’t race around the track in first place forever), I still impressed upon them, “Let’s have even more fun.” Because if you don’t feel pressure in a sales organization, if you’re laughing, if you’re having fun, and a lot of it is laughing at some of the stuff you would normally cry about and not taking yourself so darn seriously, if you can get people laughing, they become more open.
They become open to having a relationship with you, where you can really mentor them. They become open to criticism because they know you’re a real person. I’ve never liked serious people. Serious people really bother me, and so I’ve tried to avoid serious people in my life.
Tim: Well, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Maybe that’s why you and I get along so well.
Joe: Exactly. Exactly.
Tim: I haven’t been serious since third grade, I don’t think. All right. Well, Joe, I really appreciate you coming on. We will put all this in the show notes. We’ll keep people in touch with you. Man, your article, and we don’t have time to get into it today, but your article, “The Parable of the ‘Pullers'” … Man, if you’re in sales management and you don’t go on the link and read the “The Parable of the ‘Pullers,'” I don’t know a nice way of saying it, so I’ll just say it: You’re a moron.
Get on there. Read that blog article, and apply those principles Joe taught in that. That’s one of the finest pieces of writing about this industry I’ve ever read, and I really appreciate it. Joe, thanks again for coming on, and we will talk to you soon.
Joe: Well, it was a pleasure. Thank you, and again, I love what you’re doing. Keep doing it, because we need more very, very gifted professionals to lead people in sales. We need more leaders, and you’re a great leader. You’ve always been extremely open, extremely coachable, and trainable for anyone who has been around you, and that’s the sign of a great leader. A great leader is first coachable and trainable, himself or herself, so thanks for having me on. It was actually my honor. I really appreciate it.
Tim: All right. Thank you so much.
Remember everything is voluntary, including success. Take it in your hands now. Head over to www.successisvoluntary.com/iTunes/, and stay up to date with all the latest tips, news, and techniques in the world of selling voluntary benefits.
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