Have you ever felt you were so good at what you did that you did not need any help in getting better?  The bad news is, if that describes who you are, you are in a lot of trouble.  The good news is, you are one decision away from getting out of trouble.  Being too good to receive help isn’t a prison sentence, it’s just stupid.

The first time I ever witnessed this phenomenon was when I was a twenty-one year old insurance agent for New York Life.  How long ago was that you might ask?  This was so long ago the office had just invested in a new fangled contraption.  We called it a video camera.  I guess this dates my story a bit, but hang in there.

It was decided that we would try filming the insurance agents and give them an opportunity to evaluate their tapes.  In addition, they would be provided with feedback from me.  I was pretty green, but I was coached on what to look for and ready to go.

The Washington General Office, where I worked, was made up of 78 agents:

  • 21 AFU’s, (Apprentice Field Underwriter).  An AFU is an agent who has worked with the company for less than 24 months.
  • 52 tenured agents with various degrees of success.
  • 5 Chairman’s Council agents.  A Chairman’s Council agent is a member of a select club of extremely successful agents.  This club consisted of roughly the top 5% of the agents in the country, and the Washington General Office was always among the leaders in the placement of Chairman’s Council agents.

A flyer was placed in everyone’s mailbox.  It spoke about this new and rare opportunity to view your approach to selling and get some feedback.  It was a mandatory exercise for all AFU’s, but optional for the other 57 agents.  At the bottom of the form, to help with the scheduling, it was requested that all agents respond either “yes” or “no.”  What followed was something I will never forget.

Of the 78 flyers that were returned, as expected, (and ordered), all 21 AFU’s sent their form back requesting various filming dates and times.  There were only five more agents out of the 57 who asked to be filmed.  You guessed it.  The only people who felt it was worthwhile being filmed were all five Chairman’s Council Agents!  Wait, it gets better.

Many of the AFU’s were a little put off by the experience, going through the motions, and casually nodding at the feedback they received.  When the Chairman’s Council Agents came through, each one came in with a pad of paper and never stopped asking questions and writing.  I would estimate the least successful of the five was probably making close to $500,000 a year.  To keep things in perspective, that was a half a million dollars 30 years ago.  Each of the Chairman’s Council Agents, five of our best agents in the country, came to the filming obsessed with getting better.

The moral of this story was an easy one for me.  What those five agents taught me that day was that there are many common traits that successful salespeople share.  One trait that seemed of paramount importance was a desire to improve, no matter what their level of success might be.  The successful “want-to-be’s” were too good to receive help.

If you are curious as to why I felt like reminiscing about this lesson, not only have I seen this message play itself out over and over again through the years, I watched it once again this week.  After sending out an invitation to a group of people I have been coaching to simply remind them to schedule coaching calls that cost them nothing, I heard from three of eight.  The three responses I got were from three that have consistently seemed obsessed with getting better, and welcome any help they can receive.  The others?   Although their sales numbers don’t support it, they appear too good to receive help.  Isn’t that a shame?

Note to self:  “Don’t ever be too good to receive help.”

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