How do you measure such traits as authenticity, substance, genuineness?
A few years back while attending a networking event, I was introduced to the head of a life insurance firm in Encino, California. Immediately, my Emotional Intelligence meter (e.g., my gut) told me this particular individual was not your average Joe salesman.
Over the course of the hour-long meeting, I continued to observe him. I was impressed with the personal attention he gave to others in the room. His genuineness was palpable, and not only by me but also by those with whom he interacted. Faces lit up. Arms extended to embrace. Kind salutations exchanged. It was obvious that this individual had a strong, personal brand!
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with him about the difference I felt, the difference who goes by the name of Michael B. Altman.
Jonathan: Mike, if I were to ask one of your clients (or contacts) about you, what would they say? In other words, what is your personal brand?
Michael: In two words: client focused. My clients and allied professionals (CPA’s, bankers, attorneys, financial planners) would say I am always putting their interests before mine. I ask tough questions causing them to give thoughtful answers. I engage them rather than lecture them, so decisions are discussed and collaborative, not by edict. I believe they will tell you I am a likeable, big picture guy. They consider me a valuable member of their advisory team. I not only add value, I am accomplished at extracting value from all the other advisors.
Jonathan: Many consider insurances sales a commodity business. What makes you different?
Michael: I’m not a “Stepford” agent! The faster growing and most powerful department in all financial services companies is Compliance, and their motto is, “Thou shall not be (get us) sued.” Think IBM in the 60’s– they want us all in grey or blue suits with solid white or blue shirts, rep ties and wingtips. Compliance officers would have us all using only pre-approved language, not just for written communication, but also for spoken. They would prefer we never make/give referrals. Instead, I develop a personal relationship with all my clients and with other allied advisors. They don’t see me as “the insurance guy.”
On the client side, I am known for setting proper expectations. While price is always a concern, part of my job is to explain the difference between (true) cost and price. Since my approach is consultative rather than product oriented, I position myself so the discovery process, the act of determining what is important to the client as well as for the client, is the most meaningful part of the client’s experience. Our follow-up discussions center on creating a path for clients to achieve their goals and overcome any roadblocks that may present a challenge.
Jonathan: How does your personal brand affect your business partners?
Michael: In a world of big sharks and small ponds, my partners Jerry Simon and Joel Kabaker and I have not just banded together to achieve scale economies for our expenses. Our business model is to determine which partner or partners is/are best suited by expertise, knowledge, style and ability to work best with and be most resourceful to our clients. If you ask other advisors about our firm the kinds of comments you’ll get are, “Those guys know as much or more about insurance than anybody else in town.” “Most honest straightforward insurance agents in the business.” “They keep us in the loop – they don’t sit on any news – good, bad or indifferent.”
As for me, I try to maintain my persona. I keep in touch without a specific sales reason. If I find something I like, I try to think of others I know whom would also like it– and I let them know. I am always forwarding book names (or books) (in that vein Jonathan, have you read Tom Peters’ classic, Brand You?), music recommendations, food, wine, restaurant and theater recommendations. I pass along articles. I remind people how important they are– and not just to me. I am on time or early. I acknowledge kindness(es). I openly and inclusively applaud accomplishment. I value people, and I demonstrate to them that I value them.
Jonathan: What do you do on a regular basis to manage/promote your brand?
Michael: My partner, Joel Kabaker has said to me on more than one occasion, “Isn’t it funny? If I/we don’t make the call, the call is never made.” I have learned that if I want my phone to ring, I need to start making some calls. Other things include:
- I go to every meeting prepared with a specific set of goals for myself and for my group
- I dress for success; I think dressing casual or slovenly for business meetings is thoughtless and arrogant
- I make certain to create opportunities and make introductions; in fact, I don’t leave my office at night until I have connected at least two people
- Finally, and most important, I position myself as a “trusted advisor.” What do I mean? The role of trusted advisor is assumed, not given (e.g., if you want to be a trusted advisor, act like one). A trusted advisor has one sentence in their vocabulary not used by other advisors, “I was thinking about you.” Here is the tough part. This means actually picking up a phone and calling someone to give aid, advice and/or succor.
Jonathan: What advice would you give to other professionals who are genuinely interested in strengthening their personal brands?
Michael: To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, “Reputation isn’t everything [in business], it’s the only thing.”
The problem with aphorisms isn’t that they’re not true, it’s that they are used so frequently they’ve become trite and are disregarded. Perception is reality. If I am a member of a community, be it my industry, my networking group, my charities or my synagogue, I want my personal brand and how I’m perceived in those various communities to be consistent. In short, I want to walk the talk, and I want to be seen walking and talking.
At the end of my life, I want it to have mattered that I walked and talked on this Earth–to my family, my friends, my business associates, my clients. I guess, in short, when I die I want it to matter (in a positive way) to a lot of people that I lived, that their lives and in some small measure our world is a better place for my having been here.
Jonathan: Thanks Mike! To recap, a strong personal brand:
- Is customer/client focused
- Adds value at every touch point, even beyond the customer’s/client’s business needs
- Is prepared for every customer/client meeting and interaction