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  • Writer's pictureChris Burand

"The thing to be known..."

"The thing to be known grows with the knowing." Nan Shepard, "The Living Mountain"

Ms. Shepard wrote this now famous mountaineering book in the mid 1940's, though it was not published until the mid-1970's. It takes place in the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. The quote above succinctly summarizes knowledge, any kind of knowledge, but is specific to people who are conscientious enough to continue to learn purposely. Learning purposely causes a person to realize how much more there is to know once they know something.

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One of my favorite clients decided to sell his agency when he turned 80. He told me one of his regrets upon selling, and more to the point, retiring, was that he was just then beginning to have a full understanding of insurance. He was just then gaining a full knowledge of how to expertly construct coverages. I must note that this man was extremely well-educated and a consummate professional insurance agent. The more he knew, the more he realized he did not know, but needed to learn. The more he knew about insurance (the "thing" in Ms. Shepard's quote as applied here), the more things he knew he needed to know.

I have often concluded that the most important benefit of knowledge is understanding how much you do not know. At least for me, what I do not know about insurance is bigger than what I do know -- and I know a lot about insurance. Acknowledging that the unknown is so big gives me permission to do a better job because my ego is held in check, thus reducing the obstruction an ego can create when helping clients discover the best solutions for themselves.

I have never been to or much less climbed Scottish mountains. Ms. Shepard's quote reminds me of climbing mountains closer to home. It seems the peak is always, "just there," but after reaching the ridge, another appears. At times the climb seems infinite and pointless, but in the end, the hike is always infinitely rewarding. Sometimes learning about insurance feels pointless because the conclusion never arrives and is combined with the frustration of seeing so many agencies, carriers, and others who never make any attempt to learn yet still earn plenty of money even though they remain ignorant.

As Ms. Shepard’s quote also connotates it is the journey that matters, not the summit. The better the journey, the more stories and knowledge one gains. The more stories and knowledge one gains, the more sales, especially high quality sales, one can make.

One reason young producers struggle with sales is they have not climbed enough mountains. They do not have enough stories or knowledge. The only solution is to take more sales journeys. Even failures create experience, stories, and knowledge. I discovered the obvious on my mountain journeys: the longer I walked, the further I got. The longer I walked, the more experiences I had, the more stories I gathered, and my skills improved along the way.

A good example is cyber coverage. If any coverage is completely 100% unknowable it is cyber insurance, if for no other reason than that the number of cyber forms is virtually infinite with little commonality (the last I saw approximately 2,000 cyber forms were available in the U.S. alone). Cyber forms generally have enough holes that if a CNC machine built a physical model of a cyber form, the result would resemble a sieve. Lots of coverage drains away with inspection and time (the time limits truly drain coverage away).

This is why pairing cyber with other key forms is often an intelligent solution, but one that comes with experience and study. The pairing is complex requiring considerable additional education but sometimes it is the only way to plug the holes. When you begin studying cyber you really begin to understand how much you still need to learn.

Similarly, I have been underwriting, teaching, and studying homeowners insurance for 35 years. Homeowners insurance is considered a relatively simple form, however the more I study it, the more I realize I still have things to learn. I hear many sales consultants talk about finding weaknesses in the incumbent agency's program and then exploiting those weaknesses to gain the account. The biggest weaknesses are usually found in coverage gaps, but in order to identify coverage gaps easily and effectively, one must put effort into learning about coverage. My clients that use this tactic no longer sell price (do not use price as the wedge because that is ultimately self-defeating and enough of a distraction that one falls behind in learning about more valuable coverage factors). These clients' sales growth is strong and by continually learning more, they bring something special to their clients. They bring their excitement which is an intangible feature in sales. They are excited to share and excited to help because they possess a more legitimate belief in themselves and their abilities than their competitors.

If your goal is to provide your client with coverage, the holes must be exposed and then plugged. To do this well, you must understand that education is a journey and by never quitting the journey, your inventory of solutions will grow and grow and grow, and the more you know, the more you will clearly see how much remains to be known.


NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.

None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

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