“What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate”

The line in the title above, you may already know, is spoken by the warden to Paul Newman’s character in the 1967 film classic “Cool Hand Luke.” Coming in at Number 11 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Most Memorable Movie Quotes, this is a classic line within a classic film.

Packed within that simple line, however, is a powerful message – communication is crucial to success. And as this new year begins, instead of sharing with you my thoughts on resolutions and goal-setting and all of the more traditional beginning-of-the-year musings, I would like to share one small bit of advice that I think will make a significant difference in your sales results: Work on improving your communication skills.

Let me be more specific. I believe that most of you reading this are already very, very strong face-to-face communicators. That’s a common characteristic among most people who sell or advise for a living, and the challenges of the insurance and financial services business make it even more of a requirement for those who succeed there.

So, when I am urging you to improve your communication skills, I am really urging you to improve your written communication skills.

I had an English teacher in high school −Mr. Gates − who told us many times that, if we could communicate well in writing, it would be a huge boost to us no matter what career we chose. Being a high school student, I had no idea whether that was true, but I trusted him, and I started taking my writing more seriously. And these many years later, all I can say is, wow, was he ever correct.

Consider how improved written communication can help you in your own career:

If you write with clarity and authority − even in your emails − your clients and prospects will view you as competent, knowledgeable, and concerned about the details. And certainly, in matters concerning their families, their finances, and their business operations, most people want an advisor who’s concerned about details.

It’s not unusual that prospects will ask, “Do you have some material you can leave with me so that I can think about it?” Although sometimes that’s a polite way for a prospect to say no, sometimes the prospect is one who learns better by reading than by listening. If you can communicate well in writing, you have a tremendous advantage in preparing well-written material that you can leave behind with these prospects.

If you communicate well in your emails, your clients will sense that you care. Implied in good communication is good listening, and if you take care in your email communications, using the English correctly, then your clients and prospects will assume that you care about them. Sloppy communication conveys the message that you don’t really have the time for them.

Good writing skills can improve your Website. Even if you don’t develop the Website content yourself, you know what you want potential clients to think of you. Make sure that you communicate that to the person doing the writing to ensure that the Website clearly and truthfully represents the kind of professional advisor you are.

Don’t let the crazy world of social media fool you – many, many people still do judge you based upon your ability to spell words correctly and put together meaningful sentences. If you can use the language correctly, it shows that you can think clearly, respect your reader, and are careful and thoughtful about your actions. Think about it. If you were hiring an advisor, wouldn’t you want one who thought clearly, respected you, and was careful and thoughtful about his or her actions?

Read more and pay more attention to how good sentences are crafted, not just to what they say. If something strikes you as important or meaningful, it is often not because of what is being said, but how it is being said. As you observe those skills, you’ll naturally start to integrate them into your own written communications.

One of the most important steps you can take toward continuing success in this business is to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Improved writing can help you do that. It may seem like a little thing to you, but I assure you, it won’t be a little thing to your readers. Trust me. And trust Mr. Gates.

Chuck Hirsch is the former editor and publisher of Life Insurance Selling magazine. He continues to contribute to insurance industry publications, in addition to providing consulting and marketing services through his firm, Hirsch Communications Consulting, LLC. He can be reached at [email protected].