Annuities and Sports: What I learned from Coach Knight

Annuities and Sports: What I learned from Coach Knight

I had the great honor of sitting at the end of the bench as a student manager for Indiana University’s 1987 NCAA Championship basketball team. There are so many great memories associated with the basketball program and my time at IU. As schools kick off their basketball season over the next few weeks with midnight madness events, I typically use the basketball season to reflect on things that I learned from Coach Bob Knight that have made me successful in sales.

Measured Results – Success happens when you understand what works most often and under which circumstances. We kept multiple pages of statistics during routine, mundane practices. We filmed each practice for coaches to review the plays. The coaching staff knew which plays, sets and players performed well against a 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone or man-to-man defense. When it came time to make adjustments during a game, the coaches made intelligent moves instead of guesses. We were “consciously competent” as a program. In sales, we have to make sure that we understand which clients have the greatest need for our products. More importantly, we have to understand their goals and how best to address the obstacles on their way to their goals.  

Willingness to Prepare – One of my favorite and lasting quotes from Coach Knight is, “Everyone has a will to win; few have a will to prepare to win.” During our tournament run, our team didn’t leave the locker room thinking we wouldn’t be coming back as a winner that day. We played Duke, LSU, UNLV, and Syracuse during the tournament. We had the same confidence throughout the season. Players and coaches worked diligently and spent extra time. We felt we had outworked every other team, and we felt we deserved to win. In preparing to meet with a client or prospect, we need to have the same level of confidence that we can help our clients optimize their retirement and protection plans.  

Play to Your Strengths – We all have strengths and weaknesses. Understanding and emphasizing our strengths maximizes our opportunity for success. Coaches taught the recognition of each of the players’ strengths. For example, passing the ball to a 7-foot center near the free throw line was a mistake. Our center would have to take several dribbles to get into his shooting range, and dribbling was not his strength due to his size. That put the center in position to fail. For me, I am not an emotional salesperson. It’s not that I don’t believe in our product – I have a deep commitment to the insurance industry and what it can do for clients. Instead, I’ve looked for clients who purchase on fact, not emotion. I’ve generated the most sales from those prospects making fact-based decisions. I’ve had to play to my strengths.  

Collaborate with Professionals – I remember giving Coach Knight messages that mentors of his were returning his calls. People like Hank Iba (Oklahoma State and U.S. Olympic coach), Pete Newell (California and U.S. Olympic coach), and Everett Dean (Indiana and Stanford coach) were asked to provide input on players, the team and strategy. As an industry, we need to collaborate more with other professionals. When I was in the field, working jointly with people in other specialties allowed me to deliver an entire team approach to my clients. The approach gave my clients the service and expertise they needed to feel confident they would have the financial success of their dreams.  

Win with Integrity – During the four decades Coach Knight was head coach, his teams never had a major violation. When a player might have been involved with illegal recruiting at another program, more often than not Coach eliminated that player from consideration at IU. Winning can be done within the rules. Understanding the rules and how to be successful within the guidelines allows success to happen.  Our industry is full of regulations and rules – increasing every year. We have to find ways to make it easier to conduct business within these new rules and make our clients confident that they are making the right decisions.  

Being part of a winning program led by a Hall of Fame coach provided me the foundation for business success. If our industry used some of the success principles of high-quality sports programs, I think we would perform differently. We would have the innovation like Google and Apple; we would have a focus on getting more people insured instead of protecting our distribution; and financial advisors would prepare their clients for catastrophes of life through the sale of insurance products. In order to change, we must adopt the attitude of preparation, understanding where we have success, playing to our strengths and seeking open collaboration. Let’s make this basketball season a season of change for our business.