I grew up in a small town on the Ohio River called East Liverpool. It is located in Ohio at the junction of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. When I was growing up it had a population of about 22,000. Today the population has dropped to just over 13,000. However, some very unique and notable people have come from my town. I want to tell you about one of them who learned the meaning of providing value for his clients so well that he went on to become the greatest life insurance salesman ever.
His name was Ben Feldman (1912 – 1993) and over his 50 year career selling insurance for one company, his sales volume exceeded $1.8 billion, with over a third of it coming after he turned 65. And, he did it by selling out of his office in East Liverpool and not some major financial capital city
like New York.
Now you might be thinking to yourself that Ben must have been some kind of superstar, good looking, fast talking, kind of man – but you’d be wrong. Ben was a short, stout, balding and spoke slowly with a distinct lisp. He never finished high school. He was so shy that years later when he was asked to speak at insurance industry meetings, he would only agree if a screen was erected between him and the audience.
But, he was a legend when it came to making a point to know every business owner in his region. He did his homework first and learned all he could about his potential customers so that by the time he met with them (often on a “cold call”) he was ready with the right Value Development Questions. He didn’t always sell right away but he never gave up. I once heard him say that for years he didn’t stop working for the day until he made at least one sale – no matter how late it got.
One of favorite stories about Ben is about a prominent real estate developer. Ben tried for weeks to get in to see the busy man but was always unsuccessful. One day, Ben stopped in cold and handed the developer’s assistant an envelope with five $100 bills and asked her to give it to her boss. He told her “If I don’t have a good idea for him, he can keep the money.” He got in and sold a $14 million policy. Years later when Ben realized the man needed additional insurance due to the unprecedented growth of his company; he was once again stymied by the man’s insistence that he was too busy to take a physical. Undaunted, Ben rented a fully equipped mobile hospital van, hired a doctor and sent them to the industrialist. Rumor is that the man ended up with over $50 million in coverage.
In 1992, New York Life marked Ben’s 50th year with the company by proclaiming “Feldman’s February”, a national sales competition. Ben took this as a personal challenge. The winner of the contest (at 80 years old) was Ben Feldman.
Ben was famous for his sayings that he used to inspire both clients and himself. My favorite is:
“Doing something costs something. Doing nothing costs something. And quite often, doing nothing costs a lot more.”
Ben Feldman died in 1993 at 81. A few years before his death he was asked about the largest policy that he had ever written. “I can’t say. I haven’t written it yet.”