Sowing and reaping, structured settlement professionals need to revisit the parable

Whether you are an Old Testament/Torah kind of guy, a New Testament/Bible reader,  or agnostic/gardener, most people are familiar with or have heard the parables and concepts of sowing and reaping as it relates to getting a harvest. Scriptures and self help literature are replete with example after example of how the harvest you receive is naturally determined by the kind of seed you sow and where you sow it.

In the most elemental sharing of the story, it involves a farmer who sows seed over a field, with the seed falling on several different types of ground. Some of the seed falls by the side of the road and is quickly devoured by birds, some of it falls on rocky ground where the shallow soil causes the plant to wither due to lack of depth, some of it falls in the thorns and is choked as it grows, but some of the seed falls on good soil and produces a crop thirty to sixty fold to the farmer. sower-vangogh

I don’t want to get all theological on everyone, but this parable endures and resonates with people for a reason, with the reason being that it makes sense and it drives home to people that unless you are sewing seed in good soil and tending to it, your expectation of a harvest is in vain as nature, both human and otherwise, ordains what it takes to get a fruitful harvest. What it also drives home is that in order to get a harvest you do have to take the initiative and actually sow some seeds, as the field doesn’t exactly plant itself and if left untended it will produce a tangle of weeds.

So, using this concept lets take a look at the structured settlement profession and the past history and current practices as it regards sowing seeds for a harvest of sales.

While the life insurance companies in the structured settlement market typically have huge advertising budgets and some of our biggest structured settlement firms produce in excess of $1 billion in annual premium, I contend that the amount of money that is spent “sowing seeds” among what should be our target markets for structured settlements and settlement planning, is a mere fraction of what it should and could be and that much of the money that is spent is falling by the side of the road, is sown in shallow ground or tossed in among the thorns. Some examples would be:

Wasted seeds by the side of the road. Lets start with anyone who spends even a dime on yellow pages, printed corporate brochures and Google pay per click advertising as well as any non-specific directory of “professionals” in which you are listed and get zero leads. Why any firm or solo professional would spend any money at all on these is beyond me. Recent studies show that at least 25% of all Google clicks involve fraud and I would contend in an expensive click term such as “structured settlements” that the fraud level is probably closer to 50%. Why in the world would you waste your money and marketing effort on any medium where you reasonably know you are being cheated or where your clients and prospects never think to look for you?

Shallow seeds that spring up but whither quickly. I’d put vanity broadcasting efforts such as audio podcasting, direct mail and engaging public relations firms in this category. With each of these you get a little bit of action and excitement for a moment, maybe a phone call or your mother see’s your name in the newspaper or magazine, but almost as fast as it is out there, it withers away and is gone, along with the money, time and effort you put into it. It’s short term, feel good spending that after the initial rush leaves you wondering what happened to your marketing dollars and why your phone still isn’t ringing.

Seeds in the thorns that are choked as they grow. In this category I’d put any money spent on trial lawyer or claims associations that is clearly unproductive and unmeasurable, but that you feel compelled to do out of fear that you will lose access or favor with that group. Any marketing that you do out of fear or a sense of coercion is ultimately doomed and non-productive. As I stated in my prior posts, these organizations generally will take all they can get from you and when you are used up, they will find another source. Associations don’t provide access to lawyers as they claim, it is the individual trial lawyers and claims professionals that are the decision makers on 99% of all their cases and any effort you make that doesn’t speak directly to the decision maker is ultimately wasted, no matter what the association promises. 

As for the favorable and receptive soil in my little illustration, I will be covering those options in part two of this commentary to be published this Thursday. As you might ascertain from viewing my last month of writing, I am starting to transition away from a listing of what is wrong with our profession, to instead what is good and productive about it and how we can start building it back up to even more then it was at it’s prior peak. I’ll be laying out some simple, measurable and productive ideas as to how you can begin to build your professional practice in the weeks and months ahead so make sure you keep reading and viewing as I share some of what I have learned in new media over the last 10 years.

( Mark Wahlstrom is the President of Wahlstrom & Associates, based in Scottsdale, AZ and the host of Speaking of Settlements, a weekly broadcast with the nations leading expert on structured settlements, settlement planning and structured legal fees. )

Posted on October 26, 2010 .