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Kolbe and the Million Dollar Round Table

Kolbe Corp’s history of working with the financial services industry dates back to the 1987 Million Dollar Roundtable’s (MDRT) annual meeting in Chicago. We’d already been doing one-off sales to individual insurance brokers and financial planners for a few years, but this was the big leagues. Approximately 7,000 high-performing sales people were crammed into McCormick Place looking for an edge on the competition and Kathy Kolbe was at the center stage as the main keynote speaker.

Her warm up act was Jim Valvano, the exuberant University of North Carolina basketball coach, who regaled the crowd with his stories of growing up in a humble Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn and making it to the big time in college basketball circles. Waves of laughter accompanied his inspirational stories, and a feel-good atmosphere settled in, as the crowd readied to get down to the basics of “How do I sell more insurance next year?”

Kathy’s journey was inspirational in itself, but it wasn’t going to be her message. It had been less than two years since the car she was riding in was hit from behind by a drunk driver, leaving her hospitalized and unable to function normally for several months because of a Traumatic Brain Injury. Even though she was back full-time in operating her business and consulting practice, this event was somewhat of a coming out party for her, and wonderful exposure for the company.

Kolbe Corp did have enough experience with the financial services industry that we were very optimistic about how her message would be received. We anticipated a strong response, so we set up two exhibitor booths to meet the hoped-for demand. I was designated to man one booth and we got assistance from long-time friends and believers, Kent and Kay Corbin, who were also Million Dollar Roundtable participants.

What did we sell?  The Kolbe A™ Index, of course. It was 1987 and the internet was not available, so we sold the paper version which was completed on the spot. We arranged to have the Indexes scored in an upstairs hotel room by a cadre of young college kids and the results messengered back to the exhibitor floor. The audience would probably be made up of predominantly Quick Start initiators and, once turned on by Kathy, they would want to see the results immediately (It turned out we were right).

Given the importance of this event and the audience, we had developed software that allowed the Kolbe Index to be completed on a floppy disk. We packaged a single play and five plays that could be taken home and completed after the conference. This was our first entry into the software arena (but not the internet).

Kathy’s appearance had its own set of stresses. MDRT insisted on flying her to Chicago to rehearse, a process entirely foreign to Kathy’s approach. She is spontaneous, which doesn’t mean she’s unprepared, but she resists getting locked into a particular format. At the rehearsal she discovered a challenge to her dyslexia as well. In order to add more visual appeal to her presentation, the organizers had devised theatrics to accompany the introduction of each individual Kolbe Action Mode™. For example, when Kathy introduced Fact Finder for the first time, a mannequin type figure would lower from the ceiling on a cable and hang at eye level while Kathy picked up a red scarf and ceremoniously draped it around the neck of the figure. And, so on for the remaining Action Modes and their color identification. Since Kathy also walks the stage as she talks, she had a real fear that a loss of her sense of direction could lead to her being clobbered by one of the mannequins before she could bring them to life with the appropriate colored scarf. I can report that she got through the experience just fine.

Kathy’s presentation was so successful that both booths were swamped at the first break. We were so overwhelmed that we didn’t have enough pencils or pens for everyone to complete the Index. My first thought was, “You’re a super successful life insurance sales person and you don’t have a pen in your pocket…?”  But I swallowed my question and ran to get more pens as soon as I could – more than once!  Once people completed the Index, they were back at the booth wanting to know how soon they would get their result. They were very disappointed if they couldn’t have their Result back by the next break, so we worked hard to keep them happy.

People also had loads of questions about their Result, and some even expected a full-blown counseling session on the spot. When Kathy appeared on the scene she was literally mobbed, rock-star-style, with people wanting her autograph and deluging her with questions. She was the last speaker before lunch and we finally had to hustle her back to her room so she could get a few minutes to breathe. She was also scheduled to lead break-out sessions that evening and the following as well. More than 400 people showed up the first evening and over 250 the next. There was standing room only on both nights and the buzz was building.

All in all, MDRT was the most financially successful venture we had participated in to that date. On-the-spot sales more than paid for our travel, exhibitor fees, costs of scoring purchased Indexes, and other local expenses. But more importantly, it was a breakthrough in getting Kolbe Corp’s name out in the financial services industry.

Doors were opened to us with State Farm, Prudential, New York Life and Northwestern Mutual. We had a chance to connect with high performers from AIG, Met Life, The Hartford and Sun Life of Canada. At this venue, Kathy was offered a lucrative opportunity to repeat her performance at the Association for Life Insurance Underwriters in Australia, which eventually led to a joint venture marketing initiative Down Under.

Over the next few years our initiative at MDRT led to broader contacts in general financial services. We began to speak on a regular basis to other financial associations and, one could argue that our activities with American Express in Mexico and with ABSA (the largest commercial bank in South Africa) could trace their origins to industry knowledge and experience that started with MDRT. Today, the financial services industry is Kolbe’s best-established market niche. 

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