As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Zinder. Mark is a leading financial expert, trend forecaster, and seasoned keynote speaker.
He has traveled the globe delivering more than 2,000 presentations to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Mark’s extensive background spans 33 years and includes being the National Spokesman for Franklin Templeton. During that time, he worked side-by-side with Sir John Templeton, Dr. Mark Mobius, and Mr. Michael Price to hone his ability to spot trends before they become obvious.
Mark has a unique gift for simplifying complicated concepts and shares those insights and many more that are key to being successful in today’s constantly changing word. He has engaged audiences both small and large, including financial institutions, universities, insurance agencies, and NASA, with his breadth of content and motivational style.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
One day, while in high school and still early in the new academic year, I saw a posted bulletin advertising the auditions for the upcoming school play, “Life of the Party”. Reluctantly, I placed my name on the list for the same reason my other guy friends put their names on the tryout list as well- to meet girls. I auditioned and was chosen to play the role of Snazzy, a character that required a bit of comedic timing. The play was to run for three nights in the school auditorium, starting on a Thursday evening, close to my birthday, six weeks out. After the first night’s play was completed, relieved, one-at-a-time, in order of actor importance, we stepped out on stage to receive from our family and friends our requisite applause. Snazzy, wasn’t the main character, but was the “co-starring” role, so I was next-to-last to take my bow. I stepped out on stage, and to my delight and amazement, all 300 people in the auditorium, rose from their seats, stood up, and presented the greatest gift a 16-year-old could ever receive- a standing ovation. At that very moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my — I was going to be on stage!
It was a “Sally Field” moment- akin to her 1984 acceptance speech when she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Places in the Heart, when she said exactly what I was thinking that evening in 1972, “You like me, you really, really like me!”
For many years I did what so many of us have and are still doing- I worked and I struggled, and I got knocked down time and time again, until I was named the National Spokesman for Franklin Templeton Mutual Funds in 1995. Since then, I have spoken at over 2,000 meetings and conferences all over the world, ranging from gatherings in the hundreds to audiences in the thousands. In 2005, after leaving the comfort of a guaranteed salary, I took the plunge and decided to work for myself and have built a successful career speaking mostly on the topics of finance and economics.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In 1983, I answered an ad I heard on the radio- it was for Sears who had just acquired Dean Witter and they were looking to hire people interested in starting a career in the investment business. I was interviewed, tested and eventually hired. I passed the Series 7 exam and went through training in New York City. I was now fully licensed, and what I thought, totally prepared. My new manager welcomed me back home to Nashville, shook my hand and walked me to my newly appointed desk. His instructions were quite simple: There’s the phone, there’s the phone book- let me know if you have any questions.” So, I did what I was trained to do in New York- I smiled and dialed. I attempted to build a book of business by calling as many people as I possibly could, straight out of the phone book, and tried to say, before they had a chance to hang up, “I have something you might be interested in.” Occasionally, to my surprise, someone would actually express interest. It became rote. Every morning I would call businesses, at night I’d call individuals. I eventually made my way to the “F’s” in the telephone book yellow pages. On this particular day, the 14th of February, I started calling businesses that started with the letter “F”, as in Florist. I dialed the first number on the page and when the florist answered the phone, I launched into my prepared script saying “I have something you might be interested in.” Still totally clueless, I heard him reply, “You might have something…guess what, I have something you might be interested in too!” I could hear him on the other end, voice trailing off, screaming to another employee about those damn telemarketers as the phone went dead. Lesson three: Don’t cold call florists on Valentine’s Day.
We all get knocked off that metaphorical ladder we are trying to climb. You know the one- where there are people above you, looking down at you, and they don’t want you on their ladder. So, as you place your hand on the next higher rung, they stomp on it and knock you off the ladder. It is up to you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on the ladder. You do it again, and it happens again. And then it happens again, and again. This will happen six, seven, or maybe even a dozen times. The secret to success? Can you continue to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the ladder with the same level of enthusiasm you got on the first time?
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Eventually, my career in finance landed me a job with the Templeton Group and I found myself working for famed money manager Sir John Templeton. I remember the day I first met Sir John. We shook hands and he immediately handed me a book to read. That book, The Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness of Crowds is the landmark study, throughout history, of crowd psychology. Today, with the market in correction territory and clients calling with consistent regularity, I am able to refer to stories I have learned from that book.
Of course my office is filled with books- many read to completion, others not. I have taken Mark Twain’s quote to heart where he said, “The man who doesn’t read is no better off than the man who can’t read.” My job, as I see it, is to know what my clients know and know it well. My job is to also know what they don’t know and know that as well.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at Mark Zinder & Associates? How do you think that will help people?
In my years of training and speaking to financial advisors, I have consistently encouraged them to help their clients get their house in order. Individuals in the investment area have always been a great source of information on what to do when it came to one’s investments, insurance, qualified plans, and the like. I recognized that they were failing when it came to helping their clients organize their paperwork for life events. Where is their will? How about their Power of Attorneys in case of medical emergency or their medical directives? Do they have a list of all their passwords should a loved one need to access their information? What about the prescription drugs they are taking- can you provide them when a Doctor of Nurse asks? I created a step-by-step guide and the appropriate forms for Advisors to use with their clients to help them get their personal and financial papers in order. For years we have made these organizational kits available in paper form but today, we have created a digital form, discovering some of the advisor’s younger clients would prefer digital to paper. We have discovered that by having it digitally, it made it easier to keep this important documentation updated.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I consider myself very lucky to have worked with Sir John Templeton. Not only was he an outstanding humanitarian and money manager, but he also penned numerous books in his lifetime and gave tirelessly to numerous causes. As busy as he was, he always found time to speak with me and give me as much time as I needed to understand a concept or philosophy. Those hours spent and those lessons learned were invaluable and simply something, and I apologize for the cliché, money simply cannot buy. Today, as I travel the world, I am reminded of his generosity and try to pay it forward. In my 80 to 100 speeches I give a year, I provide insights to what I have learned, but also provide resources, free of charge, that my audience can use. I send my PowerPoint presentation to those that ask with constant updates that they can use to grow their business. I even tell the audience that we are all in this together and if they have a question, please text, email, or call- that I am happy to help. Mr. Templeton was so generous with his time and I try to do the same with mine.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I like, tongue in cheek, to quote Vice President Dan Quail when he was asked a similar question and he responded, “One word sums up the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is ‘to be prepared.’” Mr. Templeton once said to me that his job was to see if before it became obvious. We tend to extrapolate the “present,” we have a difficult time seeing into the future. Today, we are bombarded with so much information that is in the “now” that we fail to look forward and see the possibility of a different outcome. As a speaker, when I take Questions and Answers, I always start with the statement, “Don’t ask me any questions I don’t know the answer to!” But in reality, I’m ready, because like Mr. Quail, I’m prepared.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
That question is both simple and difficult to answer. Simple to answer but sometimes, hard to apply. I’ve always followed Steve Martin’s rule: “Be so good, they have to like you.”
The question you have to ask yourself is, “What makes you different? What makes you stand out from the crowd? Who are you? I once read the following quote and had to reread it many times before I eventually got it. “You are not who you think you are. You are not who I think you are. You are, who you think, I think, you are.” Does that make sense? What is the image you are projecting to your prospects and clients? Who do they think you are based on your communications, your talents and your skills? Who are you? Dig deep and if you are not projecting the image you are wanting to project…it is time to step back, pause, and regroup. I repeat; be so good they have to like you!
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
As I sit here, answering these questions and watching the stock market correct, businesses shutting their doors, and restaurants on the brink of bankruptcy, I have to refer back to my time with Sir John. He was against leverage in his managed portfolios or against personal debt of any kind. I remember, while working for him, I purchased a house and was so afraid that the mortgage company would call him to check employment and he would then learn that I was borrowing money. He once told me that when he was first getting started, he saved .50 cents of every dollar. He went on the say, “If you don’t owe anything on it, no one can take it away from you.” These are trying times. Borrowing money may not be an option, but maybe it is. What costs, both personal and business, can you cut? Ask yourself, what can I do without?
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
The four most commonly used factors in determining the value of a company are: #1. The value of its assets, both tangible and intangible, like goodwill. #2. The present value of future cash flow. #3. What similar companies are being bought, sold, or valued at, and #4. The economic outlook for the specific industry the company is a part of, and the company’s position in that industry.
To optimize the evaluation of your company, try to normalize your expenses, boost your earnings and increase your margins. I know that those last two go hand-in-hand, but what I mean is that the owner should try to find higher margin work. An example would be a company that specialized in electrical work. They might learn that what they can earn more from repairs than what they earn from doing new installation.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Innovate, innovate, innovate! I remember recently seeing a speaker I once worked with in the late 90’s- he was presenting at a conference the same day. I was shocked- he was saying the exact same thing he had said 20 years prior- his content hadn’t changed! As I sat in the back of the room with the other conference participants, I could hear the comments from those sitting around me and they weren’t kind, but they were correct, his material was old and out-of-date. He had created an outstanding presentation 20 years ago and was now spending his time marketing his service instead of writing new material. We see this all the time- the flashes in the pan, the one-hit wonders. For me, the hardest thing to do is the create new content- it is so hard and takes so much time, but when I am finished, it offers the greatest reward. When I look back at my speaking career, the ability to innovate and stay current has been the one factor that has kept me on top over the decades.
I am actually restarting my engines, per se, right now. Conferences have cancelled and it looks like I will be spending the next three to six months at home. Will I watch a new series on Netflix? Probably. Will I read a few new books? Yep. Will I concentrate on writing new material so when this is finally over and conferences are being held again, will I be ready to present new timely material that address the new economy in which we live? Absolutely! I think the quote from Albert Einstein states it best when he said, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing today as you did yesterday but expect a different result!”
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Debt. And I understand it. In your industry, if sales are growing at 7% and you can borrow at 5%, it makes logical sense- the numbers work in your favor. We have recently learned that things can get ugly quickly. Its’s an interesting balancing act we must all perform.
When this current coronavirus scare is over, the strongest businesses will emerge victorious. During the financial crises on 2008, I saw a lot of marginal speakers get washed out of the industry. They were sitting on too much debt and weren’t prepared for what was about to occur. The first thing they did, of course, was to cut their speaking fee, which may have helped a little. They then offered their agents a higher commission- that reeked of desperation. Then they simply washed out, disappearing totally from the speaker’s circuit. For others like me, we were able to weather the storm and when it was over, there were fewer of us competing for the speaking jobs that were now coming available. Buffett said it best when he said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked.”
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
Modern finance can mean different things to different people- for most of my career, it has meant individual advisors working with individual investors and organizations that focus in areas of taxation, investments, or insurance, just to name a few.
To become different than your competition, and succeed to higher levels, these are the five things I would recommend.
1. Learn to talk so your clients will listen and learn to listen so your clients will talk. In my years of training and working with individuals, the one thing that pushes me over the edge is when I witness someone interrupt their clients or prospects- please stop doing that. We all have, what we would like to consider, a wealth of information we want to share and wisdom we want to impart. Please be patient and let your clients and prospects finish their thoughts.
I often share this story when I am trying to make the point about being patient and letting their prospects finish their thoughts. In 1869 Thomas Edison tried to sell his new invention- the stock ticker tape machine. He made an appointment to show it to the President of The Gold Indicator Company. He thought his new invention might be worth $5,000- a lot of money in 1869. During his demonstration, the President of the company interrupted young Thomas Edison and asked him how much he wanted for it and Edison didn’t say anything. The company’s President said, “I’ll give you $25,000 for it.” Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $30,000 for it.” Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $35,000 for it.” Again, Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $40,000 and that’s my final offer!” Edison said, “I’ll take it.” The gentleman was writing out the check and about to hand it to young Thomas Edison, and he said, “I was prepared to give you $50,000!” And Edison, taking the check said, “Oh yeah, I was prepared to take $5,000!”
If you stop interrupting your client, you might be surprised on what you may learn.
2. Facts tell but stories sell. For those of us in finance, for the most part, we are left-brain analytical people, while most of our clients are right-brain picture people. We are talking in numbers, but they are thinking in pictures, and many times they don’t have a clue what we are saying. We show them the numbers but many times they can’t do simple math. This is why some marketers like grocery stores, try to confuse the purchaser. For example, for a $4 item, which is better? 45 cents off or 15% off? 36% of American consumers could not do the math. When A&W wanted to compete with the McDonald’s ¼ pounder, they created the 1/3 pound hamburger but it wasn’t selling as well as they had anticipated even though they priced their hamburger the same as McDonalds. Why? The average American saw the number “4” as in ¼ was larger than the number “3” as in 1/3 and they thought the A&W burger was a much worse value.
Do not explain concepts in numbers but do explain them using stories.
3. Most people like to be taught, not told. For the people I have trained, I often tell them, “Your job is know what your clients know and know it well. Your job is to also know what they don’t know and know that as well!” Sometimes I will refer to this a second-level thinking. It is easy for many of us to anticipate what questions your client may throw at you. For example, as a speaker in finance and economics, I can pretty much anticipate the question about our nation’s $23 trillion (and growing) debt. When I do take Q&A, that is usually the first question that comes up. I’m curious, how do you respond? Do you say, “Oh yeah, it certainly is a problem.” Or do you make comparisons to other countries whose debt-to-GDP is even higher? Neither of those answers, and I have heard both, adequately answers the question at hand. Instead, what I do, is to ask them, “What about our nation’s assets- do you happen to know what they are worth?” This is something few people have thought about and I often get a blank stare from those asked. I will then speak to the above-ground and below-ground assets, like real estate (the gov’t owns 28% of the US landmass worth roughly $23 trillion) and mineral rights and energy leases (worth roughly $128 trillion). When you add up all the assets of the US gov’t, you are approaching $270 trillion dollars. I go on to ask them, “If you were a banker, and were handed a balance sheet that looked like this (we will remove some zeros for easy math- see above), $270,000 in assets, $23,000 in debt, $3,640 in income (taxes), and a credit score nearing 825, would you make the loan?
Can you see how thinking past the obvious, and going a little deeper, helps provide perspective and clarity?
4. I have had the pleasure to meet some of the most successful financial advisors in the world. One of the attributes that I have noticed is they know their best clients as well as they know their best friends. All too often, a conversation starts with, “Hi, how are you?” And the prospect will respond, “Fine, how are you?” The advisor or salesperson will answer with “fine” and then launch into “throwing up on the desk”- explaining why he or she is the perfect choice for their specific needs. I train people to ask more questions. The point I make is how can you possibly know what their needs are unless you ask. The answer is in the asking. Ask, ask, ask. If they ask you a question, then respond with, “Why do you ask?” You might be surprised to learn they will actually tell you. And then say, “Because you told me that, I recommend you do this.”
I have seen this work so well so many times. I was once in a meeting when the advisor did what I suggested and learned that the prospect had three children between the ages of 25 and 32. The advisor also learned that there was a history of heart disease in their extended family- almost all of them had had heart attacks in their 30’s and 40’s. After a personal discussion about the prospects family, the advisor said, “Because you told me you have heart disease in your family, and because you told me you have three children, I recommend we place permanent live insurance on all of your children’s lives today, so if ever that happens to them, they won’t face the same issue you face today. For you, getting life insurance would be very expensive because your two previous heart attacks. For your children, who haven’t experienced an episode yet, the rates would be much cheaper.” The prospects agreed, introducing them to his three children. Instead of getting one new client, the advisor got four.
Get to know your clients and prospects like you would get to know your best friends.
5. The last thing I would recommend is to make sure you are updating your sales process as much as you are keeping up to date with the products you sell. In the late ‘80’s I read the book, The IBM Way. What I still remember about the book is how they regarded everyone in their organization as a salesperson. What was true then is still true today. We are all salespeople, and nothing happens in this world until one person sells something to someone else.
Early in my career I learned the sales process, Feel, Felt, Found, as in, “I know how you feel, I felt that way once, but then I found….” Then in the 90’s I was taught: Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” In the 2000’s the technique was: “Today we are going to talk about three things. The three things we are going to talk about today are… Today, we talked about three things.” Today, I have been teaching salespeople a process I call: “Issues, problem, solution, product.” Let me give you an example.
Many people are surprised when they learn that medical malpractice is the #3 killer in America, right behind heart disease and cancer. Why? We go to the hospital unprepared. We don’t have our powers of attorney, our medical directives, the list of the prescription medicines we are taking, our prior medical procedures, or even what our blood type is. Having this information could save precious time in case of an emergency. We also send out children off to college, and on youth mission trips, or travel sporting events, without this information, and because they are now over 18, or in the eyes of the law, the “age of majority” and because of HIPPA laws, a hospital will not tell you what may be wrong in an emergency situation without the proper paperwork. On my website, MarkZinder.com, for free, we provide the Powers of Attorneys for each of the 50 states- did you know they are different in most states? What we also did was to create ICE wallet cards and a thumb drive in the shape of a key that goes on your keychain that also has the ICE logo on it. Remember, ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. You simply fill out the important information and in case of a real emergency, first responders have immediate access to important, lifesaving information!
Now, let’s review what I just did. #1. Issues: people are dying unnecessarily because of medical malpractice. #2. Problem: we are sending our children off to college and other out-of-state events without proper documents. #3. Solution: I directed you to my website where you could obtain this information for free, and lastly #4: I told you about the ICE wallet cards and the ICE key, our product.
Issues, problem, solution, product.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
Back in high school, there were four of us that were the closest of friends. Billy became a CPA and worked for the same company the entirety of his career. Steve became an orthopedic surgeon primarily focusing on his patient’s knees. Alan tried his hand in the entertainment business and quickly rose to stardom becoming an on-air television personality and then, of course, there was me. You can divide the four of us into two groups- those of us that took the path of an uncertain future- Alan and myself, and those that leaned towards a more certain outcome. Both Billy and Steve had very successful careers whose paths of success were laid out nicely. Alan and myself, less so. Roughly five years ago, I saw my old friends at our 40th high school reunion. As we were catching up on old times, I asked Steve how he enjoyed being an orthopedic surgeon and his reply- one that still makes me shutter today, was, “If I have to look at another knee as long as I live…”
What I realized that day was that Steve and Billy had chosen the merry-go-round. They worked hard and were financially rewarded. Alan and I got on the roller-coaster. As an actor, Alan was constantly interviewing (we will call it auditioning) for a new job and as a speaker, I was doing the same. I have often said that every speech I deliver is really nothing more than an audition for the next speech.
If you have chosen the field of finance where the movement of the stock market is also responsible for your mood, then you need to look at it differently. In retrospect, you have a choice. You can either get on the merry-go-round, or you can get on the roller-coaster. They both start at the same place and they both end at the same place, however, for me, the roller coaster is a ride that is much more fun to take. Don’t see your job as a something that causes “burned out”, see it as it really is, an exciting ride to enjoy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In my senior year of college, my guidance counselor pointed out that I needed to take one more math class to secure my degree. I had taken the mandatory math classes and I was told that this one could be an elective. Not making it too difficult on myself, I chose an entry level math class, Math in Society 101. Basically, it was math in society- that math we use every day, like when purchasing a home, applying for credit, calculating the difference between simple or compound interest rates, or even the rule of 72, dollar-cost averaging or the time value of money. The class included some of the basic lessons like balancing your checkbook to more complex, like completing your taxes…basically, the math we use in our day to day lives. The professor that taught the course had also created the course and the freshly minted workbook.
He told us that we were guinea pigs and that he was attempting to get the university to offer it as an ongoing class. I don’t know if he ever achieved his goal, but I will say, it was one of my favorite classes- mostly because, unlike some of the more advanced math classes I had completed, I could see how I would apply it in my daily life.
If I could start a movement, it would be to teach our children that very thing- math in society. It has been written too often that many Americans lack the basic knowledge when it comes to banking and investing- something we could all benefit from.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I also send out a weekly email called Talking Points, it consists of 7 facts, stats, and quotes, they are cited and I encourage people to use them for their own social media initiatives. They’re also great as conversation sparks or starters for networking situations or speaking with clients. You can find them on my website and sign up for them there as well.