Speakers & Presentations

This is important….

You can expect to hear from top national speakers at ASCEND. But there are some important differences from other industry conferences.

Most insurance industry conferences provide a seemingly endless lineup of speakers in never-ending concurrent breakout sessions covering products, regulatory & compliance updates, and plan design. Of course, keeping up with these topics is important and necessary to being a capable benefits advisor.

These topics, however, won’t grow your business. And hanging out with all the producers & account managers who attend other conferences won’t increase your leadership IQ.

ASCEND is different

ASCEND is exclusively for benefit agency leaders – owners & principals of their firm – who are focused on agency reinvention and growth. At ASCEND, you are surrounded by your peers, who understand and deal with the same challenges and opportunities you face every day.

And at ASCEND you won’t be discussing the same-old-same-old topics heard at other conferences. Instead, ASCEND focuses on business-building topics that help you improve & grow your firm. Critical topics like Portfolio, Marketing, Selling, Management & Leadership.

(Left to right) Andy Neary of VolkBell talks with Mark Gaunya & Jennifer Borislow of Borislow Insurance

(Left to right) Andy Neary of VolkBell talks with Mark Gaunya & Jennifer Borislow of Borislow Insurance during a break at ASCEND

Collaboration with your peers

So the main draw of ASCEND isn’t a huge lineup of speakers. ASCEND’s value is being with and interacting with your peers…other innovative agency leaders who are committed to growth and willing to work collaboratively with you to share & discover agency best practices and proven growth strategies. This peer-to-peer collaboration…what Nelson & Scott call “meaningful conversations”…lie at the heart of ASCEND’s power to change your agency and drive greater organic growth.

Speakers at ASCEND

But while the secret sauce of ASCEND is the in-depth peer-to-peer collaboration & interaction that only happens here, ASCEND does feature premier industry thought leaders & experts in business-building strategies who will present Strategy Sessions & Agency Growth Workshops, facilitate Mastermind Roundtable collaborative discussions, and chair Expert Roundtables for intimate learning sessions with Q&A.

Due to the unique nature of ASCEND, however, there will be no endless parade of speakers in breakout sessions but instead a small, highly skilled team of experts focused on helping you to reinvent your agency, enhance your leadership skills, and maximize the four key areas of agency growth—Portfolio, Marketing, Selling, & Management—as outlined in Nelson Griswold & Scott Cantrell’s industry bestseller, DO or DIE – Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success.

ASCEND is excited to announce these nationally known experts as its 2017 speakers:

♦  NELSON L. GRISWOLD – author, agency growth expert & ASCEND Co-Founder

♦  SCOTT CANTRELL – author, marketing & practice management expert, and ASCEND Co-Founder

♦  TONY RUBLESKI – best-selling author & speaker on leadership and marketing

♦  BILL WHITLEY – nationally recognized speaker, author, and sales trainer

♦  DAVID O’BRIEN – technology & innovation authority; CEO of Zywave, Inc.

♦  RICHARD PERRYMAN – data analytics & cost containment expert; national practice leader at TrendShift

♦  MICHAEL SCHROEDER – expert on self-funding captives; president of Roundstone

These experts will present actionable strategies and tactics that will help you enhance your leadership skills, fill your prospecting pipeline, close more accounts, achieve consistent organic growth, and position your firm to own the future.

ASCEND 2017 Speakers



DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success

Bottom Line Solutions, Inc.

ASCEND Co-Founder

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Nelson Griswold is one of our industry’s premier agency growth strategists and the author of the industry bestselling book, DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success.

He and his company, Bottom Line Solutions, consult with leading independent benefits firms across the country and some of the top national firms, such as Aon & HUB.

An acknowledged authority on consultative selling, cross-selling, and voluntary benefits, he has presented his Broker Boot Camp—a high-energy, workshop on cross-selling voluntary benefits as a consultative solution sale—to over 4,200 brokers across the country, sponsored by leading carriers including Aflac, Humana, Assurant, Allstate, Washington National, Aetna, and Trustmark.

A respected thought leader, he is a Contributing Editor and monthly columnist for Employee Benefit Adviser magazine and writes for other leading industry publications. He is a board member and serves on the Executive Committee of both the Workplace Benefits Association and the Voluntary Benefits Association.

Nelson will present the opening keynote presentation and the closing workshop. He also will  facilitate the Mastermind Collaboration roundtable discussions.



DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success

Bottom Line Solutions, Inc.

ASCEND Co-Founder

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Scott Cantrell is a leading agency practice management consultant. He is co-author of the industry bestseller, DO or DIE, and partner with Nelson Griswold in the agency growth consultancy, Bottom Line Solutions. Scott is a regular contributor on BenefitAdvisor TV and his work has been featured in leading industry publications including Employee Benefit Adviser, Producers eSource, and Canadian Insurance Top Broker. He is an Associate Board Member of the Workplace Benefits Association.

Scott will lead a session on best practice agency management strategies. He also will be facilitating the Mastermind Collaboration roundtable discussions.




Mind Capture Group


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Tony Rubleski is a marketing & leadership expert and the bestselling creator of the Mind Capture book series. His latest installment in the series, Mind Capture: Leadership Lessons from Ten Trailblazers Who Beat the Odds and Influenced Millions, chronicles what ten very different, yet highly successful trailblazers did to achieve massive global success despite setbacks, critics and other unique challenges. Tony reveals the seven key characteristics these Trailblazers – from religion, sports, business and the media – all have in common.

An in-demand keynote speaker and strategic business coach, Tony’s core expertise and message is designed to help people ‘Capture’ more minds and profits. He has served as a faculty member and instructor with the U.S Chamber of Commerce (IOM) and CEO Space International.

As editor and creator of A Captured Mind newsletter he has interviewed some of the highest paid direct marketing, Internet, success and sales minds in the world including Seth Godin, Jay Abraham, Dr. Ivan Misner, Darren Hardy (SUCCESS Magazine), Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy, Dan Kennedy, Jeffrey Gitomer, Joel Comm, Sally Hogshead, Sharon Lechter and Larry Winget.

A highly sought after speaker and agent of change, his live seminars and keynote talks receive rave reviews. He’s shared the stage with such business notables as Les Brown, Dan Kennedy, Michael Gerber, Jeffrey Gitomer, and Bob Burg, as well as Olympic gold medalist Dan Jansen, and various celebrities including TV’s John Walsh, Mick Fleetwood. He’s presented to hundreds of audiences including some of the biggest chambers of commerce in North America and association events throughout the U.S.

His work has been featured in various media outlets ranging from Bottom Line Magazine, The Detroit Free Press, the FOX TV network, ABC, to CNN Radio, NPR and Entrepreneur Magazine Radio.

Tony is a 1994 graduate of Western Michigan University with a degree in marketing. He and his wife, Lacey, live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.



Art of the Rainmaker

Risk Adviser Institute


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Bill Whitley is a client attraction expert. A nationally recognized speaker, consultant, and author, he specializes in helping insurance professionals get to the next level by attracting more clients, closing more sales, and deepening client relationships. Many of his unique sales and customer loyalty concepts are derived from Bill’s personal experience as a top-echelon sales executive who achieved and maintained an 80% presentation-to-close ratio.

In 1989, Bill leveraged his dramatic sales success by forming The Whitley Group, a multi-media sales presentation design and production company whose focus was creating sales improvement programs for clients such as IBM, Apple Computer, EDS, and AT&T.

Today, the powerful sales concepts, tactics, and techniques Bill shares with insurance agents, healthcare brokers, and financial advisors reveal, step-by-step, how to: Attract more new clients, Communicate the true value of your products, services, and personal sales representation, Engage fully with current clients, and Develop long-term trust relationships with clients that cement personal and company loyalty.

In addition to his work as a consultant and keynote speaker, Bill is author of two books that present & reinforce the unique sales training principles he presents in his seminars. Art of the Rainmaker explains in clear, easy steps how sales professionals can create new clients without adopting a pushy, aggressive sales approach. Eight Secrets of the Top-Performing Agents outlines strategies and techniques used by top-selling insurance agents. More than 4,000 insurance agents have attended his Eight Secrets seminars and used what they learned to improve their close rates and customer loyalty levels.

Bill and his wife LeeAnne live with their three children in Charlotte, NC.



Zywave, Inc.




National Practice Leader






ASCEND 2017 Presentations


NELSON L. GRISWOLD – Opening Keynote Address

Three Traits of a NextGeneration Benefits Firm


Nelson Griswold making a point during his ASCEND 2016 Keynote

ASCEND Co-Founder & agency growth expert Nelson Griswold will give the opening Keynote Presentation at ASCEND 2017. Nelson consults with some of the most progressive benefits agencies in the country, successful firms that are experiencing tremendous organic growth. What sets these firms apart from most other agencies that are struggling in the post-ACA world? What characteristics do they share? Drawing from his insider experience with these agencies, he will share the three most important traits that are driving their success and growth. In addition, you will get an inside look at the value propositions and key strategies that have made these firms market leaders.

This high-energy presentation will challenge long-held beliefs and misconceptions that are holding back agency growth while offering you alternative views and actionable strategies that will unleash your firm’s organic growth. Nelson also will provide powerful “little hinges” that you can implement immediately to drive major growth and improvement in your firm.

SCOTT CANTRELLAgency Growth Strategy Session

Designing & Building a Client Attraction Machine for NextGeneration Benefits Firms


Scott Cantrell sharing marketing best practices at ASCEND 2016

do-or-die-book_cover_left_face_tilt-outlineUsing strategies from his book, DO or DIE, agency marketing expert Scott Cantrell has been helping benefit firms design and build systems & processes that consistently and predictably yield new clients. One of the biggest challenges for any agency is prospecting for new clients. While most producers are lousy at prospecting, their poor prospecting results aren’t just frustrating, they hinder the growth of your firm.

In this eye-opening and detailed session, Scott shows you how to crack the prospecting code once and for all. He will walk you through the five key systems essential to developing your own client attraction machine and operating it to generate ongoing growth.

You will walk away from this strategic marketing session with an actual blueprint for a proven prospecting system that will create a steady stream of qualified prospects, closed cases, and new clients…producing sustainable organic growth for your firm.

TONY RUBLESKIKeynote Address

Leadership Lessons from Legendary Trailblazers Who Beat the Odds & Influenced Millions


Tony Rubleski speaking on advanced leadership skills

In the Summit’s second keynote presentation, marketing & leadership expert Tony Rubleski will share proven leadership strategies & insights from his new book, MIND CAPTURE: Leadership Lessons from Ten mindcapturebook4virtualcoverTrailblazers Who Beat the Odds and Influenced Millions.

Tony discovered that these national and global leaders in the fields of religion, sports, business, and the media shared seven common characteristics that underlie their success. The Trailblazers featured in the book include John Stossel, host of the FOX TV show “Stossel”; Dave Liniger, chairman and co-founder of real estate giant RE/MAX, LLC; New York Times bestselling author Sally Hogshead; NHL head coach Dan Bylsma of the Buffalo Sabres; and bestselling business author Seth Godin. 

In his foreword to the book, Dave Liniger of RE/MAX wrote that Mind Capture “can unlock your potential. It can change everything. When you encounter a collection of knowledge as worthwhile as Mind Capture, you really ought to pay attention.”

As an agency leader, you face an unprecedented & daunting challenge if you want to emerge a winner in the post-reform world: leading your firm through a time of change and reinvention. In this dynamic and motivational keynote presentation, Tony will share key leadership traits from the seven characteristics that he discovered these Trailblazers shared…and practical strategies that will make you an even stronger leader in your firm during this challenging time of change.

BILL WHITLEY – Agency Growth Strategy Session

The Message, Questions & Insights that Attract & Engage Clients

Bill Whitley discussing the power of a good client attraction story

Bill Whitley discussing the power of a good client attraction story

Nationally known sales & marketing expert Bill Whitley has taught over 4,000 insurance professionals how to improve their close rates and increase client retention with proven alternative client attraction strategies. Drawing from his acclaimed book, Art of the Rainmaker, Bill’s refreshing sales techniques show you how to discover & communicate the essence of your organization’s value to naturally attract more new clients.

art-of-the-rainmaker-bill-whitleyIn this extremely practical presentation, Bill provides insightful guidance on how to create effective “client attraction stories,” a sophisticated but simple strategy to differentiate yourself from the competition; make your value easy to understand & see; develop the questions, insights and advice that make people more interested in what you do; and immediately position yourself as a trusted advisor.

Traditional transactional selling styles are obsolete and top sales professionals know that it’s possible to bring in new business consistently without resorting to a canned “elevator speech,” painful product pitches, and artificial closing tactics that lose far more prospects than they win over. Bill will give you the details of this alternative strategy that closes cases and creates long-term clients.

In an entertaining format that mixes compelling stories with cutting-edge concepts, Bill will reveal how to leverage this advanced client attraction strategy that allows you to easily and confidently assume the role of a trusted advisor & irreplaceable resource to win and retain new clients.

In Bill’s presentation, you’ll discover how to…

•  harness the power of story, your most powerful client education tool;

•  create client attraction stories that clearly demonstrate of your value;

•  make your products and services easier to understand; and

•  create emotion and infuse it into your presentation.

During the presentation, you will watch & hear Bill take an audience member’s agency success story and craft it on the spot into a powerful & compelling client attraction story that positions the broker as a trusted advisor.

Even the most sophisticated consultative advisor will find real gold & actionable techniques in Bill’s presentation. Client attraction stories are among the most powerful and effective techniques you can use to attract & close your ideal prospects.

DAVE O’BRIENInnovation Interview

Leveraging Innovation, Data & Technology to Win Business

dave-obrien-sittingAs a founder of industry innovator Zywave, Dave O’Brien is a technology pioneer in our industry, having helped create some of the first technology tools for benefits brokers in the 1990s. An early advocate of data analytics, he understands the power of data to inform plan design and benefits strategy. With his extensive knowledge as a former broker himself, Dave brings an advisor’s mindset to his role as Zywave’s CEO. He keeps a steady finger on the pulse of the industry and a keen eye on emerging technologies & innovations that can help advisors achieve organic growth & retain clients.

In this informative program, you’ll hear how the most dynamic benefits agencies are differentiating themselves and driving organic growth by leveraging data and technology. As benefits technology continues to advance and as new innovations are introduced, those benefits firms that stay current with these developments will have a huge competitive advantage.

Don’t miss this session as Dave reveals the cutting-edge technologies and strategies that are transforming our industry and that can help you grow your book of business and retain clients.

RICK PERRYMAN – Innovation Interview

Harnessing Data for Cost Containment & Fiduciary Compliance


The industry buzz word “transparency” has been defined by payers, PBMs and TPAs into a meaningless term.

Industry thought leader Rick Perryman thinks that true transparency can be achieved, but it needs to start with a specific definition that has a measurable standard applied to it. With the Department of Labor’s recent hardline stance on the subject of plan sponsor obligations under ERISA (GAP Stores and others have recently been sued in breach of fiduciary lawsuits), he believes the new safe haven transparency standard for plan sponsors must be “fiduciary-level transparency.”

In this eye-opening presentation, Rick will reveal the new opportunity for benefits advisors to help plan sponsors hold vendors accountable and ensure their plan’s fiduciary compliance. You’ll discover how a data partner can apply these new transparency standards to claims and pharmacy data in a real-time manner and assist in correcting irregularities and inefficiencies through proactive plan management. He’ll also show how real-time data analysis and proactive plan management not only enforces transparency but also reduces benefits spend.

An employee of a national accounting firm describes the movement towards fiduciary-level transparency for benefit plan sponsors as “the equivalent of what Sarbanes Oxley did for our industry in 2002. It fundamentally changed our entire industry’s focus and direction forever.” In this session, learn how to position your benefits firm in the vanguard of this new market approach for benefits advisors.

MIKE SCHROEDER – Innovation Interview

How Captives Facilitate Risk Mitigation & Cost Containment

michael-schroeder-speaking-rtAs a nationally recognized authority on medical captive self-funded programs, Mike Schroeder will reveal how innovative benefits advisors can use captives to help employers take control of their health plan to control spend and reduce employee health risk.

In this strategy-filled session, Mike will discuss how the control that comes with self-funding allows for highly effective, advanced cost containment strategies to address overspend. And how this high level of control permits sophisticated population health management strategies to change employee behavior, improve their health, and reduce utilization of the health plan.

Most important, you’ll discover how self-funding gives employers control over their medical claims & pharmacy data. This allows for in-depth analysis, including predictive analytics that can, for example, identify employee health conditions that will be future cost drivers. This high level of insight can result in more effective plan design and improved overall benefit strategy.

With the increasing popularity of self-funding and the growing use of captives, you don’t want to miss Mike’s insider’s look at the power of medical captives to give employers control over their health plan.


A Consultative Sales System for a NextGeneration Benefits Agency


Nelson Griswold presenting at ASCEND 2016

advisory-selling-logo-2In a post-ACA survey of brokers & consultants, 52% said they planned to become more consultative. These advisors are correct; a consultative sales approach is absolutely necessary for post-reform success. But the reality is few producers actually know how to be consultative. And sales experts all agree that an effective sales organization – in employee benefits or any other industry – must use a systematized sales process.

During this in-depth and hands-on workshop, you will be given the complete “Advisory Selling” program, a consultative sales system created by Nelson & Scott for the insurance & financial services industry.

Scott Cantrell speaking at ASCEND 2016

Scott Cantrell speaking at ASCEND 2016

For the producer, Advisory Selling provides a step-by-step guide to an effective and easy-to-implement consultative approach. For the agency, Advisory Selling provides a proven, systematized sales process that achieves four primary results that are predictable & replicable:

•  Increase your sales conversion rate;

•  Accelerate the sales cycle;

•  Maximize your client relationships for cross-sell opportunities; and

•  Manage your sales pipeline easily and with confidence.

You will leave this workshop with a step-by-step program for a consultative selling system that both will consistently convert warm prospects into clients and will provide your agency with an easy-to-manage sales process that simplifies tracking your sales pipeline.

This high-impact workshop is taken directly from the Advisory Selling Academy two-day intensive sales training program that has received rave reviews from producers and agency leaders across the country.

What agency leaders are saying about the “Advisory Selling” consultative sales system for producers & agencies…