ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Project Management Series

This is the major question that agents ask themselves whether they are speaking of new salespeople, newly acquired experienced producers or of producers with the agency for 20 or more years.

“George has the biggest book of business in the agency. He is certainly valuable. But he hasn’t sold much in recent years. He claims that he is too busy keeping “his” clients happy. He’s not satisfied with the service provided by our service staff, so does much of the menial work of client maintenance himself. He’s making good money. I can no longer motivate him to sell. What do I do??”

“Al came with us a few years ago. He had his own book of business and was attracted to us because he didn’t have time to sell at his old agency and we offered substantially more support, companies and marketing. I could understand his lack of New Business in the first year or two as he brought his book of business over to our agency. But now that is done and he still doesn’t sell much. He seems to be a “Maintenance Producer”.”

“Doreen tested very well for sales and she wanted to make more money so we promoted her. She’s really been trying but, for some reason, she can’t seem to close. I’ve had her out with me to watch how I do it and have sent her out with a few other old-timers to see their technique, as well. But she still can’t seem to get the hang of it.”

“None of these guys know what to do in a hard market! They feel GUILTY that the clients’ prices are going up (after 15 years of declines) and they are frozen in place when it comes to writing new business. They can get into any business to quote, but if they can’t beat the price, they lose – every time. And the pressure the producers are trying to exert on our underwriters for lower prices (while their management is insisting on higher rates) is turning them against us.”

SOUND FAMILIAR???

Most agencies in the U.S. share a common theme of unmanaged and untrained salespeople with great intentions but no guidance or knowledge of HOW to sell insurance (except, of course, the “P” word).

WHY?

1. We hire experienced producers, hoping that the fact that they have existing books of business indicates that they know how to sell. Most don’t.

2. Many agents really don’t care if the producer can sell – only if they have a large enough book of business to support them in the agency. If they sell, that’s a bonus!

3. We raise producers with little or no sales training (no, the CIC and CPCU coursework makes them insurance and product knowledgeable, not sales-capable). Many agents literally set the agents out on the road with a map and the Yellow Pages as a guide to prospects.

4. Agents believe they are training producers when they have them observe the agent’s own sales technique. In many cases this is the “blind leading the blind”. Even if the agent is a good salesperson, observation is only one tool (and not the most important one) in sales training.

5. Whether experienced or inexperienced, very few agents “manage” their production staff to assure them that the salespeople are doing the activities that will lead to successful sales.

THE CAUSE

Poor Selection – One of Agency Consulting Group, Inc.’s clients spends an average of $2,500 on screening, testing and psychological evaluations of a producer before they make a hire. It was hard to sell them on the idea until we evaluated the cost of all of their non-productive producers before the agency finally ridded itself of them. $2,500 was cheap compared to the average four-year duration of failed producers at the agency.

Many agents have felt the pain of non-producing salespeople but few will take the blame for poor selection. Most count on “feeling” to tell them whether a producer is a good choice or not. Most will also take on anyone who claims to be (or wants to be) a producer not focusing on the potential cost for failure.

Lack of Capital – Whether spending $1,000 or more on testing and psychological evaluation or thousands of dollars on subsequent training, if the agent chooses to take every dollar possible out of the agency in compensation, there will be none available for development. Since all producers need some sort of development, the lack of capital is the beginning of the self-fulfilling failure trail for many new producers.

Lack of Sales Training Skill – Many agents try to train their new salespeople themselves with basically no background in sales training except their achievement of a few hundred thousand dollars of commission sales over their own active sales years in the agency. Successful salespeople will generate a minimum of $50,000 of new commissions each year and many generate over $100,000 on average. A $300,000 or $400,000 book of business over a twenty-year career may not describe the caliber of producer that fits the desired description of a successful salesperson. Are you sure you have the techniques needed to make other staffers successful in sales for their earnings and your profits??

Lack of Management Skill – Truly successful agents are self-motivated. They hope for producers who are also self-motivated and they believe that close management is an infringement on the producer’s privacy. The producer “should prospect and sell on their own”, shouldn’t they? Salespeople, like all other employees, need positive motivation. Close and regular management is not a symbol of distrust; it is the role and responsibility of management in order to assure the success of that producer. Without management, all producers eventually fall into bad habits and reduce the very activities that they know will result in future sales.

Owners’ Egos – Believe it or not, many owners are so ego-driven and insecure that they can’t stand younger or more aggressive producers working for them. Intellectually, they know that the more successful producers working for them, the more profit they will earn. But their egos are stronger than their profit motive. They will hire producers expecting that other producers on staff will motivate their own performance. If, on the other hand, the other producers outperform the owner, the owner may subtly subvert the support, management, or training that will assure continuance of that trend. While this is destructive and indefensible, the owners who are in this mode never see their actions in that light. They simply see their formerly strong producers getting more frustrated and, eventually, leaving.

THE SOLUTIONS

Not all insurance producers SHOULD be insurance producers. When an experienced producer comes to you, show him/her respect for his past performance but find out how much new business he generated in each of the last five years. Then test him for sales capabilities (we use Omnia 800-525-7117 www.omniagroup.com ). If the prospect does not know how much he sold in the recent past, it should tell you volumes about his interest in sales. If he tests poorly for sales, it doesn’t matter that he has a book of business (unless you are in the market for an Account Executive because that’s what you will be hiring).

Tapes, one-day seminars and sales motivation books is like learning how to be a gourmet chef by tasting good food a few times each year. The content of these aids are few and temporary. Even if a good idea arises from a book or seminar, a producer may try it a few times and, if it works, it replaces his prior sales method. If it doesn’t work, he simply rejects the technique out of hand.

Every producer needs on-going, regular (i.e. monthly) training and even more regular mentoring. Wonderful Sales Systems exist that can definitely improve your producers capabilities and results (i.e. FAIA’s Elite Sales Training Program (www.faia.com ), Richardson Accelerated Sales Training (www.richardson.com ), Sandler Sales Institute (throughout the U.S. at www.sandler.com ). The mentoring can either be a part of the sales training (i.e. Sandler) or must come from a Big Brother Program within your agency.

Create a required spending budget for every producer in your agency and for every producer you bring into the agency. Make it at least $2,500/year and expect that to be an investment (that means that a return is expected), rather than a cost. If you, as the agency owner, is committed to testing and training as the most direct route to sales success, then your employees will either get committed to those goals or will leave.

Manage your producers. Every producer should minimally be responsible for a weekly activity report showing you how they spent their time. A better track is to have the producers set their own sales and activity goals and use the reporting structure to monitor and manage them, involving your activities when they seem to be slipping.

There are so few real salespeople in the insurance industry that if you train your staff in sales, you are certain to achieve strong growth and new business. It begins with a commitment from the agency owner and a follow-through that costs money each year to seed the ‘sales cloud’. And, as any seeding, it will result in a storm of sales, a more aggressive and positive sales team and greater profits for you.