HOW TO HIRE AND KEEP A GOOD PRODUCER – By Brandie Hinen, President of Powerhouse Learning

Hiring good people can be easy – if you know what to really look for & listen to when choosing the appropriate candidate.

The average insurance agent today is well over 45, and we have discussed the growing need to bring a new generation into the industry for a long time. I have seen a lot of things stop independent agency owners from creating their own retirement plan. TIME seems to be #1 – agency owners are busy retaining and growing their own book of business and have little time or skill in training new producers. Not having a plan is a close second, followed with not knowing “how to”. There is often recognition when it’s too late, when those agency owners realize that they want to retire in 5 years and have little alternatives other than selling out to large conglomerates.

Most of us don’t prepare well or think much about the interview until the applicant is standing at the door. Using some of these tips will help you become more keenly aware whether the person in front of you has the ability to follow through as a successful producer.

In addition, here are some step by step ideas for finding a good fit for your organization:

#1. Instead of running an ad in the paper, consider asking for recommendations. Have your team at the office bring a list of 3 names of good people they trust to next week’s meeting. Along this line, make an announcement at the next Rotary, Lions, or community leads group meeting, or ask some of your largest/closest insured relationships. Be clear about the kind of qualities you are looking for in a person. Offer incentives, like cash, for their recommendations. After 30 days, $100, after 90 days, $250 or something similar. Here are a couple other ideas: why not e-mail your local trade associations and your top trusted clients with a one page document asking for referrals for this new hire. Include your offer for (a) financial incentive (b) qualities you are looking for and (c) requirements of the job. This can be posted in house or out to the membership directory. You can offer the same financial incentive OR how about offering to host/cater that referring company’s next employee Bar-B-Que? Hosting an employee event and offering a raffle, door prizes, and agency material is a great way to say thank you all while creatively marketing your agency.

#2. CHARACTER COUNTS. Start with your agency values. Identify and list the qualities you value and respect in a person. What kind of organization does your mission statement [or vision statement] say you aspire to be in terms of customer focus, leading edge approach(s), etc. In other words, start with who you say you are and what you say you want to become. You can also open this up in a staff meeting and talk about the kind of person your team would like to work with. Look into other sales organizations in the community and consider broadening your focus.

#3. TEST THEIR ABILITY BEFORE THE INTERVIEW. We all know that one of the traits of successful performers is someone who keeps their promises and follows up. Find out if your potential new producer can show up on time from the beginning. Be more aware of habit patterns from the beginning, as they will tell you about potential red flags in the future. Awareness of broken promises now prevents BIG problems later. For example:

1. Have a response time on dropping off or e-mailing resumes.

2. Gain agreement for the applicant to call you on a very specific time on a specific day For example: “John, will you call me at exactly 3:00 p.m. Wednesday the 20th?” If they do not keep this agreement, what makes you think they will do the same with your potential customers?

3. Have them send in some kind of assignment before the interview. Create open ended questions. Ask some sample questions you may want to hear more about in the interview. A sample may be, “what kind of income goals do you have for the next 5 years?” or “how do you think being in the insurance industry will help you achieve your personal and financial goals?” or “what kinds of judgments do you have about insurance agents or the insurance industry?” or “interview 3 close business associates and ask them to tell you their opinion of the qualities of a good insurance agent”

4. Did they do what they said they would before the interview even began? If not, this may not be a good fit for your team.

#4. INTERVIEW well. Ask your applicant(s) relevant questions pertaining to ethics, work habits and problem solving situations that you face in the insurance industry ~ questions that will tell you about this person’s judgment. Have a value-based questionnaire with essay sections for them to complete. A sample question could be, “One of the biggest challenges in our industry agency is taking the commodity out of insurance – not making everything all about price. What kind of approach would you use to bring more value to our prospects and customers in their insurance buying decision?” Another sample question, “you are swamped with paperwork, insurance education classes, new training, prospects, appointments and commitments with your new job, but you are also being told to get along with the service team. They are there to help you service clients, but you don’t have any clients to service YET. You are responsible for producing revenue for the agency and your own family. How do you juggle the demands of the new job and become a ‘team player’ at the same time?”

In addition, have some of your key staff interview the applicant(s). Would they, or you, buy insurance from the person sitting across from them? Listen to your instincts (and your staff). Someone who is energetic, teachable and willing will likely give you more return than someone who has a polished speech or resume.

#5. Find TOOLS that can assist. There are a lot of testing products out there, and a couple that are best known. Create your own questionnaire first to weed out applicants before investing in the more costly ones.

#6. Establish a time-phased TRAINING program. Assign a “buddy” to the new hire based on personality and aptitude, not necessarily experience or years in the agency. Some of your most experienced staff are not necessarily the best teachers.

Have your new hire sit with staff to learn about agency technology, input and communication.

Then create a list of questions for insurance companies – have them make calls to find out what each carrier is writing in your particular state (not the region) and what they really expect from a new employee.

Talk about the importance of writing good business – and explain what “good business” means. Give specific examples.

Create a simple flow chart of how insurance works, from the insured request to agency quoting process and carrier expectations. Explain the quoting process via automation vs. formal submissions. Talk about what should be in a cover letter to a carrier, and letters of engagement to potential customers.

Assign seasoned producer ride-alongs.

Ask the new hire to come up with a list of things they want to know, judgments they may be developing, and personal concerns.

If the agency principal is unwilling or unable to train personally, assign a producer or manager that is.

Track progress (activity) weekly.

Question without interrogation. Ask how things are going, what is working, what is not every 30 days. Have a time specific BY WHEN plan for changes. Talk about challenges, training ideas, improvements and suggestions the new hire has for the agency (you may find some great ideas and some helpful feedback along the way).