Agency principals and managers often ask the question, “Where can I find a good producer?” For many reasons, this is typically the wrong question to ask at the outset. Instead of wondering where to look, the better initial strategy is to first decide what you’re looking for. What the producer looks like, or other immutable characteristics, are not what matters. The best question to ask is, “What are the personality and behavioral characteristics that make a successful producer?”
Does is ever matter if the producer is a male or female? Perhaps, but in most cases, the answer to that question is no. If there is a particular niche the agency serves where the few natural characteristics that separate most women from most men are vitally important, then this could be a consideration. But in most cases, it’s not gender that matters most—even with niche markets. It is the aspects of their personalities, energy, drive, flexibility and intelligence that are most likely to lead to success. To break down these characteristics into specifics, here are my top ten.
Insurance agency producers need energy at their core. Finding, meeting, persuading, and servicing insurance customers—whether personal or commercial—takes a lot of energy. It means always being on the look-out for the new prospect. It means a willingness to interrupt routines on-the-fly to meet a service need or explore a new opportunity. It means getting up early, or staying up late, to get the information, take the meeting, or drive to the prospect’s location. It means constant learning, negotiating, and planning. Success never comes to those who simply wait for a sale to come to them. So, if an agency is considering a new producer, they should explore the energy that the applicant has displayed in their past life. The signs may show up in their educational track record, or their personal activities, or even their approach to living. During interviews, look for energy.
#2 Attention to detail
It’s a common misconception that insurance producers are just like any other “sales” person. They aren’t. There are many types of “sales” jobs. Some play the numbers game, calling as many people as possible to find a sale. Others use the art of conversation to persuade, or some might say, to manipulate people. Really successful insurance producers are not these types of salespersons—not even close. Producers must collect a lot of information consistently to succeed. Not paying attention to all of the underwriting information that is required to place the insurance at favorable terms, with the correct coverage, is a big agency headache. It leads to inefficiency, staff frustration, and errors and omissions risks. Successful producers collect data—a lot of it—over and over. They take the best the old adage, “Measure twice, cut once” to heart. If they get the information on the application right the first time, they won’t have to go back and get it again in order to correct it with the carrier later. Their quote will be correct, their renewal will be easier, and there will be fewer issues at claims time. Considering the importance of attention to detail in insurance sales, a word of caution is appropriate when considering candidates. Some people have personalities that naturally gravitate to details, while others may not. It’s worth remembering that attention to detail is a skill that can be developed by those who are not analytical by nature, so be careful about rejecting a personality type that may offer other great attributes.
#3 Discipline in prospecting
The hardest job of an insurance producer is prospecting for new business. It is the primary hurdle everyone faces when they take on the role. Ask any mature successful producer about their early days in the business and their stories will be similar. They fought and struggled to find new prospects for those first few years. And when they finally reached the point where regular prospecting gave way to network referrals, they breathed a sigh of relief. The hunt eventually gives way to a more comfortable and natural way of connecting with prospects. But for the new producer, the prospecting must be done with old-fashioned hard work and discipline. It may mean setting daily goals for phone calls, emails, letters, or walk-ins. It can often mean going to conferences, luncheons, meet-and greets, and network group meetings that may yield no results, but may just as well lead to a break-through contact to the right potential customers. So, when an agency is considering a new producer, look for a track-record of disciplined effort. Maybe you see it in their athletic past, or in pursuing an academic achievement, but look for someone—man or woman—who can make a plan and stick to it until they achieve the desired result.
#4 Commitment to achieving results
A new producer’s life is filled with goals. Reaching those goals means success. Failure means moving on to a different career. Insurance agencies take on considerable risk when they bring on a new producer. They may have to carry them financially for many months until they can start paying for themselves. So, a producer needs a commitment to reaching goals. What does that look like? Some might say it’s a stubborn refusal to fail. Others might say it is using a thoughtful strategy to eliminate obstacles. Whatever you might call it, it shows up as a deepseated desire to get to a finish line. The best producers do this every year. The most accomplished will evaluate annually and consider, “What do I need to stop doing?” or “What’s holding me back from reaching my revenue goal?” They cull their book. They set new goals. They calculate what their time is worth. They evaluate their options for an ownership stake. So, when hiring a prospective producer, look for that fire that is essential for reaching their goals. If it’s hard to see, they may get there, but you might be smart to keep looking.
#5 Network builder
It seems that every successful producer has, over time, created a network of contacts that consistently brings them customers. The strategies for building these networks are endless. Some network building efforts are purposeful while others may be more subtle. A favorite story I heard years ago, told by an incredibly successful producer friend, went like this: “As Sunday school class at church was ending, one of the people in the class came up to me and said, ‘Don’t you sell insurance to businesses?’” When I said that I did, he then asked, “Well, how come over all these years you’ve never tried to sell me insurance for my business?”The producer responded, “I’m not here to prospect for insurance while I’m at church.” There are a couple of lessons in the story. Number one, this fellow has character. It shows in the story. He wasn’t at church to sell and promote himself. He took part to contribute, to be a part of things. And two, from my personal experience, wherever he went, he sought to serve others, however he could. He believed that opportunities will arise if you connect with people and they can see that you are interested in things beyond making money. Joining to meet people is a fine motivation, but when you build a network, it’s best if it goes beyond the superficial. People can tell whether you’re a “friend” or just another contact. When hiring a producer, look for those who make friends naturally. Those that do will build a network of contacts from all walks of life, and not just those who can help them make a sale.
Empathy is one of those things that some people just seem to have acquired naturally. Those with a high level of empathy can sense how other people are feeling in a moment or situation. It’s easy to spot. Have you ever had a waiter or waitress that was really good, but they were only 19 years old? They weren’t taught how to anticipate a customer’s needs at waiter school. They could sense if customers were enjoying the meal or were displeased by something, and respond appropriately. This is a trait that great producers have. Whether it’s the first meeting, or a tense renewal on an old account, a good producer can read the situation and the people involved in it to do what is necessary to ease their concerns, answer their questions, or act to their benefit. There are hiring assessment tools that an agency might want to consider which can test for empathy. Otherwise, ask lots of questions. Let people you trust meet them and share what they really think about the prospective producer’s empathy.
#7 Personal efficiency
This characteristic goes back to discipline. Like some of the other characteristics, personal efficiency can be learned and developed. It is, in short, time management. Good producers don’t waste time. They arrange their day around what gives them the best return. They think of how to arrange appointments so time isn’t wasted sitting in traffic unnecessarily. They don’t come into the office when it’s not necessary. They use the least productive sales time to do the chores that don’t directly relate to sales success. One agency principal that I made a note to observe regularly encouraged his producers to never waste the lunch hour. He said, “Have lunch with somebody.” Meeting an old friend over a burger is better in most cases than eating alone. Use the time to be with people, to connect, to make new friends. It’s good advice that helps to build a network. When you’re considering your next producer, probe for good time management habits. For some, it comes naturally, but for others, it can be a terrific goal in building a habit of success.
#8 Strong advocacy skills
Agents by definition are representatives. They represent the company, but they also represent the customer. This can be a delicate balance, but in most cases, it means standing in for the customer to get them the coverage or the pricing they need at placement, or at claims time. Great producers accept their advocate role in a measured fashion. They fight for the customer while recognizing there is a limit to what can be done. When customers see that spirit of advocacy on their behalf, it helps build a bond that can keep them renewing year after year. A person considering a production role with an agency for the first time might not be able to understand every aspect of customer advocacy, but they may display a desire to stick up for those unfairly treated. Pay attention and look for this tendency.
#9 Marketplace awareness
This is a characteristic that can be difficult to judge when considering a new producer. They probably don’t understand the insurance market, which can be strange and counter-intuitive, but they may show an aptitude for the marketplace generally. Does the producer being considered understand economics? Some may think this is a peripheral skill. I disagree. Insurance is a complex economic market. An interest in it, or at minimum, an appreciation for it, will help. Look for the candidate that has a sense of economic twists and turns. In their career, they will need it to educate customers about what is happening in the insurance markets from year to year.
This is the most obvious, and perhaps the most foundational, of the characteristics of a successful producer. Any producer—male or female—must be a person of integrity. Ethical conduct is central to everything in any insurance transaction. If there is an indication that a candidate for producer lacks an ethical core, any agency would be wise to move on to the next applicant. It is never worth it for an agency to take short-cuts to sales success with producers who display questionable ethics. When it comes to the question of finding a good producer, the characteristics of these individuals is a much more important consideration than asking where you can find them. First, you have to know what kind of “good producer” you’re looking for. Add your own “must have’s” to this list, and you’ll be well on your way to answering that question in a way that will help you to find the right person for the job.
The Wing-Man Approach
There are a lot of ways agencies can manage and develop new producers. One approach that caught my eye some years ago was deployed by a very successful large agency in a large urban center. The agency had several principals who were approaching retirement age and had a similar number of younger new producers to develop. They created a“wing-man strategy” to guide their young producers’ development–and it worked.
Each older principal was partnered with one of the young producers, the group of which included both men and women. Each principal committed to being the assistant–the wing-man–for the young producer on their accounts, while expecting each young producer to serve in the same wing-man capacity for them on their accounts.
The reports from their arrangement were fascinating. The new producers thrived with the experienced education they received from their older counterparts. And more than one of the principals said, “it’s been years since I’ve had this much fun.” Principals once again felt the excitement of the first years of a new career. When they serves in the assistant role for the young producer, they got to go on new calls and watch the skill development of young people. Some said, “I felt young again.” These mature principals had discovered what they still had to offer and how much potential there was in their new staff. Perhaps agency owners need to step back into the past to help the next generation discover the future of their agency.