My first insurance sale involved an industrial company. The owner, Bill, was unhappy with his current agent and wanted to move in a different direction. I put together a polished proposal and sent the PDF document to Kinkos to get that extra thick stock and even paid for it out of my own pocket. On page one of the proposal, I wrote the prospect’s name- William. There was one problem; Bill was not shorthand for William. His name was Bill on his birth certificate. And, oh boy, Bill launched into a tirade on how he hates being called William, how he was teased as a kid, and how people continually assume his name is William up to and including this current meeting. I froze and had no idea how to recover. We hadn’t even gotten to the quote and I thought I was done.
But, I was not alone in this sale. My mentor, who accompanied me, stepped in and said, “Well, if that’s the biggest mistake he makes in your future relationship, we’ll consider this a victory and he’ll learn to never call you William again.” We all laughed and I landed the sale. But I didn’t land the sale, did I? My mentor landed the sale. Did you see how he assumed the sale and future, successful relationship? Did you see how he didn’t pressure Bill towards a sale but chose his predictive words with care and precision? I learned more in those thirty seconds than I did in the months of carrier training I’ve had over the years.
Carrier sales training is specifically designed for one thing: feature/benefit sales. This technique is where the seller ties every feature with a benefit that the prospect should think is desirable. Come see why our policy has more coverage on page 27, part B than your current policy! How exciting! Yet what is considered desirable in the insurance sale? What is the buyer’s risk appetite or aversion? What motivates them in a purchase? How close is the prospect to their incumbent agent? If the current agent is their sister-in-law, imagine what Thanksgiving is like if he fires her?
Using carrier training tactics, I’ve had my best quotes used only as leverage for the current agent. I’ve seen proprietary forms (the ultimate feature/benefit) get forwarded to incumbent agents only to have the incumbent carrier custom manuscript the same form. I’ve met with people who I thought were the decision makers and painstakingly spent months building a relationship with said person, only to have them forward the quote on to the real decision maker with whom I have no relationship. A carrier cannot help with any of these things. But a mentor can.
At its best, mentorship teaches accountability, mastery of skills, helps buffer failures, and gives both old and young a sense of purpose and meaning. It wasn’t long ago when apprenticeship trained a whole workforce in these things, only to see this method replaced by a sterile classroom environment. Does mentorship or apprenticeship slow the process down? Initially, that answer is yes. But give it time, and there is no greater method to deliver success.
So what should mentorship look like in the agent environment? And how can all parties win? I have a few ideas to kick the ball forward, but I’m open to hearing more.
First, a mentorship should involve proximity. It should entail the new salesperson joining the agent on his client and prospect meetings. There she will learn what motivates buying decisions, what drives sales success or failure, and what makes for a successful salesperson. This should also involve the mentor accompanying the new hire on his meetings. Sales is a rough business and fear of rejection, talking too much in meetings, and being used by prospects are very real issues that can be overcome with the help of someone who has overcome these things. But more than simply involving sales calls, proximity should include lunches at Subway, coffee away from the office, and drinks after work. Proximity is the first and biggest key to success.
Second, it should involve just compensation for all parties. A new producer usually takes a few years to validate their compensation. Insurance truly is a get rich slow industry filled with the benefits of residual income. There are a million creative ways to figure out compensation structures for the mentoring relationship. A lack of imagination is one of the biggest failures of the agency system, and a failure to pay for new producers shows such a lack of imagination. To date, this is one of the biggest failures in our industry. Carriers have a part to play in this. Carriers can partially subsidize the new producer with validation goals that must be hit by the entire agency. A carrier can give a new producer $30,000 to offset a partial salary or draw if the agency agrees to hit $200,00 in new business premium, can’t they? Another option could involve commission sharing structures on a sliding scale. Yet another way would be to teams of sales and service staff tasked with growing a business unit within an agency. To go into detail is beyond the purview of this article, but this article is a call to agency owners and carriers to use some creativity!
Finally, the mentoring relationship should involve goals. Agency consultants will tell you a producer should sell $70,000 in commission per year, but I would ask, how many producers, after one decade, have books of $700,000 of residual income? How many forty-year-olds have million dollar books? They are the one percenters, not the norm. Have the new producer start with appointment goals, quote goals, and then move on to commission goals. Yes, validation will need to happen, and some are not cut out for this industry or for sales in general, but validation takes time. If they have the dedication to craft, work ethic, and a desire to sell, it will come in due time. My pipeline grows every year and I look back at what I considered a pipeline five years ago, and I cringe. Producers typically hit peak earning potential in their late forties, decades after a career begins. Agencies would do well to structure a big part of their development strategy accordingly.
I began with an anecdote and it is fitting to end with one. A few years ago, I moved from a small agency to one of the largest, privately owned agencies in the nation. It was a leap of faith and I started slow. A few months in, I went on a sales call with a new mentor. The sales process was long, it took time to build trust with the prospect, but we landed an Agent of Record letter, the Holy Grail of salesmanship. On the ride home, I asked this man I had known for all of three months how he wanted to split the commissions, as we had yet to develop a formula. He looked at me incredulously and said, “This one is yours. I’m here to make sure you succeed.” With a mentor like this, how could I fail?
The best mentors realize your success IS their success, which is why mentorship is such a difficult task. There are fewer and fewer people willing to think like this. No, giving up all your commissions is not necessary, but virtues like patience and willingness to help are. All the more reason a just compensation structure for all parties is integral to a path forward as it can and should reward such behavior. But if the mentor is not willing to sacrifice and only thinking of immediate commissions, the process will fall apart. The rewards for the mentor will take time. This is difficult to swallow in an age of instant information, instant quotes, and instant gratification.
My story begins and ends with mentoring. I’m proud to say I have not made it on my own. And I hope, in due time, the agency network figures these things out.
About Patrick Muscenti
Patrick Muscenti is an experienced broker and sales executive. Prior to joining McGowan, he spent thirteen years growing and leading a team of commercial insurance agents by helping clients proactively manage their risk. Patrick is particularly skilled in real estate, construction, manufacturing, and non-profit risk. Today he is a Vice President at McGowan Insurance.