Producers, Start Your Engines


By James R. Dougherty, CIC

Those four words of motivation or call to action never are used in the world of insurance. In NASCAR the command, “Drivers, start your engines!” solicits excitement for the fans and produces an adrenaline rush for the drivers. It conveys the thought that it is time to aggressively begin the task at hand.

A similar call to engagement occurs with track and field events when the starter proclaims, “Runners take your mark; get set,” and then fires the starter’s pistol.

What motivates you to start producing, to commence the various sales tasks at hand? Whatever that motivation is, is it ongoing and consistent? Even the most successful producer, every now and then, caused by external or internal reasons, obvious or hidden, doesn’t feel like starting their engine or doesn’t have the ambition to take the sales mark. Continued inability to sell could lead to what is called a sales slump.

A sales slump as defined by expert psychologists is a decrease in production performance occurring over time. One bad result turns into two and three. Soon, depression occurs and doubt of one’s sales ability takes over. Negativity fuels all of those emotions to the point that it consumes the producer’s every thought. Successes of the past are long forgotten.

Sales slumps do not discriminate. Even the most successful, seasoned producer could face a sales slump. A diligent producer who is doing exceptionally well may find prospects taking the summer months off from making insurance buying decisions. Sales during that time become harder to close. Frustrations could develop, causing the beginning of a sales slump. One truth with sales slumps is that they are self-perpetuating. The lack of success often erodes confidence and the expectation of positive results, making it more difficult to sell.

The overriding focus for this article is the salesperson who is suffering a sales slump, but was successful in the past. If you find yourself continually in a sales slump and really never had prior sales success, you may need more help than this article can provide. Invest in sales training in the basics of sales best practices, procedures, and techniques. The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research offer excellent courses, such as Dynamics of Selling.

As the sales slump continues, you will find that everyone is full of advice. Be careful accepting what is offered, including items in this article. Realize the fact that not every item will work for you. With each thought, know that each bit of advice represents only an idea which may help, with no guarantees. The public announcer at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival said it best, “Take each with a grain of salt”. Integrate into your work concepts that make sense for you.

The Famous Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio once said, “I am convinced the only way to get out of a slump is to keep swinging. Nobody can help you. I’ll bet at least 100 players and coaches gave me advice during the season about hitting and no two of them had the same idea”. I believe Joe is right. Be careful about listening to others. You often see that the advice of one is completely contradicted by another. If you’ve been successful, you know for the most part what you did to create success. As with the NIKE saying, “ Just do it”.

Slump Exterminators

  • Remain Confident – If you continue to work diligently, recognize that sales slumps will end. Be confident and stay focus to the sales duties at hand, not letting the slump distract you. Utilize the power of positive thought as your foundation of confidence. Don’t panic.

    As I watch professional baseball, I often wonder why hitters who have a batting average over 300 go into a batting slump. Possibly it’s an undisclosed injury, but more often than not they lose their confidence. Doubt enters into the mind of this outstanding athlete. He begins to think about the fundamentals of the swing instead of relying on his great talent, expertise, and training to automatically perform. A lack of confidence can hinder so much for them and for you!

  • Keep Swinging – Joe DiMaggio in his comment about taking advice also mentioned the fact to get out of a slump; you need to keep swinging. Insurance wise, that means keep getting in front of potential customers. Keep calling, prospecting, soliciting, presenting, and proposing. Often during a slump, energy decreases and activity diminishes, which only prolongs the possibility of unsuccessfulness. If the sales horse tossed you to the ground, get up on it again and ride to another prospect!

    My dad directed sports camps in Connecticut during the 1960’s. Each week he would highlight a sport, bringing in top professionals to be the week’s assistant. For basketball, the great Hall of Famer, Boston Celtic guard Sam Jones, was the pro. One night after dinner Sam conducted a shooting demonstration. He demonstrated his famous 18-foot bank shot sinking 100 out of 101. During that time, Sam talked to the campers about shooting. He said, “ If you are ever in a shooting slump, just keep shooting”. He professed as long as you continue to shoot you can figure it out.

    Both Joe and Sam’s advice about how to end a slump, is so true. The same truth can be applied to insurance sales. Just continue your excellent practices of the past and success will return.

  • Work Smarter and Harder – There is no better way to improve on your results than to put in more effort. If you are calling on 10 businesses per week, increase that to 15. Identify one or two things that you feel you can do more efficiently in your sales process. Working longer without efficiency or intelligence is like trying to make fine wine out of raisins. The end result will stink! For the perfect wine, you need impeccable ingredients manufactured flawlessly. The same is true with your personal production. For the perfect sales year, you need impeccable sales components marketed flawlessly.

    Go beyond the sales shortcuts as there really is no such thing. Return back to your sales strategies and processes. Most of the time you know what to do, but fail to do it. Focus on the sales activities you know you should be doing.

    We all stalk prospects who, for multiple reasons, will never buy from us. That is not working smart. These accounts take up too much of your time and contaminate your ability to service your better accounts. If you are satisfied that you have given all you can to close the deal and nothing is happening, move on. Choosing to work with aged, non-buying prospects will give length to your sales slump. Find prospects that are truly interested in what you can do for them.

  • Reorganize and Reenergize – So often we can only identify things that have changed when viewing them less frequently. My granddaughter changes every time I see her, yet my son and daughter in-law don’t recognize the changes as easily. The same is true when evaluating our sales performance. We may not observe any inadvertent sales procedure changes as we are involved with them each and every day.

    A great exercise is to step back and look at what you do. Without recognizing it, your work environment might have changed or become chaotic. Possibly your work routine is not what it once was in the area of sales procedures. Do you put in the same hours, but find yourself doing more maintenance work instead of sales activity? Perhaps your sales pace has slowed. Take the time to evaluate. Is there a better way to operate? Look to whom and how you are prospecting. How have you been successful in reaching new suspects? Is there a better way to do so? Reenergize your sales opportunities by filling your pipeline with quality prospects!

  • Keep Prospecting to Add to Your Future Bank – Your sales engine needs oil and the best way to do that is to prospect. Avoid focusing on current customers and project into the future by prospecting. Very few sales professionals like to prospect. Liking it and doing it are two different actions. The more successful producers see the need to prospect and simply do it. Don’t neglect your existing customers. Service to them is a key retention component. You can avoid the peaks and valleys caused by mini slumps if you are on the constant prowl for prospects and opportunities.

  • Enhance Your Memory – If you have been successful in the insurance business, don’t forget what made you successful. Repeat those actions, like offering better coverage, better pricing, and, most importantly, better service. Remember why clients liked you and reapply those qualities.

  • Don’t Over Push – In life if you push too hard, you can strain yourself. The same is true with selling too intensely as that approach will put strain on the buying process. Your aggressive, anxious approach will become obvious to the buyer, turning even the best proposal negative. Don’t over sell out of the need for slump termination. You may be trying too hard to defeat the slump instead of selling. Sell out of expertise, knowledge, and confidence, rather than out of desperation.

  • Eliminate or Reduce the Pressure Gauge – One constant that accompanies a sales slump is the pressure to perform dramatically increases. It could be self-inflicted pressure or brought on by those you report to. Easy to mention, but try not to let the pressure mount. One way to mitigate the pressure of your sales goals and objectives is to temporarily reset them. Meet with those supervising you, but more importantly, meet with yourself to recalculate short term goals and targets. For a brief time, forget about the goals and accomplishments of the past and reset short term goals for the near future. Goals to modify are: the number of calls needed to get an appointment; the number of appointments to be able to quote; and the number of proposals needed to obtain a sale. Once success begins returning, readjust your goals upwards to be more aggressive. All you have done with this exercise is turn down the heat on your pressure cooker until you are once again producing as you know you can.

We all go through sales slumps, some deeper than others, but they exist for us all. Keep commanding yourself, “Producer, Start Your Engine” and enjoy the victories of your sales checkered flag!

James Dougherty, CIC, works at the Allwood Forlenza Agency in Clifton, New Jersey. Dougherty brings over 35 years of insurance experience both on the agency and insurance company side of the business. He has served as the NJ Underwriting and Marketing Manager of Aetna and the NJ Resident VP of Penn National Insurance Company. On the agency side, Dougherty held executive management positions for two, multi-state, regional insurance agencies.

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