Producer Perspectives: Experts Talk About What it Takes

Business team

By Jim Cuprisin, MBA, CIC, CRM, ARP

As part of their Producer Profile study, The National Alliance Research Academy interviews sales managers, experienced producers, and young producers to gain their unique perspectives. This article provides a few excerpts from the expert interviews contained in the study, and provides tips and suggestions for hiring and training producers, mentoring young producers, and learning the ropes as new producers.


Sales Managers

The following three individuals are sales managers who have much to say about hiring and training producers.


Tom Barrett, CIC, AAI
CEO of SIAA MidAmerica, Inc. • Blowing Rock, NC

Tom is a faculty member for Dynamics of Selling and Ruble seminars.


Q: Where do you look to find new producers?

A: It is natural to take a person with sales experience from a different industry and put them to work as a niche insurance marketer. That has been very successful for us. We have used various industry sources, such as real estate, mortgage lending, and banking. They simply come to us with sales experience.


Q: What is in a job interview that might clue you in as to whether or not they would succeed in the insurance industry?

A: There are a number of things to look for:

  • A high energy level is crucial.
  • You’ve got to be assertive and aggressive.
  • You need to be social.
  • You need to be able to be managed.
  • You need a level of independence.
  • A positive attitude is important.
  • You need to be decisive.

Q: How do you train new producers?

A: We help them identify mentors in the community. We want them to start building relationships with people who can be supportive of them, and act as references and referrals for them. We work with the producers to identify, with our insurance companies, the areas where they have a unique skill, desire, or passion to work in an industry. We religiously follow The National Alliance Dynamics of Selling Program’s three-step sales process. If it’s somewhat of a pre-qualified prospect, we know that it fits the class. Then we lead off with the diagnostic appointment questionnaire.


Ken Fields, CIC, MSM, CPCU, CLU, ChFC
Co-developer of the PaceSetter Sales Development Program for State Auto Insurance Companies • Columbus, OH

Ken, an Academy Board member and Research Associate, as well as National CIC and Ruble Faculty member, had a few things to say about choosing prospects, as well as the opportunities for young producers.


Q: When producers do NOT have a good chance of writing the account, what should they typically do?

A: Walk away. That’s a very difficult thing for new producers to do—to walk away from accounts. They feel like they’re walking away from a sale. They’re not walking away from a sale—they never had anything to begin with, because that business owner was not going to buy from them, ever. But it’s very hard for them to do. They need to spend more time on the prospects with better odds for long-term success.


Q: How would you rate the opportunity in this industry for young insurance producers?

A: I think there is greater opportunity for insurance sales today than any other time during my career. Where else can a young man or woman come into a business without having to borrow a lot of money, without having to refinance their home, without having to get a Ph.D., and all they have to invest is their time, energy, and creativity, and in a very short period of time, they can be earning an income equivalent to corporate executives?


Q: What should young professionals know about the insurance industry?

A: This is a business where we’re doing positive things. As a matter of fact, without insurance, our country could not be what it is. So, this is a business where you can be proud of what you’re doing. You’re making positive contributions to your community, to society in general, and to your country.


Joan Sansing, CIC, ARM, AAI
Dynamics of Selling Faculty Member • Palm Harbor, FL

Joan is an Academy Board member; CIC/CISR Committee member; and a National CIC, Dynamics of Selling, and Specialty Ruble Faculty member. She discusses why new producers fail, mentions the greatest challenges she has experienced as a sales manager, and describes the sales process used in her agency.


Q: When new producers fail, is there usually one reason, or are there a variety of factors?

A: It’s lack of activity. In order to be successful—whether they like it or not—they need to reach out. They need to make phone calls, knock on doors, and get referrals. They need to make a number of dials, get in touch with a number of contacts, get a number of ex-dates, and schedule diagnostic appointments and first appointments. They are going to make a number of submissions and proposals. And, of course, they need to make a number of sales. There are no shortcuts here; it’s simply a lot of hard work.


Q: What are the greatest challenges that you have faced as a sales manager?

A: My greatest challenge was not having enough time to do everything I needed to do. How could I actually dedicate enough time to my clientele, to the agency, to the issues with our carriers, to claims, and then also to manage this sales team? However, while the greatest challenge for me personally was for my time, the second biggest challenge was finding qualified people for the sales force.


Q: What is your sales process?

A: It’s about taking them through the process of the diagnostic appointment questionnaire, protection review, and presentation of solutions. It’s about asking for referrals and evaluating what we call “the four cards.” (1) What is this prospect’s feelings about their current relationship with their current agent? (2) Is the coverage adequate? (3) How has the service been? (4) Is the price competitive?


Experienced Producers

The following two producers have decades of sales experience and have some good advice for younger producers.


Vince Basciano, CIC
Vice President at ADP Statewide Insurance Agency • Florham Park, NJ

Vince is an experienced and successful producer. He talks about what makes him successful, and about the challenges and opportunities for young producers.


Q: Are there any unique practices or habits that make you successful?

A: I would rather be more of a partner with the clients I have and educate them as to what they’re buying. That’s what sets me apart from others. I have had some clients for 25 years— as long as I’ve been in the business—because I’m there for them. I give them advice. I help them as much as I can, and I’ll even tell them when they should take somebody else’s deal because it’s better for them.


Q: Is there one thing that younger, inexperienced producers struggle with more than anything else?

A: It’s definitely making the cold calls and being willing to fail. They need to get on the phones and make 100 calls. If they don’t make an appointment right away, they will get one soon. It’s the law of large numbers. I try and push that on them. You have to make the calls unless you’re really well-connected somehow with somebody who is just going to feed you leads. The activity is really what drives your success. You need to have an active prospecting plan.


Q: How would you rate the opportunities in this industry?

A: The industry is assuredly changing. There’s definitely a need for young producers—those who may have a little more familiarity with technology. We certainly could use a couple of young producers in my agency who are hungry. You have to be hungry. It’s not an easy business by any means. Your success doesn’t happen overnight, but I can tell you that if you put the time in, it is a pretty good career.


Ken Estes, CIC, AINS
Senior Vice President–Producer at BancorpSouth Insurance Services, Inc. • Little Rock, AR

Ken is an experienced producer who worked his way up in the industry. He talks about his early challenges and what may now set him apart from other producers.


Q: Which activities did you struggle with most often?

A: I definitely struggled quite a bit with cold calling, because I didn’t have to do any of that on the company side, and it’s not really my personality. It was just something I had to force myself to do. I had a list and I knew that I needed to make many calls, and I just made myself do it, but I hated every minute of it, at first. That was definitely what I struggled with.


Q: How did you get over that reluctance to do the cold calling?

A: When I was making those cold calls, I felt that we were actually offering them something that they needed to listen to, that they needed to give us some time because we could really help them. I think that when you’re calling and you feel that you can really help people, then that goes a long way to give you the confidence to do it.


Q: When you say the phrase “customer expectations,” what are they and do they want to come back to you year after year?

A: They expect you to deliver a policy, be there to answer questions, and try to bring them the lowest price possible. I think that, in general, is what clients expect, but we try to take that a step further, and actually become a risk manager for them. We show them how doing business with us actually helps their bottom line. We can do analytical reviews and other services so that we can become more of a partner, rather than just someone who is just going to deliver a policy.


Young Producers

Here are two young producers that are on the fast track. They have worked their way up the learning curve and are doing well early in their careers.


David Fishel, MBA
Higginbotham • Fort Worth, TX

David is a young producer who has gotten off to a fast start. He talks about his early struggles, the most rewarding part of his job, and his current challenges.


Q: In the first year and a half, what activities did you most often struggle with, and how did you improve in these areas?

A: The technical piece is where I’m constantly working to improve. It’s such a detailed industry and there are so many moving pieces; it can be really easy to make a mistake. Coverages are changing; there are new endorsements and new exclusions. I think the top professionals develop through training, and technical training will always be most important for me going forward.


Q: Other than money, what is most rewarding about insurance sales?

A: I think getting to really know my clients from both a business perspective and on a personal level. I’ve always been a business geek, if you will. I love learning about new businesses and trying to put myself in the position of the owner: What are their biggest challenges? Getting to sit down and talk to owners or CEOs or CFOs as a 27-year-old; those are my clients. Getting to pick their brain is pretty cool to me, to be honest. I love getting to do that, and then building those personal relationships.


Q: What are your biggest challenges as a producer?

A: I think it’s time management. As a young producer you’re always looking to grow your book of business, but also being very conscious of taking care of your current clients. I’m very structured; I have my hourly schedule of what I’m doing, but I have to take care of those fires, at times. As much as I would love to go and try to bring on new clients, I’ve got to take care of my current clients first and foremost. So being able to balance your current clients and making sure you’re servicing them appropriately while also bringing on new clients—that can be a tough job.


Greg Ruggiero, AAI, CLCS
Bouchard Insurance • Clearwater, FL

Greg is a young producer who is experiencing success early. He has challenges and rewards, but is persistently making great strides.


Q: Besides earning a good income, what is most rewarding about insurance sales to you?

A: What is most rewarding is being a resource, a trusted business advisor, and the idea that the sales process that my agency has in place is set up for that. We do not want to be going into a bid-and-quote sale when we meet with our clients and prospects. Our style of selling is not aimed for a one-year relationship. If you’re into our process, you’re buying into me, you’re buying into my agency. There’s a strategy that comes along with it, and that strategy could last three to five years, so it’s a relationship that we want to build with our clients. Fighting for my clients and having their best interests in mind is what I definitely find rewarding.


Q: What are your biggest challenges as a producer?

A: The biggest challenge right now is trying to retain a couple of large accounts that I wrote. I am learning a lot from managing these accounts and getting prepared for the renewal process. This is a great learning experience for me. Unfortunately, this learning curve is taking up a lot of my time from 9 to 5, and I haven’t been able to prospect as much as I’d like to. I’m hoping that after three or four years, the process will be streamlined and a little bit easier. My prospecting time is my strongest priority, but managing existing clients is big, so I struggle with time management.


Q: What has made you successful as a producer?

A: Persistence. That’s always been my thing. Persistence leads to timing, and timing is everything. It’s a very relationship-driven business. You build those relationships for when the time is right. A lot of times when we go out on meetings with prospects, and everything is OK with their insurance program and there’s really not much that we can do—it’s a tough sale. But if you can build enough relationships, and be persistent in those relationships, when the time is right, the sales will happen.


Conclusion

Read these interviews in their entirety in the new edition of Producer Profile. These individuals’ comments reveal important perspectives and methods that can help you improve your sales production. In addition to the interviews, the study is full of statistical survey results about producer compensation, sales production, responsibilities, hiring and training considerations, etc. Updated on a regular basis, Producer Profile is the leading resource for independent insurance agency producer benchmarks, providing agency owners with goals and data for measurement and comparison. Purchase the newest edition of Producer Profile at www.TheNationalAlliance.com/store/publications.


Learn More, Earn More

Producer Profile

The Producer Profile study is a leading industry resource for learning more about producer compensation, production, and responsibilities, as they compare across agencies of various sizes and locations. The National Alliance also offers the popular and proven, insurance-specific Dynamics Series, with courses designed to enhance selling techniques and strategies, hone sales management skills, and improve company/agency rapport.


Jim Cuprisin, MBA, CIC, CRM, ARP is the Research Director for The National Alliance Research Academy and the Editor-in-Chief of Resources magazine. He has over 30 years experience in the insurance industry, which included working as an underwriter for two companies. Jim has earned his MBA and been with The National Alliance for over 25 years.

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