Steve has been in the life insurance business for five years. In his first few years, he steadily increased premium, only to see it plateau recently. Despite studying for his CLU and making efforts to upscale his market, all he’s really done is increased expenses and decreased profits.
Interestingly enough, Steve is a clear example of both the good and bad news in the life insurance industry. The good news is that most companies do a good job of getting new representatives up to speed on basic sales skills and product knowledge. The bad news is that even the best companies do a poor job of training “reps” to advance beyond mere survival skills and limited product knowledge. The consequences are high attrition and an inability to compete for the very best candidates.
Fortunately, a competency-based “advanced” sales training program enhances recruiting and lowers attrition. If proper tools are in place, the return on investment (ROI) can be measured, and the program can be continuously monitored and improved.
The Current Situation
Most companies develop a clearly defined new-hire profile, utilize effective recruitment strategies, and offer training programs that provide inexperienced new hires with basic sales skills and knowledge.
These “basic” training programs succeed because they focus on the competencies required of successful new reps including prospecting, phoning, basic needs analysis, and presentation skills
By contrast, agents who achieve modest success after “graduating” from basic training often flounder in their attempts to achieve higher levels of production. Weve found that a key cause of their difficulties can be traced to the lack of structured advanced sales training programs that parallel the basic training programs available to novices.
In fact, reps wishing to specialize in advanced fields such as estate planning, comprehensive financial planning, business succession planning, and executive benefits are usually forced to rely on a hodge-podge of advanced marketing seminars, industry certification (CLU, ChFC, and CFP) courses, and CE classes.
One problem with this approach is that seminars and industry training generally focus on advanced knowledge, but not on how to use the knowledge. The skill component is typically ignored.
Another problem is that a hodge-podge approach to advanced sales training does not lend itself to measurement. Companies and agents basically take a “leap of faith” that this knowledge will translate into production results. But, in an era of tight budgets, every seminar, certification program, and online CE course the company subsidizes or sponsors should meet senior management’s ROI requirements.
A better alternative is a competency-based “advanced” sales training and support program. The starting place is to assess competencies of those reps that currently meet management’s definition of sales success. In our experience with both banks and life insurers, sales success is often defined by tenure, production, and market penetration, making it relatively easy to identify sample group for study.
Several approaches may be used to assess advanced sales competencies. On one end of the spectrum are self-assessment tools. However, a more effective approach is to interview successful reps using a standardized interview template. An even more effective approach is observation of successful reps in their day-to-day practice. The most effective approach is a combination of all of these.
Once the data is in, it must be analyzed. What do reps who are successful in a particular market need to know? How do these reps organize and staff their practices? What special skills are required to succeed?
One of the most difficult challenges at this stage is distinguishing between competencies that can be passed on to others, and other factors unrelated to individual competencies, such as company culture, compensation, and organizational structure.
After data analysis, a competency-based curriculum is designed. Design begins by formulating learning objectives that reflect those competencies discovered in the assessment.