A Glimpse Of The Future: The Study Group On Steroids

By Russ Alan Prince and Arthur A. Bavelas

How can I become more successful as a producer? Exactly what would it take for me to reach the Top of the Table or the International Forum? How can I make an income of $1 million a year or more as a producer? If you are asking these questions, then you are interested in learning how to achieve greater professional success.

In our experience, there actually are a number of different ways producers can achieve significantly greater production. The common denominator is becoming more competent as marketers and as business people.

Most producers interested in the next level of success already are expert in the technical aspects of what they do. Now the challenge is how to bring their skills and knowledge to a wider group of affluent clients. That is where becoming more proficient as marketers and as business people comes in.

Producers interested in learning these business development skills seek out training. There has been exponential growth in coaching programs. Attendance at top-flight conferences and workshops is up, another indicator of this trend. Study groups are proliferating, too.

Study groups are self-directed programs created by producers themselves. They provide producers with a support system they can use to enhance their skills. Traditionally, producers have used study groups to talk about the industry and to enhance their technical skills and knowledge.

We decided to look closer at the study group phenomenon and tease out what they do, and dont do, for producers. Do they make producers more successful? Do they help producers jump-start their practices to the next level?

The Value of Study Groups. To evaluate the value of study groups we compared the production differential between producers in study groups and producers who were not study group members. We statistically matched the two samples of 262 producers (131 producers in a study group and 131 producers not in a study group) on an array of factors such as time in the business, geographic location and targeted markets.

We created two groups of producers who have the same profile (statistically comparability). The only difference between the two groups is that one set of producers is involved in study groups and the other is not. This methodology allows us to compare the two groups of producers in an apples-to-apples fashion.

The first finding is that study groups work and work well. We found that producers in a study group were 35.2% more financially successful than producers who were not in a study group.

Specifically, the nonstudy group set of producers earned, on average, an annual income of $71,000. Study group producers earned more; on average they have an annual income of $96,000 (see Exhibit 1).

We can conclude from this research that study groups have a very significant and meaningful impact on the financial performance of producers. Study groups make producers more successful.

But this study was focused on successful producers but not the producers at the high-end of the industry (as you can tell by the income figures). Do study groups work for more high-end producers? We decided to replicate the research among high-end producers (those with incomes of $250,000 or more).

We enlisted 102 high-end producers into the study panel using the same matching methodology. This time we discovered that the value of study groups is inconsequential.

High-end producers who were not in study groups earned an average annual income of $327,000. High-end producers who were in study groups earned an average annual income of $331,000 (see Exhibit 2). The $4,000 difference is not meaningful in a statistical sense.

Does this mean that study groups are only worthwhile for the less financially successful producers? Not necessarily. It does mean that study groups that are focused on technical competencies (which are what the vast majority of study groups are about) have little real value for high-end producers. Very successful producers are already technically competent.

Is there no applicability for the study group model for high-end producers? We think there is. We believe that there is a study group model that is perfectly suited for the technically adept high-end producer.

To explore innovative and valuable new study group models, we conducted a phenomenological needs analysis with 32 producers with annual incomes (three years running) of $500,000 or more. We coupled these findings to an in-depth assessment of the concerns and issues affecting high-end producers in each of the last four years. This meta-analysis enabled us to structure a study group approach that would do for a high-end producer what study groups do for lower-end producers. We call the result a study group on steroids.

A study group on steroids isnt the traditional study group. First of all, its format is different. To perform optimally, the study group must operate in the form of a working session. It has to create a compelling and intensive educational experience for each attendee based on a highly interactive combination of presentations, diagnostics, exercises and discussion. In order for the participants to achieve maximum benefits, a facilitator is often required.

To be a study group on steroids the focus has to be taken off technical issues (although they are certainly integrated into the process and may anchor positioning initiatives). Instead, the focus is on state-of-the-art business development issues such as client development, strategic partnerships and practice growth management.

In the study group on steroids, there should be a heavy use of outside authorities who can address topics related to the affluent target markets of the participants. (Important: Do not limit these experts to life insurance). Outside authorities often have insights into business development that industry insiders are blind to. An example of this would be bringing in a security consultant to discuss protective services for the affluent. The reason for this outside authority is that the adroit introduction of a security consultant to wealthy clients and prospects as well as accountants and attorneys can open doors that lead directly to large life insurance sales.

By bringing in and learning from outside authorities (such as security consultants) the producer participants in a study group on steroids can position themselves to be able to deliver a level of value far and above what the competitors can deliver.

The study group on steroids can also act as a think tank. It can be an environment for structured brainstorming and thought experiments. Such activities will generate insights that enable participating producers to stay on the cutting edge with respect to client needs and desires, the changing competitive landscape and innovative business development strategies.

For all these reasons, the study group on steroids should be thought of as an informal, extremely flexible coaching program that leverages the expertise of the high-end producer, and taps into the expertise and judgment of industry thought leaders.

Peering Into the Crystal Ball. There is no question that producers at every level are looking for ways to grow their businesses. Study groups are a time-tested way for entry-level and junior producers to refine their technical skills and knowledge. However, when it comes to high-end producers, we recommend that the study group evolve beyond a mere technical orientation.

We can already see signs that the study group on steroids is the future of the study group. We are seeing high-end producers starting to modify their existing study groups in ways similar to those we have charted. We also hear of high-end producers who actively are looking for like-minded peers to create a study group focusing on state-of-the-art business development.

As with all innovations, the first sign will be small-scale and experimental. The next stage will be a firming up of the study group on steroids model (although we fully expect a name change). Best practices will become part of the common knowledge for those producers fast-tracking to high-end status.

In the end, top producers will have to move on to some new model to push themselves further. By that time, the business development study group already will have become the norm for the life insurance industry.

Russ Alan Prince, right, is principal of Prince & Associates, a research and consulting firm in Shelton, Conn. He can be reached via e-mail at princeasoc@aol.com. Arthur Bavelas is president and CEO of Resource Network LTD, Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at aabavelas@aol.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 23, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.