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After completing 4 years in the business, Craig Coffey had beaten the industrys odds for new life insurance agents, where recent industry statistics show approximately 85% fail within their first 4 years. But as he faced his 5th year, he had a problemhe was running out of prospects.

Coffey, an agent with The Bulfinch Group, Needham Mass., had “hit a ceiling.” For the previous 4 years he had been taking on new clients through “extremely warm introductions andbecause I have a good networkthat sustained me for a while,” he says.

But Coffey found himself not meeting enough new people to propel his practice to the next level of production. Part of his problem was that even though he had become his current clients trusted advisor, he felt uncomfortable asking them for referrals. “I was making up objections in my head before my client even raised them,” he recalls.

Now, 12 months later, Coffey has overcome this discomfort and is experiencing a 100% increase in his production over his best year in the business. One of the major factors he attributes this success to is his working with a professional coach.

“By having someone you talk to on a regular basis, you have someone who you are held accountable to for your goals throughout the year,” explains Kelli McCauley, who is a performance coach with MK Performance Group, Encinitas, Calif. McCauley has been coaching Coffey since last winter.

Working with a professional coach is a growing trend among insurance advisors, adds Stan Hustad, a performance coach and president of PTM Group, Minneapolis.

One of the fundamental reasons why coaching is taking off is due to the lack of individualized training and support agents receive from their primary carrier, he says.

“Training is taking a group of people and teaching them how to do something,” explains Hustad. “Coaching is helping you discover what works best for you.”

Hustad explains that many agents will study and learn a specific type of sales systemwhether its focus is on prospecting, referrals or closing. While these systems work well for many people, “if the system youve been taught doesnt work for you, then it doesnt work,” he says.

Agents need to find or develop a system based on their own natural style, and working with a performance coach may help them find it, he adds.

This type of individualized attention to an agents personality is just what was needed to help Coffey expand his practice. When working with McCauley, “we took a more psychological approach to why I had discomfort asking for referrals, and she helped me get over it,” Coffey explains.

“She helped me realize that my clients do like me, they spend a lot of money with meso why would I think that they would have any discomfort introducing me to people?”

McCauley describes how a coach can help an agent uncover those hurdles that get in the way of progress. “You have your habits, you do things the way youve been doing them without even thinking about it. As a coach, my job is to be unbiased and to look at the things you do from a different perspective.”

Hustad also takes this approach with his clients. “I coach people to perform at their best in a way that works best for them,” he explains. “I am coaching people based on their own style.”

For example, Hustad was working with a client who had a similar problem to Coffeyshe had difficulty asking for referrals. This individual had been taught to simply ask clients for a list of people after every sale. This is a common strategy that works well for many field reps, but this individual didnt want to ask. He never liked it when salespeople would ask him for a list of 10 people who might benefit from their services, so he didnt feel right doing it himself.

Hustad found that this was a major barrier for his client and it didnt fit well with his personality style. So, rather than ask for a list of people to call on, “whenever they thank you,” he told him, “I want you to put your pen down and be fully attentive to them and say I like working with people like you, and I would be grateful if you would recommend me to others.”

Hustads client was much more comfortable with this approach because it was a more natural fit into his style and personality, and as a result has seen some success with it.

Coffey feels that working with a professional coach is a good idea for anyone who is in a position responsible for generating revenue, whether they are attorneys, investment bankers or sales representatives. “Anyone who has to generate revenues for their business could benefit from this type of psychological evaluation,” he says.

But McCauley warns that coaching may not be for everybody and that the ideal candidate for a coaching experience is someone who is motivated to make things happeneither personally or professionally.

“People have to want coaching,” she says. “Otherwise its a waste of time for the coach, the participant and the person paying for it.”

And just hiring a performance coach wont solve all your problems, says Hustad. Its important when looking for a performance coach to work with that it be the right person who fits your own style. “If youre looking for a coach, hold auditions,” he suggests.

To find a coach, agents should ask others for recommendations, research each professional, visit the Web sites, and meet with him or her before starting to work together.

“It has to be the right coachhe or she has to suit your style,” he says.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 30, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.