BY

The insurance industry continues to suffer from a long-term trenda decline in the number of agents. At a time when we all know the alarming degree to which the American consumer is underinsured, this is an unfortunate state of affairs for both the industry and for consumers.

The reasons for the dwindling number of career agents are well known. People are being recruited into the business without having a realistic understanding of the career. Company and agency selection standards are often too low, and new agents frequently receive too little training, supervision and marketing support.

What can be done about it? At a company level, there must be a commitment to recruiting, training, development and net sales power growthin recent years, a number of companies essentially have opted out of the business of recruiting and developing new agents. Fundamentally, though, its up to field management to recruit and retain agents. Over the past 6 years, my agency has been able to transform ourselves from a slow-growth organization into a recruiting powerhouse. In that time, our agent roster has mushroomed from 44 to 127, and commission sales have more than quadrupled.

How did we do it? Below are 4 key elements that I incorporated into my practice that I strongly believe would contribute to any agencys success.

1. Involve virtually the entire agency in the recruiting effort. Agents need to understand that their long-term success rides on the ability of an agency to grow. I spend about 30% of my time on recruiting and expect that my sales managers, specialists and agency staff are all involved in recruiting, as well. We are advocates for what we do for a livinghelping families and businesses achieve financial freedomand that sense of mission is reflected internally and externally. The lesson for field managers is this: You simply cant delegate the recruiting function and expect satisfactory results over the long term.

2. Tap a wide variety of sources to identify potential recruits. Actively seek referrals from your own agents and brokers, as well as centers of influence in the community, including clients. Look for winners in various financial services roles, whatever their prior experience, who are seeking to get to a higher level of productivity. Why try to recruit a .200 hitter that you hope to make a .300 hitter? Why not go after the .300 hitter? Look for people who understand the concept of risk and return and who can balance multiple things at once– a good family life, a serious business outlook, community involvement and leadership.

Another untapped recruiting source is the dramatic growth in the number of small businesses owned by women and first-generation Americans. As an industry, we need to do a better job of serving their financial needs, and they are rapidly becoming a bigger part of the agent force knowing that these opportunities exist.

3. Establishand stick witha rigorous selection process: For every 100 people we interview, we hire less than 4. The process is selective because you have to be sure you are recruiting people who fit in with the agency and who will want to be there. Candidates should run a tough gauntlet of trial marketing/sales efforts and interviews that test their staying power and determine whether they really enjoy doing what agents do on a daily basis. This requires that a recruit can operate as a team player and as an individual contributor, as well as fit in with the firms culture. Although you cannot put a dollar amount on culture, it is an invaluable commodity that is fragile and can easily be damaged if a recruit leaves the firm.

4. Really deliver on training and support. Know the target markets that your agents are selling to and support them in their selling efforts with a robust and wide range of advanced sales products, services and ongoing support. Examples of programs I have seen work in the industry–and that we know work from firsthand experience–include case design help, specialist team support, prot?g?s to assist in prospecting and nurturing client relationships, and marketing help to get their names in front of prospects.

Inexperienced new recruits also need heavy training and oversight by sales managers and their mentors. Schedule joint appointments with newer associates and couple it with formal training sessions. As I like to say to new recruits in the business: “Learning takes place in the classroom, but training takes place in the field!”

By implementing these elements into your recruitment and selection process, you would be pleasantly surprised on how you can boost dramatically your agent retention rate and productivity. I believe that long-term, profitable growth for an agency is only possible by developing a culture of support and success in which agents are treated as clients. There are no short cuts!

is managing partner of Baystate Financial, Boston, Mass. He can be reached at dporter@baystatefinancial.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, March 19, 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.