There Is No Substitute

For A Work Ethic

BY

It is, I believe, encouraging to see concern being raised over the current level of agent recruiting and the lowest retention rate in my memory. Hopefully, the concerns of LIMRA and others will be taken seriously and action to correct the conditions will follow.

If corrective action does follow, then all parties should benefit. The public will be better served by long-term career agents, the agents will have a more viable career as professionals and companies may improve their bottom line.

It is ironic that at a time when the earnings of successful agents are at an all-time high, retention is at an all-time low. This should be of particular concern to the handful of companies that recruit over 70% of new people entering our business.

Adding to the irony is the national issue of the lack of job growth and current level of unemployment. Some of the most successful agents I have known turned to life insurance sales when other opportunities were closed to them. Significantly today, the agents job of serving Americans is not one that can readily be exported to another country.

I am the first to acknowledge that I have never been in a position that required the recruiting of new people into our business. However, I do have a few observations regarding sales people, gleaned from almost 60 years of experience with them.

Looking at LIMRA criteria for the best chances of success, there is one attribute that I believe stands out above all others. Perhaps a personal experience will illustrate my point.

Before my life in insurance, I traveled the state of Arizona as a salesman for a major industrial and automotive corporation. My territory was widespread and for the most part, consisted of small towns and large copper mines. During this period, I became friends with Fred, a 3M salesman covering many of the same accounts that I did. We often arranged our travel schedules to coincide so that at least we had company while dining in the small towns we covered. I learned a lot from Fred during those dinner conversations and looked upon him as a mentor and role model.

For example, when Fred and I were calling on accounts in a town 150 to 250 miles away, we left our home early enough to arrive at the account when they opened at 8 a.m. We were usually away from home 3 or 4 nights a week and when it came time to return home, we did not leave until all accounts were closed at 5 or 6 oclock, thus usually arriving at home at 9 or 10.

Fred was very successful, managed his money well and made a lot of additional money on 3M stock. He did so well that he was able to retire at age 55 on an income that allowed him and his wife to live comfortably until he died at age 96.

When Fred retired, 3M had to hire 3 men to take his place, but the new hires worked a lot different schedule. If they were working a distant town or account, they left home at 8 a.m. and started to work when they arrived hours later. They also left the territory in time to be home at 5 p.m. At the time, Fred said, “If I had known that other sales people did not work as hard as I did, I might not have retired so soon.”

Observing my schedule, which I had copied from him, Fred encouraged me to look into life insurance selling where I might be better rewarded for my effort. I heeded his advice, made the move and brought with me the work ethic I had learned from him. Compared to my old job selling insurance was easy and I was home every night, even though sometimes it was late in the evening.

My point is that education, intellect and personality are all important, but give me the salesman who, as the old saying goes, “Worketh like hell.” One of the reasons immigrants (particularly Asians) do well in our business is that often their life before insurance was a struggle and the only reward was survival.

There are lots of people in dead-end jobs who work hard and are poorly rewarded. We have a lot more to offer such people than we do over-educated candidates who want to golf their way to success.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 9, 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.