Advisors commonly point to product expertise, superior presentation skills and an ability to accept rejection, among other factors, as key to achieving success in life insurance sales. Less frequently cited, though perhaps no less important, is the unwavering pursuit of a task that can at times seem grindingly tedious: keeping track of one’s daily efforts using an activity management system.
“At any given point in time, the [activity management] system is like a mirror, reflecting the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the advisor’s practice,” says Paul Steffen, a regional vice president at Northwestern Mutual Life, Milwaukee. “When used properly, it will tell you exactly where you are and what adjustments you’ll need to make along the way to achieve your goals.”
Barry Alberstein, a clinical and consulting psychologist and principal of Alberstein Consulting, Blaine, Wash., compares the parts of an activity management solution to a three-legged stool. One leg comprises a specialized planner for recording and measuring the components of the sales cycle: calls to prospects, pre-approach letters, appointment-setting, fact-finders interviews, closing presentations, and so on. The second and third legs include, respectively, a customer relationship management system (typically software) for servicing clients and what Alberstein dubs the “art” of (or method for approaching) the sales cycle.
Alberstein, a tri-author (together with his wife, Delia Alberstein, and Alfred Granum, president of The Granum Agency) of “Building a Financial Services Clientele: A Guide to the One Card System,” published by The National Underwriter Company, says discipline in recording prospecting and sales activity is critically important to the advisor’s practice. This data enables producers to not only measure their daily tasks, but to compare them–in particular, the ratio of one activity to another–to industry averages or expected benchmarks.
How does one rate relative to others, for example, in securing appointments from referred leads or cold calls? Of these appointments, how many convert to fact-finding interviews? What number of presentations is needed to yield a sale? And, completing the cycle, how many new clients provide referrals to friends and colleagues?
By comparing these activity ratios, says Alberstein, producers and their managers can determine where breakdowns in the sales cycle are occurring and which skills need to be improved through in-classroom instruction, online training or enhanced oversight by a manager or mentor.
“Recording daily activity is essential to making a scientific analysis of the nature the producer’s business,” says Alberstein. “But agents often don’t enter the data because of the time involved. The issue here is not so much ‘does the system work?’ but whether one can create a corporate culture that encourages producers [to be diligent] about completing the data.”
Northwestern Mutual believes it has done just that. Steffen says most of the company’s field managers were “brought up” on the OCS One Card System, a kit that includes, among other items, an annual planner, index cards for recording information about prospects and suspects, the aforementioned guide and online career activity management (CAM) reports. And, he adds, they use the system when meeting with producers in monthly meetings to review sales activity.
MetLife, which uses an activity management solution developed in-house, has 3 levels of “accountability.” These include daily “board sessions” where agents discuss new appointments; Friday morning “mini-sales builder” meetings that are a forum for producers to discuss weekly activity with peers; and one-on-one chats with sales managers, where field work and challenges faced in meeting objectives are explored in-depth.
Often, says Domenic Battistella, a co-managing partner and managing director of Chicago North Financial Group, a MetLife office based in Itasca, Ill., agents’ productivity falters because of distracting personal issues. Many are also unable to manage their time efficiently because they have too many appointments.
“One result is that reps compromise on their calling time,” he says. “So the next week they’ll have too few appointments and will have to spend more time on the phone to get their work week back up to speed.”
How much activity is required to secure a new client? Granum, who spoke at National Underwriter’s Sales Mastery Forum in Atlanta last September, says producers need on average 10 referred leads or “suspects” to get 3 fact-finding interviews and, subsequently, one closing interview. This 10:3:1 ratio applies, he adds, irrespective of the agent’s experience and client base, though repeat sales to existing customers generally entail less effort.
But the ability of agents to meet this standard, observers say, depends on consistent record-keeping of sales cycle activity. That work log provides a measure by which to judge one’s performance from week to week and, when necessary, change tactics to boost outcomes.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about discipline,” says Battistella. “It’s about putting systems in place, staying true to those systems and controlling those things that you can control. Advisors who are disciplined in these areas and work constantly to improve their skills will have a strong foundation to build a career on.”