We’ve all been there before: interminable seminars in stuffy chain-hotel conference rooms; the inevitable chair slump as Slide 78 paints a fuzzy message of virtuous (or vicious) circles on the wall; the sinking sense that, once again, we are investing precious time in a training event with a dubious return on investment.

No doubt, carrier-run educational sessions have the (sometimes deserved) reputation of being either too broadly theoretical or too narrowly focused on an unusual client segment–and thus, in either case, not immediately actionable. In their defense, event organizers often feel that they are catering to an audience more interested in continuing education credits than ready-to-use sales concepts.

What few producers realize is that carriers sometimes provide a continuum of training–mostly cost-free, yet highly valuable–that goes beyond seminars and workshops. We offer here 7 techniques for tapping into carrier-sponsored educational events and resources that can lead to better client relationships, higher sales and a more fulfilling career.

1. Show Up Ready to Learn. You get the most out of an event when you give it your full attention. So, be “in the moment.” Turn off the Blackberry and cell phone. Leave the newspaper in the car. By doing so, you just might be surprised. Commit to walking out the door with one solid, actionable idea. And, of course, commit to actually applying that idea.

2. Be Open to New Ideas. It isn’t always easy to see the applicability of a new sales concept or product feature at first blush. So it’s easy to dismiss new information that could lead to sales. Tune in when the carrier talks about emerging product features and consumer trends. A little bit of knowledge might help you pose the right questions to a client–and lead to new avenues for sales and deeper relationships.

3. Connect Concepts in Real-Time. Effective carrier sessions will incorporate “real time” planning as you work through the material. For example, you should be able to make direct connections between a particular product feature and a client need you know it would serve. Ideally, you should leave the room with a concise, realistic action plan. Even if the planning isn’t built into the seminar, you should keep running notes; every “aha” moment should translate into the name of a prospect, existing client, or gatekeeper you’re going to see and the topic you’ll be discussing with him or her.

4. Obey the Rule of 72. Generally speaking, if within 72 hours of a meeting you haven’t done something constructive with the information you’ve learned, you’re probably never going to do anything with it. Too often, the days following a seminar are extraordinarily busy; this isn’t surprising, since the “time off” for training creates a buildup of work that needs to be addressed. Resist the natural impulse to take the action plan you built at the seminar and put it into the desk pile. Instead, put appointments on your calendar or in your Palm organizer. Quick action leads to ROI; nothing else will.

5. Retain and Retrain with Technology. After the training session, ask the carrier if there are supplemental technologies that will help reinforce the concepts explained in the seminar. For example, the carrier might be able to share a copy of the slides and talking points. In some cases, online presentations–with accompanying audio tracks–can be downloaded from a producer-only section of the carrier’s website.

Similarly, you may be able to get hold of an audiotape or DVD of a training session. These resources are excellent, quick-access tools for you when you want to refresh your memory about a particular product feature or sales approach.

6. Leverage Your Experts. If you don’t know where to go with a case, either because you’re not sure what concept makes sense or you don’t know how convert the opportunity into a sale, reach out to experts like internal wholesalers, advanced marketing staff, national sales support teams, and others. You may not think of them as “training” resources, but they are.

They are glad to lead you to the right answers, especially when you see an opportunity and just need help putting together a solution. For example, every now and then a producer comes across something unusual, a different kind of case. Because it’s impossible to master every product and concept, the producer can reach out to the expert for quick training. These teams are accustomed to requests for coaching and easy-to-grasp training resources; they have the depth and breadth necessary to illuminate the most crucial details quickly and effectively.

7. Spread the Wealth. Understanding the concept personally may only be half the battle. There are information needs across the board, from the producer learning a new concept, to the client, and in many advanced cases, the client’s advisors. How do you meet these needs? In addition to the technology tools mentioned above, don’t overlook the obvious: good old-fashioned collateral. Large carriers create a wide variety of printed materials, client presentations and product illustrations. Leverage these materials to help the clients and other advisors understand–and make the sale.

Increasingly, carriers are delivering the continuum of training services necessary to give the producer the right foundation and just-in-time finesse to deliver truly exceptional client service. And producers are taking the personal steps necessary to achieve success, from going to training sessions, to reinforcing their knowledge through individualized training, to reaching out to carrier service teams. This is all in the interest of improved client support, professional success and, by association, carrier success.

Sometimes this confluence of interests steps into the spotlight. At a recent training program regarding premium financing issues, a highly regarded producer told us, “I know the session goes until tomorrow, but I need to go home now.” We were briefly taken aback until he explained that he had already set up a meeting that he needed to prepare for immediately to use the new idea he had just learned with a key customer.

That’s focus. That’s fire. That’s a potential sale. That’s what good training is supposed to ignite.