If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to build a successful insurance practice, boost the retention rate among new recruits and cultivate future leaders for your business, then you would do well to institute a mentoring program for producers. That was a key message of a panel discussion at GAMA International’s 2009 LAMP conference, held here last month.
“For our agency, mentoring offers the fastest and most effective way to grow our firm and our agents,” said Edward Deutschlander, a managing partner at North Star Resource Group, Minneapolis, Minn. “The best way to learn is to associate oneself with an experienced professional who has been to the top of the mountain. Mentoring is a big part of our culture.”
One reason, he added, is results. The 4-year retention rate at Deutschlander’s firm is 41%, well above the industry average. Shaun McDuffee, a senior vice president at North Star Resource Group, said mentoring has “doubled” and “tripled” his agency’s production by enabling “aspirants” (the agents being mentored) to get in front of more of the right prospects.
Kenneth Gallacher, a regional director at the multi-line insurer American National Insurance Company, Las Vegas, Nev., added that mentoring “significantly” boosted sales for his firm. His agency’s 28 agents collectively sell more than $1 million in life insurance premiums and over $5 million in securities and annuities annually.
The program, he added, has allowed otherwise “detached” agents–the multi-line producers all work independently at separate offices–to regularly come together to share best practices, experiences and challenges with specific cases, and to bond with one another. One result is an increase in agent morale and performance, as measured by a rise in referrals and sales. (Agents and mentors typically split commissions 50-50 when doing joint-work.) The program has also “reenergized” the firm’s mentors.
“Mentoring helped to develop to the mentors’ own skills and confidence,” said Gallacher. “And it’s helped our older agents to feel good about themselves because they’re leaving a legacy. That’s one thing I didn’t expect.”
The success of a mentoring initiative, the panelists agreed, depends not only on the quality of the program, but also on the character of the participants. McDuffee said that North Star’s aspirants must be “coachable.” He thus prizes college graduates who have an athletic or sports background because these recruits tend to be go-getters and have experience working as part of a team. The same qualities, he added, apply to interns.
“In recent years, we dramatically increased the level of screening for interns,” he said. “We need to make sure they’ll qualify for a full-time position. So anyone who enters our agency as an intern is in fact someone we would be ready to hire as an associate. We’re not in a position to lower our standards.”
Deutschlander said he looks for in recruits three “E’s”: high energy, ethics and enthusiasm. These qualities are needed, he noted, because of the significant effort required of recruits who are, in effect, starting their own businesses. And as entrepreneurs, they must expect to work longer than normal hours during the early years of their careers. So long as they follow the company program, he said, success is nearly assured.
Prospective mentors, Deutschlander added, must be motivated by the right reasons: because they want to serve in a leadership capacity and be part of something bigger than themselves; are caring and giving by nature; and because they truly desire to help aspirants develop own practices. Those veteran producers who aspire to become mentors purely for financial reasons won’t, he said, be a good fit for the program.