As I visit with benefits brokers across the country, they seem to divide into two camps.
The first, a small fraction of the whole, is actively working on finding new and innovative practice models that allow brokers to take advantage of the rapid change in our industry.
The second, and by far the most predominant, is the group that is paralyzed by those very same changes.
Seasoned salespeople armed with amazing skill sets and great books of business have become convinced (or have convinced themselves) that their experience and training are no longer useful. Many believe they need to transform themselves and their practices completely. For some, that may be a useful exercise — and might have been a practical course of action even without the recent market turmoil. Sadly, others have that deer-in-the-headlights look.
They have reached a SUD level that has left them unable to move. This does not mean they have been drinking (though perhaps some have). SUD stands for “Subjective Unit of Distress.” Joseph Wolpe developed the SUD level concept in 1969 for use as a quantification tool for clinicians treating patients with anxiety and other disorders.
Think of the measure as a thermometer, with gradations from zero at the bottom of the scale to 10 at the top. At zero, patients were totally at peace and not stressed at all. At five, patients were moderately upset but able to handle the distress. At seven, patients started to freak out. If patients hit 10, they were having an anxiety attack, and whatever distress was going on their lives had wrested all control from them.
Many years ago when I was managing my first sales unit, a crusty old veteran and former agency manager told me it was his observation that salespeople performed best when they were in the six to seven range on the SUD scale. He said that below the six or seven level, salespeople became complacent (he actually said lazy) and sales tended to wane. If salespeople were above that level, they ended up like our deer-in-the-headlights friends today.
At the time, I was not certain I believed him, but as the years have gone by, I have learned there is a certain logic in the theory. Very few individuals in any field perform well when they are pushed far out of their comfort zone. Today, if that larger cohort is at number 10 on the scale, the goal has to be to find ways to get them back down to the middle — and most productive — part of the metric. We need to find ways to put them back in “the zone.”
In my platform talks about transformation strategies for benefits professionals, one of the first things I suggest is that folks who are heading to the top of their SUD level might want to consider ways to stay in the market segment they know, even as they adjust the practice areas in which they interact with prospects and clients.
Since May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month, let us use an example or two from the individual disability marketplace to illustrate how the concept works.