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Insurers and insurance distribution organizations want to have plenty of people available to talk to prospects.

Many people would like to work at home.

Clearlink, a Salt Lake City-based company that has been running contact centers for many years, has started implementing a new idea: Set up virtual organizations that can actually sell insurance, not just handle customer complaints.

(Related: 4 Steps to Building a Virtual Insurance Sales Team)

Joseph Orr, executive vice president of insurance at Clearlink, has helped the company handle the technical requirements and compliance details needed to set up virtual sales organizations that can sell Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare supplement insurance policies, life insurance policies, and property-casualty policies.

Clearlink has been offering brick-and-mortar contact centers for insurers for years.

The new virtual sales organizations are made up entirely of licensed insurance agents who work at home.

Here are 10 looks at what Orr said about virtual sales organizations in an interview.

1. Cost

A virtual sales organization is a lot cheaper than a brick-and-mortar call center, Orr said.

“It’s very expensive to build call centers,” Orr said.

2. Call Direction

At this point, about 70% of the calls the Clearlink virtual insurance sales teams handle are in-bound calls, and about 30% are outbound calls, placed in response to requests by consumers for someone to call them back.

3. Scheduling

A virtual approach can be especially effect for an insurer with a product, or products, with a relatively short sales period, Orr said.

In the Medicare plan market, for example, agents sell much of the coverage during an annual enrollment period that lasts from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

When the main enrollment period lasts just two months, an insurer doesn’t want to have a call center sitting mostly empty for the other 10 months of the year, Orr said.

4. Talent Pool

A company with a brick-and-mortar contact center will have to stick with workers within about 30 miles of the brick-and-mortar center, Orr said.

Taking a virtual approach means that a sales organization can use agents based all around the country, or the world.

5. Talent Assessment

Orr said that the characteristics of a successful work-at-home agent are somewhat different from the characteristics of a successful brick-and-mortar agent, and that the aptitude testing has to be different.

Orr said the biggest difference has to do with agent preferences.

“It’s not about the computer skills,” Orr said.

Orr said the key questions for a would-be virtual agent are, “Do you enjoy the isolation of working at home?”, and “Do you have the aptitude to continue to do that for a long period of time?”

6. Morale

Orr said Clearlink tries, when possible, to build virtual agent engagement by organizing in-person gatherings, to help the agents get to know employees outside their immediate teams.

7. Training

Orr said a brick-and-mortar sales organization may have traditional, brick-and-mortar training programs. At those programs, he said, the trainers may have to aim the classes at the workers in the middle of the class.

With a virtual training program, the trainers can segment the students more easily, with extra help for the workers who need more help, and extra content for students who already know the basics.

8. Regulations

Orr noted that each product comes with its own regulatory requirements.

In the Medicare plan market, for example, the agents must act as consultants, not as sales people.

9. Coaching

With the Clearlink technology, each team sales manager can see what every agent is doing, and listen in calls. The managers can also see who’s taking too long to handle a call, and can send help when an agent appears to need help.

10. Results

Orr said conversion rates for consumers who talk to virtual agents or brick-and-mortar agents tend to be similar.

Matching callers who prefer to speak in Spanish with Spanish agents is a top goal, and matching callers with agents from their home regions also seems to help, Orr said.

— Read Best Practices for Salespeople Who Work at Homeon ThinkAdvisor.

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