Filed Under:Agent Broker, Sales & Marketing

Strictly Sales: Sales train for the next hard market

With all signs pointing to a hard market around the corner, we're about to enter one of the most significant commonly repeated mistakes of our industry: ignoring the need for sales training. When the market is soft and producers are scrambling to open doors, qualify accounts and close deals with revenue we do not have, we scream for training help. It usually goes something like this: "We needed you yesterday to help us fix our production problem!" In a hardening market, we look in the mirror and feel good about our increasing revenue, brag about how good we are and put a few extra dollars in our pockets to enhance the lifestyle we feel shorted on during the brutal times. Throwing our basic discipline and principals out the window, it sounds like this: "We don't need sales training. Look at our numbers!"
In the world of sales training, the system of failure which traps many companies and agencies seems to have a common and recurring link. Management is frustrated with the results and the sales team isn't producing new revenue to meet the sales goals or owner demands. The company/agency becomes frustrated and decides to hire sales training assistance. Management conducts a brief search and chooses a linear "step-by-step" sales process training event. Outsiders with no relationship to the sales team come in and introduce this one-time, supposedly life-changing event that is supposed to be the cure-all for the agency's sales problems.
More than half of the sales team, while open to change, lack the focus, discipline and skills to retain and change behavior over the long term. Another quarter of the team wouldn't change their behavior if their lives depended on it. They think they have it mastered and have a low comfort threshold. Their egos get in their way to destroy progress. This leaves only a quarter of your people who will actually learn and change something to improve their daily sales systems.
After it's over and the training company goes home, within three months the sales team is back to its old habits. Management, with no reinforcement and truly doing the best with the skills they have, attempt to manage change. They mean well, but they have never had the training on how to manage a system, and the odds are they were too busy to sit through and learn what the sales team was going through. Isn't it strange to have so much invested in an event, only to have management ignore the training and the follow-up? Why on earth would management expect anything to change with this poor commitment level?
Over the next few months, a dark cloud of frustration builds over the team, and you either have the same training company return, or you hire a different company for another linear three-day training event--and the process starts over. You spend a fortune on training and end up with a 75 percent failure rate. We have seen this over and over, with no option for resolve. It's a great revenue stream for the training company, but it does little for your bottom line.
To make things worse, if the company is large enough, the 50 percent of sales employees who had no real intention to change hide among the other staffers. I spent the first 12 years of my career trying to make this system work and it simply does not. However, using a defined system with personal accountability, our firm ended 2008 with a 30 percent increase to $2.3 million. Why? The two most important elements of sales training and culture development that are missing from most training programs, agencies and companies are:
  1. Ongoing change management
  2. Accountability at all levels.
Ongoing change management
We strongly encourage you to develop a budget that includes ongoing mentoring, executive coaching and change management. This can be accomplished by senior producers, a full-time sales manager, an agency owner, company supervisor, or outside counsel.

Experience has proven that perhaps only 2 percent of employees have the energy, focus, courage and discipline to stay on course with new systems. It makes no economic sense to train for the 2 percent and ignore the 98 percent that need the most help.
A training program can be tailored to one-on-one coaching for your marketing and sales team, as well as executive coaching for the sales manager or principal. The training can be designed to include group teleconferences to discuss specific issues and challenges and assist the sales coordinator in reinforcing the new process SPD System(C) (Systems, Process and Discipline). This is a consistent process that, if followed repeatedly, leads to a proven change in behaviors and a revenue generation process for the company or agency. If you don't commit resources to managing the process, it's unrealistic to expect change.
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed literally dozens of insurers and most of the top 100 brokers in the U.S. conduct event after event for new and seasoned sales professionals. Only those with ongoing accountability have seen a significant increase in revenues. Having a boot camp is a fun and exciting way to motivate the troops, but those short-term emotions soon pass. The key to positive financial results over an extended period is by holding the owner/manager, sales manager and sales team accountable--not for higher levels of activity or "fuller pipelines," but for change at each level of the process to assure the key processes are being followed consistently. Full sales pipelines of useless, unqualified prospects cause production constipation. Quality measurement is the missing link to change and improvement in the sales process and therefore the results.
The three things you need to know about hard market opportunities are systems, training and discipline.
Follow a proven and tested sales system. The sales manager, producer, carrier marketing person and underwriter each have a role that management should understand. You can't manage a team without a consistent system that works every time, and a measurement process.
Premiums are about to go up, and carriers are poised to heighten demands for preferred contracts and market access and trim their non-productive agencies. Agencies and carriers are reducing their costs at every turn. In planning for a hardening market, reserve some of those funds for training. We have seen significant revenue increases by those who invested training dollars in their team in all markets, not just when the rates are down and the sales activity is in the basement.
In Era II selling, it's all about the number of x-dates and prospects, working 90 days prior to renewal, and showing up to the buyer as one of many vendor choices with a presentation. This confusion forces the buyer to focus on the lowest price. You don't need sales skills, or even a sales staff, to compete in that environment.
Today's Era III selling is about building relationships, solving problems, providing clients with a competitive advantage, and building long-term results with them as a partner.
You can choose an Era II fix to increase morale and heighten emotion--which also raises overhead and lowers results and has a very short shelf life--or focus on professional long-term selling strategies. After two decades of training agencies, we have found long-term substantiated change is achieved through systems, training and discipline. Stash away some money and invest in your future--and good selling. Tom Barrett is president of the Midwest and Southeast regions of SIAA, Inc., a national partnering of 3,000 agencies that produces billions in written property-casualty premiums. He serves on the National Faculty for Dynamics of Selling, Dynamics of Sales Management and Dynamics of Company Agency Relations. Contact him at For more information on Dynamics programs, go to

Featured Video

Most Recent Videos

Video Library ››

Top Story

5 insurance advisor marketing mistakes to avoid

The right marketing tactics can help insurance agents and brokers reach their goals.

Top Story

Fire prevention: 5 potential fire risks in your home

Can you identify fire hazards hiding in your home? Learn about potential fire risks and how to protect your home from flames.

More Resources


eNewsletter Sign Up

Agent & Broker Insider eNewsletter

Proven success tips and essential information to help agents and brokers grow their practice – FREE. Sign Up Now!

Mobile Phone

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.