Toops Scoops: Building a Winning Team? Don't Forget the O-Line

Everybody knows that top-selling producers are the stars of any insurance agency. They're the rainmakers who get all the attention, and the most hotly recruited and carefully groomed members of the team -- kind of like the Heisman-winning quarterback on a football team.

What about the lowly offensive lineman? While the quarterback gets credit for being the brains behind the plays, the O-line is often stereotyped as the big lugs in front.

But according to the experts, the quarterback isn't the smartest guy on the team -- it's the offensive linemen.

According to the Wonderlic test, the 12-minute, 50-question quiz adminstered by NFL scouts to potential draft picks, offensive lineman average a higher score than players at other positions. (For fun, you can measure yourself against the big guys by taking a sample Wonderlic test.)

Why? NFL scout Greg Gabriel writes:

Offensive linemen are a different breed. Unlike any other position group, they are a group that has to function as one...The one common denominator that most teams look for in offensive linemen is intelligence. As a whole, offensive linemen are probably the smartest guys on a team. While they may be “nasty” on the field they still have to be level headed and be able to think on their feet. They have to be able to pick up line calls and switches in protection in an instant. If they fail to hear a call or bust an assignment the called play is dead. The offensive lineman also has to have a high degree of football character. He needs to be a self-starter who is reliable. The lazy player just isn’t going to make it.


Kind of sounds like what a solid agency support staff excels at: teanwork, level-headedness, flexibility, character, determination, and the ability to follow through.

Yet too often, agency principals don't treat CSRs, account executives and other support staffers like the pros they are.

Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of education and research at the Big I, estimates that less than 10 percent of independent agencies compensate their CSRs or account executives with commissions rather than straight salary -- and that trend crosses agencies of all sizes and lines of business sold.

The stats back her up. According to the National Alliance Research Academy's CSR profile study, "nearly all" CSRs are paid primarily by straight salary; although some receive salary only while others may receive commission in addition to salary for their sales activities, says research director Jim Cuprisin. 

The study shows that 60 percent of commercial CSRs receive no additional compensation for sales activities.  However, 27 percent receive commission, 14 percent receive a bonus, 3 percent receive an increase in salary, and 6 percent receive some other type of compensation for sales, such as a flat fee. The numbers are a little different for personal lines: 42 percent of CSRs receive no additional compensation, 31 percent receive commission, 25 percent get a bonus, 4 percent receive an increase in salary, and 8 percent receive some other type of compensation.

"I don't know of many commercial lines CSRs who actually get a commission," says agency consultant Phil Lieberman. "This is because there is a producer getting a fairly high first-year commission on new business so there isn't a lot of money to spare. I do know of some agencies whose philosophic emphasis is on retention and in those agencies, both the CSR and the producer may get a commission."

You'd think, right?

Want proof of the importance of the offensive line? Just ask Bears QB Jay Cutler, he of the pouting mien when things don't go right. Or Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who has been quoted as expecting his O-line to be "as coordinated as the Rockettes" (this doesn't always happen). And when one of your O-line stars is injured, the whole season could be in jeopardy.

Okay, this analogy has pretty much run its course. But the point is, even the highest-paid, most professional producer can't do his or her job without the backup. Treat the backup like pros, and you'll have a winning team.

Go Bears.




About the Author
Laura Mazzuca Toops,

Laura Mazzuca Toops,

Laura Mazzuca Toops, National Underwriter Property & Casualty executive managing editor, is responsible for the Agent & Broker channel for Her more than 20 years of property & casualty insurance experience includes associate editor at Business Insurance, Midwest managing editor with Insurance Journal, and freelance work for insurers, brokers and trade associations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. She may be reached at


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