In other words, if you wonder how to grow your insurance agency, the simple answer is right in front of you — hire the right people.
So why isn’t everyone hiring great agents? Because hiring a great insurance agent, or even a good one, is not an easy task.
Obviously, you need to find someone who can network, sell products and close a deal, but selling insurance is not like selling widgets. Depending on the lines your agency carries, you may need to find agents with expertise in business liability risks, business succession planning, commercial property, life insurance, retirement planning, estate planning, group and individual health insurance, and more.
At the very least, you need to find someone who can be trained in any of the skills they may be lacking.
How to Grow Your Insurance Agency by Attracting the Best People
If you already have agents working for you, you might want to start by making sure you have good measurement tools in place to determine who your best agents are. Again, depending on the lines you carry, that could include anything from determining who brings the most new faces into the agency each month to who your top-dollar producers per client are, to a combination of both.
Once you know who your best agents are, study them for clues to their success, and keep in mind that they might not be the same attributes that brought you to where you are. A quiet introvert may not seem like a natural-born salesperson, for example, but she might outwork everyone in the office or simply work more efficiently than anyone around her to reach better contacts. Whatever you find in your circumstance, those are the traits to seek in your new hire.
If you have never hired an agent before, start with the basics. A college degree might indicate that a candidate has the ability to learn and complete complicated long-term tasks, for example. A stable work history in a people-related field, such as teaching, might indicate a strong ability to communicate with strangers or to convey complex ideas in an understandable way. A background in the types of activities you insure could ease the learning curve in some more complicated lines, such as commercial liability.
Regardless of whether you run a business with multiple agents already or you are considering your first hire, it’s important to remember that the best prospects are people who could succeed anywhere. You want them to come to you because they are seeking the best opportunity, not just a job. So you’re not buying a new employee — you’re trying to sell a job to the best.
Here are some tips that might help you recruit the best candidates:
1. Know That the Best People Are Not the Most Outgoing
A recent University of Pennsylvania Wharton School study of more than 340 salespeople showed that the biggest extroverts were not the best sales people. In fact, those who tested highest for extroversion on the personality scale earned 32 percent less revenue than those in the middle of the scale, while introverts earned 24 percent less. The takeaway lesson — your best salespeople will be outgoing enough to make new contacts, but humble enough to stop talking and listen.
2. Be Willing to Look in Unusual Places
Did the guy in the electronics store upsell you on a pricey sound bar when you bought your TV? Did you see an assistant restaurant manager calm a table full of unhappy customers so effectively that you know they’ll be back for more? How did you feel about the woman who sold you your last car?
Selling insurance can be a challenging job. You need candidates who are not just willing to deal with rejection, but who can turn it around and still get the sale.
Great salespeople are all around you in your daily life, and some of them are hungry for the kind of financial opportunity that top-level insurance sales can present. So don’t limit your search to people who are already in insurance.
3. Develop an Insurance Agent Training Program
You do not have to come up with a painfully detailed plan, but you should consider the steps you might need to take to get a new agent ready for work. Whether you find someone within the insurance industry or outside it, for example, licensing may be an issue. Even a professional who is already working in insurance may not have the continuing education credits they need to obtain a license in the lines you want them to sell, so you will need to clear this hurdle quickly.
It is important to have professional resources on hand to deal with these types of issues. StateCE, for example, offers continuing education courses in all 50 states and promises a next-day turnaround time for delivering credits to the state once your prospects complete their courses, which means less time wasted for you.
In addition to helping your prospective hires get their licensing in place, you might want to consider putting together good basic lists of local networking opportunities and establish weekly mentoring meetings with your newest hires to make sure their progress is smooth.
4. Stick to Commissions for Compensation
Your best agents will be self-motivated salespeople who will respond to the maximum opportunity, not to a stable salary. Do you want people who will drive themselves to sell, and then to sell more next month, or people who are happy to sit in the office and collect a check? Avoid the temptation to attract new agents by offering a low starting salary, or you will attract people who are satisfied with the low salary.
5. Align Your Commissions to the Work
Some types of policies bring higher commissions to the agency than others for a reason — they are harder to sell, often because they are more complicated and require more work to understand and communicate to prospects.
If you are paid twice the commission for selling a particular type of policies over another, make sure your staff shares in the extra compensation and that your prospective hires are aware of the arrangement. The best among them will be attracted by the challenge and will sell more of what you want them to sell after you bring them on board.
6. Shop Close to Home
Agents who live near your office will know more people in your area — one of the keys to success in a job that depends on making lots of contacts. They will also be less stressed by their commutes and be more likely to stay late, attend local networking events or get involved in community projects.
7. Advertise for the Right Traits
If you advertise for help, don’t just advertise for help. Advertise for people who are willing to work hard to succeed — people who want big opportunities to fill their futures with more than they can imagine and people who love a challenge. In other words, advertise for the kind of people you want, not just for someone who could, maybe, do the job.
8. Train Your Staff to Look
Chances are, you don’t own the only set of eyes in your office. You can cast your net much wider if you train everyone in the office — not just other agents, but office staff as well — to be on the lookout for potential agents.
Share the traits you consider to be the key attributes of success with all of your employees and ask them to let you know if they know anyone, inside or outside the industry, who might measure up. You might be surprised who that brings through the door.
9. Tap Your Network
Just as you tell all your satisfied clients that their business referrals are appreciated, tell everyone who does business with you that you are looking for new talent. Don’t just tell them you are looking for help, though — tell them you are looking for ambitious, honest, personable people who are willing to work hard to succeed.
Chances are, the best people they know will come to mind, and they will think more highly of you and your business. After all, if you are seeking the best of the best, your current staff must be the best of the best as well.
How to Grow Your Insurance Agency by Selecting the Right People
Once you have chosen some candidates to enter your doors, it’s important to vet them properly before any offers are extended. Here are some tips for interviewing and winnowing your field:
1. Check Social Media
You’re not just hiring someone to do a job when you hire an insurance agent. In many ways, you’re bringing the whole person into your business. You need to know that the people you hire are trustworthy hard workers who exercise good judgment in all of their social undertakings, including their life on Facebook and other social media sites.
Don’t hesitate to friend a potential candidate to see what is posted on their timeline or to check their Twitter feeds and other sources of social media. You may learn more than you want to know about their interests, habits and general styles of communication — but you’ll have a better idea of if their personality would be a match with your office.
2. Say ‘No’ Creatively
Salespeople need to be able to overcome objections on a daily basis, so you might want to try a moderate objection on your candidates immediately. Tell them ‘no,’ but leave the door open for a response.
Tell them, for example, that you are not quite sure they have the proper qualifications for the work, or that you’re not sure their desire for the job is up to the temperature you require for success.
If your candidate doesn’t want the job all that bad, they will walk away, saving both of you time. If they do want the job, they will give you a counter to your objection, along with a chance to see how they perform under the pressure of a negative response.
3. Ask About Preparation
Ask a prospective agent to list the best self-help or sales book they have read. If the answer is ‘none,’ you may be looking at someone who is not willing to move out of their comfort zone to learn a new skill — at least, not without a lot of help from you.
4. Consider a Tryout
You can’t really tell how someone will perform until you see them on the job. Consider hiring your people on a contract or temporary basis until they can prove their effectiveness in the field.
If you have found the right person, they will work hard to impress you through the tryout period. You can use their performance during that period to measure against their performance later so you know they are continuing to push as hard as they can.
5. Consider Hiring Part-Timers
Sometimes you will find your best prospects working in related professional sales fields, such as real estate. If they are willing to get licensed themselves, or upgrade their existing license, to sell part-time for you, you will be able to leverage their sales skills and client bases for your own business. Online courses can greatly facilitate the process.
6. Consider Language Skills
A multilingual agent who speaks the languages of your community can be a powerful attractant.
If your candidate shares the same multilingual skills that you or other agents in your office also possess, they will reinforce your firm’s ability to attract clients whose preferred language is not English. If they add multilingual skills that your firm does not currently possess, they should be able to grow your clientele into portions of the market that were previously beyond your reach.
7. Consider Computer Skills
The work of an insurance agent requires a basic ability to research information, write documents and prepare spreadsheets on a computer. Not everyone with an education can do this, so before you find out the hard way that your golden-tongued new salesperson can’t meet their goals because it takes them all day to do simple office tasks, devise a basic test of computer skills to use on your applicants. Conducting an Internet search for basic information, creating a spreadsheet from simple data and filling out a dummy form online should suffice.
8. Avoid These Dont’s
Unless you want to repeat the hiring process over and over just to get back to the same place, avoid hiring agency hoppers — people who hop from agency to agency every few years, either to negotiate a better commission deal or because they are failing to meet their escalating goals. Either way, they can be an expensive mistake.
On a somewhat related plane, it’s best to avoid people who are brand new to your community. Success at insurance sales requires knowing and securing a lot of contacts. A long-term resident is likely to amass the required numbers much more quickly than a newcomer, no matter how charming.
How to Grow Your Insurance Agency Most Effectively — Find the Best
More than 466,000 people worked as insurance agents in the United States in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median pay, as of 2015, stood at $48,200 a year, which means that half made more, and half made less.
If you follow these tips, you will find the half who makes more. Those are the people you want in your agency because those are the people who will grow your business, your wealth and your success the fastest.