By David Connolly, President of iQ Consulting
An excerpt from an interview with a successful agency owner
DC: Historically, what has consistently been the biggest challenge you face as an agency owner?
Owner: “In our infancy we were always worried about cash flow, capitalization, and carrier appointments. Recently, it’s been the economy, and health care reform. But consistently over the course of our history, our biggest challenge has been finding, growing and retaining superior production talent. It's like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack."
How do agency principals develop successful production talent?
I don’t believe there is one single model for success. I know there isn’t, because I’ve seen a variety of different agency cultures have success developing exceptional production talent.
What I can say with confidence is that they all employ processes that help them maximize their chances for success. This article is a synopsis of these processes, and offers personal observations on agencies that have better than average success with producer development.
I believe the first mistake agencies make is when they look to hire a “Sales Professional” They are staffing the wrong position. Finding a pure “Sales Professional” is a piece of cake. The successful insurance Agents I work with are not sales people. A strong sales aptitude is just one of many competencies required for success in this position.
The prototype of a successful Insurance agent: (Deep breath ) A consultant and creative problem solver with exceptional communication and presentation skills. Possess an intense entrepreneurial spirit, drive and work ethic. Can effectively manage & motivate service staff to deliver a wide range of business services. Is organized, can multitask, and has strong time management skills. Works effectively both independently and with teams on winning and retaining business. Possesses executive level negotiation skills to deal with marketing personnel and underwriters.
Understands, evaluates and communicates insurance contractual language. Has strong computer, writing, math and analytical skills. Has strong marketing and advertising skills. Navigates fluid economic and legislative environments and shifting carrier appetites. Possesses a serious competitive drive, and is mentally tough to cope with frequent losses.
Has a tireless motor and works early, late and on weekends. Is an intellectual, pragmatic, supportive, leader who can quickly build and develop strong relationships with all personality types. Is professional, honest, loyal, humble and has integrity. Is socially conservative but can lead, persuade, sell, qualify, close, and retain business.
Put that on a job search description and you won’t get many responses. Those who do would most likely be egomaniacs. So with these incredibly steep qualifications, how do agency principals find, recruit, hire, train and grow successful production talent? All start with the end in mind, and all begin with very high standards for potential candidates. This gives them the raw material they need to work with, and the best chance for success at building a great producer. In short, all start by hiring “A” players.
What’s an “A” player? There are several definitions, but one I found on an entrepreneurial blog describes this person well. ‘They are always stretching goals that you set for them, and they hate to lose. They take personal responsibility and ownership for everything. They push people around them to set higher bars, to compete, to put in the necessary time. A-players thrive on start up energy, they love how fast things can get done, they hate bureaucracy, they expect excellence, and they want to make a real difference. Ultimately, they care, and they treat your business like it is their business."
How many A-players do you have? How are you investing more time and resources into them? How are you finding them?
Steve Jobs described the process of building Apple around “A” players like this:
"For most things in life, the range between best and average is 30% or so. The best airplane flight, the best meal, they may be 30% better than your average one. What I saw with Woz was somebody who was fifty times better than the average engineer. He could have meetings in his head. The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that with A players. People said they wouldn’t get along; they’d hate working with each other. But I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do.
Instead of recommending a book on how to hire A players (there are plenty out there) I suggest you conduct your own research on A players and also create the A – Position (requirements for the producer position in your agency) This will allow you to compare the competencies of candidates to expected performance standards. The Harvard business review posted an interesting article entitled “A players or A positions”? which theorizes that looking for one without defining the other is short sighted. Once you know what to look for, employ a strategy to position yourself for the greatest chance of success. Start by breaking down the process into stages.
Hiring / Compensating / Talent
Grooming / Growing Talent
Finding talent: Where you find your production talent is completely unique to your geographic location. It is dependent upon your local talent pool and whether your location is a draw for talent from other areas of your state or the country. Regardless of your location and talent pool, the primary and unconditional goal when searching for production talent should be to find “A” Players. What you will find as with many things in life is that parallels, not opposites attract. A players associate with A players. I suggest you look to your clients, your best producers, and your staff, friends, venders and fellow business owners who are highly successful for introductions to people in their circle. Among this group you will find many who possess the personal qualities you seek. Once you find them, treat them just like any other coveted business prospect, and court them. Stay in touch on a regular basis …when the time is right, and they want to make a change, you will be one of the first they call.