It's a fairly well known fact that the vast majority of insurance agents fail and fall out of the industry in just their first few year or two. In my 15 years in the business (13 of these as an independent) I wanted to note some of my observations so that some of you newbies may learn and stop yourselves from falling into potential traps and pitfalls in an industry littered with the carcases of good men and women.
Mind you I'm talking mainly from a Life Insurance perspective, but I also worked a few years in commercial property and casualty and feel much of the same principles apply. Here's just a little about my own personal start in the business and some rules that I think can help agents who want to be on point and thrive in a great industry:
My first job in insurance came with a niche property and casualty company. It was a very corporate job. I got a company car and a shiny new laptop. We had a very good (but expensive) product. I have goals to hit in many categories including profitability and of course, production. I learned a lot at this time, had full benefits etc and for a while it was good. But I noticed something very quickly: each year the company made the goals harder and harder for the agents to hit.
More production, more lines to cross sell, higher targets for profit and loss. Bonuses were becoming harder and harder to achieve. And without those bonuses the job simply wasn't worth it. Lesson learned: when you are a corporate employee the corporation sets the rules. They also completely own the book of business. Nothing is yours.
Just like the car I drove everyday wasn't mine, neither were my customers. Still I think this job would have been great if they didn't change the rules every year and keep moving the carrot further away from our mouths.
It was at this time that I noticed that I liked selling life insurance. I liked the more personal sale and the fact that the sale wasn't just about price like for a fleet of autos. It was more emotional and I liked that. So I started to investigate various life insurance companies. Naturally I turned to and considered what I knew (due to advertising i now realize): NewYork Life, MetLife, Prudential. I finally settled on Northwestern Mutual. They really impressed me with their snobbery and self proclaimed appeal to the wealthy.
So I went through the hiring process and soon I was a newly hired Northwestern Mutual agent. I was happy to be given admission into this "exclusive" high end company. They made me feel very lucky to have been 'chosen'.
I was in training for over a week meeting all the guys in the office that were making 200,000, 400,000, Half a million and more. Wow, I wanted to be just like these guys! Northwestern was my ticket. They really were pumping me up and dangling some big carrots in front of me.
They had a huge sales seminar in Wisconsin every year. The office I worked in was amazing, high end. It smelled like money!
I started the training process. It was going to be a full week, and boy did I have my learning cap on. I wanted to be challenged and to soak this stuff up like a sponge. Oddly though after a few days of 'training' there was very little I was actually learning.
They said that would come later; the products, the sales approach,etc. Hmmm, ok. Then came a day of training on 'marketing'. I was excited! I wanted to know what great ideas they had for me to reach prospects and start making some sweet commissions.
All of us trainees were handed a blank booklet and told to draw a circle in the middle and instructed, "write the name of the most influential or most successful person you know in the circle and their phone number." So I did it. "Now, draw 4 separate lines out from that circle and draw four more circles from those circle and put names of people who this person knows." And so on, and so on, until the big page was filled entirely with circles of family, friends and remote acquaintances I hadn't spoken to in years. The main project that day was filling in the circles and getting those phone numbers located and place in the circles. I was calling my mom and dad for phone numbers that I didn't have in my own rolodex. I was told that this was my 'sphere of influence'. I was also told that, THIS WAS THE MARKETING PLAN!
Are you kidding me? I wanted to cry. I needed to get on the phone immediately and start scheduling appointments with these people. Wow, this really sucked.
Is this what over a week of 'training' got me: the right to call my friends and family and beg them to buy insurance from me, a guy just a week in the business?
I knew what they where up to.
Churn and burn, and milk me for every policy they could get out of me and my family. I wasn't falling for it and I quit immediately.
I know some agents that stayed on for nearly 2 years, practically starving themselves and their families in the process before quitting. I think one agent in our group of 9 stayed on. Ironically, he was from a very wealthy family and made his income on commission splits by introducing seasoned agents to his affluent family members and their contacts. Oh yah they also referred to the marketing as: "Six degrees of Separation", and constantly made references to the movie! If you wanted to meet anyone in the world, you could!
RULE 1: BEING A CAPTIVE AGENT IS A SHAM & THEY ONLY WANT YOU FOR THE POTENTIAL POLICIES YOU CAN SELL TO YOUR FAMILY (life insurance industry). BIG COMPANIES ALWAYS CHANGE THE RULES AND LOOK TO SERVE THEIR SHAREHOLDERS FIRST.
GO INDEPENDENT, & THE SOONER YOU CAN DO THIS, THE BETTER.
So I quickly became independent, got contracted with multiple companies and a few IMO
's who told me about all these great products over the phone and pumped me up about them. I suppose one of the first things I observed about being an independent, and which actually astonished me was how few ideas these IMO
's had for me in terms of marketing! I mean literally NOTHING! They didn't even suggest for me to draw circles on paper. haha.
But I was also very surprised to learn just how little the IMO
's seemed to know about insurance (but that's another story). Their only concern was getting me to 'fax that contract in". Pretty sad if you ask me. Despite this letdown, at least I was 'independent' and had competitively priced products to sell at good commission levels.
RULE #2: IMO'S GENERALLY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT INSURANCE. THEIR MARKETING PLAN IS ALSO NON-EXISTANT
But at least now I could now do what I wanted.
So, I had products. But I needed Customers! How was I going to do this?
It was at this point that I started running direct mail leads with a direct mailing group similar to NAA. Let's face it, if you were in this market, you know that it was very good while it lasted. Everyone was able to buy a home and the mortgage insurance market was crowded with agents but it was still real juicy. There wasn't enough time in the day to handle all the leads. Direct mail response was hitting 4% or 5%. I worked this market until the wheels came off.
RULE #3: NEVER ASSUME A DECENT LEAD PROGRAM WILL LAST LONG. KEEP LOOKING!
All the while I was educating myself, testing new leads, developed a few websites, marketed online. Some things worked, some things didn't. I wasn't getting rich but I was doing ok. I was finally getting the hang of this insurance thing.
Did you read that? Always be looking for new and better ideas. If you can't think of some ideas yourself find someone who knows what they are doing and is willing to share and teach! Contract under them to learn. That's a big hint to keep your career moving in a positive direction
I think the greatest thing I realized at this time was that I had to keep constantly learning, testing, and growing. I couldn't just sit back and expect anyone to throw leads at me or ideas for that matter. I shouldn't rely on some decent lead program to last forever. I also realized that no one was going to hand me a great marketing plan. Due to the lack of innovativeness and leadership in this industry, I'd have to get creative and come up with one myself.
RULE #4: KEEP LEARNING, SEARCHING, INVESTING IN YOURSELF & YOUR BUSINESS
Then I stumbled into a market that just blew me away.
Part of this was complete luck or just good fortune I'll admit, because at the time I had never even heard about this niche!
I needed to get to work even harder and formulate a strategy.
I knew this niche was going to take some planning, a lot of study, and a lot of trial and error to master it. I had a lot of work to do. Luckily for me I was generating enough internet leads to keep me afloat while I developed my "system'. I tinkered and tweaked all aspects of it for that first year. I'll admit it wasn't always smooth. But for every setback I had I'd take two steps forward. I was truly making progress. I was also racking up big commissions in a fashion I never really thought was possible.
RULE #5: WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING GOOD, RUN WITH IT, MAKE IT BETTER, NEVER SETTLE, BLOW YOUR PROFITS THROUGH THE ROOF.
By the beginning of the 2nd year in this system I had more clients than I could keep up with. I had to hire 4 people to help me keep everything straight just for this one market! It was frantic. It was also super profitable. I had mastered the niche!
I learned the biggest profits come in niches.
I learned to keep working and perfecting it.
I spent a lot of money to make a lot more money.
RULE #6: INVEST IN FOCUSED NICHE MARKETS. HIRE PEOPLE TO DO THINGS THAT DON'T MAKE YOU THE BIG $$
I've noticed that many new agents, and many average or unsuccessful agents do not invest in themselves. If I had never invested in myself and my own business I don't think I would have figured anything out. This is a BUSINESS. What business in this world can you get into and not spend any money? Think about that. Insurance is no different. Sure you may not have to take on big overhead costs, but what about your education? Are you investing in learning new things? Are you going to school and attending seminars? Are you at least buying books and reading about general salesmanship? Are you investing in yourself and your business?
Most agents stumble badly in this area. They get caught in some lead program running around using some proclaimed system that works well for a while. A system that MIGHT allow them to earn some sort of living, but the whole time they are running and scratching so hard for policies that they won't have any time or energy left over to IMPROVE themselves and their business. They are too busy chasing the next final expense lead for a $800 dollar commission, and walking out the door praying it doesn't cancel. This is no way to thrive in this business.
RULE #7: ALL GOOD BUSINESSES REQUIRE REINVESTMENT TO GROW. YOU ARE YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET. INVEST IN YOUR KNOWLEDGE.
I remember running mortgage insurance leads back in the day and most guys thought it would never end. Personally, I couldn't wait to find the next new frontier. I was constantly looking and trying to reinvent and to be ready, so when the opportunity presented itself I was.
Now please don't think I think so highly of myself. I've been blessed and fortunate. But I've also invested a lot in myself and always kept and open mind to new ideas. Most agents are not as entrepreneurial as I am, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I think most agents sell themselves short and just keep marching to the same old beaten drums. I don't know about you but when I hear this from a marketer: "YOU DON"T HAVE TO REINVENT THE WHEEL". --- i don't walk away....I RUN.
If anyone is pitching you with such tired boring cliches just imagine how un-inventive and dated their marketing plan really is. Chances are they are teaching you a regurgitated idea that they never even bothered to improve on. These lead programs often promise lots of leads at reduced commissions. This may make sense to you at first because you are so desperate for leads but ultimately it's a big loser. Learn how to create your own leads, invest in knowledge of how to do this.
RULE #8: GIVE A MAN A FISH AND HE EATS FOR A DAY , BUT TEACH HIM HOW TO FISH AND HE EATS FOR A LIFETIME.
IE: LEARN TO CREATE YOUR OWN LEADS FOR MAXIMUM PROFITABILITY AND SATISFACTION.
RULE #9: RUN FROM CLICHÉD RIDDEN MARKETERS!
This is a great industry and there's a lot of money to be made. I think a lot of recruiters lie and exaggerate how 'easy' it's going to be. It's very easy to take a new agent and give them a list of names and numbers and say "get calling" and place quotas on you for sales. It takes expertise and a great mentor to truly TEACH you something that will make you and them money. Sadly most IMO
's, bosses, managers etc, are so busy recruiting, so busy pushing their cliched 'if it aint broke don't fix it' systems that otherwise intelligent and useful agents get their talents wasted and turn could be thoroughbreds into one trick, slow moving ponies.
RULE #10: YOU'RE MORE THAN A ONE TRICK PONY. STRIVE FOR GREAT THINGS & NEVER SETTLE.
If some of you would like some help and guidance drop me a direct line.
I'm looking for quality agents who want FRESH ideas.