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The Difference between Success and Failure in Selling

Posted By John Chapin, Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Several important factors separate those who succeed in selling from those who fail.  Although some of the following items are arguably more important than others, they are all critical to a salesperson’s success. When I talk about top salespeople, I’m referring to people who are not only great at the profession of selling, they are also great human beings.

The Twelve Success Factors

 1) Great attitude

Top salespeople have a positive, can-do, winning attitude.  Specifically, they have enthusiasm, drive, competitiveness, and confidence. Top salespeople are highly motivated to succeed. They see selling as a competition, and they love competition. Top salespeople do whatever it takes to win—ethically—and they do not quit.  They are extremely persistent.  They are always moving ahead, changing, growing, and pushing through the bad times until they make it.  They never give up on themselves and their dream of success. Top salespeople have a win-win attitude.  They are genuine and truly like and care about other people.

2) Action oriented

Top salespeople are people of purposeful, focused, well-thought-out, massive action.  They are clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it.  They don’t procrastinate.  They are protective of their time and use it wisely.  Top salespeople have a plan and they work their plan every day.  They know what actions lead to their success and that’s where they spend their time.  They follow the 80/20 rule.

3) Preparation

Top salespeople are prepared for anything and they over-prepare for everything.  They never wing it.  They have prepared scripts, presentations, answers to objections, and proposals.  They practice, drill, and rehearse.  They never rest on their laurels and are always looking for ways to improve. They are ready for anything and expect the best, yet they have a plan if the worst, or anything else, shows up.

4) Businesslike and business-savvy

Consumers are smarter and competition has increased. Top salespeople partner with customers and build a compelling business case based upon what’s best for the customer.  They know their customers’ business and problems intimately.  They ask intelligent questions that both set them apart from other salespeople and, more important, let the customer know they thoroughly understand the business. Top salespeople know and embrace technology, but not to the point where they distance customers and/or remove the human element. 

5) Ability to stand out from the crowd

Top salespeople differentiate themselves from other salespeople.  They don’t sound or act like other salespeople.  They are original. A top salesperson doesn’t come across as someone trying to sell; he or she comes across as an interested and informed party that’s there to help. Top salespeople have an aura of respect around them.  The way they walk and talk demonstrates to others that they are professionals and in turn, they are treated professionally.  Top salespeople are real, human, and down to earth, and people like them for this reason.  Their caring, sincerity, and helpful dispositions stand out.  They are memorable.

6) Likeability, trustworthiness, and the ability to build relationships

Selling is about doing everything necessary to build solid, loyal, long-term relationships. Top salespeople develop and nurture customer relationships and consider most of their customers to be friends. They have the ability to put people at ease and win others to their side, to establish a connection, and build rapport quickly and effectively.  They build trust and credibility.  Top salespeople can walk into a room and emerge fifteen minutes later having made a new friend.  They are genuine, open, and honest.  They convey a sincere interest in other people, what makes them tick, and what interests them. They truly like to serve people.

7) Effective communication

Top salespeople are great communicators, knowing what to say and when to say it.  They actively listen and are able to hear people well and read between the lines.  They ask good questions, listen well to the answers, and take notes. Top salespeople don’t confuse people by giving them more information than they need; yet they give them enough information to make a well-thought-out buying decision.  Top salespeople have frank, direct conversations with people.

8) Empathy

Top salespeople have empathy for their customers and prospects.  They are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.  Top salespeople genuinely like people and people feel their understanding and compassion.  Top salespeople enjoy helping people and they believe, with every fiber of their being, that buying and owning their product or service will help people.

9) Professionalism, integrity, and work ethic

Top salespeople are complete professionals with complete integrity. They have a great work ethic.  They are always on their best behavior because they’re aware that they never know who is watching them. Top salespeople are honest.  If they don’t know an answer, they admit it, find the answer, and follow up promptly.  They are straightforward. Top salespeople work both hard and smart. They don’t rest on their laurels when things are going well. Top salespeople recognize their top clientele and focus closely on nurturing those relationships and finding more people like them. Top salespeople go the extra mile and always deliver more than they promise. They return phone calls and reply to correspondence promptly. Top salespeople take 100 percent responsibility for everything they do, both professionally and personally.

10) Team player and leader

Top salespeople look for ways to contribute to the team.  They share information and success stories that may help the other salespeople in their company.  They pull for their peers and colleagues.  They use a big sale by another person in the office to motivate them.  They are focused on becoming better as individuals and believe that by doing so, they help the people around them improve and make their company stronger. Top salespeople work well with other departments and develop strong professional relationships with co-workers.  They get along with everyone, including the person no one else can relate to. Top salespeople are leaders. They expect to be at the top and they are comfortable there. They do not look down on or see others as inferior.

11) Continuing education and training

Top salespeople are always getting better at selling. They read sales books, listen to sales information at home and in their car, watch videos, and talk to other successful salespeople.  They constantly look for ways to improve.  They know selling and they know their business, yet they also know there is always more to learn. They study their competition inside and out. Top salespeople stay up-to-date on all new developments in their industry and everything that could affect business.  They are constantly looking through trade publications and magazines.

12) Company product and support

Top salespeople cannot remain at the top without reliable products and support.  They pick companies and products in which they can believe 100 percent, and they continue to look for reasons their product is better than any other.  

While twelve factors may seem like a lot, the keys are: having a great attitude, a sincere interest in helping people, and a burning desire to succeed. 

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Free...and Worth It!

Posted By Louie Castoria, Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Should Insurance Professionals Provide Free Advice?


Oh, you’re a doctor!” the party guest gushes. “You see this blotch on my wrist? Is it something to worry about?”

“Well, I’m a podiatrist, but it looks fine. If it’s still there in two months go see a dermatologist, okay?”

This exchange gets played out daily in thousands of parties, chance meetings and business offices. Sometimes the person offering a polite response, which in reality is advice, is a lawyer, psychologist, accountant, insurance agent or other licensed professional, but the pattern is the same: An acquaintance or relative asks for free advice, and, not wanting to seem impolite, the professional puts the errors and omissions liability policy on the line.

An internet search of the phrase “the high cost of free advice” finds examples from varied professions. Many describe the risk to the advice recipient, such as the party guest with the wrist blotch. Fewer describe the risk to the advice giver, the podiatrist, which is equal and opposite to the recipient’s risk, as Isaac Newton might have put it. 

Is there a legal duty?

Should a professional person have a legal duty when giving a non-client free advice? There are several legal duties in this seemingly casual situation:

  • Duty to the firm: Professionals who practice in a firm owe fiduciary duties to one another. A lawyer giving off-hand advice at a dinner party puts the law firm at risk, and not just the risk of a malpractice suit. If the lawyer advises the guest on a point of law an implied attorney-client relationship can be created — usually with the benefit of hindsight after the advice has gone wrong. That’s one reason why lawyers who do pro bono work must first run a conflict check using the firm’s client ID system. From a business standpoint, taking on the implied client might prevent the firm from taking on a paying client who is averse to the “freebie.”
  • Regulatory or licensing duty: As a lawyer admitted in California, I’m licensed to give legal advice. Well, not always. I can advise people about California or federal law, but if the inquisitive party-goer is visiting from Florida and is asking about a child-custody problems back home, I’m not licensed to give that advice, and would be practicing without a license, from Florida’s point of view. Also, one needs to be cautious about states in which the unauthorized practice of a profession can implicate criminal repercussions, and in securities matters, where disclosures and other safeguards may be required before advice is given.   
  • Duty to stay within scope of expertise: In the same child-custody scenario, if the party guest was from Sacramento rather than Sarasota, I’d still be incompetent to answer his question. My state bar license allows me to give that advice, but my experience does not. Here’s the problem with “dabbling” in an unfamiliar area of practice: The dabbler is held to the same standard of care as the expert. And let’s not forget the firm’s “silent partner,” its E&O insurer, which may have limited the scope of its coverage to the firm’s core practice areas. The same can hold true for insurance professionals. If you only sell and service personal lines policies, are you knowledgeable enough about commercial auto, for example, to provide reliable advice on coverage? The person asking you certainly thinks so.
  • The contractual duty: Professionals enter into contracts all the time. Captive insurance agents agree to only offer one company’s products. Distributors sign exclusivity contracts. Thankfully, these subjects rarely come up at parties, sports events, or bar mitzvahs, but when they do the novelty of the question should set the professional’s spider-sense a’tingling — particularly if the din of the crowd, band or barker limits your ability to clearly hear the question.  

What’s a businessperson or professional to do when cornered at an event by someone posing pointed “hypotheticals” about “a friend’s” problem? At this point, the marketing urge may trample your spider-sense. It could be a sale, a client, an account. Or, maybe, borrowing another pop-culture meme, “It’s a trap!” If the advice is outside your licensing or expertise, the most helpful advice is a referral. 

Walking the tightrope

There is a tightrope across this abyss. There’s no need to be rude or to give up a potential lead. Here’s one way to reply — I hasten to add that this is not legal advice: “I’ll be happy to give you some general ideas, Mr. Hodges, but can’t provide advice without a more in-depth discussion. How about this, you give me your business card or email address and I’ll contact you tomorrow to set a time to talk.”

The follow-up is an email saying, “It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday. We discussed your situation in very general terms, and I’m writing to ask if you’d like to meet to see whether I can be of help.” The subtext: “We have no agreement for me to provide services, yet.” 

And if you then meet and decide to offer free services, it’s a reasoned professional decision, not a sudden impulse or ambush — and may result in a worthwhile encounter that yields a new paying client. 


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Mental Toughness and Sales Success

Posted By John Chapin, Monday, August 5, 2019
In an article two months ago, I mentioned the five foundational personality qualities necessary for sales success: people skills, mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and character (honesty and integrity). If someone is missing any one of these, they won’t make it in sales over the long haul. Of the five, I find that the one that is most overlooked is mental toughness. Not just in the initial search when looking for a new sales rep, but also after the person is hired. When someone comes to you, they either have good people skills, work ethic, attitude and character, or they don’t, you can’t teach those. They also come to you with some level of mental toughness. It may be high, low, or somewhere in the middle, but they at least have some. That said, mental toughness is a skill that can be, and should be, developed after they’ve been hired, similar to sales skills and product knowledge. This is where many companies miss the boat. While almost all companies have some form of product and sales training, very few do any mental toughness training, and mental toughness can make or break a salesperson. 

Why mental-toughness training?

There’s a saying that 90% of life is mental, or as Yogi Berra reportedly said, “90% of life is half mental.” Whether or not you like math or Yogiisms, one thing is true: sales, like life, is pretty much 100% mental. Think about it, 100% of our waking hours, and most of our sleeping hours, are done through our brain. With the amount of rejection required to be successful in a sales career, one needs to have a high level of mental toughness. When people fail at sales 99.9% of the time it’s due to a lack of activity: they didn’t make enough calls, to talk to enough people, to get enough qualified prospects, to make enough sales. What causes the lack of activity is either fear of rejection (addiction to the approval of others), complacency (the comfort zone), or an inability to persist and persevere when they encounter repeated failure and rejection. The cause of each of these is a lack of mental toughness.

What is mental-toughness training and how do you do it?

In short, mental toughness training is training people to overcome the mental hurdles they encounter in sales and in life. Essentially, it’s developing someone’s grit and determination. You do it by discovering what they’ll fight for and what they’ll die for and then helping them use those emotional hot-buttons when they are down or otherwise unmotivated. This requires a deep dive into the psyche via targeted questions that cover the past, present, and future in all the major areas of life. What you’re after here is their WHY. In other words, why do they do what they do? Why do they get up in the morning and go to work? Why is it critical that they succeed in their career? A powerful WHY is the key to having a high level of mental toughness. As Nietzsche once said, “He who has a [powerful enough] WHY to live, can bear almost any HOW.” In other words, if the why is powerful enough, a person will go through almost anything to achieve their goals. That means they’ll push through rejection, won’t allow themselves to get complacent, and even when they are feeling down and beat up, they’ll still have the persistence and perseverance to keep moving forward.

While finding someone’s why involves some extensive questioning over several weeks, in short, you discover someone’s why in two areas: pleasure and pain, which is the language of the brain. First, on the pleasure end, what are they running toward? What do they want for themselves and the people in their lives? Do they want a house on the lake or a new sportscar? Do they want to send their kids to school wherever they want to go to school? Do they want to take a trip around the world with their family? Do they want to retire and travel? So, on the pleasure end, what are their goals and dreams, and how much money do they need to make those goals and dreams a reality? So, start with goals, but keep in mind, for most people positive goals aren’t enough to keep them motivated long-term. As a result, we need to leverage pain. Pain is a more powerful motivator than pleasure for humans. What “pain” is someone running from in the present, hoping to avoid in the future, or striving to overcome from the past? What has happened to them that motivates them? Did they get fired from a job? Did someone tell them they’d never amount to anything? Is there an ex-spouse or ex-boss that they’re going to show that they made a mistake? Are they afraid of not having enough money? Are they afraid of how they’ll feel if they don’t provide for their family? Where are the issues, or the pain, and what are the motivators or demotivators behind those? When you think of motivation, think of the 3 Ps: people, possessions, and proof. What do they want for the people in their lives, including themselves? What possessions do they want and what values do those possessions fulfill such as: peace of mind, security, love, and excitement? And what do they have to prove to themselves and others? Do they need to prove they are worthy, important, capable of taking care of their family, or that they’re good enough? 

When you discover what’s truly important to people, what they are willing to fight and die for, then you and they will have the necessary emotional hot-buttons to push in order for them to get through fear, step out of their comfort zone, and get back up after they’ve been knocked down.

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Stereotype of Salesperson as Liar

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Too Often Accepted as Sign of Competence


Everybody says they don’t like liars. But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out people tolerate those who stretch the truth, and even expect it.

New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that the ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling.

In the study, Deception as Competence: The Effect of Occupational Stereotypes on the Perception and Proliferation of Deception, Chicago Booth Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Emma Levine and Johns Hopkins University’s Brian Gunia find that people don’t always disapprove of deception. In fact, they perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in “selling orientation.”

“Deception, in the form of fraud, embezzling, and corruption, costs the economy a great deal of money and undermines the economy’s underlying moral fabric,” Gunia and Levine explain. “Companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers.”

In two pilot studies, the researchers asked participants to rate 32 occupations as “high” or “low” in selling orientation, reflecting the degree to which occupational members persuade others to make immediate purchases as part of their jobs. In four subsequent studies, the researchers honed in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation—sales, investment banking, advertising—and three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation—consulting, nonprofit management, accounting.

The researchers then ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for example, when reporting their expenses after a business trip or when completing an economic game in the laboratory). Finally, participants judged how successful and competent a liar or honest individual would be in occupations that were high or low in selling orientation—and, in two of the studies, whether to hire them into those occupations.

Among the key findings: Participants believed that liars would be more successful in high-selling orientation occupations (such as banking, advertising, and sales) than low selling-orientation occupations (such as nonprofit management and accounting). Furthermore, participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations.

Indeed, when participants had the opportunity to hire individuals to complete selling-oriented tasks, they were more likely to hire deceivers for these tasks, even when their own money was on the line.

“We found that people don’t always disapprove of liars,” Levine says. “Instead, they think liars are likely to be successful in certain occupations—those that do a lot of high-pressure selling.”

The paper is published in the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

According to the researchers, the findings may help to explain why deception persists in certain occupations: because hiring managers and other organizational actors see deceivers as more competent for high-pressure sales roles, and hire them at an elevated rate.

High-pressure selling occupations, which include investment bankers and advertisers, are some of society’s highest-status and highest-paid occupations, so prospective employees and employers should worry “if deception is a prerequisite for employees to get hired and rewarded,” Levine says.

Organizations intent on reducing deception should avoid framing occupational tasks as requiring high-pressure sales tactics to succeed, the study says. Instead, they would do well to align their job requirements with a customer-oriented approach to selling that emphasizes how the employee can help fulfill a client’s long-term interests. Such a shift could reduce hiring managers’ tendencies to see deceivers as competent and reduce the temptation to recruit deceivers into key roles.

“Armed with the knowledge that deception is perceived to signal competence in high-pressure sales occupations,” the researchers write, “companies may want to explicitly deem deception as incompetent.”

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Sales Success: Are You IN or Are You OUT

Posted By John Chapin, Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I was recently speaking with a manager at a real estate office about what makes some agents successful and others unsuccessful. He told me, “John, I can sum up the difference between the successful agents and the unsuccessful agents with one quick example: during a major blizzard when everything is shut down and everyone is at home, my top agents are making phone calls to prospects because they know they have a captive audience, and the rest of my agents are posting pictures on Facebook of the cookies they’re baking.”

I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon when I speak. Afterwards it’s always the top salespeople who line up to buy my book. The mediocre and poor salespeople, on the other hand, always give me one of two excuses for not investing in the book, either that they don’t read or, that they can’t afford to buy the book.

Here’s another example that outlines the difference between success and failure in sales. Several years ago I worked for the largest banking equipment distributors in the world. The top salesperson at the time was a guy by the name of Pete. One day while Pete was out making prospecting calls, he got in a car accident. In fact, he totaled his car. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt too badly. He ripped his pants, got some cuts on his nose and forehead, but for the most part, he was okay. When the paramedics showed up and they insisted he go to the hospital and get checked out, Pete adamantly refused. Regardless of the car accident, he was determined to get the rest of his sales calls in. After pleading with Pete for a while, they finally gave him some butterfly stitches to close the facial wounds and sent him on his way. Pete then jumped into to a cab and completed his calls for the day. While that’s a pretty good story on commitment, it doesn’t end there. Like most top athletes, and people who are among the best in their field, Pete was determined to find the advantage in wrecking his car and it didn’t take long to find it. He remembered two hard-to-reach prospects that he simply could not get through to. He’d call, stop by in person, e-mail, send items through the mail, and use any and every trick and technique to get through, but he simply wasn’t able to get to these two prospects. He now saw the car accident, and his current condition, as an opportunity to change things. Pete took the cab to both offices and when he arrived, he walked in, torn pants, bloody face, butterfly stitches and all, and said to each receptionist, “Hi, I’m here to see Mr. Prospect. You have no idea what I’ve been through today to see him.” Now these gatekeepers, who had bullet-proof teeth and had been shutting Pete down for months, instead of stopping him this time, were now off making a sale to the decision maker as to why they had to see Pete. I can imagine it sounded something like, “You’re not going to believe this. There’s a guy out in the reception area with torn pants and blood on his face. I mean it’s not Halloween, right? You have to see this.” The result was that Pete got in to see both prospects that day. They both laughed as he told his story. The best news is that three months later Pete ended up getting one of them as an account and it became his fourth largest account.

While that’s a great story about commitment, there’s another point to be made here. Both of these prospects were owners of medium-sized businesses. As such, they undoubtedly have some slackers that work for them. You know the type, the ones who take every sick day, holiday, vacation day, family day, and look for every excuse to take days off and work as little as possible when they are actually there, and here’s a guy who got in a car accident, who had a perfect excuse to take the rest of the day off, and he’s still out working. Do you think that gives Pete some instant credibility? You bet it does. Do those owners know that if Pete says he’s going to do something, they can’t count on it? Of course.

Now let’s compare Pete’s story to that of a low-performing salesperson at the same banking equipment company. This guy showed up to the weekly sales meeting on Monday morning with a coffee stain on his shirt. I said, “Wow, tough drive into work, huh?” His response, “Yeah, luckily my appointment was able to reschedule.” I then asked what a coffee stain had to do with rescheduling an appointment. He said, “Well, obviously I can’t go out calling on prospects looking like this.” While missing an appointment because he had a coffee stain on his shirt was bad enough, also notice that he said ‘appointment’ versus ‘appointments.’ That one appointment was his one for the day, and probably his one for the week.

So, on one hand, we have the top sales rep that gets in a car accident and actually makes two more calls than he had planned on versus the lowest performing sales rep who uses a coffee stain as an excuse to make no calls. I think the difference between the successful and unsuccessful is pretty obvious. One is committed and determined to make the calls and do whatever it takes to be successful, the other is simply going through the motions and trying to stay on the payroll while doing as little work as possible. One’s all-in, the other, for all practical purposes, is out.


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How Many Hours per Week = Sales Success?

Posted By John Chapin, Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Recently I was speaking with an insurance agency owner about the lack of success of his two most recent hires. When I asked how many hours they were putting in, the answer was, “About 45 or 50 per week.” Keep in mind, these agents are in their 20s, are new to the industry and relatively new to sales. In other words, not only do they have to spend time learning about an industry they know next to nothing about, they also have to learn how to sell, in addition to learning the ins and outs of the new company they work for. Taking all of that into consideration, I gave him my estimate of how many hours they should be putting in. His response? “Look, you can’t expect Millennials to work more than 40 or 50 hours a week.”

How many hours should a new agent be putting in?

When hiring a new agent, I tell people to look for five things: people skills, mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and character (honesty and integrity). You give me a person who’s positive and upbeat, is good at connecting and communicating with people, is able to persist and persevere through rejection, will always do the right thing, and is willing to work their butt off to be successful, and I’ll show you someone who will be successful in sales, and pretty much anything else for that matter. The number of hours someone is willing to put in, though most closely related to work ethic, also ties into attitude, mental toughness, and character (they’re taking money from you to do a job which requires putting in the effort necessary to get the results and pay you back).

Ultimately there are four factors that determine how much time someone needs to put in, one: how good their sales skills are, two: how well they know the industry, three: how large, loyal, and influential is their network, and four: whether or not they are new to the company they’re now working for.

Factor #1: Sales skills

In order to be successful at the highest levels, the new agent will need great sales skills. If they were in another industry previously, and already have great sales skills, that’s good but they’ll still have to adapt their skills to the new industry. Either way, developing great sales skills is a job all by itself and a significant amount of time needs to be spent here.

Factor #2: Industry knowledge

If they’ve been in the industry for the while, this can be helpful. My sister was basically the equivalent of a dental hygienist for seven years before she began selling dental equipment. Because she already knew all the products and what was important to the people she was selling to, this cut down significantly on the time she needed to put in to get up to speed on the industry and product knowledge. That said, most new agents are new to the industry and as a result, this is another area in which a significant amount of time needs to be invested.

Factor #3: Network

Typically, a new agent doesn’t have a large, loyal, influential network that they can rely on for tons of business. If they do, it tends to be the exception versus the rule. For example, if Rob Gronkowski decided to be an insurance agent, financial planner, or sales rep for almost anything, he’d get tons of business based upon his network, or in this case, the number of people who are familiar with him and would like to be connected with him. Similarly, if a well-known and liked member of the community in their 60s decided to switch careers, they’d likely be able to do a large amount of business simply based upon their network and centers of influence. Again, these two examples are the exception, not the rule. The rule is that most new agents will need to spend a lot of time building their network by pounding the pavement, making phone calls, doing other forms of marketing, and following up.

Factor #4: Are they new to the company?

This is the least of the factors in the equation and is a short-term consideration, but if an agent is new to the company, they have to learn the tools, systems, procedures, and processes of the new company they work for. This includes how the CRM works, the e-mail and phone systems, who to go to for certain questions, what paperwork is required when, and how to fill it out, relationship building within the organization along with learning some of what everyone else does, and a plethora of other details about the inner workings of the organization, the business, and the industry as a whole.

All of the above said, if an agent is new to an industry and company, they have average, poor, or few sales skills, and they do not have an extensive network that they can rely upon for massive amounts of business, they should be putting in a minimum of 67 hours a week, and probably more than that, for their first three to five years.

Oh, and by the way, there are plenty of Millennials willing to put in the hours in order to be successful, you just have to dig to find them and know how to paint a picture of an exciting future in your industry. Also, their generation does not have a monopoly on people who don’t want to work.

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How to Lose Sales

Posted By Kelly Donahue-Piro, Tuesday, May 14, 2019


There is no such thing as the perfect insurance sales person, right? While this is true, we should never stop learning and getting better at our craft. Sometimes all it takes is a different choice of word, tone of voice or neglecting one more follow-up call that leaves us with a great practice quote and without a sale. There are some key things that we can all do to become better and better at getting our prospects to choose our insurance agency.

The Top Agents Are Prepared

Being prepared makes us seem professional, on top of it and that we genuinely care about the prospect. But how often are we prepared for negative circumstances? There are only 5 or so objections in insurance. Are we prepared for how to handle:

  • Price objection
  • I need to speak with….
  • I’m waiting on other quotes
  • I don’t need that much coverage
  • I’ll get back to you

Every agency should make a list of the top objections and rehearse how to handle and overcome them. One new concern that seems to be popping up is carrier research. When someone researches a carrier online and they come back with not the most fantastic of reviews, is your agency ready to handle that? You can check out our recent blog on this topic.

Missed Expectations

One thing we consistently see in agencies is the failure to set clear next steps and expectations. We often get on the phone and do everything we need to quote insurance, but we aren’t taking care of the client and leading them through our plan. Instead we leave a call with, “great, I’ll send you a quote!” That’s great, but how will I get it? When will I get it? Every great sales person works to control the message and the next step. Here are some common areas where agents can tighten up the process:

  • Alert the client to the next step with an agreed upon date and time — when possible set an appointment. This way the potential client is clear on where they are in the process and this reduces them feeling like they should contact another agent.
  • Even in commercial, do this! It can be just a check-in call if you haven’t heard from the underwriter. Just touching base helps the opportunity feel connected.
  • Identify how the quote will be delivered — in person, by email or by phone? We much prefer the opportunity hear your presentation vocally either in person or over the phone.
  • Alert them to how many options you will provide. People love options. It helps them feel empowered and able to make a decision.

We Make the Opportunity Burn Too Many Calories to Figure Out Our Proposal

Do you think many people go line by line and read their coverages? News flash: most don’t. But sending the carrier quote can leave them equally perplexed. The only thing that is loud and clear on a quote is the price. When we are all working so hard to overcome the price objection, sending a client a complicated quote won’t help. We need to instead provide it to them verbally to review all the wonderful features OR think about doing an agency branded, custom proposal. This helps show more about you and breaks down the key features the client should be focused on. And it will confuse the heck out of your competition when they don’t see a carrier quote!

Clients shouldn’t have to work too hard to understand their insurance. That’s our job. So you can easily see how emailing a carrier quote can work against us.

Follow Up

Unfortunately, we see a lack of follow-up from most agencies. The industry studies show that the best practice is to follow up 6 times, however, with our secret shopper program we rarely even see one follow-up. Now it’s easy to get busy or feel that 6 follow-ups is too aggressive, but there is a middle ground. For most people, buying insurance is just one item on their to-do list, so the easier you make it to say “yes” (through strong follow-up) the more wins you get.

So why do agents struggle with follow-up? Most management systems don’t make it simple, easy and visual to follow up. It falls through the cracks pretty easily! Another reason we lack follow-up is it can be uncomfortable. We don’t want to sound needy or stalkerish (but this is all in the scripting!) Finally, some agents are splitting their time between sales and service, and generally speaking, service comes before the sales strategy.

We Provide a Quote, Not Options

One long-lived sales strategy that we miss in insurance is to provide multiple options. Many agents send 1 quote over, and they hope the person purchases. Top sales agents review options with the client. (See how hard this would be to do if you just emailed the quote — reviewing it would burn a lot of calories.) So if we can take a moment and review the options with a client, we continue to build rapport, but most importantly, we can work together with the client to select an option that works for them. They feel comfortable with what they are buying rather than picking from just any random quote. This gives you the space to make recommendations and be their agent.


Nothing works 100% of the time, but not having a strong sales plan is sure to fail almost all of the time. By having a sales strategy, you can avoid common insurance pitfalls and work to create a client for life.

Tags:  insurance  sales 

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Tired of Being a Generalist?

Posted By Brook McGuire, Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Here's How to Specialize


Building a book of preferred business is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing to do, especially for newer producers who are just starting out. If you ask them who they’re targeting, they will say something like: “prospects who rent or own a home, have autos and a decent driving record.” Essentially, they’re targeting nearly anyone who lives within 25 (or 2,500) miles of their office!

If you’ve spent any time marketing, you know how difficult it is to craft a message. It’s even harder to develop a compelling message that will appeal to 100,000, or even 100, people. Imagine crafting a marketing message to all people who like to be outdoors. Do they like hiking and camping? Playing flag football? Going to the zoo? Going fishing? Hosting an alfresco dinner party?

How do you capture the attention of each group of people while still being pertinent to their actual interest? You’d have to water down your message such that your message will be bland and non-specific.

In insurance, the only universal messaging is around price, but that’s the domain of direct carriers who can’t offer the same benefits as an independent agent. Focusing on price alone is a losing proposition for IAs. Instead, you need to show potential customers the unique value only you can offer.

You have superpowers – use them!

So, what can you do? Focus on your unique superpowers of ease, choice and advice; then, direct your messaging to a very specific target customer. It’s much easier to build content, convey your brand, and persuade your audience to consult you for a quote when you’re speaking their language!

Nearly every insurance agency is targeting the same home and auto customers you are. Nearly every insurance professional’s business card says they sell home, auto and business (and maybe life and health, too).

Instead of quoting those same home/auto customers who are only interested in the cheapest coverage, you would probably prefer to spend your time quoting customers who:

  • Are more likely to value coverage over price
  • Are more likely to buy insurance from a trusted advisor
  • Deliver a four- to five-point improvement in your retention and loss ratio
  • Have preferred-customer attributes, like discretionary income
  • Deliver 2x the written premium per account
  • Refer you to their friends and family
  • Prefer to bundle all their policies together with one expert advisor

Sounds like a dream demographic, right?

According to Liberty Mutual consumer and product research, these are the attributes of customers who have specialty exposures, like rental properties, watercraft, motorcycles, ATVs, collector cars, RVs and more.

Focusing on specialty lines as the lead line of business can help you attract a more preferred customer base –customers who value the ease, choice and advice offered by an independent agent. These customers value a trusted advisor and want to ensure their passion project is fully protected.

To go big, get narrow

Many producers are trying to build a book of 500 to 1,000 (give or take) households. To get there, they offer to quote virtually anyone who will submit a dec page. Instead of taking such a broad approach, identify a niche in which you have interest or experience. It can be a product-level niche, like watercraft, or hyper-targeted, like sailboats or bass boats. This allows you to direct your marketing efforts to speak the language of your prospect. For example, the needs of fishers are different from those who wakeboard.

Imagine crafting a marketing message to people who live to fish. You can share very specific coverages that will be of interest (like fishing equipment protection and on-water emergency assistance), show your knowledge of their favorite hobby, and easily issue an enticing call to action.

The needs-opportunity is identical for any specialty niche you select. Landlords need an expert advisor who can coach them through coverages like tenant injury, guest liability and wrongful eviction. The needs of RVers can be complex, too. In addition to protecting their motorhome or travel trailer, they need expert advice on premises liability, contents protection and travel territory.

Which niche is right for you?

If you already own a toy or a rental property, you’re more than halfway there. But what if you don’t? Do you have an interest in any of the toys? For example, do you love getting out on the water? Love camping/traveling? Love car shows and cruise-ins? If so, you have a head start on building out a niche for yourself.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your current knowledge, there are many places you can turn for help.

  • First, visit the dealerships and mechanics in your community. They’re a great source of information regarding the types of vehicles most often sold in your area and the damage/claims they see regularly. You might be able to quote their personal and commercial insurance, too!
  • Once you’ve identified a niche or two, spend some time on the internet. An afternoon online can yield coverage ideas and questions to ask your prospects and everything you ever wanted to know about the different makes and models in your chosen niche. Visit popular manufacturer sites, vehicle valuation sites and your carrier’s product pages, as well.
  • Finally, use what you’ve learned to start attracting your prospects. There are many methods of marketing. For example, Facebook and other social media sites are a great way to talk to your chosen audience. You can even join (or start) groups centered around your niche. You can also set up a booth at local events/festivals/shows. This will let you meet people who may be in the market to buy.

In conclusion, by narrowing your focus down to a very targeted customer, you’re more likely to have success marketing, attracting and issuing policies. Plus, by focusing on specialty consumers, like landlords, boaters and RVers, you’re more likely to find a preferred customer who values the ease, choice and advice offered by the independent agent.

Tags:  insurance sales  markets  specialize 

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Building a Successful (Sales) Culture

Posted By John Chapin, Tuesday, April 30, 2019

You just hired the perfect person: great work ethic, positive and upbeat, they show up early, leave late, take ten minutes of a fifteen-minute break, and do more than expected and more than you ask for. Now let’s take that person and put them into an environment where people are negative, aren’t held accountable, take three days off for a hang-nail, show up at 8:05 then spend 45 minutes “getting ready” for their day, start preparing to leave at 3:30 and leave at 5:00 like there’s a fire drill. What happens to that perfect hire? One of two things: they either become just like everyone else after about a month, or they leave.

Whatever your culture is, it has a substantial impact on performance. There is significant peer pressure to conform to the culture, be it good or bad. This peer pressure is one of the four main motivators for people who belong to any group. Positive peer pressure is what took my grades from Cs in the public high school to As and Bs in the private high school. It’s also what ensured that I made over 200 phone calls per day in my first job as a stock broker. If you’re a great team or organization with a great culture, fantastic. Unfortunately, most organizations have negative cultures, or at least elements of them.

Features of great cultures:

Feature #1: Great leadership

Culture is top down; it begins at the top and flows down through the entire organization.

Whatever the leadership team eats, breathes, walks and talks related to culture, will become the culture. As a leader, you don’t get what you want, you get what you tolerate and allow. And what you tolerate and allow you tacitly condone and get more of. If you allow people to miss their numbers year after year, when it’s evident they aren’t making the calls and doing the necessary work, you’ll get more of that. If you allow negativity in the workplace and don’t hold people accountable, you’ll get more negativity and more people not doing their job. On the flip side, if you lead by example, walk your talk, believe in people more than they believe in themselves, empower them, listen to them, give them all necessary tools and resources, and hold them to a higher standard, you’ll get more of that.

Feature #2: Rules and decrees

The culture in an organization is how people treat other people, how they treat work, and how they treat the work environment. Great cultures have rules and decrees regarding these three items. Written rules and decrees. Here are a few examples:

  • Everyone is expected to show up on time, work until the end of the day, finish what they start, be honest, have integrity, and put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
  • Everyone will be held to the highest professional and ethical standards. There is no place in the workplace for negativity or unprofessionalism. You will be respectful to all employees and clients. Gossip, talking, and otherwise communicating, behind someone’s back won’t be tolerated.
  • We are a great organization with a great product. We take better care of our clients than the competition because we care more
  • We are a great organization with a great product. We take better care of our clients than the competition because we care more.

Your rules and decrees, totaling about eight to fifteen in number, should be framed and prominently posted in several highly-visible areas in the workplace on a document titled: Rules and Decrees of the Workplace. Prospective employees should also receive a copy of these during the interview process and you should have a conversation with them about how they feel about these. By the way, full acceptance of the rules and decrees is a non-negotiable prerequisite to being hired.

Feature #3: Everyone-on board, all-in commitment.

When Malcolm Butler was limited to a few special teams plays in Super Bowl 52, many people said that move cost the Patriots the Super Bowl. Maybe, and my contention is that, had they let him play and won Super Bowl 52, the Patriots would not have been back to play in Super Bowl 53. No one who breaks the rules gets a pass. If this is allowed even once, people inside the organization start to question the integrity of the culture, and the culture starts to crumble. When you’re more interested in winning, or making a sale, than living by your values, it’s the beginning of the end. Again, no one gets a pass on the rules, not even your top agent. This doesn’t mean people don’t get a mulligan. You can allow a mistake or two, but address it immediately, and keep the leash short. No chronic offenders who are making blatant and/or repetitive mistakes. While an occasional mistake may be inevitable, carelessness, ignorance, and apathy aren’t.

Feature #4: Culture is a living, breathing organism.

A great culture can’t simply be written out, placed on the wall, and left to die. It needs to be kept alive and well by visiting it often, talking about it, and reviewing it. Repetition is important, because like any new habit, it will take time to imbed the culture into the consciousness and subconsciousness of everyone in the organization. Once it’s locked in and habitually followed, discussing the culture keeps it on everyone’s radar screens and ensures it is remembered and adhered to. Also, it may be necessary to tweak some rules or decrees from time to time. Though many rules and decrees, like the examples I gave, aren’t likely to change, there may be times when changes in people, technology, and other unforeseen future events, make an edit necessary.

Finally, you build a great sales culture by building a great overall company culture. As part of the organization, the sales department is included in all rules and decrees. Everyone, from leadership to the mailroom, must be on the same page when it comes to culture. So, while the sales department may have some additional rules and decrees related to activity, quotas, and other items, building an all-in, solid organizational culture is what will ensure the success of the sales culture.

Tags:  culture  insurance  sales 

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10 Productive Projects for Rainy Days

Posted By Bryce Sanders, Thursday, April 25, 2019


Will it ever stop raining?  Our rainy summer led into a rainy fall, which turned into a rainy winter.  Now it’s a rainy spring.  My get-up-and-go got up and left.  I still need to bring in business.  How can I make today worthwhile?

It’s tempting to do vacation research online or see what your friends are up to on Facebook.  Try these 10 activities instead:

1.  Add to your LinkedIn network.  You’ve got lots of 1st level connections.  LinkedIn prompts you with profiles of people you might know.  You have a long list of prospects.  Would they be interested in connecting?

Why:  You “drip market” through your regular postings and raise your visibility.  People see you as a subject matter expert.  At the very least, it builds name recognition.

2.  Build a list of clients who left.  They had their reasons.  Be the bigger person, and get rid of that “good riddance” mindset.  Curious about whether they’re happy?  Only one way to find out.

Why:  People who moved might have buyer’s remorse, but pride keeps them from calling and saying “Can I come back?”  Call.  Ask if everything worked out.

3. Look over aged leads.  These are so old, they have fuzz growing on them!  They were interested in something at one time.  Did I ever contact them?  Did I follow up?

Why:  Build a small list.  Figure out a way to get back on their radar.

4.  Flip through your book.  Note the last time you called.  Today, this might be done through your CRM program that tracks client contact.  Some clients fall through the cracks.  What’s a good reason to call?

Why:  Contact lets clients know you care about them, have their interests at heart.  Sometimes it prompts an “I’m glad you called!  There’s something I’ve wanted to ask about…”

5.  What has a sense of urgency, right this minute?  Do I have a really good idea that’s timely?  Something I can get excited about?  Years ago, advisors had “story stocks,” or stocks associated with news stories, that were fun to talk about, in addition to hopefully being good investments.

Why:  As they say, timing is everything.  Clients who watch the news might want to hear: “Based on what’s going on in the world right now, here’s what I think we should buy…”

6.  How have the new tax laws affected my client?  Their taxes are filed.  They know whether they are getting a refund and the size.  Their accountant may have given them advice.  I wonder what it is?  Only one way to find out.

Why:  Tax deferred growth might make sense.  Maybe they are paying more taxes and want to reduce their taxable interest on long term investments.

7.  Who has a birthday or anniversary soon?  If it’s today or yesterday, call them up.  Ask how they celebrated.  Maybe you suggest getting together for coffee or a drink. (When it stops raining.)  If you have a week’s notice, send them a card.

Why:  It’s courteous.  It shows you pay attention to details.  You care about them as a person.

8.  Who is the right age for a Long Term Care insurance conversation?  Maybe you’ve heard the saying “You don’t wait to buy real estate.  You buy real estate and wait.”  Many people wait to start thinking about LTC insurance until later in life.  It’s probably smarter to shop around when they are still young and healthy.

Why:  As Baby Boomers age, Gen X and Gen Y are starting to see the problems on the horizon they themselves will face.

9.  How well do I know my neighbors?  You live on a cul de sac.  You know some neighbors better than others.  Some are new arrivals.  Start by making a list, house by house.  Next, write down their names and the names of their children.  List everything you know, including schools and hobbies.

Why:  Shared interests should surface along with genuine insurance or investment issues.

10.  Who is likely stuck in their house or at their desk?  It’s a rainy day.  There are some people you can never get because they are constantly in motion.  They probably aren’t going out today, if they can avoid it.

Why:  Today’s the day to catch them.  Now, what will I talk about?

We often equate rainy days with wasted, boring days.  It affects our mood.  But these ten activities should help fill the pipeline.  Some might even lead to business.

Tags:  insurance agent  time management 

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PIA of Kentucky
107 Consumer Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601


Phone: 502-875-3888
Fax: 502-227-0839