New tools for onboarding new producers
PEaK Producer program includes online pipeline management tool in addition to live coaching
By Nancy Doucette
It may not take a village to develop a new producer into a success, but it certainly takes a formal training program that includes mentoring, coaching, pipeline management technology, and accountability, according to Jennifer DeMello-Johnson, resource director at Agency Services Group (ASG).
Agency Services Group positions itself as a one-stop source for strategic solutions by coordinating top-notch service providers for agencies. Helping agencies optimize their performance and grow organically is part of ASG's mission. (See "More muscle" in the January 2010 issue of Rough Notes for more information about Agency Services Group.)
In July 2011, ASG expanded its offerings with the roll out of their PEaK Producer program—PEaK being an acronym for passionate, energized and knowledgeable. DeMello-Johnson explains that the full program includes recruiting sales professionals from other industries, developing insurance knowledge and consultative sales skills, and supporting producers and sales managers with tools to ensure sustained growth. Additionally, the program offers biannual live sales training events. (See the sidebar on page 120 for an overview of the program.)
Up close and personal
Rough Notes had the opportunity to sit in on the most recent sales training event and speak with a number of the participants. Attendees included new producers—their experience ranged from just over a week to several years, as well as sales managers—some of whom wore multiple hats as producers and agency owners. In conversations with sales managers and agency owners, we heard about hiring mistakes; the need for a consistent, structured process to get new producers heading in the right direction; and difficulties in motivating producers and tracking their production activities. In speaking with the new producers, we heard about their challenges with goal setting, getting appointments, and overcoming objections.
On hand to address the concerns of both constituencies were Jeff, Chad, and Brian Jenkins, brothers who recently combined their talents and collective consulting experiences with hundreds of agencies to form Blueprint Consulting (www.blueprintselling.com). Blueprint is one of the partner organizations in ASG's network of service providers and integral component of PEaK.
A disciplined approach
The PEaK Producer program is based on 12 months of activities designed to help new producers take a disciplined, focused approach to the sales process. After the second month, new producers are assigned a "peer pod" which is facilitated by one of the Jenkins brothers who acts as the pod coach. DeMello-Johnson explains that the pods are limited in size to seven or eight. "Producers are assigned pods based on their years of experience or level of experience in the industry. We also make sure they don't compete with each other geographically," she adds.
Once a month, the pod coach hosts a 60- to 90-minute call during which all members of the pod have an opportunity to talk about issues and successes. The call is also a time where the coach discusses each producer's activities since the last session. Each participant is required to submit a weekly activity sheet which details the number of calls made, number of conversations had, number of appointments set. That task can be handled via ProducerForce®, one of the Web-based tools that ASG offers as part of the PEaK Producer Program.
ProducerForce is aligned with the sales process offered by Blueprint, DeMello-Johnson explains, so it is intuitive for the producer. Only six fields of data are required to enter a prospect into ProducerForce. It tracks pipeline activity, provides contact management, and creates production and prospecting reports.
In tracking pipeline activity, ProducerForce helps the producer stay focused in order to meet annual new business goals. The process begins with the sales budgeting process where the producer and sales manager discuss the producer's revenue goals for the coming year. Those numbers are entered into ProducerForce. The tool uses the producer's prospecting ratios to set targets for future prospecting activity needed to meet goals.
ProducerForce also helps sales managers monitor producers' prospecting activity and results, which of course helps with forecasting and revenue planning. Additionally, it helps them know whether producers are prospecting enough to meet their new business goals and the stage of each account in the sales pipeline.
"ProducerForce gives sales managers an activity report to review with their producers on a weekly basis," DeMello-Johnson says. "Having this information lends itself to a conversation between the sales manager and producer that is based on facts. The producer has goals and the sales manager wants to do what needs to be done to help that producer be successful."
Words into action
Chris Lang, CIC, was one of the new producers who attended the recent live training event. Although she has 15 years of experience in the insurance industry, she's relatively new to her role as sales executive with Pillar Group Risk Management based in Indianapolis. For the past six years, she's been a commercial lines account executive working exclusively for John Hannon, vice president of Pillar and recently named shareholder and sales manager. Hannon also attended the live training event, as did Heidi VanSlambrook, whom Pillar hired away from Paychex last November.
Lang acknowledges she had the technical knowledge to be a sales executive. "Where I needed help was in knowing what to say and how to say it," she observes. She says the PEaK Producer program gives her the resources she needs. "The peer pods give me the opportunity to talk about any challenges I am having with my sales process," she says. "My pod coach, Chad Jenkins, and my peers help me."
DeMello-Johnson points out that it's difficult to create networks like this outside one's own agency. "It's very motivating," she says.
John Hannon concurs. He says his entire outside sales career has been with Pillar. He sees the value of the diverse perspectives that the peer pods provide. "Everyone creates their own style based on their experiences. If you can broaden those experiences, it's nothing but good."
Lang says she also appreciates the "just in time (JIT) coaching" that's available separate from the peer pod sessions. She says she's reached out to her pod coach via e-mail or phone when she's encountered stumbling blocks. "He's always available for me to talk to outside of the pods. That's important because you never know when something is going to come up. As I'm preparing to go out on a call I may have a question about overcoming an objection, for instance.
"Sometimes a new producer coming into an agency might be hesitant about asking a question or reaching out for help. That's not the case in my situation," Lang continues, "but the PEaK Producer program gives those individuals the ability to ask questions without apprehension."
Just after returning from the sales training event, Lang heard from one of her prospects—a construction account generating about $25,000 in revenue. The prospect told Lang she could take over the account by agent of record letter. She credits the sales formula she learned through the PEaK Producer program and the team sales approach that Pillar uses. "It made for a good day," she says with a chuckle.
Handling new producers a new way
Hannon says Pillar has three relatively new sales executives enrolled in the PEaK Producer program. He says the agency decided on a different approach for onboarding producers than they'd used in the past because "new hires have a steep learning curve. We want to give the people we hire every opportunity to be successful. That includes closer oversight internally … that's where I come in, as well as the other validated producers in the agency. We are also giving them more structure from the outside—from ASG, the National Alliance, etc."
DeMello-Johnson adds that more agencies are acknowledging that the "tried and true" process for recruiting and onboarding new producers no longer works. "Younger producers—those under age 30—truly need a formal training program. They need mentoring. This younger generation is used to 'instant gratification' so structure is important. They can't just be left to their own devices to succeed like previous generations of producers were."
Hannon says Pillar worked through ASG to recruit Heidi VanSlambrook. While Pillar always qualifies prospective producers thoroughly, it can be a lengthy, timeconsuming process. With ASG, the screening and testing conducted before Pillar met VanSlambrook reassured them that she had the "sales gene."
DeMello-Johnson says finding individuals who are hard-wired for sales is definitely an important part of the recruitment process. But it's also important to be able to "sell" the industry to a prospective recruit, and she says ASG can dispel the preconceived notions that many people have about the insurance industry.
"From time to time a producer will not succeed," she acknowledges. "Our goal is to cut down on that as much as we can. We have about a 90% success rate with new producers. In under a year, the agencies we've recruited for through the PEaK Producer program have hired 20 new producers."
Off to a good start
After graduating from the University of Dayton in 2006, Heidi VanSlambrook briefly entertained the idea of leveraging her degree in music education by seeking the footlights in Chicago or New York. As is too often the case with those in the arts, she was supplementing her income as a server in a restaurant. After about 18 months, she opted for a steadier income stream so she began selling payroll services to small to medium-sized businesses. She recalls that the company offered workers comp but she didn't handle it; she referred it to another associate. "That was about as close to insurance as I got before I joined Pillar Group in November 2011," she says with a laugh.
She's wasted no time adopting one of the suggestions that Blueprint makes as part of their sales process: join an association in the field or niche you're interested in. "I recently joined the Indiana Health Care Association," VanSlambrook reports. "It advocates on behalf of not-for-profit and hospital-based nursing home and assisted living communities and adult day services. Some of our carriers are interested in getting into health care accounts and it's an area that I'm interested in."
Since joining the association, VanSlambrook has joined the group's education committee. Her first project will include helping develop a 60- to 90-minute Webinar on workers compensation experience mods and how to improve them. Offering education by way of a seminar or Webinar and positioning oneself as an expert is another recommendation that the Jenkins brothers offer as part of their sales process.
"For someone who is new to the insurance industry, there's so much to learn," she observes. "Pillar team members have gone out with me on appointments so I'm able to learn techniques and tactics—effective ways of selling in specific situations. I am enjoying the peer pod experience … learning creative ways to generate and capitalize on opportunities from my pod coach Jeff Jenkins and the other pod members. At the PEaK Producer live sales training I learned a great formula for building my book and helping companies with their risk management needs."
Sounds like a village to me.
For more information:
Agency Services Group, LLC
Web site: www.agencyservicesgroup.com
PEaK Producer Program Nitty Gritty
Following is a 14,000-foot view of what the PEaK Producer program includes.
• A comprehensive recruiting process which targets individuals with two to seven years of sales experience. Candidates are evaluated using sales assessment and personality profiling tools.
• Insurance knowledge and consultative sales skills are developed using a structured process that uses both online and experiential learning. The process includes 12 months of coordinated coaching and mentoring activities, in addition to monthly "peer pod" networking.
• Support tools include ProducerForce, a Web-based sales/CRM tool; Producer Online, an online risk evaluation tool that aids in identifying and addressing coverage gaps; and ProducerEdge™ software which assists in managing insurance licenses and continuing education requirements.