“We have very little capacity to teach our new producers, especially those with sales skills but no industry experience, how to be successful insurance agents.”
Mike Sterlacci, president and chief executive officer of Dallas-based SIG Insurance, a Safeco Insurance agency, made this statement, and most of his independent insurance agency peers would likely nod in agreement.
The best teachers, Sterlacci knew, are the insurance carriers themselves, and that’s why, when serving as president of Safeco’s National Advisory Council, he pushed hard for producer training. He wasn’t alone.
“Mike was one of many agents who approached us about producer training, and we took their frustration to heart,” said Mike Donich, agent capabilities manager with Seattle-based Safeco, Liberty Mutual Agency Markets’ personal lines company. “They wanted someone with a vested interest in their business to furnish training, not a generic insurance education school.” After working closely with several Safeco agencies to understand the challenges of bringing new producers onboard, Donich designed and launched a new Safeco Producer Development Program in Spring 2009 with an emphasis on engaging and establishing deep relationships with new producers.
“Lack of prospects is one of the main reasons why new producers fail,” Donich said. “Sure, they have technical training and high-level consultative sales skills, but then they go back to the office and wait for the phone to ring.” In response, the Safeco program incorporates a prospecting “module” that helps a new producer develop a personal plan based on the seven most common prospecting categories, including internet and web-based sources, referrals and networking.
Gene Greiner, a new producer with SIG Insurance, was typical of the program’s 32 participants in its first year. A graduate of Baylor University with degrees in finance and risk management, Greiner was working as a financial analyst with a defense contractor. “After a few years I was really disheartened and realized I needed more interaction with people,” Greiner said. As it turned out, a close friend, who worked at SIG Insurance, suggested Greiner apply for a sales position. A month after doing so, he was hired as a personal lines producer and enrolled in Safeco’s program. “I knew Gene had the personality and the drive, he just needed the skills and tactics,” Sterlacci said.
“It was awesome and very comprehensive,” Greiner said after he and eight classmates participated in the five-week program, which includes webinars and a week of in-person training in Seattle. “You really learn how to get a potential client to open up and talk with you. They want a good price quote, of course, but you also need them to like you. If you’re to quote effectively and develop a long-term relationship, you need to know where they’re coming from.”
Training didn’t end upon Greiner’s return to SIG Insurance in Dallas. “This isn’t a once-and-done program,” Donich said. “It’s all about continual agent focus. We formally keep in touch with our graduates, checking in on their progress and bringing them new capabilities.”
Greiner’s progress was something to celebrate. Greiner sold 18 policies in the first six weeks after graduating, versus an average of five policies in two months for new producers outside the program. He attributes much of his success to Safeco’s program.
“Psychologically, every salesperson I’ve known needs some success quickly,” Sterlacci said, “and Safeco gave Gene the jumpstart he needed.”
Agency Markets' Regional Companies Group has had similar success in commercial lines. Since June 2008, 90 new producers have graduated from its New Producer Program, all receiving the Accredited Advisor in Insurance designation. The program combines agency mentoring, online coursework and peer interaction, and training at the regional company to become familiar with product lines and underwriting appetite, and most importantly, to develop a rapport with those they will work with in the future.