Talking to perennial MDRT qualifiers, Court and Top of the Table producers, and company leaders, the issue that ranks first for improving a producer’s production is learning from those who know the industry.
The more senior producers among us can recall the days of training assistants, unit managers, general managers or general agents, who helped with goal setting, prospecting, case preparation and the art of the sale. Today, there is no such support system for the many independent agents already in life insurance sales as well as those just coming into the business.
Today, mentors or coaches can help overcome the paucity of company-sponsored training that guided so many producers in the past. If you’re a young producer looking for a mentor, be sure to keep these tips in mind.
Share a commitment to a goal
Whether it’s time management and organizational skills, making more money through improved sales efforts, or wanting to be able to spend more time with the family, producers need to be accountable to someone who understands what they’re going through, who has been there and done that.
This is the mentor — someone who understands individual career goals and is effective in giving direction and providing motivation that will help producers achieve the results they want in their careers.
Be honest with your mentor
It is difficult, if not impossible, to be a specialist in every aspect of the life insurance business. Yet, there are producers who let their egos create a barrier to further success by not asking for help in areas where they’re lacking in either knowledge or confidence — or sometimes both.
If you need help with daytime activity in the business market or obtaining more client referrals, say so. Creating a partnership with a person who is resourceful and can offer tips to improve efficiency can move a producer ahead faster.
Welcome constructive criticism
A mentor tries to give his or her best advice based on an understanding of a producer’s goals and modus operandi. It’s not necessary to agree with every suggestion, but it’s important to vocalize any reservations in a way that creates further discussion. It’s possible for a mentor to misunderstand something. While mentors should serve as sounding boards, it’s important that they be involved in a meaningful two-way dialogue. The mentor needs to be sufficiently flexible to change or tailor an approach that makes the producer comfortable. Mentoring should be an opportunity for the mentor to learn, too.
Be open to joint field activity
Joint fieldwork is the heart of mentoring. It’s in real life sales situations where producers discover whether or not their sales approach and presentations are working.
Going back to the office and dissecting why it went right or wrong is after the fact. But seeing a mentor handle a sales call allows a producer to see firsthand the skills, strategies and techniques that may be worth emulating.
Someone once said that the life insurance business is the hardest way to make $30,000 per year and the easiest way to make more than $100,000 per year. With a mentor on your side, it’s the easiest.
Make sure your mentor has the right tools
Producers come in many “sizes.” There are personal insurance specialists, business and advanced markets producers and investment professionals. Each has a niche market that requires tools specific to that business. For a mentor to be effective, the individual must have access to sources that can further your career.
I’ve mentored producers who strictly used a yellow pad when it came to a fact-finding interview. Today, others are gathering the same information with an iPad. Yet, either can cause problems if the right information isn’t sought. When reviewing the questions one producer asked and the answers he received, it was clear that he had missed vital information and needed to go back to the prospect. This not only causes a delay, but some embarrassment, as well.
After introducing a more carefully structured personal and business fact-finder, the situation changed — dramatically. The same producer’s premiums increased by at least 20% over the previous method, and he became a believer in the idea that preparation leads to perfection.
Another producer had skills in advanced markets but lacked competence with deferred compensation cases. He walked by these cases so as not to embarrass himself with prospects. During our bi-weekly meetings, I learned this and asked a deferred compensation expert to meet with us. Building the producer’s skills enabled him to ask the right questions.
Then, the expert joined him on a sales call, and together, they closed a $75,000 premium on his first case. Having resources available for education and joint field work helped this producer gain the confidence needed when working in advanced markets.
Find the right mentor
Because so much is at stake, finding a mentor isn’t easy. Mentors must be experienced professionals who possess a giving attitude and who will embrace the opportunity to help producers achieve their individual goals. They must also have the skills and style the mentee wants to emulate.
While mentors can’t be available 24 hours a day, they should be people who will spend the time to help producers think tactically and strategically. The tactical is point of sale, and the strategic is the overall direction for reaching their goals.
Mentors should have a plan to help producers become the type of advisors the public will want to do business with. It’s not just the ability to understand and explain products and selling techniques that makes a mentor; it’s also giving you a day-to-day road map to accomplish most or all of what you have to do to be successful.
A good mentor isn’t someone who just wants to team up to do joint sales calls, and it isn’t an advisor with little available time.
Obviously, the goal is to choose a mentor who is a sales leader. But a good mentor also pays attention to an advisor’s needs, redirects when necessary and holds the advisor accountable for his or her actions.
An agent I had coached came to me years after he had gone out on his own. He said he was now a mentor to young advisors and recalled what I had taught him. He reported that their sales had at least doubled during the time he was mentoring them. He was grateful because, in addition to his success, he was paying it forward to others.
For those advisors who want to grow, to maximize their capabilities and to learn how to be the best in the business, mentoring can open the door of opportunity.
Burton A. Faberman, RFC, is a brokerage manager with Needham, Mass.–based First American Insurance Underwriters Inc., a national life insurance brokerage firm that represents more than 30 insurance companies. He has many years experience as a producer and a mentor to younger agents. He can be contacted at (800) 444-8715 or firstname.lastname@example.org.