Insurance sales success can be like a game of tennis. Many summers ago I fell in love with the game of tennis. For the next six years, I played every day possible. One of my limitations was that living in Colorado, winter presented a significant limitation so for about four months a year, playing tennis was not a possibility. (I don’t think my town had indoor courts and if it did, I definitely had no access). The little middle school where I practiced sometimes took the nets down the moment winter began, limiting the possible days even more. And then as all players can relate, having someone to practice against is important.
Tennis was not the coolest sport to play, so finding good players to play against was another limitation. I used a backboard whenever I could, but while better than nothing, it was a poor substitute. By my sophomore year, I was playing all summer, at least five days a week, early in the morning. Think about that drive, with my being a teenager willing to get up early in the summer just to practice on my own. Work ethic was not a limitation.
I have some trophies from those days, and I lettered throughout high school, but I never became a very good player. I worked harder than anyone I met, and yet I never truly advanced my skills beyond mediocre. During my senior year, a sophomore showed up. He was a runt that beat everyone on the team. Even back then, size mattered a great deal in tennis. Yet he beat everyone.
Of course natural talent was key to his wins. He definitely had more gift for the game than I did. But what really made a difference was that he had his own coach, and I had never had a coach, other than the high school team coach. This coach made the sophomore’s practice efficient and progress quick.
What does rehashing my high school tennis have to do with sales success? I see many agency owners make the same mistake I made. They force producers to sink or swim on their own. “Go out and make your sales calls! I did it. I manned up. Just work harder!”
Hard work is definitely, undeniably a prerequisite to success. However, today hard work is only enough if a producer has more than his share of raw talent. Finding these extraordinarily talented producers is like finding a needle in a haystack. Building a business plan based on finding these people, time after time, is not any different than playing the lottery.
My athletic talents are limited. But with good coaching, I could have been a much better player. It is next to impossible for a young player, of any sport, to simultaneously diagnose what they are doing right and wrong while playing the game. They have too little context, too little experience. Even if they can diagnose the issues, they likely cannot identify the correction. A player has no way to know the effect on a backhand of holding a racket slightly different. They have no way of knowing a five degree difference in their foot position can generate five more aces per match.
Moreover, forming a new habit on your own is really difficult because it is so hard to practice and simultaneously see yourself holding form. Practicing then, like I did, without any coaching only improved my stamina and reinforced whatever habits, good and bad, I had already formed. Practice did not really advance my skills.
Sales is no different. I have been selling my services for 20 years, so I know sales is no different.
Every producer who is committed and coachable can benefit from a quality coach. Will the coach turn them into a Wimbledon champion? Probably not. But a good coach should easily improve results by 20 percent. Five mediocre producers at $250,000 each with a 20 percent increase equals $250,000 more revenue.
Once an agency decides hiring a sales coach makes sense, the next step is to hire a good sales coach. I do not coach producers, but I often evaluate coaches’ results when I value agencies. I get to see whether the coaches are helping producers generate more sales. Unfortunately most coaches do not have much effect.
Agency owners want to believe even ineffective coaches make a difference. I have seen owners swear these coaches make a difference when the results indisputably prove otherwise. For example, having no quality producers after using a “sales coach” for 10 years is as clear of proof as possible.
Every force of nature and finance possesses multiple variables. No single factor ever makes all the difference. The human mind, or at least the minds of many agency owners, yearns mightily for the simple solution, the one silver bullet. But a silver bullet still requires a firearm of correct caliber fired by a person with adequate talent to be effective (three variables).
Some of the most successful sales consultants sell silver bullets by the brick. They take advantage of the agency owners’ emotions, the yearning desire for simplicity.
Good sales coaches do exist. Sometimes finding just the right one for your agency is a real challenge. Sometimes, too, the failure is not entirely the coach’s. The greatest tennis coach could easily have improved my game 20 percent, maybe 25 percent, but 50 percent? Never. Coaches’ achievements are limited by their student’s ability and work ethic.
To be fair to insurance sales coaches, a material percentage of producers they are supposed to coach have far too little talent. Some have no sales talent.
Coaches are also limited if the agency lacks a sales culture.
Hard work then is clearly a component of success, but hard work without skill will not generate success.
Hard work applied by someone without any talent for a profession or a sport is only enjoyed by a masochist, of which this industry must possess a disproportionate share.
Hard work simply is not even applicable to sales people that will not listen to a coach.
Package hard working producers with some talent and a quality coach, and you will succeed if the agency has at least a modicum of a sales culture. These three variables are like a three-legged stool. Three-legged stools cannot wobble. They are steady as a rock.
Effort can easily be identified in resumes and interviews. Talent potential can mostly be identified with the best sales profile tests. Good coaches can be identified empirically. Records speak for themselves.
The only exception is to make sure the growth the coach claims is pure alpha growth. Alpha growth is pure organic growth. For example, 5 percent growth when rates are rising 5 percent is not attributable to a coach’s efforts. Growth honestly attributable to mergers is not attributable to a coach’s efforts either.
Instead, ask for proof the coach improved the sales of groups of mediocre producers one by one. That is the real test.