Memo to Insurance Producers: Get Ready to Produce More in 2009

Although the economy is in serious trouble, nothing has changed. You still need to sell insurance. Whether it’s property and casualty, life or health, one task remains: closing sales.

While you may know your products and have the right selling skills, that may not be enough to get you where you want to be in 2009. If your job is demanding in good times, what do you think it will be like in the year ahead? What do you need to add that can help you meet your numbers?

1. Get over seeing an “executive” when looking in the mirror. Get the idea out of your head that you’re a “sales executive” or that wearing a suit makes you special. It doesn’t. You sell insurance, and you’ll get farther if you think of yourself as a “working stiff.” Playing executive messes up your head.

2. Maximize your visibility. “In this business, it’s better to be seen,” comments an insurance editor. But not like “yesterday’s agents,” who served on every board, attended dozens of meetings and bought their way up the community hierarchy. Look around and figure out what needs to be done. Get something going and act like a leader. Take a stand. Too many agents are so fearful of offending someone they are little more than well-dressed wimps.

3. Become a total producer. Specializing in some line of business is fine, unless it blinds you on how to build a solid business. Your customers want less stress. You’re in the perfect position to help them. Figure out how to take care of homeowners, auto, disability and what will make life easier for the customer.

4. Go after as many accounts as possible. Stop thinking small accounts are beneath you. You should be ready when “the big one” comes along, but dreaming about winning the big account lottery distracts from business you could be writing.

5. Be an ardent customer advocate. Far too often, independent insurance agents lose their independence by becoming beholden to certain insurance companies. The goal is to earn a carrier’s respect by bringing quality business to the books. Being independent has nothing to do with bragging about a stable of thoroughbred carriers. The only meaning of “independent agent” that makes sense to customers is being their staunch advocate, of standing up for them to carriers.

6. Stop trying to sell insurance. Few people get excited about buying insurance, so why are there so many signs, ads, brochures and business cards with the word “insurance” in boldface? It drives people away. GEICO, State Farm and Progressive don’t do it. Customers are interested in their story, not yours. Avoid jumping to the product; stick with the story until you see the customer smile.

7. Blow up your Web site. At least 99.99 percent of insurance agency Web sites have no value. They fail to make the case why a visitor would want to do business with the agency. Oh, you give great service? Every agency says that. Stop thinking about how long you’ve been in business and start thinking about what it will take to get customers to want to do business with you. As a producer, think about having your own Web site or blog. Waiting for the agency to get the message may not be in your best interest.

8. Talk to customers about what matters to them. There’s so much a producer can communicate to customers: How to get more for your insurance dollar, case histories of how insurance benefited your customers, examples of how you can help them minimize risk, and answers to frequently asked questions. Let customers know you listen and care. It keeps their attention on you, as their advisor, and not just the organization you represent.

9. Manage your business. Chances are you’re part of an agency or other insurance organization, but don’t be confused. You’re a business owner and need to do everything any other business owner does. You are in charge of marketing, administration, follow up and sales. Stop whining that the agency isn’t giving you the support you need to be successful.

10. Act like you’re in charge. Never tell customers the insurance company will do one thing or another. The message customers hear is that you’re not involved. Even when you hand off a task, customers want to know that you’re in charge and involved.

11. Avoid meetings. Most meetings are your enemy. They waste time and cause you to cut corners in serving customers. Meetings are excuses for not working. Your job is “producing,” and your performance will improve in relation to the number of meetings you miss.

You may think this places too heavy a burden on producers. But the problems you can solve for customers with the products you sell deserve the effort — unless you’d rather be an executive.