Why it Sucks to be a Sales Manager in Most Agencies

By | December 19, 2016

While it’s not always true, most sales managers get stuck with dealing with under-performers.

Under-performers come in a lot of different packages. It could be the underwriter who was hired to be a producer. This could be a smart individual who just can’t deal with rejection so he or she makes a lot of excuses when it comes to prospecting.

Maybe it’s the legacy guy, who’s burned out and came up the ranks doing business the “old-school way.” You know the story, build relationships, find coverage gaps, get a quote, present the proposal and hope to win the business (copy, quote and pray). He’s tired of writing small crappy accounts, hasn’t saved enough money to quit, but makes too much money to walk away.

Oftentimes it’s just an under-achiever, living the dream of having inherited a book of business. They make decent money, their spouse works, and the combined income is enough to raise a family and get by. Occasionally, these producers will prospect enough to make up for a lost account, but never have enough sales activity to grow the book by 7 percent to 10 percent year-over-year.

A sales leader lays out a sales strategy that rewards performers and squeezes out non-performers.


What’s the sales manager’s job when half or two-thirds of the producer force is either non-performing or low performers just getting by?

They become professional babysitters.

I know, I’ve done it. “Randy, go sit with Roger and see if you can help him figure out how to get more active prospects in his pipeline. He’s a good guy, we like him, but he’s not really making his numbers.”

He’s not making his numbers because he has no discipline, he’s afraid to pick up the phone and make a call. He would never ask a client for an introduction, so he hides behind a desk loaded with stacks of paper. You can sit with a baby all day long, but at the end of the day, it’s still a baby.

You can motivate, train, coach and counsel these people all day long, but it doesn’t make them a producer. That’s why being a sales manager in most agencies sucks. You’re trying to get production out of people who aren’t producers.

On the other hand, being a sales leader is a different job.

Great Sales Leaders

A sales leader lays out a sales strategy that rewards performers and squeezes out non-performers (they can become account managers or leave the firm).

It includes goal setting, sales training, sales meetings, value proposition and accountability systems.

Producers sign an agreement (separate from their employment agreement) that delineates activity, responsibilities and revenue generation.

Everyone becomes really clear that a producer’s job is to prospect, sell and retain. Growing your book is expected and rewarded. Sitting on your book is discouraged and has consequences.

Great sales leaders know that they must provide training for their producers to develop extraordinary prospecting and selling skills. They know they must drive quality activity (working on right size, right type of account that appreciates the agency’s value proposition). They coach for high-performance as they stretch the belief systems of their producers.

Meanwhile, they set up a system to improve the recruiting and hiring of extraordinary producer talent. When newbies get hired, they are injected into this exact same high-performance system.

Move the Burden

A great friend of mine, Louis Berman, taught me this phrase: “Move the burden.”

For most sales managers, the burden is on them to turn a non-performer into a high performer. For sales leaders, the burden has been moved to the producer themselves.

When the systems are in place, the agreements in writing, the reward system established, it becomes easier to move the burden to the producers.

When there are no systems, no performance agreements, and no consequences for doing your job well or not doing it at all, the burden is on the sales manager.

If you’re the agency sales manager, I encourage you to resign your job today. That business is just too difficult. Once you’ve done that, prepare to be the sales leader. Write out your strategic action plan that includes the items listed above.

Another question often asked, “Is this a full-time job?” No.

Of the hundreds and hundreds of agencies that I have relationships with, none of them, large or small, have full-time people in this role. Here’s why.

To hire someone of this caliber, you’d have to pay $200,000 to $300,000 a year in most cases. That’s difficult to get a return on. If they are not of that high caliber, they won’t come with or build the systems you need to put in place. If you try to find someone to do this job for $95,000, producers will mock them, “If they could sell, they wouldn’t have taken this job.”

If you’re looking for a magic bullet, an instant turnaround that takes no effort and no investment … good luck.

“The difference between where your agency is today and where it will be five years from now is in direct proportion to your ability to develop your sales team.”

Developing your sales leadership ability will drive more growth, more profit, more agency value much faster than you could ever accomplish by writing another account or growing your personal book of business. For a copy of “Agency Growth Machine,” visit: www.thewedge.net/insurance-journal-free-book-offer.

About Randy Schwantz

Schwantz is founder of The Wedge Group. Phone: 214-446-3209. Website: www.thewedge.net. Email: randy@thewedge.net More from Randy Schwantz

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