Producer Development: Learning to Sell

By | July 18, 2005

New Program Teaches a Consultative Approach to Insurance Sales

Beginning this week, 15 insurance agents are returning to Normal, Ill., to do an unusual thing in the world of insurance training: talk with each other about what’s worked and what hasn’t. It’s the third and final leg of the Professional Insurance Sales Associate program, a new certification being offered by Illinois State University’s Katie School of Insurance and Financial Services in conjunction with the university’s Professional Sales Institute.

This diverse group of relatively new insurance producers first gathered in May to learn how to sell more insurance. Unlike programs available from insurance carriers or other education providers such as the Austin, Texas-based National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, PISA forgoes technical insurance training and focuses almost exclusively on teaching the consultative sales method.

“Most training offered in the insurance industry is product-oriented and very technical,” said Mike Williams, director of ISU’s Professional Sales Institute and PISA’s lead trainer. “There’s a difference between how to sell and how to write. We’re teaching basic mastery of relationship-building, relationship management, and helping the customer over time. How do you become the customer’s risk management consultant instead of just his insurance agent? You have to quit selling a policy and start providing value and expertise for your clients.”

According to Williams, research demonstrates that while a segment of the insurance marketplace is price-driven, the majority of buyers want value-added services. “People want value, but all too often the agent is pushing price. In both commercial and personal lines, a competitive price is an expectation, but not necessarily the lowest price.”

Teaching new producers how to build relationships with their clients and thus sell more in the long run is what will help them thrive in a business where so many newcomers fail, Williams said. With the baby boom edging ever closer to retirement age, breeding the next generation of successful producers (and potential agency principals) is crucial to both agencies and their carrier partners.

“One of the top two or three items on our agenda has been how to help agencies develop their producers,” said Ed Bowman. He is chairman of the Professional Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois’ Education Committee and president of the Stewart-Keator-Kessberger-Ledderer agency in Burr Ridge, Ill. “The vast majority of our members aren’t of the size where they can designate someone within the agency to provide the hands-on sales training that’s needed.”

Editor’s note: To read the rest of this story, see the July 18 print edition of Insurance Journal Midwest, which covers Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

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