How To Use Compensation to Boost Sales

August 16, 2010

Al Diamond is one of the country’s best known agency management consultants. His firm, the Agency Consulting Group, is based in Cherry Hill, N.J. He deals with agencies across the country on issues ranging from operations to mergers to sales and compensation. He is also a Best Practices instructor for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and author of the newsletter, “Pipeline.” In this excerpt from a video interview with Insurance Journal’s Vice President of Content Andrew Simpson, Diamond discusses how agencies can use a compensation plan to re-energize not only producers but also non-producer employees.

What can agency managers do with a producer who maybe is not producing like he or she used to? Maybe the person has gotten a little lackadaisical or just lost his or her momentum. How can agency managers, through their compensation system, get them back on track, especially in a soft market or a recession?

Diamond: Well, that’s a very big question. Producers are generally motivated by money. They like money.

That’s a pretty short answer.

Diamond: Yes, that’s a pretty short answer. There are some producers who reach their level of comfort, and once they reach their level of comfort, they’re no longer as motivated to go forward. We do producer compensation and producer contracts that reward producers, incentivize producers, and grow compensation for producers for growth, but disincentivizes them for shrinkage. In other words, if you grow your book of business, not only do you get commissions, whatever form of compensation, but the larger your book of business, the greater your economy of scale to the agency.

We have tiered compensation, so that at different levels of production, producers make ever-increasing percentages, back to the first dollar. So they’re making a lot of money if they’re generating many hundreds of thousands of dollars of commissions.

However, in order to get that, you have to have producers who are willing to say, “If I retire in place, if instead of being a producer I become an account executive and just take care of the customers I have, I can’t be called a producer any longer. I can’t be paid like a producer. I should be paid like an account executive.”

So we define a producer as someone who grows his book of business each year. I’m not talking about premiums or commissions, I’m talking about customers.

That’s a big difference — customers versus premiums — right? Because in a soft market, it is not really within the producer’s control whether premiums are going up or down.

Diamond: That’s exactly right. But he can keep all of his clients. And so he has to spend his time with his clients, as well as grow his business. If he goes backward in numbers of clients, in his percentage of his book of business, then he should expect to get paid less as well.

Does incentive compensation work for non-producers? What would something like that look like?

Diamond: It works extremely well and now is an excellent time to begin those programs. Incentive compensation for non-producer employees is based on the premise that we can no longer pay for longevity. Just because you’ve been with me for 10 years doesn’t mean you deserve more every year. What we pay for, instead, is productivity.

Every job in an agency has productivity factors, whether it’s revenue per employee or customer count, or the number of claims you handle, or in an accounting department, how well you handle your receivables and budget. We measure that productivity factor for every job.

The more productive employees are, the more money they make the agency. The more money they make the agency, the more we’re able to pay them. So what we do is we target their productivity specifically to them, and we let the employees measure their own productivity every year.

It doesn’t mean that the employee is guaranteed a job. If they don’t do a good job, the employer or the agent can still terminate them, and they still go through a series of reviews every year. However, if they’re doing a good job, then it’s the employee’s productivity increase that determines their compensation. Suddenly the employees themselves have their own compensation in their hands. It’s not a commission. They’re still getting paid a salary. But they can control their salary by showing their employer how much more productive they are every year in their job.

Are employees responsive to this?

Diamond: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful tool. It takes a few years to indoctrinate that into a business. But once they do, two things happen. First, your marginal employees go away. That could be a positive or a negative, but those marginal employees that are just hanging on won’t stay. However your good employees are going to get even better, and you are going to attract high performance employees to your agency.

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