Leadership and Sales Culture in Insurance Agencies

Sponsored Content March 2, 2010

Leadership is lightning in a bottle. There are as many definitions for it as there are leaders. Any rules that could be agreed upon as to what constitutes leadership could be quickly contradicted by an example of an effective leader who thumbed his nose at all the rules.

There are changes in the tides of what styles of leadership are fashionable at any given moment: Strong and strict may win the day only to find inspirational and motivational will have better results tomorrow. And there are differences in taste: some people will always want to follow a street smart leader who came up through the trenches, while others will respect the leadership of someone with advanced training that has them focusing on big picture strategy while remaining above the fray of the day to day activities of a given organization.

But trying to unlock the secrets of effective leadership as a code of behaviors may be putting the cart before the horse. When done well, leadership is better understood by looking at its’ results than the methods it uses to get those results.

Leadership boils down to effective communication that:

  • Unities a group behind a particular point of view
  • Communicates a plan of action that advances the point of view

For leadership to be truly effective, the group that unites behind the leader must internalize the leaders’ point of view and plan of action, so that it guides their behavior even when the leader is not present.

Leadership, in short, consists of creating a self sustaining culture of thought and action consistent with the stated purpose of the group.

Sales Culture

Sales Culture should be first examined by looking at its effects, rather than as a set of practices that comprise it. It is less necessary, however, to distinguish between causes and effects in the case of Sales Culture because they are inextricably linked. Sales Culture has an effect on itself. For example: when one individual perceives that “Everyone here is diligent, and is rewarded for being so.” He will be more likely to be diligent, which will in turn bolster the group expectation that “Everyone here is diligent.” This effect is called cumulative causation.

Cumulative causation pays enormous dividends when the Sales Culture is healthy and can have catastrophic results when the Sales Culture is unhealthy.

Healthy Sales Culture is recognizable by the presence of a few key attributes.

Brand Identity

Be purposeful in creating your brand. This defines the special kind of service that is unique to your insurance agency. The value of a solid brand is easy to see when it results in more customers but the effect deliberate brand creation has on the sales team often overlooked. When a sales agent is representing a brand that he understands and believes in, his pitch is more coherent, consistent, and compelling.

Hire the best

Team morale is often thought of as making team members feel good about their jobs. In reality it has less to do with feeling good in the sense of buoyancy or happiness. Morale is better thought of as a belief on the part of employees that they can count on each other, and can count on the company. It is maintained by communicating to team members that management cares about the team as much or more than they do.

Is your hiring policy is too casual? It’s not uncommon for sales managers to “Hire ’em all and let the quotas sort ’em out.” Throw everyone against the wall and see who sticks. This approach can have results, but it has a terrible effect on morale. Sales managers with stringent hiring practices communicate to existing employees and new hires that they are part of a valued team. What they do, can’t be done by just everyone, and so we’re not going to let just anyone try.

Training/Sales Process

So much of successfully establishing winning sales culture depends on the uniform understanding of goals. Does everyone know what is expected of them? And what is the goal of the company? It is often the things that are assumed and unsaid in business that lead to degradation of morale, compromising the teams’ ability to succeed. If your team members can’t answer in one sentence both of these questions: “What do we do?” and “How do we do it?” Then they lack an overarching understanding of your insurance agency’s unique offering. So what, then, are they selling?

Maintaining short and long term goals for all employees that dovetail with your unique brand identity re-focuses employees and reinforces the sense that they are valued team members.

Competition

With a brand defined, and a team assembled, competition between sales agents is the fuel in the engine that drives a successful sales culture. When team members who believe in your brand compete against each other, the result is an even stronger brand identity and greater team pride.

Accountability

Measuring the performance of sales agents and lead sources is also a critical component for a successful sales culture. The effect of letting a weak link remain on the team is greater than just the weakened chain. When team members see that weakness is tolerated, it demonstrates that the strength of the team and brand are not valued by management. It is impossible for team members to enduringly value something that is not valued by the insurance agency at large. And impossible to sell something they don’t value.

Reward/Recognition

Rewarding successful sales agents is another way to shine light on the type of behavior you want to encourage. Consider the less obvious benefit of the sales agents understanding that you are truly aware of their efforts. Everyone likes the actual tangible reward, but the larger effect of the reward is that it makes concrete that fact that management is paying attention to, and valuing the team members efforts.

Successful Leadership and Sales Culture each have many definitions. Consequently, the relationship between them is difficult to understand. What is more clear are the consequences of ignoring these factors in managing your insurance agency. Mismanagement is infinitely more costly than skillful management in that it can deteriorate your brand and team morale. Losing this is losing everything.

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