A simple and obvious solution to many, likely most, agencies’ growth issues is to hire a quality producer. As proven by the 70%-80% failure rate for such hires, the solution is much easier said than done. However, hiring quality producers is not as hard as it often seems, if agencies follow some rules. (By the way, these rules are based on my clients’ actual, repeatable successes. These rules are not based on theory.)
-- Identify the deadwood.
Quality producers do not want to work with a bunch of retired-in-place producers and owners clipping coupons. Just think about it from their perspective. Can you see a really good producer saying, “I can’t wait to get to work to sell lots of insurance while all my coworkers sit around not making any sales! What an invigorating place! I just love making everyone else rich!”?
Good producers want to work in agencies where everyone is pulling his weight, where other producers are good and generate competition. Good producers want to work in an agency that is growing. Agencies supporting deadwood don’t grow.
-- Eliminate that deadwood and start creating a real sales culture.
Firing deadwood or invigorating them is even more difficult for most agency owners than hiring quality producers. But the agency owner must.
For what it's worth, I have never seen a producer fired who did not benefit. To the best of my knowledge, they all found a better job that fit their personalities, reducing stress and increasing happiness. I have even seen many return to the agency and thank the owner for firing them because they knew they needed to leave but did not have the inner strength to do so.
If an agency owner cannot fire deadwood, she cannot build a true sales culture. Building a sales culture with deadwood producers is like attempting to build a house with twigs as the foundation.
A real sales culture is based on accountability. The producers not only have to make sales but, more importantly, are held accountable for all the activities that eventually lead to sales. A sales culture is built and managed daily rather than just measured once a month or, more honestly, as usually happens, annually. Try it! You’ll like it!
Once you're completed the first two steps -- identifying and eliminating the deadwood and establishing a culture of accountability -- you can begin the search. Don't begin the search first.
The best test for producers is the SPQ Gold test from Behavioral Sciences. It is good on many levels, but what has been interesting to me is the apprehension that flashes across the face of so many agency owners when I describe the test. They know they would fail. They are then caught in an important emotional bind. They have to hire someone who is better than they are at selling.
One of the secrets to why producers fail 70% to 80% of the time is that a large proportion of agency owners are not good producers, and if someone is not a good producer he typically doesn't like to hire good producers. Good producers are intimidating and ego-busting. Good producers can even be grating.
My clients who climb this emotional mountain successfully always do so using the same technique. They separate their emotions from what is best for the agency. Again, easier said than done and likely impossible to do on one’s own. A support system is likely required. Asking for help is actually key to successfully hiring producers. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.
-- Don't have owners involved in ANY initial interviews.
When agencies advertise for producers, they try to list all the desired qualities. However, I have never seen an advertisement list the most important quality to owners: that the producer is a good guy (whether male or female).
The search for that quality is a huge reason so many owners fail to find a good producer. Do you want a producer who is a good guy and can’t sell or a producer who may or may not be a good guy but can sell?
Owners have a tendency to fall in love with every producer they interview, so they need to stay out of the process at the start. Let just about anyone else do the initial interviews.
-- Develop and manage.
If you just follow the first four steps, your odds of successfully hiring a quality producer will increase dramatically. But if you really want to maximize your prospects, you must create clear producer-development and -management plans. These are two different plans. Considerable detail is required. If you’ve never done this previously, these plans are nearly impossible to create on your own. Hire specialists.
These are not easy steps. Frankly, most agency owners are not emotionally capable of taking these steps, and many are not emotionally capable of delegating these steps, either.
Having to delegate to people who are better-equipped to hire successfully is often the most painful part of the solution. Delegation feels like abdication of personal responsibilities. Yet delegation is leadership. Being a leader -- and a leader is the decision maker who does what is right for the agency rather than making the emotionally easy choice for the owner -- is what really makes the difference in finding and hiring quality producers.
NOTE: None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations.