The dictionary defines "producer" as a person or thing that produces. "Production" is the act or process of producing. Competition teaches that production is the lifeblood of agency and brokerage profitability and sustainability. A "book" cannot sustain you without growth. Produce (grow) or die.
Producers come in a variety of styles, experience and skill sets. Great ones are a gift from God. Lesser ones challenge your faith. In metaphorical terms, each sales opportunity is like a horserace--one winner and many losers. In an agency you have racehorses, workhorses, Shetland ponies, show horses, geldings and thoroughbreds. Unfortunately, production isn't about diversity, appearances or second place. It's about winning.
You can't manage racehorses. Just let them run. Your job is to keep them "on track," don't let them kick or bite others (they will kick and bite you), and keep the blinders on them. They like sugar cubes, being groomed and stroked. You can't house two winning stallions in the same stall.
Racehorses love the track and hate the barn. Workhorses like the comfort of the barn but at least know they are paid to go onto the track. Geldings, show horses and Shetland ponies are always in the barn--planning to leave the stall or explaining why they can't.
Experience teaches that some producers make the sale then keep talking and buy it back.
Great producers love the "yes," will accept a "no" only as another step to the next yes, and hate the "maybe." Maybes are a waste of time. Test the maybe and force a yes or a no, and then get on down the track. These same "winners" know that you must find the prospect's pain and fix it. They sell benefits to the customer--not features of the product. Once they "stop the pain," they'll offer other help, but never before. They love the race, not the process, so hire someone else to keep the "stable clean." Support them so they can stay on the track.
The history and mechanics of production shows that great producers are independent and aggressive. If you've seen one, you know this. If you never have and you hire one, be sure you really want one. They are a challenge. One agency owner explained the process this way: "If your book produces less than $500,000 of commission revenue, you work for me. Between $500,000 and $1,000,000 of commission revenue, we are partners. And at more than $1,000,000 of commission revenue, I work for you."
Workhorses, groomed and trained, can be productive and profitable. Define their role, and responsibilities, and hold them accountable. Manage the circumstances, not them. Choose their races carefully.
But workhorses tend to wait on maybes. They want to explain features and solve unknown problems. They don't find and fix the pain. They are quickly discouraged.
Results are important, so get rid of Shetland ponies, show horses and geldings. They aren't bad. They merely aren't suitable for the racetrack of production. They get in the way, consume a disproportionate amount of management's time and energy and eat grain that can feed winners.
There is a distinction between racehorses and thoroughbreds. In this metaphor, racehorses win races. They produce. Thoroughbreds are representatives of the privileged class--beneficiaries of the gene pool. They are in the direct bloodline of a great racehorse (producer) or an agency owner or manager. They were "born" right. Only some may be racehorses.
Send them away to prove themselves on a foreign track. If they can win, bring them back into your stable. If they aren't racehorses or workhorses, don't bring them in. It's not that you can't afford to keep them; it's that they will cost your agency more than they are worth. You may be able to feed them, but they devalue the colors of your stable because your real racehorses and workhorses will resent them and may underperform and leave. You also diminish the likelihood of bringing in the next generation of winners.
I know the history of inbreeding in the agency system. I know that such inbreeding over time creates weakness not strength, resentment not allegiance and teamwork. I know that it's worked in the past but I don't believe it will work in the future. In the future, resources will be limited. Don't waste these resources on faux producers, even if they come from a great bloodline, even yours!
Understand that you can teach a dog to hunt but you can't teach him to smell. Recruit producers that can smell. All others you must develop. Teach producers to "squint their ears."
Now get your producers in the starting gate. Which ones will be the winners?
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
January 24, 2011
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