The Forgotten Producer
In most field offices, there are normally four types of sales representatives. Each of these producer types impacts overall productivity and profitability — and, in doing so, shapes the culture and success of their sales organizations. I will refer to these producers as new associates, minimal producers, big producers, and forgotten producers.
It is the last of these producer types — forgotten producers — about whom I’ve written this article. But before we look at forgotten producers, let’s review each of the other three producer types and how they impact a sales organization.
• New associates New associates are recent hires in the training process. These individuals are supported by the firm’s administrative staff and managed by the sales management staff until they are up and running — or have failed to achieve whatever validation points have been put in place. Time, money, and staff resources must be invested in these associates to ensure the long-term viability of the firm. Specific skill sets are needed to deal with new associates — these skills typically reside with the firm’s sales managers who do the recruiting, training, and supervision of newly hired associates.
The economic benefit of hiring inexperienced reps is long term and it takes take years for them to have a significant positive impact on the firm.
• Minimal producers These sales professionals are a part of every firm. Minimal producers do the minimum requirements established to validate their contracts and qualify for the fringe benefits the company or firm offers. For the most part, they are comfortable where they are in the sales process and resist coaching of any type. They often blame their own mediocrity on the firm and cannot understand the importance of professional development. Minimal producers should be encouraged to work at home or — better still — at another firm. Management will only be squandering time and
resources attempting to motivate this group.
• Big producers These sales professionals are usually a delight to have as a part of any firm. They consistently produce at high levels, often exceeding industry and company production heights by wide margins. They have their own staffs — whether they’re located within the firm’s office or outside this space — and they have both respect for and appreciation of the need for computers and a professional, well-paid staff. Most notably, big producers are consistently at the head of the class when it comes to professional education and development. A firm leader can point with pride to these individuals, leveraging their successes with potential candidates, using them as “bell cows” for recruiting. The economic caveat is that most big-producer revenue coming into the firm is either spent on supporting these individuals or directly passed through to them by way of allowances. In many cases, they are only marginally profitable — and most firm managers are loathe to put pen to paper to determine which profits are derived from this producer group. Face-to-face meetings between the firm’s leader and big producers are generally pleasant, but very often related to financial issues — they are either looking for more money or more staff time allocated to their units. Unfortunately, there is little left to give out, in either category.
THE LOST SHEEP
Forgotten producers are the individuals whom management should focus on the most — since with solid management and some targeted attention, they represent significant capacity for driving revenue and therefore profits to the firm. Moreover, if we are successful in helping these otherwise forgotten producers, the firm will be the direct beneficiary of significant improvements in its image — with other producers in the firm, with the local business community, and within the financial services industry.
With results like these beckoning on the firm’s economic horizon, we need to think about why these individuals tend to get the least attention. The answer is fairly simple and straightforward — management’s time is finite and decisions have to be made every day regarding where it will be spent. Well-run, growth-oriented, financially successful firms tend to have good recruiting systems in place. As a result, significant quantities of time are justifiably spent in the recruiting, training, and supervision process. New associates have been promised a great deal of management hand-holding — and they need and deserve it. Sales managers responsible for the new organization have a skill set well matched to those duties. We need these sales managers and should be thankful we have them in our firms to help us perform the critical recruiting and training function necessary to continually grow our firms. Rarely, however, does the same sales manager have the skill sets that enable him or her to coach the more experienced associates.
The head of the firm has severely limited time, with responsibility for the entire operation, including compliance, sales and management recruiting and training, professional development, administrative staffing and support, home office relationship building and nurturing, the firm’s financials and facilities management, and community and industry image building — all the elements associated with running a financial services company. Even with the best intentions, the firm’s lead manager cannot spend too much time with any one producer, yet they try. Lead managers try to spend ample time with top producers to foster those important relationships, but they also try to spend
time with minimal producers, in an (often futile) attempt to coach and motivate them to higher levels of sales production or professional development. Statistically, it just doesn’t happen and the results aren’t there. It’s like trying to teach a rabbit to climb a tree — the effort simply frustrates the teacher and infuriates the rabbit. At the end of the day, both parties are stressed and no success is achieved.
Forgotten producers have been neglected by the firm’s management because they tend to be good, reliable firm citizens who produce regularly and in such a manner that requires little management or staff time. Although often housed in the firm’s space, they typically share a secretary with another producer or two, rather than rely on the firm’s administrative support. They are prone to doing (too) much of their own administrative work, faithfully attend all firm meetings, and work diligently and long at professional development.
These producers receive company production awards almost every year and are semiregular members of the Million Dollar Round Table; however, they’ve reached a plateau in productivity. While they won’t readily admit it, they don’t want to raise their production goals (since this would require significant extra time and effort on their part — time that is otherwise available for family, civic, or recreational activities). Forgotten producers obviously would like to earn more money, but they’re unwilling to spend more time or do more work.
My experience and observation lead me to believe that the forgotten producer’s problem is not one of spending more time selling, but rather being organized to sell more. The question is how to help release this excess capacity for sales productivity without creating stress and conflict for these valuable individuals. Let’s begin by looking at what not to do.
Don’t assign forgotten producers to a sales manager or sales unit Keep in mind that successful sales managers possess the skill set that works most effectively with new associates. The first thing sales managers are likely to do is to ask these experienced, reliable producers for an activity report — and, with that, both the concept of rapport and objective of motivation fly right out the window! Forgotten producers will complain about the sales manager’s insensitivity and lack of knowledge, and will then seek out your time to help (to which you’ll probably agree on the spot, but will be hard-pressed to dedicate the time required to provide the necessary help).
Don’t offer to help them If you do, the following scenario is likely to unfold: At the beginning, everything will seem fine and you’ll receive the positive reinforcement and personal satisfaction that comes from dealing with a willing, coachable subject. The additional attention you’re spending with the forgotten producer will temporarily boost sales production. Soon, however, the demands of other managers, producers, or daily operational crises will swallow up your time; mentoring meetings with your forgotten producer will be rescheduled or cancelled; and — before long — the process will be forsaken or forgotten.
This situation is similar to making a New Year’s resolution such as “get in shape with a daily visit to the gym.” By mid-January, we all know what happens to the vast majority of “get in shape” and other such resolutions: For your — once again — forgotten producers, production starts sliding and, even worse, outcome results show it.
Your previously reliable, willing, and coachable producers now view you and the firm as unwilling (or unable) to help make their goal of increased production come to pass.
Let’s now consider a solution to your forgotten producer’s need for help, a solution that will address the time and task-specific talent dilemmas in a typical firm management or sales organizational structure. What I’m suggesting is matching up forgotten producers with individuals who have the unique skill set, time, and experience to help them adapt to a methodology of performing the sales function more effectively and efficiently — without necessarily spending more time selling.
The agent-as-businessperson concept has been with us for a long time, although where to find and how to compensate this individual remain critical in transforming the concept into practice. The big producers intuitively understand the importance of running a sales practice like a business, adhering to important management concepts of task-talent match-up, delegation, and effective allocation of resources. As a result, many big producers have sought out Dan Sullivan from his company, The Strategic Coach. They pay Sullivan a handsome fee each year to learn ways to earn more and work less. Kinder Brothers International has provided similar approaches, working with firm managers. Professional sports have always done this by hiring coaches for specific skills a player needs to develop. Why not adopt the practice at the firm level?
The key is to find the right person to do the job for you, and to do so in a way that won’t add unnecessary overhead to your firm. I’m suggesting that you consider a solution that’s become very popular in industries throughout the world to fill resource gaps affordably — outsourcing. I’m suggesting firm managers outsource for the kind of sales manager who has the unique talents so far missing from most firms’ management team. A business coach working with forgotten producers can enable them to become better organized, more productive — and even better firm citizens.
Forgotten producers can learn to market and sell by using client management systems. They can learn about the importance of hiring reliable, well-trained administrative staff who will enable them to spend more time selling. They are likely to respond favorably to a voice other than yours or your sales manager’s, as it carries with it validity that is targeted specifically to them — separate from what is simply good for the firm. When the MDRT-level producer in your firm goes to Court of the Table levels, he or she will do so with virtually no increase in outlay on your part. Through allowances, they have the money to hire their own staff and pay for a client-management system that works for them. Profits to the firm increase, without a major capital expenditure for office space or for additional sales, management, or administrative staff.
YOUR RECRUITING FUTURE
Your future recruiting efforts will be well served, since you’ll be able to point with pride to the vertical development and increased earnings of your mid-level producers. Your top producers will be happier, since forgotten producers will now be peers who periodically run into the type of client perfectly suited for top-producer joint work. Let your imagination work for you and think about other benefits you might realize by improving the work habits and results of your mid-level producers.
I suggest you plan this position and do more thinking in partnership with your associates; jointly interview a prospective coach. Ensure that the coach is focusing on the business aspects of the representatives’ practice. Sales managers or other individuals who are ideally suited for the coach role already know how to sell or they wouldn’t have made it this far in our industry. Ask both the coach and the selected associates to develop a plan of action that you can all agree on. Tie a portion of the coach’s compensation to the associate’s increased sales results. Finally, don’t pay the entire expense yourself — split the costs with the participating associates, so that all parties have some “skin” in the game.
A carefully selected, competent coach working for you and with your mid-level sales associates has the ability and capacity to generate significant profits for both parties. As the sales management/coach concept is integrated with your management practices, you will have top-performing sales managers working with your field operations — with little or no increased demand on management time, no new office space, and no in creased benefit costs.
As a side benefit, your mid-level producers will be able to take full advantage of the firm’s resources and — by managing this process — you will be building loyalty and success. And with this, you will be tying these associates tighter to the office (rather than watching from the sidelines) as they seek outside industry help from someone or
some facility that may not be suited to the culture — a culture you’ve spent so much time and money carefully constructing.
This article is reproduced with permission from LIMRA International. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of LIMRA's MarketFacts Quarterly.