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Lack of Professionalism
I experienced a lack of professionalism in my dealings with my district office. It took a couple of months for Scott to stop calling my girlfriend’s phone to reach me even though I told him many times to call my phone as I repeatedly provided my cell phone number. My training class was cancelled multiple times as I would show up to an empty room only to be told “I’m sorry. You didn’t get that e-mail?” I would also take it upon myself to set up one on one meetings with Scott. On a number of these meetings I showed up only to find Scott’s office empty. Farmers meets when they want to meet, it is not a mutually respectful relationship. When these meetings with Scott did occur, I went above and beyond what I was required to do. I set up agendas for the meetings, along with typed reports of my activities, their results, and other ideas I had for marketing. I stopped sharing this information when my ideas were spread around at a Monday morning meeting for all the other new agents. On another occasion we were told to purchase internet leads and we will be reimbursed. After many efforts to be reimbursed, compensation came a couple months later. Not everyone else was even reimbursed. A little bit of time after I turned career, Angela Joo sent me an e-mail asking for a form showing completion of my first set of Virtual University Career Courses. I had to question her as to what this was all about, for my district office failed to inform me that these were required. In order to complete these courses I needed a new Business Builder binder that correlated with these Virtual University Courses. I then was forced to ask Merrick for this binder and rush through these courses in a day to show completion to Angela. Gradually I became disillusioned to the idea of incorporating my district manager into the growth of my agency.
Scott wanted me to be career within 3 months of having my licenses. This is a business that needs to be set up, not a sales job. At sales jobs you are provided leads. From the instant I walked into the district office, emphasis was placed on becoming a Career agent. Emphasis should be placed on building all the intricacies of the business. I felt extremely rushed, as if I was working on Scott’s timetable and not mine. I went back to my paperwork to find that I had a year to progress to a Career agent, and to know that the pressure being applied to sell was undue. My Career Conversion was rushed. I got call saying to come in later that day because my meeting was the next day. This left me with not much time to prepare. I also had to produce many documents on incredibly short notice and was informed by Scott to just make the paperwork look good for Farmers standards (put whatever I had to put, basically, whether honest or not aka Financial Worksheet). He told me just to make sure the Financial Worksheet worked out. State Farm requires its new agents to have $30,000 plus dollars in the bank as a cushion until the agency made money. I suppose that the Financial Worksheet is similar in design, to see that the new agent has the capital to finance himself for a period of time. However, just making it look good basically nullifies the paper because it is fraudulent. Speaking of fraudulent business practices, Scott has paid for life insurance policies so agents can have their numbers to meet the Career requirements. According to the Insurance Code, if you give one person a free policy then you must give everyone a free insurance policy. This also put me in the position of trying to convince people to take a free life insurance policy that was not even desired. This is rebating and is illegal, unless Farmers gives everyone a free life insurance policy. I am not the only agent with whom this has occurred.
“Farmers has developed point of sale tools to facilitate the sales process so you can focus your attentions on the customers’ needs – not on complicated applications and forms.” This statement is from SRN 32-7561 which is a folder I was given to help sell the decision to become a Farmers agent. However, my experiences over the past year have led me to believe otherwise. In addition to focusing on clients’ needs, pressure is provided to be out selling, selling, and selling. I have been told that at this point in an agency’s life not much time is needed to service clients. However, the systems in place on the Agency Dashboard need much improvement. My clients have been subjected to an unacceptable level of customer service. Wrong billing occurs constantly. The paperwork that needs to be provided is something that I have seen all new agents struggle with. Policies are cancelled left and right. Some of my policies were cancelled just due to system errors when all of the necessary requirements had been provided on time. I have had rude phone calls to my clients. One person from Farmers argued with my client over the fact that his wife, a stay at home mom, was a commuter because she drove a child to school. All of this leads to phone calls from upset clients, who receive an abundant amount of unnecessary paperwork, which I can barely get explanations for when I call the service center. More importantly, it takes a great deal of time, contrary to the statements that servicing will not occupy a lot of my agency’s time.
How I was trained
There was an extreme discrepancy between the training that is described in the Business Builder book and what actually happened. Not much real training provided, just promises of training and help. “Go meet people. Schedule 15 per week, see 10, sell 3.” I was told quick lines to sell, not insurance knowledge. I was told how to make fake relationships by talking for a few minutes about family, entertainment, and a few other conversation points. If you do not know already how to establish meaningful relationships, you should not be in this job in the first place. I was directed to walk into realtors offices, set up open houses at apartments. I walked into these places pondering “I sure hope they don’t ask me insurance questions.” The sales points were that I will return phone calls because I am new and not too busy, not the real reason why people should buy from me: superior knowledge, service, and reliability (the latter two I can always provide, however, it takes training and learning to provide superior knowledge and advice). Most of my learning came from telephone calls to the service center. Furthermore, the direction that was received did not put me in positions to come in contact with the type of people I would be most successful dealing with. I was told be in business for myself, but not by myself. If I needed help, find an agent to help me and pay him half the commissions (that’s not support – that’s hired help). It is dog eat dog. You are just thrust out there and Farmers sees who survives.
How I would train
The first step I would do is have basic product knowledge be acquired independently. If questions are needed, have an easy access to answers. Much of this comes from licensing training and reading the manual. This is memorization. I would focus in my training classes not just on the theory, but applying the products to reality and which products suit which people. An integral part of the training process should be learning claims. This is what we are in business for. All I know is “Hey, call HelpPoint, I guess.” A trip should be taken down to the claims station to see what it is all about. How claims are settled should be learned. The Business Builder manual, if followed, would provide adequate training as far as products are concerned, however this is not followed in my district office.
The main motivation I have heard to sell life insurance is that it will bring in the most capital to a young agency. This may be true, however, the main motivation should be that life insurance is a right fit for a particular client. As far as marketing life insurance, I would suggest a new agent to familiarize himself with two or three specific life insurance products that they understand well. For me, this would be term insurance. New parents in their twenties do not have the money to pay for a permanent policy yet, but need protection. They are not likely to have an insurability issue in the relative future so hopefully there shouldn’t be any problem with converting the term to permanent down the road.
I would have new agents identify the demographics of their natural market and identify how to reach them. Rather than an umbrella approach, targeting whomever will do business with you, be specific in the types of people you approach. It should not be hard to devise ways to reach these people due to the fact that you are predisposed to coming in contact with them naturally. Farmers should know which particular demographics and segments of the population they are targeting for new business and bring in agents that can connect with these segments. This may take more time as hiring needs to be more selective and careful, but it is good underwriting practices that can be used in hiring, just as in finding business.
A good leader is in the trenches with his troops. I would never ask someone to do something that I have not done myself. I have been in multiple supervisory positions in my employment history and I question the aptitude of leadership provided by my district manager.
How I would Hire
I would analyze the data of which parts of the population Farmers could do a better job of attaining business. Whether this be the latino population, people within a certain age bracket, or however the data presents itself would dictate the type of agents needed. To reach the latino population, bring in latino agents. To reach people ages 25-35, bring in agents within that age range. Not only would this have to match, but the new agents must be ethical, moral, and personable people who would give Farmers a good reputation and already know how to establish real, lasting relationships with people. A company is only as good as the people who are working for it. Not a lot was asked about me during my interviewing process which is not good underwriting. By being more selective, the training resources would not be depleted by people who are not going to stick around and can be utilized more efficiently.
Right Way versus Wrong Way to Build a Business
There is a right way versus a wrong way to build a business. I desire preferred clients and would rather not waste my time with people whom I realize are not going to be around for the long haul. You can not always know this, but can come close. Telemarketing, door to door sales, and internet leads are a few of the wrong ways to grow your business. These methods do produce some sales, but with a low success rate considering the amount of people needed to be contacted in order to make a sale. Cold call does not fit with the models of prospecting for profitable business. When I look for a client I want a long term relationship and I also want profitable business. Agents are the eyes and ears of an insurance company and we make the first judgment over the insurability of a client. Many times these prospects are shoppers who chose you because you were 3 dollars cheaper. When Steve at State Farm is 50 cents cheaper than me at next renewal, my client is now Steve’s client. This just is not conducive to loyal customers. In addition, the underwriting process is a bit more complex because you are dealing with someone in which you have no background info. Something must replace these methods, however, because production does need to be made.
The right way to build an insurance business is to gain a reputation based on trustworthiness, a superior knowledge of insurance products, claims, and the industry as a whole, customer service above and beyond the call of duty, and giving back to the community. It takes time to build a reputation and I am fine with the fact that it takes longer. If this is truly my business then I should be able to progress at the rate that I desire. By doing right by people, by being ethical, moral, and knowledgeable, and having this reputation spread in a grassroots manner I believe will achieve greater long term success than cold selling techniques. Substitutes must be put in place of the cold selling techniques. The first step we all agree on is your natural market. Now ones natural market can spread beyond the people whom one knows, but the people with whom common bonds are shared, but not yet met. Referrals do not even have to be asked for as they will come naturally due to your exceptional reputation. Being social and out in the community brings business as well. The key, however, is not being pushy. Sales quotas force an agent to be desperate and this can be sensed by the public and I prefer to regard people as people, not numbers in a numbers game.
Farmers Does Not Get You Back Where You Belong
In late October I went camping for a weekend in the desert. I off-road and ride dirt bikes, which is a market that I feel I could have been extremely successful prospecting for ‘foremost’ policies, along with the rest of these peoples’ insurance business. The last night I was out in the desert I had an accident with the campfire. Flame shot at me and lit my jacket on fire. I was on fire for a decent amount of time and burned my left leg along with my genital areas. These were deep second degree burns and I spent a good part of a week in and out of the hospital. I left a message for Merrick Tarpey stating that I would not be in for the Monday meeting due to this unfortunate event. This message was even played for the other agents in the office. Luckily, my uncle, currently a profusionist, had been a nurse in a burn center years ago. Due to his presence and experience in dealing with burns I was able to go home each night, although it was a fight for the doctors wanted me to be an in-patient. My uncle also ruled out skin grafts believing I could heal on my own (which turned out to be true). I am only the second person to have the burn treatments (hydrotherapy, etc) as an outpatient in the history of UCI Burn Center. During this first week I received an e-mail from Janie Ortega, which I can supply, that stated “I hope everything is OK…but do you have new policies?” The last thing I needed to deal with was pressure from my work. I never heard from Scott until I sent an e-mail to Angela Joo in corporate. I had set up a MILK event and she was invited in to help by Scott. I explained to Angela what had happened to me and that I probably would not be able to attend the MILK event. She expressed concern and it was not until after this exchange that I heard from Scott via e-mail. By the time I was allowed out of the house, past the point of infection, it was the beginning to middle of December. The holidays were approaching and are a slow time for insurance sales. I had even been warned about this by Scott. So the holidays went by and I set myself out to start up my business again the first of the year. I have policies in force, but it almost presented itself as having to start all over again. I then received a bill instead of a paycheck, as I had missed my sales numbers. A letter came in the mail calling me a ‘minimum performer’ and threatening termination unless I caught up all my policies by the next quarter (which was almost halfway through). At this point I gave up. An insurance company is in business to provide support to their clients when an unexpected, terrible event occurs. This is in exchange for the premiums paid by the clients each month. When one of Farmers’ own went down in the worst experience of his life, Farmers jumped all over me and this made me question the motives behind Farmers and whether they would hold their word and help my clients in their times of need. I sent an e-mail to William Walruth and got a phony response from Scott. It just felt like Farmers was attempting to not be sued as opposed to actually caring and helping. The final straw came when I went into my office a couple weeks ago and found my desk emptied and all of my files and personal belongings thrown in the corner.
Lack of Full Disclosures and Discrepancies Between Talk and Action
From the start of my relationship with Farmers, there was a lack of disclosure. For example, I was told that office rent was free during your reserve agent status. Then it was $100 to keep a cubicle once you turned career or you could pay more for an office space. I got $100 dollar bills right away and this progressed to $600 plus once I turned career. There were secretary fees, kitchen fees, network fees. I could set up all of these for myself at my own location for a lot cheaper. On top of this, I was paying rent for an office that I did not have a key to for the longest time. Only when I realized everyone else had a key except for me is when I approached my district office personnel about obtaining a key. On top of this, you find out later that error and omission polices are over $300 dollars a month plus $50 for Farmers advertisements (which I have never seen or heard) and $10 a month for FEAPAC. So basically, the Career Conversion looks like a good deal and will provide support to a growing agency, but most of the subsidy is charged right back by Farmers. All kinds of support is promised, but you must pay for any help you receive.
Times Are ChangingTimes are changing. I believe that the importance of a storefront is diminishing. People desire to spend as little time as possible on insurance. A departure from the agency model is occurring as companies are eliminating their agency force and internet companies like E-surance are gaining business. Such changes have occurred in the past. The original Farmers agents worked their previous job until they had enough policies in force to support their business and themselves, and often set up their office out of their house. Most of these agents were rural workers, living in an unstable insurance market. Such an arrangement today would be extremely beneficial. Today’s insurance market is flooded with agents and companies competing for business which yields a tough market, much as I would expect these rural agents experienced. Instead of subsidy, which basically takes away a new agent’s autonomy by tying sales quotas and attaching strings to the new agency, one would be better suited to work a part time job to bring in the revenue that subsidy provides. During my high school years I employed myself at the local Starbucks. During the course of my employment at Starbucks I established a plethora of relationships with customers. These customers had become accustomed to my superior customer service standards. I had lawyers and other professionals bringing me into their jobs to help me decide on the avenue I took in my professional life. Starbucks provided me with an exceptional networking mechanism, which could easily be turned into insurance policies. Meanwhile, one is making money while networking, rather than spending money to meet people.
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