Science of Sales

Once upon a time, insurance brokers were trained. Every broker could expect comprehensive training on products, sales techniques, bookbuilding procedures and systematic business plans. It was one way carriers could support the largest and most successful distribution channel in the industry. Then it ended.

“Insurance companies used to house you, feed you, and train you for two weeks,” just to learn the business and their products, recalls Lisa H. Harrington, CPCU, Sapphire Enterprises. “Now that rarely happens.”

This educational gap prompted the Florida Association for Insurance Agents (FAIA) to ask Harrington and, then, partner Jeannette Long to start a sales course.

“The membership in Florida [with the FAIA] kept requesting more sales training,” recalls Harrington. “We knew that most brokerages don’t have the money for an in-house trainer, so we were asked to produce a course that would provide this training.”

For Glenn R. White, CAIB, partner at Markham, Ont.-based IFP Group Inc. and a 25-year industry veteran, training is part of a much larger problem the industry has to address. “Best-practice agencies are consistently hiring good producers and we need good producers to take over the businesses in the future,” explains White. “While there were lots of one, two and three-day courses, there was no formal school, of any kind, specifically related to producers in Canada.”

White was among the members of the Insurance Brokers Assocation of Canada (IBAC) who reviewed courses throughout North America before opting to modify Harrington’s Elite Training program to Canadian standards. Once selected, IBAC took the program to the provinces–and received a two-year test program (2009 and 2010).

Even before they launched the course, the association had a money-back guarantee, explains Harrington. “If they aren’t satisfied with the course, we’ll give them their money back.” In the 10 years Harrington has been a facilitator she has never had to give back tuition money. “I’ve never had anyone, who actually followed the steps, not be thrilled with the course and the results.”

The benefit of this type of program is that it is geared towards a process– and subsequently results–that can be utilized by any type of brokerage–big or small, personal or commercial.

“The three main watchwords [for success] are discipline, persistence and consistency. Without all three we don’t see success in salespeople. It has to be deliberate and on purpose,” says Harrington.

Discipline involves recognizing that education is an essential component of developing a salesperson and growing a business. “There is such a tendency to put off [education] because you feel like you’re too busy, but we should never stop learning,” says Harrington.

For Shawn Graydon, senior account manager at Morris, Man.-based Remple Insurance Brokers, Producer Academy was an opportunity to learn. Like most small to mid-size brokerages, Graydon both sells and manages the accounts.

“I’ve never had any sales experience–never had any training,” explains Graydon. Before starting Producer Academy, Graydon’s goal was to increase sales. “Now I have a target audience: a niche of businesses I would like to concentrate on when building my book,” he says. “I also have targets on what size of accounts I should target. For example, I will start with half a dozen $25,000 accounts in a specific type of business. All of this [planning] really relates to the target premiums we want to write and helps us focus those goals and develop a plan of action.”

Caroline Mills-White does have a few years’ experience in the business, but just over a year ago, her manager at Toronto-based Marsh offered to start her in a new role. “The business development role didn’t exist before I stepped into the role,” explains Mills-White. “My manager wanted to focus more on sales and gross and wanted a business development person–I was that person.”

Despite over a decade of experience, Mills-White was a little apprehensive, “I felt rusty.” She had not been in a ‘pure’ sales role for over nine years and, before completing Producer Academy her “numbers weren’t so great. They were satisfactory.”

Since taking the course, however, Mills-White has seen a dramatic difference, not just in her numbers, but in her goals, process and efficiency. “In the first year–before I entered the Academy–I brought in roughly $40,000 (CDN) revenue. Last year [during the Academy] I brought in about $65,000. This year I’ve already hit $100,000 and it’s only March.”

One reason Harrington believes education and training, like Producer Academy, is so effective is because students are taught to be persistent. “In the beginning a new producer gets quite a bit of attention,” says Harrington. “But life goes on at the brokerage. That new producer becomes another valued member of the team, but those people who were rallying and supporting them have to get back to their own accounts.” Producer Academy recognizes the need for support, particularly in helping producers stay persistent and positive.

This is one aspect that attracted Robert E. Kimball, a second-generation broker and a commercial producer at his dad’s firm Pearson Insurance Ltd., based in New Brunswick, to the Academy. Before getting into the industry and joining Producer Academy, Kimball considered himself “a jack of all trades, but master of none.”

The training he received in the Academy prompted him to be “more efficient, productive and persistent,” explains Kimball. For example, one of the first lessons highlights the four different personality types that each salesperson will encounter. “We were taught how to recognize personality types and how to approach these personality types.” During one sales call “I came across a person who didn’t have time for me to sit down and give him detail after detail after detail–a classic personality type.”

This person wanted the bottom line first and Kimball knew that there was a chance of losing the sale because of his own personality type–he likes having all the information before making a decision. Due to his training and education, Kimball stuck to the game plan: he simply gave the client what he absolutely needed. “I catered to his personality type and got the business. The cheque was signed in five minutes and I was on my way out the door.”

Robert Clark, a Saskatchewan-based broker at Cooke Insurance, also learned the importance of persistence. “We had a client come in who had a lot of insurance with us–but not his airplane insurance,” explained Clark. “In the Academy we learned that we always need to work on rounding the account–providing coverage for all of our client’s risks. If we have a client’s auto insurance, then we need to make sure we also have their home insurance.” The added benefit, says Clark, is that even if he’s never written that type of business before–like a policy for an airplane–he can now call on a few colleagues that were also in the Academy class, find out important information and start in the right direction. “Now I’ve written airplane coverage.”

For Douglas Fast, vice president and commercial insurance manager at Winnipeg-based MIG Insurance Group, the Academy “affirmed some major lessons.” In particular, Fast realized that in order to build strong relationships and become trusted business advisors to his clients, he needs to be disciplined and consistent. That consistency comes from implementing the practical tools he learned in the Academy. “For example, developing a set of open-ended questions that engage my clients and help reinforce my listening is important,” explains Fast. “If we listen, we learn things about our clients and then our job is easier.” This is a particularly important step when attempting to round the account. “We know that if we don’t write 100% of our client’s risk, then there is a chance of losing that business to another broker,” says Fast. “By listening, I learn what my client needs.”

Consistency also helped many of the Academy participants with the hardest aspect of their job: cold calling.

“The cold-calling practice and process was very important,” says Fast. “It’s good to know that I need to make cold calls and need to makes those calls consistently–17 times, if necessary, to get results.”

For Kimball, cold calling wasn’t a natural process. “It’s something I need to practise, so the cold-calling techniques [taught in the Academy] were tried, tested, and true.” He adds that “the very first call was probably the one hardest, but after that, they were all easy.” Kimball attributes this to being “prepared and practising,” before he actually started to pick up the phone.

The Bigger Picture
One reason Heather Hill, commercial insurance specialist at Barrie, Ont.-based Howard Noble Insurance, was eager to strengthen her sales skills through the Producer Academy was the overwhelming negativity she encounters about her industry. “I think our whole industry has a very tenuous relationship with the public. I find that this is a big challenge for us, as sellers of a product you can’t see.”

While sales are about numbers, a sales profession is about relationships–and relationships can only be built on the disciplined application of persistence and consistency, says Harrington. “The relationship sale is generally the larger sale,” she explains. “People calling about their homeowner’s policy tend to leave you very quickly in order to save $10 the next year. That’s a transactional sale. What producers focus on is the consultative and then the partnering sales.” In the consultative role, a broker will approach the client, often to round out the account. In the partnering sale, the client will seek the advice of the broker, often before the business decision is made.

Regardless of the type of sale, the underlying commonality is the relationship. In the end, the relationship is what will define the client’s experience.


Power Producer
Shawn Graydon
Senior Account Manager, Remple Insurance
Morris, Manitoba

How did you first learn about Producer Academy?
I actually learnt about it through Dale Remple, owner of Remple Insurance. He’s a vice-president on the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) board. Dale was my mentor and I viewed [my participation in the Producer Academy] as a great opportunity. When [Dale] told me about it, he actually said he was making an investment in my career; going to further my education, which will further my career in insurance, and I thought that was a great opportunity for me, so I did it.

What was your favourite reference material?
One Minute Salesperson

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • Obtaining my CAIB designation.
  • Building a relationship with my mentor. “That is a huge accomplishment for me. He believes in me and I believe in him, and I think we just work very well that way.”
  • Working almost a decade at one firm.
  • Being 30 years old and in the industry for almost 11 years.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Steak, medium-rare and barbequed, and chocolate ice cream.


Power Producer
Douglas Fast
Broker, Partner
Vice President and Commercial
Insurance Manager
Winnipeg, Manitoba

What is your history in the P&C industry?
I’ve been in the industry for 17 years, the entire time as a broker. I started out in a family brokerage in south Winnipeg. My dad started in the business over 50 years ago. Eventually I started to work in the family business, for my brother, and from there I went to work for Marsh for a couple of years. I gained a lot of experience at Marsh. But eventually I made my way back to a smaller–not so international–operation.

What educational components were most valuable?
For me the focus on practical tools really helped. For example, developing a set of open-ended questions that engage my clients and help reinforce my listening was important. If we listen, we learn things about them and then our job is easier.

What do you think is the major challenge facing this industry?
There is a lot of movement in the industry and that makes it challenging to attract and retain good employees. At MIG we are proud to be considered one of the Top 25 employers in Manitoba but we, and everyone in this industry, need to take this challenge down to the grassroots level.

What was your favourite reference material?
7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Advanced Selling Strategies.

What advice do you have for someone entering this industry?
Take the time to practise. Nothing breeds success like success.

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • Three wonderful children–that’s my biggest accomplishment. Jaymi, my daugher, Isaak, my son, and Katie, my youngest daughter.
  • Making partner in a firm of 50 employees.
  • Being in this industry for 16 years.

What is your dream job?
An exotic travel photographer.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Working on the computer–spending hours on Photoshop. Also, listening to music–I’m an ’80s kind of guy.


Power Producer
Robert Kimball Jr.
Commercial Producer
Pearson Insurance Ltd.
Sussex, New Brunswick

How did you learn about the Producer Academy?
Through my father, Robert Kimball Sr. He’s a facilitator in the program. I was just starting in the brokerage and it was an opportunity for me to learn without having any real bad habits to overcome. It was very beneficial.

Can you see an improvement in your sales?
Yes. The numbers definitely grew. But what I consider to be more important is I’ve become more efficient [and] more productive. So I show more results with less work. If I work the same and have more results, then my bottom line will improve–and that’s what this is about.

What was your favourite reference material?
The best books were the course manuals. Also, I really liked the Cold-Calling

Techniques book. Simple tips–such as remembering to smile while you’re talking–can have a big impact on a call and that book reminded us of these techniques.

What advice do you have for someone entering this industry?
Get educated. Never give up. Have confidence. And meet as many people as you can.

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • My honours CAIB designation.
  • Receiving the Laurie Hashie Memorial Award, which was awarded when I completed my commercial studies for the CAIB designation.
  • Organized a lot of family trips (I think everyone enjoys it cause they keep coming).

What is your dream job?
I’d like to be a theme park ride rater. I’m a rollercoaster junkie. My favourite ride is the Mummy ride at Universal Studios in Florida.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Crème brûlée.


Power Producer
Heather Hills
Account Executive
Howard Noble Insurance
Alliston/Barrie, Ontario

How have your goals changed since coming into the Producer Academy?
Before [the Academy] my goal was to grow my book of business and continue to get new clients. Since [the Academy] I now have very specific financial and performance goals–weekly, monthly and annually. [The Academy] helped me to take a big, foggy goal and actually develop a plan of action that is realistic.

What educational components were most valuable?
I was thrilled when I was told I was a candidate for Producer Academy. After taking the account executive role I thought “how will I learn how to sell?” So, I was excited and pleased to have a sales course opportunity. What I really liked is the level of confidence this course provided. The course broke down the process and used best practices numbers [to affirm these lessons]. I am now able to benchmark my own progress and against my peers. Also, I have a much better idea of what clients to target. I had already targeted construction but now I will be going after consulting businesses–with E&O coverage, to start–because there are a lot in the area that I live and work in.

What was your favourite reference material?
The four manuals and Platforms of Success.

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • Obtained my FCIP designation
  • Also obtained CRM and AIPC designations
  • Mentoring for the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF)

What is your dream job?
To help businesses grow.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Fudge. Definitely fudge. Maple fudge.


Power Producer
Caroline Mills-White
Business Development Manager
Toronto, Ontario

What is your history in the P&C industry?
The position I held before was Client Manager so I had a full book of business of high-net-worth clients. I’ve been at Marsh for almost 10 years and was a client manager, originally called a client advisor, until May 2008.

How have your goals changed since coming into the Producer Academy?
Coming into the Academy I was just hoping to learn something new. I hadn’t really done sales for about nine years and I felt rusty. Of course, I was reminded that I had been selling all the time–at every renewal, but I had forgotten. So my goal was simply to improve my numbers–coming in [to the Academy] my numbers weren’t so great; they were satisfactory.

What educational components were most valuable?
Lots of funny little things. Some really basic stuff like remembering to mail out a thank-you card when someone meets you for an appointment. Also, sending out a handwritten card, in a handwritten envelope, with a stamp on it has a much greater impact. Also, making sure there is something fat in the envelope. All pretty basic stuff, right? But stuff I wasn’t doing.

What was your favourite reference material?
The four manuals (I reference them all the time) and How to Improve Your Listening Skills.

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • Obtained my CIP designation.
  • Volunteered on Junior Achievement recently–where I went into a school and taught for a day. I taught these kids Dollars and Sense.
  • Had my first article published in Without Prejudice magazine.
  • Wrote a course and facilitated it for the Insurance Institute on high net worth.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Besides chocolate? Fast food. “I just love food.”


Power Producer
Robert Clark
Cooke Insurance
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

What is your history in the P&C industry?
I met my wife in the U.S., while we were both in university. I finished a couple of years before her so I started to teach high school. My wife brought me back to Saskatchewan in the summer, where she and her family are from, and by the time winter rolled around it was too late to go back!

I needed a job and, at that time, her father was losing a broker–he owned the brokerage–and explained how tough it was to find a good replacement. That’s when he asked if I would be interested in stepping in for a little bit–that was 3,123 days ago–almost nine years.

I didn’t know a thing about insurance. So my first experience in the industry was taking a test to get the licence.

Our main bread and butter, at my father-in-law’s brokerage, is personal lines, so we aren’t currently focusing too much on actually producing new insurance. But that said, we are looking at doing that–to evolve, particularly as other family members get into the business.

How did you learn about Producer Academy?
From my father-in-law.

What was the most valuable component of producer academy?
Being in the industry for nine years I found this course a great refresher. It put everything front of mind and then gives you some new ideas. It’s also great to [now] know a network of people, across the country, that are doing these things and that it works for them; it helps us exchange ideas on what works and doesn’t work and gives us motivation to give a new idea a shot. It’s particularly beneficial because you can’t exactly go down the street and ask your direct competition what works and doesn’t work. A lot of times you are fighting for the same business. But I can talk to someone in Manitoba or Ontario because none of us are worried about losing the client; we can be completely open and honest. That’s a great relationship to have with other brokers.

What was your favourite reference material?
Who Moved the Cheese?

It’s a short book and basically it asks us to acknowledge that either we change or die and I think that’s important in insurance because, from my standpoint, it seems like a lot of times the industry really fights to keep the status quo.

What are some of your prior accomplishments?

  • Played university basketball in Illinois.
  • Published a 40-page book on Amazon–a sermon I wrote.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Originally published in CI Top Broker Magazine in April 2010

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