Agent Training Diagnosis: What’s Wrong, What’s Right, What’s Next?

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You have probably read industry reports that indicate that agents value training. For example, a recent LIMRA report entitled “What Producers Value” concluded in their survey, “the importance of training to producers clearly emerges.”  They found training to be the single most important service or support item that a carrier or marketing organization offers.

Perhaps these reports frustrate you or you don’t believe them. Your firm offers training, yet it doesn’t seem that your target audience cares. You either don’t get good attendance in the first place, or you do have agents attending, but they don’t act on the training and bring additional business to you.

Having worked with many organizations, I can affirm what LIMRA has found: Offering a truly great training program is one of the best ways to attract agents to sell your products or work with your organization.

So why is it that your training isn’t accomplishing what you want? Unfortunately, that could easily be a symptom that your training is merely ordinary.

Great training is fun, interesting, interactive, useful, and persistent. Is your training all of those things? Honestly, is it any of those things?

Now that we agree that you have a problem, how do I recommend that you take your ordinary training program and make it outstanding?

It starts with the focus. You see, a typical training program is about what your organization wants. You want agents to sell your product or contract with your organization. Guess what? Agents don’t care what you want. It would be far more effective to focus on what they want – training on sales techniques and technical knowledge that increase their sales and their income.

Consider these keys to creating training programs that agents mark on their calendars and make sure they attend.

Keys to creating training programs that agents mark on their calendars.

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Value. Training needs to provide agents with what they value so that they’ll take the time to participate again and again, and so that they’ll tell other agents about the training. What agents value is sales techniques that increase their income quickly, so your training program must weave sales techniques throughout the technical content. For example, in our training programs, we always give agents a selection of questions that they can ask clients – questions that will start conversations that can lead to sales. We also give them materials that they can use with clients, materials that lead clients to desire what the agent is offering.

Repetition. Most organizations offer one-time training events, but such events have little impact on changing agent behavior. Training effectively is a lot like mowing your lawn – you must do it again and again over time for it to have any real effectiveness. This is why we recommend that insurance organizations offer training as a multi-week series, so the agents have a reason to return, and when they return, they learn more, and they have their previous training reinforced. Hardly anyone does this, but it is crucial.

Engaging. Training needs to be engaging. If there’s no interaction between the audience and the presenter, agents quickly start checking their email or looking through papers on their desk rather than paying attention to what you are presenting. Use polls and other techniques throughout each training session to engage the audience, and make sure that their interaction influences the presentation. If they can’t interact with the presenter, they’re not really absorbing much of what you’re saying.

Reinforcement. Training needs to be reinforced to attendees on an ongoing basis after they have attended the training. A rule of thumb in the advertising industry is that someone needs to hear your message at least seven times before it starts to influence their behavior. It is good to reinforce your key messages again and again via an ongoing drip email marketing campaign that itself has interesting content. Otherwise, they will quickly forget your message.

Resources. Training needs to be backed up by easy access to the resources your agents need. You should have a website dedicated exclusively to the training, a website that includes all of the resources agents need – but no more than they need – to act on what they’ve learned. The dedicated website makes it easier for agents to put your ideas into action, and it should include marketing materials, forms, registration for future online events, and a library of short video and audio training clips.

Urgency. For the training to be effective, you also need to create a sense of urgency. This is one of the reasons why your training sessions should only be offered live, never recorded. You want agents to write the training dates on their calendars and to be continually reminded of the subject every time they look at their calendars. If you record the training and make it available whenever agents want it, you lose the sense of urgency. In other words, by making it too available, you make it less effective.

If you follow these suggestions, the end result is that your agents will enjoy participating in the training and you will see improved sales results. That’s because training like this is a rare commodity in our industry. It attracts agents, and then it does much more than just get their attention – it produces changed agent behavior, which is a much better result.

By now, you realize that creating and executing a truly outstanding training program is a very labor-intensive process, requiring much more effort than you want to put into it. If this is more than you can handle on your own, find an organization that can help you.

After all, if training is worth doing, it is worth doing right. And if you don’t do it right, you won’t get the results you need.

Listen to a podcast by Chris Conklin.
Chris Conklin: How Real Agent Training Is Defined

Chris Conklin is Genworth’s Senior Vice President of Product Development, where he is leading the design and pricing of all new product development in the company’s life insurance, annuity, and long-term care product lines. Chris is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola University Maryland. He is also a licensed insurance agent and has sold insurance products. Chris is a licensed insurance agent, but he is also a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and holds a Master of Business Administration degree. With over 20 years of industry experience in both carriers and marketing organizations, he was formerly Vice President of Product Development for a large multi-line insurance carrier. Chris has been widely published in many industry publications.

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