Sales skills are the lifeblood of the benefits industry. But fewer and fewer carriers and agencies have formal programs that teach their employees basic salesmanship. Instead, salespeople rely on their own ideas, what they learn from peers, and informal mentorship arrangements.
And, frankly, some industry insiders say, that’s not good enough.
Along with those skills — plus an extroverted nature, an ability to be motivated by money and recognition, and a strong desire to win — good salespeople also have subject matter competency, says Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"Salespeople need to know where clients exist in the regulatory environment and act as a consultant, to help the client navigate that stuff. Otherwise, that client is going to go to someone else who can help them," he says. "If you’re selling health care and you’re not an expert on the Affordable Care Act, then you’re selling cassette tapes."
Today’s training — or lack thereof
Those older salespeople will retire — either now, in response to the changing market, or in a few years, when they might have retired anyway. The sales force that takes their place will not have had a similarly intense training. Some of them will have had no formal training from anyone.
If agencies don’t step up and provide training, salespeople will find their own resources. "There are training programs, books, self education," Trokey says. "I don’t think there’s just one way. You have to commit to being a professional. If you want to sell effectively, you have to commit to lifelong learning."
Finding and paying for a sales training program is one option; books, blogs, and other online information are other good sources of expertise.