New York Life invests for its future. How does your sales training measure up?
by Paul Nolan, SalesForceXP Magazine
Like any parent, Lloyd “Noisy” Johnson wanted the best for his five children. So when his youngest daughter Charlene showed a knack for sales after graduating from college, Lloyd, a salesman for more than 20 years with the Prudential Insurance Co., wrote a letter to New York Life Insurance Co. imploring them to recruit his daughter.
“If I was going to sell insurance, he wanted me to work for the company that provided the best sales training in the industry,” says Charlene.
That impression from a man who sold insurance in rural Minnesota for 20 years is two decades old itself. But New York Life’s reputation as a company that provides topnotch sales training is even stronger today.
For 52 consecutive years, the company has been the leader in membership of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), an independent association of the world’s leading life insurance and financial professionals. “That’s like winning the Super Bowl 52 years in a row!” says Jim Lusk, managing partner for New York Life’s Minnesota office.
MDRT members are considered to be among the best in the industry and have achieved the highest standard of sales excellence. In 2004, New York Life had 2,321 MDRT members. The closest competitor, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, placed 1,534 of its salespeople on the Round Table.
“We keep asking ourselves, ‘If we have the most elite sales organization in the world, how did we get there?’ ” says Lusk, a fireplug who spouts Zig Ziglar one moment and Yogi Berra the next. He has definite opinions on how his team of 70 agents who are spread throughout Minnesota succeeds, but for the most part, it’s just the New York Life way.
Investing in the Future
It seems appropriate that an insurance company understands the benefits of long-term planning and investing up front for something that will pay off down the line. New York Life spends a great deal of time and money to put each of its agents through New York Life Insurance Company (NYLIC) University in their first three years, according to Lusk.
“When we hire, it is a selection process,” says Lusk. “It has to be a good fit for both of us.”
The company’s training is a consistent process. Prospective agents go through a series of exercises and real-life prospecting during the first three months that shows whether they have the mettle for the highly competitive insurance business.
Those who make it past the initial screening begin Fundamental Career School, an intensive multi-day course. Afterward, they split their time between field work and additional training. Agents working in rural Minnesota towns, for example, drive as much as three hours every Friday to attend training at the general office in a Minneapolis suburb.
Staffing is another New York Life differentiator. In a world where corporations outsource training by flying quick-fix coaches in for two day workshops, New York Life staffs each of its general offices – 120 in all – with a managing partner and a full-time sales development manager. All of these full-time employees are dedicated to creating more effective salespeople.
Lusk, who rose through the ranks at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. before jumping to New York Life as a second-line manager in 1995, says it’s a huge advantage to be able to focus solely on developing agents and to have resources, trainers and support staff to assist him.
Where Others Fear to Follow
Success typically breeds copycats. So why hasn’t New York Life’s status as the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States resulted in more imitation?
Companies in insurance and other industries hesitate to invest the significant sums that New York Life spends training its salespeople for fear they may put what they’ve learned to use at a competitor. But New York Life has found that training actually increases loyalty. Lusk proudly notes that there are several second and third-generation sales agents in the 160-year-old company.
What’s more, says Robert Bork, the sales development manager for the Minnesota office, “there is an old saying that the only thing worse than training your people and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
Lastly, Lusk says New York Life’s status as a mutual company – it is owned by its policy holders – allows for a long-term approach that many publicly held companies feel they don’t have the luxury to take.
Is it the system or the salespeople?
Can a training system like the one New York Life has in place create sales superstars one after another? Managing Partner Jim Lusk isn’t ready to label himself the “Coach K” of the sales world, but just as Duke University attracts the nation’s top college-bound basketball players, New York Life has built a reputation that seems to lure budding salespeople.
“We have a very organized recruiting system,” says Lusk. “The key is selecting instead of hiring. It’s amazing what kind of coach you look like when you pick the right kind of people to be on your team.”
It’s important that a sales training and management system allow for varying styles. Longtime New York Life agents Charlene Rigelman and Terry Lewis took vastly different paths to similar levels of success – regular spots at the Million Dollar Round Table and annual appearances on New York Life’s top achievement councils.
Both agents are 50-yearsold and started with New York Life in the 1980s. Rigelman works out of her home office in rural Minnesota selling policies as small as $10,000 and several over $1 million to farmers, ranchers and small-business owners. Lewis works out of the Minnesota General Office near the Twin Cities and focuses on high-net-worth individuals who want creative ideas for growing and preserving their wealth. “I’m a heart person and Terry goes more for the head,” Rigelman says.
Both agree that New York Life’s training launched their careers, and they continue to rely on the company for educational support and product knowledge.
Hectoria Danso-Bediako plans to follow in their footsteps. The 22-year-old Ghana native graduated from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., and knew three people when she moved to Minneapolis last summer and jumped feet-first into New York Life’s sales training program. She has quickly become a star rookie, netting up to $5,000 in commissions each month.
Danso-Bediako says the communication part of selling comes naturally, but New York Life’s training has built her confidence and allowed her to develop strong consultative selling skills. “You learn not to be aggressive. The system shows you how to progress naturally.”
She originally intended to pursue a master’s in psychology, but says she loves her work so much that plan is on hold indefinitely.
View the original article here.
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