How to grow, manage and incentivize a modern brokerage sales team

Register now

Today’s broker holds many responsibilities, such as maintaining client regulatory compliance, offering specific benefits to each clients’ employee demographic and keeping an eye out for up-and-coming technology to make benefits management simpler for the client.

In order to handle all of these responsibilities and more, the work should not rest solely on the shoulders of the top broker in the agency, but rather needs to be shared among a modern sales team to maintain and grow the brokerage’s book of business, says Joe Neil, director of sales at Maxwell Health.

To build a strong brokerage, first ensure there is a strong workforce on the front lines, says Neil, adding that the cost of a bad hire could be financially significant to the firm. “The cost of a bad hire can be incredibly costly, and not just in the potential that you might lose that employee to a competitor or they muddy the company name, but 30%, on average, of an employee’s first year earnings are lost when [brokerages] lose that hire,” Neil says.

To make sure those prospects are not lost, Neil says a firm is defined internally by how it is perceived externally through the way referrals are requested, the position of the agency, the position of the culture and the position of its product.

This means brokerages “need to position their agencies as an attractive place for a high quality candidate,” Neil says. “Being able to go out into the market and talk to folks that are in your industry and know some of the up-and-comers or maybe some people who are looking to break into the industry, give you a big leg up on your competitors.”

Finding the right people
When identifying the right talent to recruit to the brokerage, Neil says keep an eye out for the “hungry producers.” These producers can be identified by leveraging recruiters, who will be incentivized by finding that high-tier talent, while the brokerage focuses on building the business.

“LinkedIn can be helpful, but there are also other networks such as going to a local college fair,” Neil says. “Sometimes when a sales person at a carrier or a payroll company comes in to pitch you or sell you on one of their products, this can be a good opportunity to gage their interest on joining your brokerage firm down the line.”

Once on board, when setting goals for the new brokers to achieve, incentives can be aligned to the level of initiative the new broker brings into the firm. “Beyond your product and beyond the leader of an organization, you want [new brokers] to understand that there is a whole team behind them,” Neil says.

The team, Neil describes, consists of four key positions:

  • Hunters
  • Business development reps (BDR) or sales development reps (SDR)
  • Marketing liaisons
  • Sales managers

Hunters manage a territory and all revenue from that region. Neil says employees in this position are seasoned salesmen who do not need to have experience in just the benefits industry, but at the very least managed a territory and have made an impression within their previous organizations. “Be sure to see, as you’re recruiting them, that their resume demonstrates this high level of success,” Neil says.

Business development reps and sales development reps are considered entry-level roles with the right qualities and traits. These qualities and traits include a good work ethic and aligning with the agency’s culture. The main objective of the BDRs and SDRs are to set meetings for the hunters.

“These [positions] are a great opportunity to bring new folks who have a little bit of sales experience into your organization,” Neil says. “These are the folks who are likely trying to cold call you today and sell you their products.”

Neil adds that cold callers can be a great way to flip the script on those attempting to sell a product to your agency by offering them an opportunity to become a potential broker.

Marketing liaisons need to focus on assisting sales in pipeline development and assure the sales team that opportunities are being attracted to the agency either by way of brick-and-mortar business or online business.

“This is where the breakdown is seen the most,” Neil says. “The hunter finds themselves building out their pipeline by themselves and don’t seem to have much help from the marketing side.”

While marketing toward existing clients and sponsors is helpful, Neil says having marketing liaisons assist with bringing in more referrals is where brokerages could use the most attention.

Finally, the sales manager is responsible for freeing their team of barriers to be successful. These barriers could be identified through one-on-one interview with the sales staff to determine what they could use more assistance on and how territories can continue to grow.

“There could be a number of different layers to what the modern sales team looks like, but these are the key pieces [Maxwell Health] has seen,” Neil says.

Also see: Job insecurity negatively affects employees’ health.”

Once these positions are filled, the responsibility of the head of a brokerage is to create a strong incentive compensation plan by tying behavior of sales to organizational objectives. Does the agency want to focus more on growth or retention? Which end the firm wants to focus on can determine how to incentivize the sales division.

When the goals of the business are established, they should be published to the entire company, to ensure all employees are aware of the standards. Having one-on-one follow-ups with sales members can assist with tracking those goals and ensuring they are not burdened with unnecessary barriers.

“If you are an agency owner and your producers report in to you, you should be having one on ones with those members,” Neil says. “Tracking should be done weekly to see what the progress is toward their goal.”

As company goals are achieved by specific sales team members, bonus plans can be issued as incentives. “Bonus plans shouldn’t just be for showing up at nine and leaving at five or keeping your desk tidy and clean,” Neil says. “It really should be tied to the incentives of the organization and when the company succeeds everybody in the company gets to reap the benefits.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.