Twenty years ago, I started in insurance as a personal lines customer service representative because I knew I didn’t want to sell. I’m not a salesperson. I like customer service, however, because I like people. So I was really happy to just be an agent who serviced personal insurance clients.

And then one day, the personal lines producer I worked with was out on vacation and a new prospect called in. Instead of taking a message as I normally did, I started talking to the person, and after some quoting and then more talking, I had suddenly sold an account. I’d like to say that I instantly became a salesperson by handling that one prospect. But after all these years later, I still am not a salesperson. However, I am a CSR who can sell.

Can Your CSRs Succeed in Sales?

I’m not alone. I am not a unicorn. The problem is that most CSRs are afraid to sell because they think that means they have to be a salesperson. They also are probably unaware that if they want to give the best service to their clients or potential clients, it requires selling some coverage.

To get CSRs to sell, there are barriers that have to be removed and ways to help them that differ from what you do to manage producers. From my own experiences and what I observed in the 35+ agencies I visited when I traveled the country as a consultant, there are five basic needs that must be met to help a CSR succeed with sales.

1) They need time to build relationships.

CSRs are great with people, but they prefer a slower pace and aren’t comfortable rushing the prospect or client through a barrage of questions. To a CSR, that equates to high pressure sales. However, CSRs are busy servicing, and to create that extra time, it is very important to provide them with the most efficient technology for their servicing duties.

If a CSR is overwhelmed with processing paperwork or outdated technology, they are much less likely to feel they have time to sell. I am still amazed at the number of agencies not utilizing dual monitors, agency management system upgrades like single entry and download, or the worst CSR time culprit of all–paper files. Give them the time they need to build trust and rapport, which will lead to sales.

2) They need more knowledge.

A basic understanding of the sales process is great, but that’s not the key. They need more knowledge of coverage and more knowledge of your markets. Often, CSRs get left out of meetings when company market reps come in the office to discuss their company’s offerings. Instead, you can include the CSRs. Some agencies only send producers to advanced continuing education, like designation programs. Instead, send everyone you can. Start the CSRs out with CISR or ACSR, then encourage them along to CIC and CPCU.

The more they know, the better they can sell because for CSRs, it’s all about offering choices and educating clients/prospects. “Helping a customer understand their choices and make an informed decision” sounds better than “selling something.” Fundamentally, it’s the same thing, right? Yes, but to a CSR with the knowledge to advise a client on what is available and how it can benefit them is more like customer service, which they already enjoy doing.

3) They need more guidance.

It’s a big jump to go from order taker to adviser. Order takers are never wrong as long as they take in the correct information. Advisers? They can flub stuff. Maybe say the wrong thing. CSRs don’t like being wrong – it goes against all that conscientiousness you hired them to exhibit. Coaching a CSR on how to talk to their clients so that it results in more sales can make a huge difference. Please don’t call it a script if you can help it, because the connotation there is that this is an act. CSRs want to be genuine, so instead call it optimal wording or something that helps them understand they are going to be serving their client better.

In addition to coaching and scripts (that aren’t called scripts), they also can use extra direction. If you set up a schedule where each week they should focus on discussing a different coverage, then they don’t have to think it up themselves. Or, if they are supposed to be doing renewal reviews that hopefully generate cross-selling or up-selling, make sure to give them a worksheet to follow. CSRs will be more effective at selling if they don’t have to decide what to sell when, but can follow a flow chart or procedure.

4) They need to get used to the word NO.

This one is probably the toughest. Once you get a CSR to start selling, they will eventually and repeatedly be turned down just like a regular salesperson. Except a producer isn’t daunted by the word NO, and either figures a way around it or moves on without a second thought. A CSR takes rejection a lot harder. The word NO is a wall they will avoid hitting at almost all costs. Training a CSR to keep asking questions even after a NO is helpful.

It’s important to the sale process for the CSR to understand when price is really the issue or when value is the issue. Obviously, if it is value, then they still have an opening to provide more detail on the coverage. It’s easy to accept “I can’t afford it” as a NO and more challenging to ask additional questions to determine if NO means NO. The more they hear NO, the better they will become at questioning why.

5) They need incentive to sell, and it may not be commission.

The good news is a CSR may not be motivated by money, because they are already getting paid to be a warm body taking car changes and answering billing questions. Why is that good news? You probably already have a producer getting commission for sales who most certainly is motivated by that money. Your budget may not be ready to start paying out commission to CSRs for smaller policies or up-selling additional endorsements.

How do you offer an incentive then, for a CSR that sells? Instead, create a point system where once they meet a goal or achieve a certain number of additions to policies, they can “cash” their points in for a day off or maybe a gift certificate. You may be able to negotiate gift certificates from one of your commercial clients at a reduced rate – especially from restaurants or beauty/barber shops who normally offer discounts in their regular marketing. Another idea is to mark off a prime parking spot near the entrance for “CSR of the Month” and use your social media to spotlight the winner of that month’s award.

Competition amongst CSRs can be motivating and keeping a dry erase board in an area of high visibility for employees where tallies or points are recorded can keep everyone engaged. Small prizes like coffee mugs, tote bags, and recognition pins are just a few things that could also serve as incentives. When in doubt, ask the CSRs what they’d like to see as incentives, and be prepared to offer more than one option depending on the number of employees involved.

Today, I am a commercial account executive. Those are fancy words to indicate I’m a CSR who sells. Consider changing titles and job descriptions if you are expecting your CSRs to sell, as it may help them to readily embrace their role.

Taking Your Agency to the Next Level

The reality in insurance agencies today is that everyone in the agency, from receptionist to CSR to producer, should be selling customers and prospects on why to stay with or buy from them. Not everyone is a salesperson, however CSRs already have the jump on selling by virtue of wanting to help people. Insurance is meant to help people and businesses through the unfortunate circumstances in life. Once they understand how they can help people by selling them what they need, the seeds are planted.

You can grow your CSRs into selling roles by helping them with their needs, which differ greatly from that of a producer. If you can meet those five needs, you’ll have CSRs who start selling successfully.

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