As recently as 2005, tenured agent sales productivity lagged behind prior years' results and new agent productivity, and was not contributing to the organization's need for double-digit growth. Extensive research to determine the underlying cause of this downward trend in performance identified several key drivers of agency success, including the vital role the district manager plays with the agent; existing ineffective training that was not consistent in its content, timing, or delivery; and incentives, compensation, expectations, and training for both agents and district managers that were not integrated nor aligned with needed behaviors for growth and success.

This led to the creation of Farmers Journey to Success (JTS), which was introduced in February of 2006 to increase the sales performance of selected insurance and financial services agents while simultaneously upgrading their managers' skills in coaching and facilitation.

JTS provides the district managers with the tools needed to manage agent performance through:

  • improved coaching relationships
  • increased expectations
  • incentives and recognition
  • increased compensation opportunity
  • additional agent training

To accomplish the primary objective, a unique three-week cycle was developed that includes knowledge transfer, skill building, implementation, and coaching and consultation.

This three-week frame strikes a near perfect balance between the organization's need for immediate business results and the need to allow 21 days for behavior change before introducing new concepts.

Journey to Success

The primary audience for the training program is tenured, full-time agents and their employees. These agents are independent contractors, not employees of Farmers, and are responsible for running all aspects of their business. Agent participation was optional and began with an informational introductory meeting, followed by a business planning session and 13 contiguous three-week coaching cycles resulting in a 10-month program.

A typical three-week cycle for an agent includes completion of a 20-minute online training module on Monday or Tuesday of week one. The module delivers the knowledge for successful execution of skills related to the cycle's topic. Then one to two days later, agents participate in a small group meeting - a success session - with their district manager to review the business activities, experiences, and results accomplished from the prior module; skill development of material related to the current module; and implementation planning for the newly acquired skills.

Every success session includes an opening exercise; interactive skill-building activities; suggested approaches and materials for agency staff knowledge and skill transfer; and additional online resources for tools and learning materials.

Agents are encouraged to return and implement their plan and new skills immediately. During week three, their district manager provides additional coaching and consultation assistance to further reinforce the new, desirable behaviors in agents and their staff.

The three-week frame is supported by a document completed prior to the first session, called "My Success Strategy." The agent, with his district manager's assistance, conducts a gap analysis of current performance and desired performance. Plans are made and are revisited in success sessions to determine if additional changes in agency operations are required based upon newly acquired skills or knowledge.

District managers

District managers play a crucial role in agent development because field training is one of their major responsibilities. Farmers created a centralized training program at the corporate university to align district managers with the revised training program for tenured agents. This learning event was designed to help district managers drive performance of tenured agents.

The district manager's curriculum was designed to enhance the performance of new and tenured agents. District managers are provided with a complete business development system to give them the tools to help new agents achieve a fast start as an insurance and financial services representative.

"Increasing our district managers' facilitation and coaching skills was key to delivering a different organizational result," says Jim Harwood, AVP of field training. "Thus, the secondary goal of JTS was to improve these skills."

JTS was designed to help district managers implement a systemized coaching and training approach to achieve an improved level of performance from tenured agents. While extensive training and development materials were available for new agents, little existed for experienced agents.

An agency gap analysis and planning document - My Success Strategy - and a district manager facilitator guide were created to guide experienced agents through training. The training begins with the agent completing the My Success Strategy document with the assistance of the district manager. Through the process of completing these documents, the district manager and agent build a relationship as coach and protg. Potential performance gaps are identified. Agents identify their income goals and steps needed to reach new performance levels.

Return-on-investment

Participating JTS agents significantly outproduced both their counterparts as well as their own prior year's performance (2005). This is a direct business result that can be tracked to greater revenue for the organization. Behavior changes are both immediate and long term. A jump in sales productivity (approximately 6 percent) was seen within just two months of program launch, and ultimately landed at 7.6 percent nearly one year later.

"The original JTS approach proved so successful, it began to embed itself as a part of our culture," says Harwood. "Our chief marketing officer made JTS a foundational component of our organizational 2007 marketing plan and execution strategy. This included expansion of the original 13 module series to include three additional modules surrounding life insurance, as well as eight additional modules targeted at supporting the small business market."

These new modules, which launched late in 2007, paid off. A comparison of 2007 small business sales production for the same period in 2008 showed significant improvement for the nearly 2,500 participating agents:

  • Policies-in-Force: more than 42 percent increase over 2007
  • Premium: more than 52 percent increase over 2007.

District managers started integrating JTS as a foundation in the new agent training that they deliver to more than 8,000 agent candidates. In 2008 Farmers re-engineered the district managers' formal new agent training program using the JTS approach and concepts as the genesis for the program.