A career in insurance sales can be a real gamble even for someone with prior sales experience. While the most successful agents in the nation make more than $1 million annually, many of those who sign on to sell insurance wash out within a year.
While life insurance sales has a reputation for being an easy field to enter, that’s not always the case. At New York Life Insurance Company’s South Florida office, managing partner Greg Jensen reviewed applications from 1,300 people in 2007, but he hired only 45 as sales associates.
“A lot of companies try to convince job candidates that their company is great and everyone is going to make $100,000,” Jensen says. “We ask: Is this a suitable career for the candidate? We do an extensive job of interviewing to help the candidates know if this is the right career choice for them.”
Most Likely to Succeed
Who transitions well into insurance sales? Real estate agents, mortgage loan officers, teachers, copier sales reps and auto sales specialists, Jensen answers. “The ones who have the ability to position themselves and network, the good ones who are finding they need a recession-proof career and those with deep-rooted relationships within their communities have the best chances for success,” he says.
Sonia Montana, a New York Life agent in Miami, perfectly fits that description. She left her job as a Realtor in 2005. “I had a big database of clients that trusted me and liked me,” she says. “I knew I could offer them a different product.”
The hours in the insurance industry can be better than those in real estate, mortgage lending and car sales, all of which regularly require salespeople to work evenings and weekends. “As Realtors get more involved with their families, they want the flexibility we offer,” Jensen says.
Varied Backgrounds, Common Traits
Successful agency sales reps come from outside the sales arena as well, says Dan Strubberg, director of agency recruiting and development for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois. “They’re people who strive for recognition, who are competitive, who like the risk of a business venture where they are thriving on the connection of success and hard work and wanting to help people solve the risks of everyday life,” he says.
Other professionals who often make the transition to insurance sales well include nurses and bank branch managers. Some educators take the job with plans to work as agents for a year to 18 months and then go on to become full-time career-development educators, Jensen says. Bank managers who want a similar executive position in insurance may begin their insurance career as agents and then move up to the management track. At Jensen’s firm, a partner or manager who was an agent can earn between $60,000 and $100,000 a year to start (with the beginning salary equaling the last 12 months of commission).
But Not All Sales Are Equal
When people make a transition in sales, they assume that because they sold in one arena, they can sell in another just as easily. But that’s not necessarily true of the insurance industry. The transition can be especially difficult for those coming from an inbound sales position — for instance, selling home improvements to customer leads generated by telemarketers. Those who are used to creating their own customer leads via personal networking and marketing will find the leap to insurance is a shorter, surer career hop.
To succeed, a new agent must generate a minimum amount of sales during the first year. At New York Life, that bottom line is $18,000 in first-year commission, not counting the subsidies New York Life pays its new agents. At the end of the first year, about 40 percent of those Jensen hires will be able to hit that target. The 60 percent who can’t are let go. That may seem like poor odds, but that retention rate is significantly higher than the insurance sales industry’s overall retention rate of 12 percent to 14 percent.
In the final analysis, those who succeed in insurance sales come from many backgrounds but share a few common traits. They’re self-disciplined and entrepreneurial, they can play through rejection and they’re proactive network builders.
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