Tips for Being a Successful Insurance Agent

How I chuckle 42 years later from the first time I was approached with the opportunity to become an insurance agent. My limited exposure to the industry led me to tell my friend that all you needed to be an insurance agent was a hard head and the ability to memorize a canned presentation. Little did I know how wrong I was, even though those two attributes did prove to be helpful in my career.

I had graduated from a well respected master’s degree program in public administration and had gone to work as an assistant to the city manager in a very innovative city in Arizona. My professors had done a good job of instilling a vision of how important our education would be in preparing us to manage the numerous functions found in city government.

In preparation for the first city staff meeting, my ego took a real hit when I was advised my role in that meeting would be to make sure the donuts and coffee were there on time and in abundance. Someone at school had failed to tell us that not everyone would be impressed with our academic learning and holding their breath in anticipation of our arrival on the job. It didn’t take long for that naivete to wear off and for the monotony of that position to dull my creative ambitions. Duties were clearly spelled out in the manual of job descriptions–pay increases were set by classifications of employees; showing up to work, taking breaks, and going home times were prescribed.

People who were politically motivated played the game of learning very well to  associated with the right people on and off the job. Some did enough on the job to stay under the radar when administrative decisions were being made so they didn’t run the possibility of expressing an opposing view to that which was prevalent with “higher ups.” They understood that the art of politics was the ability to compromise and that not all was black and white.

When my friend saw my frustration he persuaded me to visit with a friend of his who was a manager for the largest  property and casualty company in Arizona. I invited Al (the manager) to come see me on one of my breaks there at city hall. He did so and my life changed because of two things he mentioned in our fifteen minute conversation. “How would you like to establish how much money you can make?” And “How would you like to see your success depends solely upon you and no one else?” It also didn’t hurt my interest when I walked with him to the parking lot and he drove away in a brand new Mark V Lincoln.

For the next six months as I would visit with Al and then would go back to my job shuffling paper from one side of my desk to the other so I would have something to do the next day, those two questions burned deeply into my psyche. Could such a profession really exist where income had no ceiling and where, in fact, if you succeed you can say you did it on your own or if you fail you have no one to blame but yourself?

Unbeknownst to Al, I went to the offices of several of his agents just to see what the real world for these agents was like. I found everything he had told me was true. It intrigued me that these agents were so different in backgrounds, education, and professions yet were so successful in their new found careers. I soon discovered several key traits were commonly possessed by each one of those agents. Those traits are just as vital today even though some of the techniques have changed.

Here are some of those traits in no particular order which are time tested and, if followed, will help you in your decision to make a career change and see you through to a successful insurance sales career.

  • Be totally honest with yourself. Shakespeare was spot on with his character Polonius’ admonition to Laertes:

“This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act-1, Scene-3, line 78-82. Polonius to his son, Laertes)

Sometimes the siren sound of unlimited income and the lure of the total freedom you have with your time, can cloud the vision one has in determining if this is the right profession. This time of decision should not be a sales job on yourself.

When you have gathered sufficient information and knowledge of this potential new career for you and have observed successful agents who have built their careers, can you see yourself doing what they have done after ten, twenty, or thirty years on the job? Will you be willing to pay the price they paid knowing they didn’t “reach success by sudden flight but they while their companions slept were struggling upward in the night?”–a little poetic but you get the point. Are you willing to get a lot of scar tissue on your ego. Very few people are going to immediately embrace you and your newly found profession. If you can’t handle rejection, you best look elsewhere for employment. The risk is high but so are the rewards.

Some people compare the dropout rate of people starting career as insurance agents with other professions, i.e. doctors, lawyers, dentist, etc. and say the ratio is extremely high in comparison. They fail in their comparison to realize this is not a profession where those who can’t or won’t make it can be weeded out in school. This is a profession which is won or lost in the crucible of actual experience.

You need to answer each of the questions or concerns with candor and forthrightness. I am of the opinion if you come into this profession with your eyes wide open you have a much better chance of making it a success. You need to understand there is a lot of discipline, perseverance and hard work required before most will see any consistent fruits of their labors. I once heard a speaker say the three most important words toward success for the first seven years of an agent’s career is Survive! Survive! Survive! Well said.

  • Be coachable. Seek out individuals who have been successful in their careers and arrange to observe them in actual sales environment. Do like Benjamin Franklin in his advise on how to become successful. Follow that mentor around until you have ingrained in yourself the attributes of success found in that mentor. Copy them until they become yours. Avoid the temptation to just strike out on your own. Listen carefully to the training programs given by most successful insurance companies. Many hours of research and actual use of techniques have been done by them and you can get a jump on your career if you will take advantage of them. Most successful insurance agents have a pretty high regard for their ability to make things happen on their own, but to begin with having a little humility to incorporate time proven methodology may be the best ego builder you can experience.
  • Do what the failures won’t do. Stay away from doomsdayers! They will only suck the lifeblood from you with their negative attitudes and actions. Surround yourself with winners. They will teach you how to succeed.
  • Do the most unpleasant task of the day first thing if possible. Always measure an activity by how it will help you sell something. For example, only take another agent to lunch if you can use that time to learn something which will help you in your selling career. You will be much better off if you spend your “lunch money” on someone who will eventually buy from you.
  • Get to the office early and stay late if necessary. Establish a selling goal for every day and don’t go home until it is accomplished. Avoid being an errand runner. Because you are your own boss, it is easy to fall into the trap of picking up the kids from school, dropping off the dogs for their grooming, spending unscheduled time on the racquetball court, etc.
  • Memorize a script for each of your product lines of insurance and stick with it. It may seem canned to you, but if you stay with the presentation long enough it will become second nature to you and very natural sounding to your clients. By having a track to follow, you will not get into a selling situations where you wonder what you are going to discuss next. You will have the upper hand because while your client is answering your questions, you can prepare yourself for the next thereby keeping your sales presentation under your control and not theirs.
  • Ask for expiration dates on casualty insurance sales and faithfully follow up on them. Many insurance managers will request you have several hundred expiration dates on file so you will have someone immediately to visit with and you will have had the experience already of asking for appointments. These expiration dates are like money in the bank, so when you remove one be sure and deposit another to take its place.
  • Ask for referrals to help you get a quick start in your sales career. If someone is willing to refer you to another, it means they have developed a certain confidence in you. It in nice to have others interested in your success. Try this method for gaining referrals:

Jane, has what we have done here today been helpful to you?


Do you think this information could be helpful to someone else?


I would like to ask you to help me make this available to others as well but I do not know them. I promise I will treat them with just as much courtesy and respect as I have shown you.

Who do you know who just got married?

Who do you know that just had a baby?

Who do you know who just bought a new car, a new house, started a new business?

Who is a friend at work?

Who is manager of your department?

Who is your office partner?” etc.

When person gives a name, even if only the first name, ask, “Who’s next?” Once you have a few names, then and only then, go back and get additional information from them.

  • Do what you say you will do. If you tell someone you will call at a particular time, do it; if you say you will not use someone’s name when you have been referred to someone, tell the referral you were referred in confidence but that you will tell the referrer when you make contact and then the referrer can reveal themself; if you say you will send a particular correspondence, do so on a timely manner.
  • Respect someone else’s time. A good name and time are the two most precious commodities an individual has, so respect both of them. If you requested 20 minutes of someone’s time and you get to the end of that allotted time and the person is still engaged in the conversation, simply remind the prospect you have reached your time allowed and suggest you meet at another time to continue the discussion. If the client is interested, he or she will suggest you continue–but if not, they will be impressed you were a person of integrity and may refer you to someone else.
  • Dress appropriately. We live in a day of extreme casualness to the point where some styles become a real distraction to the selling process. They may be stylish but not appropriate for a selling interview. Men, avoid open button shirts and loud ties. Long pants are always appropriate while shorts may be okay in casual settings. Observe your clientele and dress accordingly. Ladies, avoid any style of dress which distracts from your sales presentation, be careful of necklines and hemlines. Even in social settings, conservative attire will help maintain your professional look. Again, observe your clientele and dress accordingly.
  • “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.” Not everyone wants to be treated in the same way. Get to know your clients so you know if they want just the facts and figures in order to make a buying decision or if they need more details and illustrations in order to make the same decision. Studying different personality types will pay big dividends in your selling experience.
  • Get into a battle mode. You must recognize you are not primarily an educator but you are a salesperson. You can have the best informed clientele, but if they have not purchased you have accomplished nothing. This is not a profession where problems are solved after the fact. Insurance must be in place before it is needed. Trying to purchase insurance during or after a fire is like attempting to order up a parachute while the plane is going down. I carried a signed life insurance application which had a waiver of premium benefit rider attached for some time to remind myself never to allow a client to get to the point where they would agree to the coverage but would pay the premium later. The day I was to collect the premium, the man fell off a roof and broke his back. True story. You must win or you and your client both lose. Nothing can leave a bitter taste in your mouth more than to have a client compliment you on your presentation but not purchase your solution. Call it pressure selling if you like, but it is reality. You can press awfully hard if you keep a smile on your face and a burning desire to win in your belly.
  • Recognize the value of your profession. No child has ever gone hungry when an insurance agent was able to fulfill his or her economic role. Many houses are still homes because an insurance agent spent time at a kitchen table reviewing insurance options with Mom and Dad. Businesses are still up and running because an insurance agent showed partners options for business continuation in the event of an untimely death. Spiritual salvation has been provided by an individual’s religious leader while economic salvation has been provided by a professional insurance person. How many meals continue to be provided, after the week or two of compassionate giving by loved ones, by resources made available by proper planning. I can tell you all you need is one experience seeing the miracle performed by the transformation of a life insurance policy to food, clothing, shelter, wedding gowns, education, and hearing the good nights of a child still in his or her own bed because Mom and Dad followed the advice of a life insurance professional.
  • Enjoy the journey. When you have earned the right to be on some exotic beach in the world or on an exquisite cruise, knowing you earned the right to be there as a portion of your economic incentive to spend the time and effort to care for your client, the sun will feel good on your face and pina coladas will be sweet to the taste.

Have a great career!!!