Insurance agencies are sales organizations. Their primary function is to form relationships with consumers, and by adequately providing for their risk management and insurance needs, turn those consumers into clients. What agency would claim their key purpose is to avoid good prospects, alienate, or ignore millions of people in the hope that the agency will never have to deal with anyone other than their current client base? Yet in their everyday operations, including sales and hiring, many agencies are sending exactly that message today. To paraphrase the old no-win want ad, whether we are talking prospective clients or employees, the sign these agencies hang in the window reads, "Only those like us need apply."
Potential clients and employees excluded by such practices can be categorized by culture, location or even gender. All are worthy topics that need addressing if the agency system is to successfully transition into the new marketplace. But to attempt to cover all the issues affecting all such groups is beyond the scope of this paper. For our purposes, we are going to narrow the focus to just one such group description - age.
There are opportunities lying in wait for agency principals who are willing to take a step back and see the upcoming generation of potential future staff and prospects as the true goldmine it represents. Whether viewed from the standpoint of future sales, finding new top producers, solving those problems in IT, or developing a long-term perpetuation plan, the place to run for relief is not your college buddy, or your partner who is two years older than you, but to people who may well be the same age as your kids.
Perhaps therein lies the problem. It can sometimes be difficult to understand that a potential heir to the agency may be a person "who looks like my daughter" or worse yet "reminds me of that slacker nephew of mine." Fair or not, accurate or not (your nephew may well be a slacker), perception is reality, and it's more than possible these attitudes are causing very real damage to your agency.
After all, weren't all of us told at our high school graduations "the youth are the future of our country"? Then they just might be the future of your agency, too - if you'll let them.
Age as a Significant Market Consideration
Much has been written about the various age groups in our country, mostly by advertising and marketing experts. The need for people in those industries to refine and target their campaigns has led to an endless focus on age demographics.
The value of such demographics may be based upon various facts or assumptions. For example, it is a generally accepted fact in life insurance that the vast majority of people move through a three-phase "human life cycle" based solely upon age. In the first phase (birth to age 22), most people are "net consumers" as they grow and move through the educational system. The second phase (work years until retirement) is the "net savings" years. Upon retirement, people quit working and begin living off of their accumulated savings, becoming "net consumers" again. While clearly an oversimplification, the value of this "human life cycle" assumption is that it accurately represents the broad economic life of the vast majority of people. Many highly successful life and financial services programs have been developed based upon the inferences and assumptions made from this human life cycle as to what the majority of prospects will be interested in at a specific time in their lives.
Age as a Determinant of Buyer Perceptions and Attitudes
As marketing and sales organizations, insurance agencies should pay no less attention to age distinctions as determinants of attitudes and perceptions. This is not meant as an endorsement for the abundance of stereotypes and literature that is largely pop psychology, but an acceptance of reality. Every salesperson knows prospects make buying decisions based upon the prospect's perceptions of need and value, not those of the salesperson. The heart of every successful sales technique or system is the need to uncover those perceptions and attitudes, understand how they will determine the prospect's decisions, and tailor the sales presentation to solve those perceived needs at a price the prospect considers a value.
Yet, this simple truth that consumers make purchasing decisions based upon their value systems and worldviews is often ignored by agents and agencies who treat every prospect as if they will respond in the same way to the same sales tactics and materials. For example, it would seem obvious that a veteran of World War II will not see the world through the same eyes as a 30-year old. One 85-year-old veteran of the war in the Pacific is a constant puzzle to his children over his continuing refusal to purchase a Japanese car. "Dad, the war ended a long time ago. It's just a car!" they laugh as they drive away in their Toyota. But what they fail to understand is at a very crucial and intense time of their father's life, his entire perception of Japanese people was derived from fighting soldiers whose intent was clearly to kill him and his friends. Having personally seen and endured the violence this enemy inflicted and having seen many of his friends killed and maimed in battle, he is now expected (by a bunch of kids who clearly have no clue) to just forget about all of this? While some veterans may have been able to do so, it is not the younger generations' right to judge him for his reactions and perceptions growing out of his past experiences. This is not theory to him, it is reality.
So how can an agency expect the 30-year old to respond to a given salesperson or sales technique in the same manner as this veteran has over the years? It can't, and yet every day many agents try.
This single example is meant to illustrate the literally thousands of life events that individuals experience and the inescapable fact that those experiences and the participant's reactions and perceptions to them create in large part the worldview of each individual. Share those experiences across a large group of people of common age and you develop a "generational" worldview or mindset that colors the entire group's perceptions and behavior. Acknowledgement of these differences and the development of an agency approach to sales and hiring that takes these factors into account is the key goal of this paper.
In Part 2, we will try to define and understand the various "generations" we face every day.