A CONVERSATION WITH MELISSA WILDER
In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan interview Melissa Wilder, soliciting her advice on operational excellence and how to keep the peace between account managers and producers. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How Melissa stays focused despite onslaughts of requests for her attention
- Why producers and account managers see the world so differently
- How to get them to work as a team, for the good of the entire agency
Society seems to have become more litigious, but the people who work in insurance understand this better than almost anyone. They’ve watched insurance become less about protecting from loss and more about protection from lawsuits. When she decided to major in Risk Management and Insurance at the University of Memphis, Melissa Wilder thought she was abandoning her dream of becoming a lawyer. Little did she know she would “become more like a lawyer every day.”
Today, Melissa is a Commercial Lines Account Manager at The Crichton Group, where she used to work together with Ryan. It is there he saw how reliable and efficient she was, and he brought her onto the Digital Broker Podcast to find out how she keeps it together in today’s challenging business environment. Like so many account managers around the world, Melissa goes to work every day knowing that a single oversight opens the door to backlash. And yet, the parts of the day that she dreads the most don’t encounter with this kind of tragedy, but with the mundane, soul-sucking tasks that are familiar to many of listeners of this podcast. (5:16)
Every day, Melissa puts together a to-do list, and every day, the list falls apart. Distractions pour in. Things that ought to have taken ten minutes to end up taking an hour and a half. Even good news brings its own headaches. A client will close on a real estate deal requiring massive coverage and forget to involve the agency until the last minute. Producers pester account managers with things that need to be resolved, like, right now. All of this has forced Melissa to discover focus-saving measures or develop her own (7:10). Tuning out email for a while does its part, as does a day or two of remote work, “which is fabulous,” she says. (We did a whole episode about remote work here.)
(14:05) The tension between producers and account managers has become so infamous, it dominates much of the discussion. Fortunately, if anyone is fit to weigh in on it, it’s Melissa. Before becoming an account manager, she was a producer for ten years. She knows what life is like in each role and isn’t partisan to either one of them; if anything, she’s an example of how they can and should coexist.
It isn’t obvious why the interests of producers and account managers diverge. Both are trying to keep the client happy—but they have different, though not irreconcilable, ideas about how to do it. A producer will promise a client that any question will be replied to within an hour, but this is madness from the account manager’s point of view. Some requests, especially from larger clients, require hours, maybe days of work. This is not to downplay the importance of speed, of which we’re big proponents here at The Digital Broker, but as Ryan points out, “All the cool, frictionless stuff we talk about doesn’t matter if the coverage isn’t right.”
Keeping a client happy is a team effort. Account managers see what producers don’t—and vice versa. “The best producers I have ever worked with are the ones who know their accounts,” says Melissa. “They get it. They know the coverage. They know the insured inside and out, and they’re able to go to the account manager and talk about the big picture. They set realistic expectations with the client: ‘You might not have this within an hour, but you’ll have it tomorrow, and it’ll be correct.’’’ Setting a proper pace for the account manager isn’t merely wise or considerate; it is critical for the survival of the agency. One mistake equals several ramifications, creating setbacks that end up affecting everyone.
So what’ll it take to foster harmony between account manager and producer? A good old-fashioned conversation doesn’t hurt. Take a day. Go hang out. Ask how you can work together as a team. (21:16) Steve suggests taking it a step further: involve the account manager in meetings with the client, as he used to do during his days as a producer. This way, the account manager develops her own relationship with the client and advises as to which expectations are sustainable in the long-term. This is beneficial to the producer, too. Lest we give off the impression that we’re biased in favor of account managers, let us not forget that producers are famous for frequently being too awesome, wanting to do everything for the client. But it’s hard to scale when you insist on doing everything yourself. Handing some of the work to the account manager, and empowering the account manager in the process, frees producers to go generate business elsewhere.
Producers who have come up through the ranks elsewhere in an agency don’t usually struggle with this big-picture view—which is why, in Melissa’s opinion, the best way to attract, develop, and retain great employees is to provide in-depth training from the get-go (26:55). Explain the coverages and how they work; it’s unfair to expect anyone to thrive otherwise, to think big-picture when they’ve barely been shown a thumbnail. “I know everybody’s worried about time and filling that spot and getting new people going,” Melissa says. “But they won’t ever go at the pace you want them to if they don’t have that foundation. It is worth the time and the investment.”
For all the talk about big-picture, Melissa can’t resist going to bat for her team: “Tip your account manager!” But this is just a joke. The team is the agency, as she’s the first to admit. “The best working relationships I’ve ever seen in my career are when people work together as a team. Treat your account manager as a part of your team.”
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