In this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds and Melissa Wilder look at the ways account manager performance is evaluated. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- Why there’s often a communication problem between account managers and the rest of the team, and what the agency can do about it
- What a day at an account manager’s desk typically looks like, and how there’s no getting through the grind without passion
- How humility is key for building the teamwork that your agency relies on
- When it’s time to put the metrics aside and judge account managers as people
Long-time listeners of The Digital Broker are beginning to wonder whether we’re too biased in favor of account managers, so here is something to dispel those suspicions.
Some account managers stink.
Operational excellence doesn’t play favorites, and neither should your organization. Everybody has to be held accountable to the same standards of excellence—this means calling out substandard performance and separating the stars from the slugs, whether they’re producers, account managers, or anybody else. Yes, it’s true—we stand up for account managers a lot because they deserve it since they’re frequently downtrodden and undervalued. We would love it if this led to account managers being taken more seriously and maybe coming into more employment opportunities. But to hire an account manager, you have to know what to look for. How do you measure account manager performance?
It is commonplace to go for the hard metrics, the same way you’d judge a producer by the number of dollars they’re bringing in. But that doesn’t work so well with account managers. Retention and renewal rates are so much a team effort that they’re hard to trace back to any single account manager. The size of an account manager’s book of business doesn’t clarify things any further, since different coverages have different-looking books—and if an account manager is doing a great job, the client is paying fewer premiums, shrinking the book’s size.
Focusing too narrowly on metrics can backfire in another way. It is not all that difficult for two account managers to turn in the same retention and renewal rates—except that one account manager does only the bare minimum and relies on the rest of the agency to pick up the slack, whereas the other account manager goes to the ends of the Earth for the client. If you’re too disengaged from what is happening at the desks, you totally miss that distinction. So you compliment both account managers equally on their identical results, unwittingly embittering the second account manager, who works harder and knows it.
You don’t want an account manager who slacks off and coasts on everybody else’s work. You want an account manager who’s good at strategizing, prioritizing, and getting things done. This means looking for qualities that are not as easily reducible to neat little percentages on a sheet of paper but can nonetheless be discerned if you look carefully enough. We’re talking about communication, passion, and humility.
Let’s start with communication. The best account managers are attuned and engaged. They articulate their issues clearly, in a way that everybody can understand, and they know when to do so in accordance with everybody else’s workflow. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? And yet account managers are frequently the most alienated people inside an agency as if they speak a different language than everybody else. This cannot be the norm at any agency that wants to be even modestly successful, let alone operationally excellent.
In defense of account managers (here we go again), if you had the feeling that nobody in the agency understood or even cared much about your issues, you would check out, too. Apathy toward account managers is widespread, the result of most agency principals having started out as producers. How many principals do you know who started out as account managers? Right. Somebody among the leadership has to be familiar with account management so that there is some avenue of communication between the two.
This is not to give free rein to account managers to do whatever they want. Keep your guard up against those account managers who B.S. their way through their jobs with jargon and other abstruse concepts they know you won’t understand. Yet another reason to cultivate fluency in account manager geekspeak among your leadership team.
Understanding passion requires an appreciation of an account manager’s day-to-day—particularly come renewal season. The truth is that the majority of the renewal process takes place at the desk. (7:40) Account managers are always working on renewals. Who do you think is pulling out the client files at exactly the right time, checking all the information for accuracy, polling the team about whether to remarket, balancing carrier and client issues, weighing different ways to structure programs, determining whether other carriers have better programs to suit that client, sending out change requests… There is no getting through this kind of labor without a considerable amount of passion, not so much for the work itself, but for the client and the client’s best interest. This is why account managers used to be on the road a lot more, meeting with clients face-to-face—a practice we recommend revisiting.
Different people showcase passion differently, but we want to see account managers who ask questions and come up with ways to satisfy clients. We do not want to see new hires who sleepwalk through the training process because they think they have an easy desk job to look forward to.
But there’s a flipside to passion: stubbornness. Producers are typically the ones portrayed as smug, but there are some pretty fierce know-it-alls among account managers, too. Anyone who’s ever welcomed an account manager fresh from another agency is likely to know what we’re talking about. It is nice when a new hire is so passionate about the job that they’re recommending different ways to do things based on how they were done at their previous agency, but this can be taken too far. At some point, you gotta take that account manager aside and explain that this is how we’re gonna do it here because this is what the team expects you to do.
If that account manager takes offense and retreats into an island of passive-aggressive isolation, it is time to find another account manager. If there’s something that we do more often than tout account managers, it’s to stress the importance of teamwork. This brings us to the third and final quality: humility. We’re the first to recognize how swamped account managers can get, but being busy is no excuse to shy away from responsibility. No account manager is bigger than the agency. When the team needs you, the team needs you. So you’ll fall behind on your work; it happens. Everybody falls behind. Everybody stresses out. But we pull it all together for the good of the team. It’s what keeps us going and enables us to overcome any challenge.
Ultimately, the best account managers are the ones who feel inspired and empowered. Metrics are useful, but they don’t get account managers to feel that way; people do. More specifically, leaders do. (21:10) It is tempting to rely on metrics alone when judging someone because they’re easy, they save time, and they require little to no personal investment. But as with any kind of investment, you will only get out of it what you put in. This is why we recommend taking the time to understand account manager issues, even if it means shadowing account managers for a day or two, getting into the trenches with them, figuring out what success looks like from their point of view. “My boss told me to do x, because, metrics” might motivate an account manager into doing a passable job. But the path to operational excellence is steamrolled by attitudes such as “I am going to get x done because my boss believes in me and has shown it. Maybe afterward, I’ll start on y.”
Please consider sharing this episode with the account managers you know. We would love to hear what you think. Head on over to the Digital Broker LinkedIn group, where we routinely discuss issues facing account managers and insurance agencies more generally.
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