Thursday, July 29

Making lemonade out of lemons

Not having any agent-shadowing on the schedule for today, I went to the gym in mid-afternoon.  It was my intention to do some bench pressing,  but on the very first warmup rep at 135 there was some relatively minor pain in my right shoulder.  No idea what could have caused it.  Although the pain was fairly trivial, I knew that it would be much worse at heavier weights, and decided to skip benching for today.  Making the best of a bad situation, I decided to do some lower-body work, including deadlifts and squats.  As it’s been a while since I’ve done either exercise I kept the weights and the total rep counts fairly low.  Next time I’ll pick up in both respects.  Deadlifts: 4 x 6 x 225.  Squats: 3 x 6 x 225.  Life Fitness seated leg curls: 3 x 8 x 185.  Precor leg extensions: 3 x 8 x 190.  Seated calf raises:  3 x 12 x 140.

Oh, speaking of lemons (well, not quite), I found out that the cost of transmission repairs on my car will be either $1,350 or 1, 100, depending on whether the flywheel has to be replaced.  Wonderful.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday, July 28

Not much to report on today; my car was in the shop, so no gym trips and no further sales training.  Monday I’m starting in earnest.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, July 27

Why being in sales can be so frustrating

Right from the start I knew that selling insurance (or anything else) can be frustrating.   It’s not just the all-too-frequent rejection.  You’re dealing with humanity in all its fickleness and illogic, in a way that people not in sales seldom experience.  Today I accompanied the same experienced agent as yesterday on two evening sales calls, and the second call was the sort of experience that could drive some people crazy.  It almost drove me crazy even though I was along solely as an observer and wasn’t getting any commissions. 

Both calls were within a couple of miles of one another, in reasonably nice neighborhoods in central Suffolk.  We arrived at the first house only to find that the prospect had been called into work and wasn’t home.  All was not lost, however, as her 20ish son was there, and said that he was interested in some of our products.  He ended up buying three inexpensive policies, the commissions on which totaled to about $200.  I got to see the experienced agent in action, and tried to remember as much as possible of the things he said and the ways he presented the information. 

After about an hour we headed over to the second appointment.  In this case it was a couple with two small children.  They seemed quite interested, asking a whole array of questions.  Although most sales calls don’t last much over an hour, this one stretched out for about an hour and 15 minutes what with all the questions.  When it finally came time for them to decide, the wife (who was taking the lead role for the couple) said she wanted to think it over for a while.  Words of doom.  She said that her job was looking more and more insecure, and as long as things were so uncertain she was unwilling to take on any further obligations.  The agent tried three different “overcoming resistance” techniques, including a last-ditch one that is to be used very sparingly.  Nothing doing.  As we left, the agent said that he’d call back in a week to see if the couple has come to a decision, but he told me outside that in his judgment (speaking as a successful agent with many years’ experience) there was almost no chance that they would buy anything. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not for a moment question the couple’s reluctance to buy any insurance given the wife’s job uncertainties. It would be very difficult for the family to get by on just the husband’s salary.  My point is that knowing we were there on a sales call, why did the wife wait until the very end to tell us that they were in no position to buy?  Knowing the situation from the start would have saved everyone more than an hour.  She certainly couldn’t have thought that we were giving away policies for free.  Situations like this make it clear the despite the highly evolved brains which modern humans possess, we don’t always think in a logical or sensible manner.

Gym: Day off.

Addendum: It now occurs to me that the wife’s story about her feared job loss may have been fake or at least exaggerated.  Her initial response, when the agent asked her if they were ready to buy, was that she wanted to think about it overnight.  Only later, after the agent made the first couple of attempts at overcoming resistance, did she bring up the job situation.  She then went on to say that she’d have a better idea about her job in a week.   Her initial request to think about it overnight doesn’t make much sense given the further developments.  Waiting until the next day wouldn’t have clarified her job status, given that she went on to say that she’d know about the job in a week.  One also would think that the job-related objection would have been her first objection, rather than the wishy washy “I want to think about it overnight” line.

This new possibility actually reduces my dislike of the wife and, to a modest extent, of humanity in general.  Perhaps she did not let us stay for an hour giving an elaborate presentation, when she knew all along that they weren’t able to buy anything.  The alternative explanation is that she was genuinely interested, and financially able to buy the policies, but after hearing the full presentation decided that the policies weren’t what the family needed.  Which is perfectly understandable, insurance isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal.  After the agent’s attempts to overcome her initial resistance, she then brought up the job issue as a way of ending the discussion without having to give a firm and final “no.”  One thing I’ve learned, people hate to say no.

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 4:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, July 26

Finding the Fountain of Youth

Remember when you were back in first grade, and those third-graders were like enormous monsters looming over you like redwood trees?  It illustrates how our perception of age is a relative thing.  A 30-year-old would feel ancient at a Justin Bieber concert and like a child again at bingo night in the VFW hall.  Today was my first weekly meeting at ABC Insurance’s local office, and even though I’m old and feeble in objective terms, at this meeting I was a young whippersnapper once again.  There were 16 agents in addition to me, which of course was a huge contrast from working at XYZ Insurance in an office with at least 300 agents.  Of these 16 agents, there were three men who seemed to be in their 20’s, a man and a woman in their mid-30’s, a woman of about 40, and a man and a woman who were in their middle to late 40’s.  These of course are my guesses, but I believe they’re reasonably accurate.  The other eight agents, in other words half of the total, seven men and one woman, were all in the 55+ category … in a few cases very plus.  Chances are some of them are getting pensions from other employers.  Never before have I worked in such a superannuated atmosphere.  It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. 

Although my formal training isn’t starting for another week, the manager wanted me to go on an appointment with another agent, just to observe.  This agent is a member of the “mature” category, though he certainly hasn’t lost a step, considering that he made over $3,500 in commissions last week.  The appointment was in a working-class area of eastern Suffolk.  I followed the other agent, a few minutes behind him, and after encountering a huge construction delay on the William Floyd Parkway pulled up in front of the prospect’s house.  The other agent’s car was there, although he’d already gone inside.  Perhaps he should have waited for me, but that may just not  be his style.  It doesn’t matter.  In any event, I knocked on the door of the house, and waited … and waited.  A couple of minutes elapsed, I knocked again a few times, no answer.  I had the other agent’s phone number ( he didn’t have mine), but decided against calling.  It might have been that the prospect didn’t want another agent present, even as an observer, because it would seem like he or she was being double-teamed and put under too much pressure.  I’ve heard of such things.  Because I was going along only as an observer, with no commission split, I decided that it was best not to call and risk putting another agent’s sale at risk, so I just left.  Later in the day I spoke with the other agent, it turns out he was talking with the prospect on the back patio where they couldn’t hear anyone at the door.  He figured I had turned around earlier because of the traffic jams.  He has two more appointments tomorrow evening, and I’ll be going with him on those instead.

Gym: what with a sore throat and a general rundown sensation, I almost didn’t go, in fact had I not missed three days last week I definitely would not have gone.  As it turned out I just had a short session, a one-mile run on the treadmill at 5.2 mph followed by 15 minutes ellipting.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 3:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Sunday, July 25

A fairly easy day at the gym today, a one-mile run on the treadmill at 5.2 mph followed by 30 minutes on the stationary cycle at 18.8 mph.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, July 24

As I headed off to Ultimate Fitness in the late afternoon, for my first visit in two weeks, I was anticipating the worst.  Today was miserably hot and humid, and one thing about Ultimate Fitness is that they’ve never mastered the art of air conditioning.  Fortunately it wasn’t like that at all today.  It was pleasantly cool in the uncrowded gym, and I had a decent session: a 2-mile run on the treadmill at 5.2 mph, followed by 20 minutes ellipting.

Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, July 23

A tale of two insurance companies

It was off to ABC Insurance’s quarterly district meeting in Westchester County.  An interesting thing is that my hours out of the house were nearly the same as when I was taking the train into Manhattan, leaving at 6:30 in the morning and returning just after 7 pm.  Traffic conditions were much better than yesterday’s horror show.  I encountered a few slowdowns on the Expressway in the morning, but even at their worst I didn’t go below 25 or 30 mph.  There were no significant delays on the Throgs Neck Bridge or on I-287.  About the only exception was the Hutchinson River Parkway, which was fairly slow-moving after the junction with the Cross County.  Still, after yesterday I wasn’t about to complain, and I got to the meeting so early I ended up sitting in my car and reading for almost a half-hour.

The meeting itself wasn’t bad, fairly typical for events of that sort, but the attendance levels made the differences in scale between ABC Insurance and my former company, XYZ Insurance, starkly apparent.  This meeting was for a district covering the city, Long Island, the northern suburbs at least as far as Newburgh, and the northern half of New Jersey – in other words a vast area with a population that must be close to 20 million.  Despite that, there were at most one-third as many people in attendance as at last May’s meeting for XYZ Insurance’s Long Island office, which serves an area of 2.6 million.  I knew that ABC Insurance was far smaller than XYZ Insurance, but now I realized just how much smaller.  Hey, I’m still quite hopeful that I’ll do much better.  As far as I can tell, an agent should do about $1,000 in commissions during a typical week, and every so often should have a really good week that goes as high as $1,500 or $2,000.  Even a $3,000 week is not unheard-of.  I also found out that although my formal field training won’t start for another week, I am to report at 9 this Monday and should be coming in for at least a few hours every day this week.  No commission income, but I am getting a (very modest) salary for now.  The return trip was similarly uneventful, with perhaps a slightly slower trip across the bridge.

Oh, for the really important stuff, the food at the meeting (held at a decent if not upscale hotel and conference center) wasn’t too bad if not quite gourmet level.  There was your basic continental breakfast, and lunch consisted of make-it-yourself sandwiches along with things like salads and pasta.  What was most interesting is that sodas were displayed in glass-fronted refrigerators rather than in the ice buckets one usually encounters at such events.  It was a nice touch because the cans weren’t wet and dripping.

Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, July 22

The most disastrous Diet Pepsi detour in recorded history

Today’s final session of sales training was quite the anti-climax.  The trainers did not collect the final exam everyone had worked on last night, instead the 12 trainees all took turns reading answers.  As it had been a take-home exam with the answers easily found in the underwriting manual, no one seemed to have any trouble giving the correct responses.  What really took us by surprise is that no one was called upon to recite the entire sales presentation from approach to close.  Instead, each trainee had to recite just one part of the presentation.  I struggled a bit when I was called upon the recite the correct response to use if a prospect says “I’d like to think about it for a couple of days” (a response is necessary because if you just leave, and call the prospect in a couple of days as he or she asked, your chances of actually making the sale will be significantly less than zero).  Nonetheless, I made it through, and after some inspirational words the trainers handed out certificates of completion and we were on the road a little after noon.

And I stayed on the road for FAR too long.  Everything started out okay, to be sure. I took I-90 to the Taconic Parkway and was making very good time.  Just as I crossed from Columbia County into Dutchess County, the good times came to an abrupt end thanks to my urge for a Diet Pepsi.  I got off at the Route 199/Rhinebeck exit, figuring there’d be a nearby c-store or gas station where I could indulge the aforementioned urge.  There wasn’t anything of the sort in the immediate vicinity of the exit, except a long-closed gas station, so I headed west on 199 toward town, figuring that I’d surely come across something, right?  I kept driving and driving, past farms and scattered houses, and with each mile I figured that it would make less sense to turn back … after all, I’d already gone this far, and I was sure to encounter a suitable establishment around the next bend.  This went on for about ten miles, including a turn from Route 199 onto Route 308, until I found myself in the middle of Rhinebeck.  There’d definitely be something here, right?  Wrong again!  Rhinebeck is no ordinary town, but an achingly cute upscale “village” full of bistros, overpriced boutiques, massage studios (as opposed to, you know, massage parlors), antique stores, and so on.  No doubt there’s some town of the same ilk near you too.  People in Rhinebeck surely abhor Diet Pepsi and similar beverages as full of toxins (why people worry about toxins puzzles me, considering that poisoning ranks very, very low among causes of death in America), and in any event all the parking spaces were filled with Range Rovers and Lexus LX470’s and whatever the Mercedes SUV’s are called. So I kept driving east, my frustration level growing by the minute, until I began seeing signs for the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge over the Hudson.  Having gone so far from the Taconic, and at this point not being under any time pressure, I figured I’d cross the bridge and pick up the Thruway on the other side.  Which is what I did, though it took longer than anticipated to reach the Thruway, and I finally got my Diet Pepsi (actually, a Diet Coke, but close enough) at the Modena service area.  I also got a “personal size” pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Uno.  It cost an exhorbitant nine dollars along with the Diet Coke, and worst of all the ‘za was basically just bread with a minimal amount of cheese and sauce, with one or two tired-looking and paper-thin pieces of pepperoni. 

As I headed south on the Thruway in Rockland County, I spotted a sign for an EZ Pass service center at Exit 14.  I keep meaning to get an EZ Pass, to make my passage through bridge tolls quicker (if not cheaper), and this looked like the perfect opportunity.  Getting off the exit, I found myself in very heavy traffic near the Nanuet Mall, and more to the point couldn’t find the EZ Pass service center.  All of the signage seemed to have pulled a disappearing act.  After a few miles I saw signs for the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and decided to head south on it to the George Washington Bridge.  Many moons ago, back when the Model T was just hitting the market, I commuted on the Palisades for a few months and remembered it as a pretty nice road.  Indeed it was, and I also enjoyed a brief stop at the State Line Lookout with spectacular views from the top of the cliffs.  There were no delays onto the George Washington Bridge, and although traffic in the other direction was horrendous I made it onto the Major Deegan Expressway and across the Triboro Bridge (on grounds of principle I refuse to use its ridiculous new name) with no trouble at all.  Even with the Diet Pepsi Detour, it looked as if I’d make it home in a little over four and a half hours.

Was I ever wrong.  No sooner did I get onto the Grand Central Parkway than traffic came to a dead stop.  It took just about an hour to cover the next five or six miles.  How slow was that?  You do the math.   It turns out there was a broken-down car in the left lane just past Citifield (this is one new name I will use).  It’s amazing how the blockage of one out of three lanes can cause such apocalyptic delays.  Traffic was heavy but moving, more or less, onto the Long Island Expressway and then on the Expressway itself … until I got a few miles into Nassau County, when the same ol’ dead stop routine returned for an encore performance.  This time it took an hour to cover about ten miles.  Does that count as progress? What happened is that much earlier there had been a truck crash on the Exit 41S ramp on the westbound side.  Note that I said an exit ramp, no blockage of the Expressway itself, and it was on the other side.  Irrelevant to me, one would think.  Not quite.  You see, peoples’ lives are so unfulfilled that they have to slow down or even stop their cars so they can get a good long look at work crews cleaning up some debris, in the process causing massive delays in both directions.  My already minimal faith in humanity took another massive hit.  While traffic sped up thereafter, the damage had been done.  I got home almost seven hours after leaving Albany, utterly presposterous for a 250-mile trip.  It took every bit of self-control not to get off the exit for Pilgrim State Hospital and see if the admissions office was open.  Needless to say, I was in no shape for the gym.  Had I resisted the urge for a Diet Pepsi and stayed on the Taconic, I probably would have made it home hours sooner.

Published in: on July 24, 2010 at 12:46 am  Comments (2)  

Wednesday, July 21

A favorite bit of childhood doggerel, updated

One more day and I’ll be free

From this school* of misery**

No more pencils,*** no more books,****

No more teachers’***** dirty looks.******

* = a corporate sales training program is only a “school” by the very loosest of definitions

** = it’s been tough, but calling it  “misery” would be a might bit overdramatic

*** = one trainee agent who filled out a practice application with pencil really caught a lot of you-know-what for doing so.  Company policy is black ink only.

**** = do looseleaf binders count?

***** = again, corporate trainers don’t really fall under the customary definition of “teacher”

****** = thankfully, there have been no dirty looks, even the hapless trainee agent who used the pencil got mild ridicule rather than outright hostility

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 1:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, July 20

Getting closer to the end

Another day and a half and this sales training will be done.  I’m pretty much done too.  After being out of college for many years I’m basically doing more than a full-semester college course in nine days.  A couple of the people in the training are just a few years out of college, and it might be less of a culture shock for them, but for me, it’s been like stepping into a different world.  The far-less-intensive training I got from XYZ Insurance earlier this year doesn’t count, as that was utterly trivial compared to this.  We have one more full day tomorrow, and then Thursday is a half-day session to end the training.  Friday’s district meeting in the northern suburbs will be a sort of class reunion (a 24-hour reunion?) as some of the other trainees will be there too.  I mentioned to one of the trainers about the one-week delay in my start date, and he suggested that I ask my manager if I can make some calls with one of the agents next week.  Even though I won’t be able to share in any commissions, that being applicable to assistant managers only, I’ll be able to keep my skills from getting rusty.  Newly acquired sales skills are definitely in the use-them-or-lose-them category.  I’ll have to see.

Gym: I’m about to head off to a study session with the other trainees, if we get out at a decent hour I might head off to the gym for some ellipting, otherwise it’ll have to wait.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment