Monday, July 19

A welcome week off

A long day in sales training today, we started at eight as usual and didn’t finish up until nearly six.  It moved at a decent clip, as we covered quite a bit of ground.  Most of the day was spent on product training rather than sales training per se. Not long after the session ended I got a call from my manager back at the Long Island office.  I had been scheduled to start next Monday, July 26, but because the assistant manager who trains new agents has to go to a short-notice meeting at company headquarters, he wants me to start the following Monday, August 2.  Either way I’m still getting paid.  Having the extra week off will help me get some errands done around the house, which isn’t a bad idea because once I start I’ll probably be working fairly long hours.  Plus it’ll be nice having a (paid) week to unwind.  Another thing is that this coming Friday, the day after I’m returning from Albany, the manager wants me to attend an all-day district meeting in one of the northern NYC suburbs.  Mostly he wants to introduce me to other people in the company.  Spending all day at a meeting would be a bit of a drag if I were starting the following Monday as originally scheduled, but as I’ll have the extra week I don’t mind.  Besides, it’ll be nice meeting the people I’ll be working with.

Gym: 40 minutes ellipting, at a nice pace.

Housekeeping note: I went through my blogroll and deleted a few dead ones.  Once I get back from Albany I’ll probably get rid of a few more and add some new ones, but for now, say farewell to Alias Clio (last updated in December 2009), Rhubarb Pie (which announced last month that there’d be no new posts), and FeministX (now invitation-only, and I was not invited)

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 3:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Sunday, July 18

What a difference a week makes

It makes no sense at all.  Last week I left for Albany around 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon and encountered no significant traffic delays.  Today I left at just about the same time, and it was a nightmare of epic proportions.  No matter how hard I try, I just can’t think of any reason why there would have been so vastly more people on the road today than at almost the same time one week ago.  It’s not like this is a holiday weekend or that the weather is much better.  All I know is that the 50 or so miles to the Throgs Neck Bridge took well over two hours.  Traffic on the Long Island Expressway was heavy but moving well until around the middle of Nassau County, at which point it slowed to a crawl.  Periods of a few minutes spent at a dead stop alternated with periods spent moving at no more than 10 mph.  After over an hour of crawling along I finally got to the exit for the Cross Island Parkway, which leads to the Throgs Neck Bridge … only to spent something like 20 minutes on the exit ramp.  The Cross Island was nearly at a dead stop itself.  I finally got off at Northern Boulevard and made my way through Bayside, stopping at a deli for a tuna sandwich and a Diet Pepsi.  Eventually I made my way to the Clearview Expressway, which also leads to the bridge.  It was moving at a relatively decent clip, and to my surprise there were no delays on the bridge itself.   Of course by this point it was well after 7 pm.  I took the Bruckner Expressway to the Major Deegan Expressway to the Sprain Brook Parkway to the Taconic Parkway.  Traffic was moderate to heavy at least as far as Dutchess County, but it moved okay.  By the time I reached Columbia County, I was so fed up with highway driving I got off the Taconic and took secondary roads (IIRC routes 203 and 9) through Chatham and Kinderhook, getting onto I-90 just east of Albany.  My speeds on these secondary roads were just about as fast as I had been going on the Taconic, and even though the more circutous routing got me to my destination perhaps 15 minutes later than staying on the Taconic, it was a welcome break.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 3:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, July 17

It wasn’t that bad of a trip, all things considered.  Our training session was supposed to last until noon but ended about a hour early.  Considering we ran at least a half-hour late on Monday through Thursday hardly amounts to giving us a break.  I hit the road just after 11 and arrived home 4 hours and 15 minutes later, which works out to an average speed of 53 mph for the 225-mile trip.  That’s somewhat misleading, however, as my speed was anything but steady.  My route was  I87 – I90 – I787 – NYS Thruway Berkshire Extension – Taconic State Parkway – Sprain Brook Parkway – I287 – Hutchinson River Parkway – Whitestone Bridge – Cross Island Parkway – Clearview Expressway – Grand Central/Northern State Parkway – Long Island Expressway.  I made just two brief stops, one at a scenic overlook near the northern end of the Taconic to enjoy the view and one at a service area on the Hutchinson River Parkway to get a Diet Pepsi.  Neither stop was more than three or four minutes.  It took about ten minutes to get through the toll booth at the Whitestone Bridge and at least 30 minutes to drive another ten miles or so (possibly even less) to the Grand Central Parkway.  Had it not been for the maddeningly heavy traffic in that area I would have averaged at least 60 mph for the trip.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, July 16

Biology explains everything

While on lunch break today, a couple other new agents and I went to a nearby Red Lobster to pick up some takeout.  In the car on the way over I mentioned my sorry experience at XYZ Insurance with its pump-and-dump treatment of new agents.  One of the other agents had been a biology major in college, and said that the difference between XYZ Insurance and ABC Insurance is similar to the differences in reproductive strategies between insects and humans.  Insects produce vast number of eggs, but have no parental involvement of any sort, and only a miniscule percentage of the eggs actually result in adult insects.  Humans, in contrast, have very few offspring, but invest vast amounts of time and money raising them, and at least in developed countries the great majority of the offspring survive into adulthood.  But of course.  It all makes sense.  I am so glad to have left XYZ Insurance for ABC Insurance, after all I’m a human rather than an insect.

Training itself wasn’t too bad, and we actually got out at 5 pm as scheduled instead of running at least 30 minutes over.  I’m hoping that tomorrow’s session will be over by noon so I can get an early start back to Long Island.  Another agent, who had taken the train, may want a ride back to Queens, he’s right off the Queens portion of the Long Island Expressway so it won’t be inconvenient at all.  I’ll know tomorrow, it doesn’t matter either way to me.  What I’m trying to figure out is whether it would be better to take the Taconic Parkway or the Thruway.  Speeds tend to be lower on the Taconic, but it’s more direct and will eliminate any worries about toll-booth delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge.  I’ll decide by tomorrow.

Gym: 40 minutes ellipting at a nice fast pace.  While this Planet Fitness is generally a decent gym, the cleanliness of the locker room floor leaves a bit to be desired.  Fortunately, no one has ever actually died of athlete’s foot.  I think.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 2:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, July 15

Why sell term?

Once again back at the Kinko’s Fed Ex Office.  More sales training today, including more role-playing, though in the afternoon we started on some specific product training.  This is more interesting, especially because ABC Insurance sells several distinct products, while at XYZ Insurance it was basically just some variations on life insurance. Just before lunch we had a brief talk from one of the regional vice presidents.  In response to a question, he said that ABC Insurance doesn’t offer term life insurance because today there’s no way an insurance company using the traditional commissioned-agent model can make money selling it.  Term insurance is essentially just a commodity sold strictly on the basis of price, and therefore is best suited to be sold online without visits from agents.  It makes perfect sense, car insurance is pretty much the same these days, but it does make me question XYZ Insurance’s business model.  For all the endless blabber we heard about how XYZ specialized in comprehensive financial solutions for high-net-worth individuals and successful businesses, the fact of the matter is that much of the company’s business – at least for newer agents – involved selling inexpensive term policies, typically with monthly premiums anywhere from $20 to $40.  Hearing this helped dispel any remaining doubts I may have had about my decision to leave XYZ Insurance in favor of ABC Insurance.  Not that I had many doubts.

Too worn out for the gym tonight.

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  

July 11 – 14

It’s now Wednesday, July 14, and I’ve been up here in Albany for training since Sunday evening.  What with the computer having become indisposed right before I was supposed to leave, my Internet access is limited to what I can get through my cell phone browser … which, needless to say, is not particularly good.  For some reason I can’t get onto WordPress at all.  I’m posting this update from a nearby Kinko’s – sorry, FedEx Office.

Driving up to Albany on Sunday was a breeze.  Traffic on the New York Thruway and especially on the Tappan Zee Bridge was very heavy in the southbound (toward NYC) direction but surprisingly light in the direction I was going.  I’ve never been on the Thruway north of the I-84 junction, so a good percentage of the trip was on virgin territory.  So to speak.  It really wasn’t a difficult drive at all.  Now, driving in and near Albany itself is not so pleasant; while traffic isn’t heavy by Long Island standards, red lights seem to last an eternity and many drivers are timid to an utterly maddening degree.

As for the training, suffice to say it is very rigorous.  I’d have to say that it will be the equivalent of at least one full-semester college course shoehorned into nine days.  We start at 8 am, get 45 minutes for lunch, and finish up sometime after 5 pm.  And then there’s work to do at night.  The training center is in an office park near the airport, about a ten-minute drive from where I’m staying.  It is obvious that ABC Insurance adheres to a very different philosophy than did XYZ Insurance.  ABC hires fewer agents than XYZ, even considering that XYZ is a far larger company, but spends far more on training them.  I’m actually getting paid for this training, plus of course ABC is paying for travel and accommodations.  What’s surely a bigger difference, however, is that ABC expects most of its new agents to stick around for the long run, while XYZ knowingly churned and burned through agents at a dizzying pace.  Another agent in my training class had been with XYZ Insurance, in a northeastern state other than New York, and his experience had been as dismal as mine.  All I can say is that it will be a major relief to actually get leads from the company and not have to pay to participate in various publicity events.

Despite the long hours I’m still going to the gym.  Guests at the Best Western motel where I’m staying can use a nearby Planet Fitness at no charge.  I’ve been there three times so far, doing some upper-body work (bench and pull-ups) Monday and today, and ellipting for 40 minutes yesterday.  It isn’t too bad of a gym, though the two bench press stations aren’t enough and the heaviest dumbbells are only 75 pounds.  At least in the evenings it has a very young crowd, even younger than at Ultimate Fitness.  Anyone much over 30 is practically a grandparent figure!

As things stand, I’ll be attending training sessions all day tomorrow and Friday and a half-day session on Saturday.  Then I’ll make a quick trip home, returning late Sunday, and next week there’ll be training on Monday through Wednesday with a half-day final session on Thursday.  Whew.  The following Monday, July 26, will be my first official workday with ABC Insurance, though I won’t be going out on appointments by myself for at least a few more weeks.

Published in: on July 15, 2010 at 1:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, July 10

Doing some errands today in preparation for my training in Albany.  I really, really, really wish there were some way to go through the training without having to leave home for so long.  The local office of ABC insurance is too small to offer in-house training, I’m probably going to be the only person from the office being trained this month, but some sort of video conferencing might work.  Nothing of the sort is available, so it’s (reluctantly) off to Albany for me. At least ABC insurance does not require its agents to sell to people they know, which is actually quite uncommon in the industry.

Gym: a solid 40 minutes ellipting, nice pace and resistance.

Published in: on July 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, July 9

How non-surprising.  My second interview with DEF brokerage turned out to be a complete flop.  In fact, I did something for the first time ever and actually left before it was scheduled to end.  Just getting to the 9:30 interview near Exit 49 was a slight ordeal due to an early-morning errand and then some moderately heavy Expressway traffic.  Even so, I arrived on time, which turned out to be the end of the good news.  It was obvious that DEF brokerage would not be the place for me when I heard the sales manager’s answer to my question as to what the company does to help new agents generate business. He gave me all sorts of assurances that new agents are not left to their own devices, that the company stands behind them, and that managers go with them on the first ten or so appointments and offer constructive criticism afterwards, and so on.  Note that he did not say anything whatsoever about helping new agents with leads or other sales-generation methods. DEF will help new agents on appointments but doesn’t help them get the appointments in the first place.  That, of course, was the whole issue with XYZ Insurance.  I don’t know if DEF brokerage churns and burns through new agents at the same dizzying pace as XYZ Insurance, but it’s a very reasonable guess that they do.

It gets worse.  XYZ Insurance requires all new agents to come up with a list of 200 people they know.  DEF brokerage only requires 100 names, but they insist on far more detail beyond just the names, addresses and telephone numbers that XYZ wanted.  You have to list each person’s age, marital status, number of children if any, the context in which you know the person (neighbor, former co-worker, social acquaintance, etc.), the number of times you’ve seen the person within the past year, and finally, worst of all, your best guess as to how much money he or she has.  I couldn’t believe they’d want such intrusive information, which really isn’t any of their business.  Quite obviously DEF brokerage has the same Sell to People You Know/”warm market”/”natural market” fetish as XYZ Insurance.  Not for me.  Even though I was supposed to see another manager, I told the sales manager that DEF just didn’t seem like the place for me, and beat a hasty retreat.

So, it looks as if I’ll be going with ABC Insurance after all.  My main misgiving is the ten days of training in Albany.  I’m a creature of habit and like things nice and routine, and going away on business travel is definitely not routine.  Still, I don’t really have any choice in the matter, as the training is mandatory.  I will leave Sunday evening, return late Friday afternoon for the weekend, go back up the following Sunday evening, and return Thursday afternoon.  My first actual post-training workday will be Monday July 26.  At least all my costs relating to the training will be paid, except for my weekend trip back home, and once it’s done I’ll get a salary until I’m ready to make commissions.  And best of all, ABC Insurance may be downscale, but at least they don’t require you to sell to people you know.

I had more errands in the afternoon, and ended up never making it to the gym.  Fortunately, the Best Western where I’ll be staying has free day passes to a nearby gym.

Published in: on July 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, July 8

Not a particularly busy day today.  About the only task of substance I had to do was print out some documents ABC Insurance sent me and fax signed copies to the company’s home office.  One was a “welcome to our company” letter which was, I must say, a pleasant thing to see.  XYZ Insurance never sent me anything of that sort.  I went to the nearby Staples to send the fax but the line at the self-service fax machine looked endless, so I ended up sending it from a print shop not too far away.  Oh, speaking of XYZ Insurance, the branch manager sent me a certified letter acknowledging my resignation as an agent and officially canceling my agency appointment.  One thing not mentioned in the letter was anything about my request for a refund of the $225 I had paid for upcoming publicity events.  Not that I was expecting anything.

Tomorrow I have my second interview with DEF brokerage. I’m going to try to get more details as to just what they do to support new agents, specifically whether new agents get any leads and/or existing accounts.  I really do not want to turn down ABC Insurance’s offer, especially now that they took the thoughtful step of sending me the acceptance letter.  If I have any doubts whatsoever as to DEF’s commitment to new agent development, I’ll stick with ABC Insurance.  Of course this is all presupposing that DEF brokerage actually wants me 🙂

Gym: some more-than-decent upper body work.  Bench press: 6 x 135, 4 x 185, 4 x 205, 4 x 225, 4 x 235, 3 x 245, 1 x 255, 1 x 260, 1 x 265.  Hmmm, only 35 pounds away from the Holy Grail of 300.  Neutral grip pull-ups: 3 x 5, 3 x 4, 3 x 3.  Hammer Strength shrugs: 3 x 10 x 340.  One thing that concerns me about next week’s training in Albany is that I may not be able to get in any gym work.  Chances are the non-four-star motel where I’ll be staying does not have a fitness center.  Tomorrow I might check online to see if any of the nearby gyms have a short-term membership arrangement.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 3:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday, July 7

A couple of weeks ago, as my tolerance for XYZ Insurance was reaching its limit, I applied to an Internet posting for an agent job with DEF insurance brokerage.  I pretty much forgot about it until yesterday, when I got a call asking if I could come in today for an interview.  It’s located not too far from XYZ Insurance.  I arrived at 4:30, having dealt with only moderate traffic on the way, though I had to wait almost 30 minutes until the sales manager was available to see me.  While waiting I noted with some bemusement that 25 or 26 of the 27 agents whose names were listed on the directory sign were men (one had a gender-ambiguous name).  “Diversity” is a notion they haven’t quite grasped.  XYZ Insurance was more mixed, with about a third of the agents being women, though the very high turnover made it hard to be sure.  DEF brokerage is a bit unusual in another respect.  While most brokerages represent several insurance companies, DEF exclusively represents JKL Insurance.*  I’m not sure why this is so.

As for the interview, I’m still not sure whether DEF brokerage does more for its new agents than did XYZ Insurance … though it could scarcely do less.  One thing I found out is that new agents are shown the door unless they earn at least $18,000 in commissions during their first three months.  That’s a fairly trivial amount for an established insurance agent, but when you’re just starting out it may be difficult.  In any event, I took a 100+ question test on the computer, all sorts of questions about one’s sales philosophy and general attitudes.  Tests like these are commonplace in the industry, but unlike some of the other ones I’ve taken it was difficult to tell what are the answers the company wants. The sales manager called me back into his office once the test was done, as he already got the results via computer.  He told me that only people with scores of 75 (out of 100) or higher would get further consideration.  I had gotten 76, just above the cutoff.  Maybe I’m being too cynical, but something in the way he spoke gave me the impression that everyone they want to consider further gets told much the same thing.  Whether that’s true or not, they want me to come back on Friday for a second interview and another, shorter test.  

I’ve already agreed to start as an agent with ABC Insurance, with my training to start next week, so I’m unsure what I’ll do if DEF brokerage makes an offer.  It’s certainly far more upscale than ABC Insurance and perhaps even more so than XYZ Insurance.  Its core customer base consists of businesses and high-net -worth individuals.  To put things in retailing terms, my former company XYZ Insurance is like a high-end department store such as Neiman Marcus, my new company ABC Insurance is like a 99-cent store, and DEF brokerage is like a Rodeo Drive boutique.  What with my unsuccessful tenure with XYZ Insurance, I’m a bit wary of companies which target the upscale market, ABC Insurance’s Joe Sixpack focus may be a lot more to my liking.  One thing I’ll try to nail down on Friday is whether DEF brokerage pushes its agents to sell to people they know.  If that’s the case, I’ll definitely stick with ABC Insurance.  That company does not subscribe to the “natural market” fetish obsession monomania focus.

By the way, I still haven’t heard back from my former manager at XYZ Insurance about my request for a refund of the $225 I paid for upcoming publicity events.  She has not responded the e-mail in which I pointed out that it would be impossible for me to find replacement agents.  It’s really looking as if I’m not going to get anything back.

Gym: Today was not quite as torrid as yesterday, but Ultimate Fitness was, if anything, even hotter.  I very nearly walked out as soon as I entered.  After some checking I was able to find an elliptical directly under an air conditioning vent, with the immediate ambient temperature being just barely tolerable.  I ended up ellipting for 30 minutes, not ideal but better than nothing.

* = I had to skip from DEF to JKL because there actually is an insurance company called GHI.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 4:58 am  Comments (1)