Friday, October 29

Two very pleasant traffic surprises

It was off to an all-day company meeting at a hotel in Rockland County.  For the geographically uninitiated, that is the part of New York State located west of the Hudson and directly north of New Jersey.  It was about a 75-mile drive each way, but it wasn’t the distance that concerned me so much as the traffic I’d be likely to encounter.  My route would be Long Island Expressway-Cross Island Parkway-Throgs Neck Bridge-Cross Bronx Expressway-George Washington Bridge-Palisades Interstate Parkway.  The parts that concerned me the most were the Long Island Expressway (I’d be traveling in peak direction both way), the Cross Bronx Expressway (always heavy traffic), and the bridges (toll booth delays).  I left home at 5:45 in the morning, figuring I’d be lucky to make it to the meeting for the Continental breakfast at 8:30.

I needn’t have worried so much.  Traffic on the way to the meeting was much, much lighter than I ever would have expected.  There were only a couple of relatively minor slowdowns on the Long Island Expressway, both in Nassau County.  It probably would have been much worse in another hour or so.  There was no wait at the Throgs Neck Bridge toll booth), and even the usually brutal Cross Bronx Expressway was at least semi-tolerable.  I made it across the George Washington Bridge without incident, there’s no toll in this direction, and the Palisades Parkway was fine.  Because I was so far ahead of schedule, with the breakfast not starting this early, I stopped at the Rockefeller Overlook to walk around a bit and enjoy the view from atop the cliffs.  It’s pretty cool, looking straight down 400 feet to the river.  I arrived at the hotel just after eight, discounting the scenic-view stop my total driving time was just under two hours.

Returning home after the meeting, which was tolerable as these things go, was only slightly worse.  I was delayed about five minutes by a crash on a local road in Rockland County near the Palisades entrance, but when I got to the toll booth for the George Washington Bridge I had no wait at all.  Eastbound traffic on the bridge itself was sluggish, and the Cross Bronx was worse than it had been in the morning, but I had no delays across the Throgs Neck, and the Long Island Expressway was heavy much of the way but always moving at 40 mph or better.  The return trip took about 2:15 to 2:20, with no stops.  All in all, my fears of endless delays and non-moving traffic proved incorrect.

I’d have to say the worst part of the trip was the exorbitant amount I spent on tolls, $5.50 each way on the Throgs Neck and $8 eastbound-only on the George Washington.  These bridges are 45 and 75 years old respectively, so the construction bonds have long since been paid off, and maintenance costs surely don’t account for more than a small share of the toll revenues.  Drivers pay through the nose in order to subsidize mass transit systems – the city subway and buses, Metro North, and the LIRR in the case of the Throgs Neck, PATH in the case of the George Washington.  While quality transit is essential, the fact remains that New York-area transit systems are horrendously mismanaged, with multiple redundant layers of bureaucracy, meddlesome politicians, rapacious vendors, and of course greedy unions sticking their grubby little fingers into everything.  Motorists are the ones who suffer.

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Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 5:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, October 28

The (temporary) therapeutic value of success

Still really dragging this morning.  My energy level was low, if not quite in yesterday’s abyss.  I didn’t do much of anything until about noon, at which point I made a couple of calls on active customers in the vicinity.  No luck to report, but I didn’t mind too much because in the early afternoon I was meeting another agent for a scheduled sales call at a business.  He had set it up and said it looked very promising.  We met at the office around 2:00 and I took the opportunity to replenish some of my form supplies.  Because agents for ABC Insurance work on the road most of the time, our cars are in essence mobile offices.  We have to make sure that we have enough of the 20-odd brochures and forms that might be required for any particular sale.

We headed off to the sales call, which is in western Suffolk, not in our usual territory.  It was all right to go there because it had been based on a referral from an in-territory customer.  The call was at a family-run smaller business, and went just about as well as could be imagined.  There was very little selling involved, as the family members knew pretty much what they wanted and were all set to go.  They paid for the entire year for each one of the several policies they bought, in some cases paying cash.  The other agent and I left with some pretty nice commissions, and all I could think of is how one super-easy sale like this almost makes me forget all the “let me think about it” calls.  Almost.

The energy boost provided by this nice-and-easy sale proved transitory.  The other agent and I went back into our usual territory for some lapsed-lead canvassing, though what with heavy rush hour traffic we didn’t get started until almost 5:30 and therefore didn’t have long to go until it got dark.  Darkness makes it much harder to find street numbers, as I noted the other day.  After about 90 minutes we called it a day and I headed back home.  I really wanted to go to the gym tonight, as I wasn’t able to go yesterday and won’t have the opportunity tomorrow, but there was just no way.

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday, October 27

Really dragging

I don’t know what I had today, but whatever it was, it was not pleasant.  My energy level was several notches below that of roadkill.  Walking across the room was like wading through waist-deep, slowly hardening concrete.  How I made it into the office for a 9:00 training session, I’ll never know.  Heavy Expressway traffic did not make matters any easier.  According to the clock, the session lasted only a little over 90 minutes, but it seemed to be at least three to four hours long.  I went back home and basically just hung around, so worn out I didn’t even try to make any telephone calls to prospective customers … though if I had, of course it would have been voice mail after voice mail.  Later in the afternoon I regained just enough energy to do some more canvassing with another agent.  We were planning to go from about 5 to 7:30, figuring that more people would be home.  After getting a couple of decent-sounding possibilities early on, we had to call it quits by 6:30 or so because it was getting almost impossible to find addresses.  Most of the streets in the area were unlighted, with heavy tree cover, and it was very difficult to see street numbers – the GPS isn’t quite precise enough to lead one to the exact address.

Clearly, I was in no shape for the gym today.

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, October 26

Vanished into thin air

Today was similar in some respects to yesterday.  While there was no morning meeting in the office, I spent the later morning and much of the afternoon doing lapsed-customer canvassing with the same agent as yesterday, in the same town as yesterday.  We concentrated mainly on business rather than residential calls. Some people are home during the workday, but not really enough to make residential canvassing worthwhile. Not that today’s results were particular good.  We made a fairly lengthy presentation to a business owners whose policies had lapsed about a year ago.  There had been a change in the method of collecting premiums, and he said that he had never been notified of the change and therefore did not pay the premiums in time to keep the policies from lapsing.   I later found out that the home office had sent three advance notification letters to all policyholders who were to be affected by the change.  Most likely, this customer did not bother to open his mail.  In any event, he gave us a bit of an attitude, even though he had not suffered any losses and therefore was not adversely affected by the lapse in any way.  It came as absolutely no surprise when he responded to the presentation with – yep, you guessed it! – “let me think about it.”

Despite this failed presentation I wasn’t too concerned, as I had two sales calls scheduled for the late afternoon and the early evening.  One of them looked quite promising and the other was at least a reasonable shot.  Trouble is, a “scheduled” sales call is very, very different from an actual sales call.  Both customers ending up canceling at the last minute.  One of them said something about being busy with work and the other didn’t give a reason.  One thing I learned very quickly in this business is that meeting with the insurance agent is pretty much dead last on most peoples’ priority lists.  It ranks a few steps below cleaning the goldfish tank or sweeping leaves off the patio.  Unless, of course, they have suffered a loss and want help with filing a claim, in which case they want you over right away! The end result is that I didn’t make anything today, fortunately tomorrow’s schedule looks more promising.  Time will tell.

Gym: nothing much today, just a 35-minute hill course on the stationary cycle at 19.1 mph.

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 25

Just like a movie cliche

Imagine you’re watching a movie about a Hollywood mogul or Silicon Valley tycoon or other filthy rich person.  There’s a view of his house, and it shows a large modern structure with a circular driveway.  There’s a fountain in the middle of the circular driveway, a Rolls Royce parked off to the side, and a large window over the front door shows an enormous chandelier hanging from the 25-foot-high foyer ceiling.  You would laugh at such a cliched scene.  There’s no way such a stereotyped house would exist in real life.

Think again.  I spent the afternoon canvassing with another agent in a community in central-eastern Suffolk County.  It’s farther west than my usual territory, which is fine and dandy with me because it’s also closer to home.  We were calling on lapsed customers, which again is a change from my usual routine.  The other agent explained his preference for calling on lapsed vs. active customers, and I must say that it makes sense.  Let’s say that you’re trying to sell a policy costing $50 per month.  A lapsed customer who’s now paying nothing is more likely to buy this policy, yielding a total outlay of $50 per month, than is an existing customer who’s already paying $50 per month for a different type of policy, who would be paying $100 per month after adding the new one.  In other words, going from zero to $50 is more tolerable for most people than is going from $50 to $100.  Also, so long as the lapsed customer has been lapsed for at least a year, he or she will be treated as a new customer and the commission rate for most policy types will be substantially higher than for a sale to an existing customer.

In any event, we used the other agent’s GPS to find an address in a newer subdivision near the edge of town.  I could tell that the subdivision had been built on an old farm field, as none of the trees were taller than about twenty feet.  We followed the vaguely annoying synthesized voice (“Turn left in 500 feet”) to the address … and saw before us a massive house that fit exactly with the description above.  Circular driveway, check.  Fountain, check.  Rolls Royce (albeit not a new model), check.  Gigantic chandelier, check.  Now, keep in mind that ABC Insurance’s products are aimed primarily at working class people.  We don’t sell the sort of high-end stuff that appeals to investment bankers and hedge fund managers.  Clearly, this former customer (his policy had lapsed about six months ago) was an exception to the usual working-class rule.  I headed to the front door with the other agent, concerned that I might violate some sort of unwritten protocol governing interactions with the very rich.  Not that I found out, because no one was home.  We were half expecting a tuxedo’ed English butler to answer the door, but that did not transpire.

In any event, the lapsed-customer canvassing went about as well as could be expected, no on-the-spot sales but two appointments for sales calls later in the week.  The other agent and I will be working together at least a couple days a week from now on.  There are six agents in our managerial group, and four of them have many years’ experience.  As the only two newcomers, we figure that we’ll do better together than working singly.  In fact we’re going to do some business canvassing starting at noon tomorrow, to be followed by more lapsed-customer canvassing.

I was really bedraggled and run-down for much of the day, in fact when I got to the office at nine in the morning for the regular weekly meeting another agent said I looked as if I’d just finished a long workday.  By the afternoon, and the start of the canvassing, I was more energetic, but still not quite ready to consider going to the gym today.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 4:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, October 23/Sunday, October 24

Finally.  After being more than a little lackadaisical about weights, this weekend I had two nice sessions.  Saturday started out with some work-work, namely trying to call some existing policyholders to see if I can come over and review their coverage … and, of course, sell them something new if their situations so warrant.  ABC Insurance started selling its current type of disability policies only a couple years ago.  There are many thousands of people just in Suffolk County with the old-style policies, which have low benefit levels and are paid only for particular forms of disabilities.  Many of these policyholders benefit from buying new-style policies, as they will get additional protection.  In any event, I got a couple of (hopefully) promising leads for the coming week.

As for the weights, I had a leg session on Saturday, and got back to doing trap bar deadlifts as well as machine work.  Trap bar deadlifts: 4 x 5 x 225.  Seated calf raises: 4 x 12 x 150.  Life Fitness seated leg curls: 4 x 8 x 185.  Horizontal leg presses: 3 x 6 x 450.  Kettlebell swings: 2 x 10 with a 50-pounder.  Sunday was a bench press session: 6 x 135, 4 x 185, 4 x 205, 2 x 5 x 225, 4 x 4 x 225, 3 x 3 x 225.  That’s 35 total reps at 225, not bad by any standard.

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday, October 22

Customer service

Being an insurance agent is not all about selling.  Dealing with claims and other customer service issues is also a major part of the job.  Today was a prime example, as I spent a couple of hours dealing with a customer’s disability claim.  It was much more complicated than usual because he had three policies that applied, all having been purchased at different times in the past and all having different terms and benefit levels.  Eventually everything got straightened out, and he should start getting some fairly substantial payments in the next couple of weeks.  Now, I didn’t get any money for helping with the claim, but on the other hand if any of the customer’s friends or family members might be in the market for disability insurance he’ll be sure to recommend me.  In addition, I spent part of the time at his workplace getting information on the disability-causing incident, which means that his co-workers know what I do.  I’ll stop back at the workplace in a week or two, and with any luck will sell a policy or two.

Not much else happened today, as I had to be back in the office in the early afternoon for another training session and a review of the week’s sales.  It was fairly late in the afternoon when I got out, too late for any meaningful business canvassing, though I made some calls to existing customers.  Not much success to report, unfortunately.

Gym: still on the stationary-cycle routine, this time I did 40 minutes on a programmed hill-climbing routine, at just under 19 mph.

Published in: on October 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, October 21

More driving, better results

Day Two of Driving All Over the Place.  At least this time it wasn’t like yesterday’s proverbial wild goose chase.  It started out with a fairly short training session at the nearby fast food joint.  I know this sounds hopelessly downscale, but it makes sense.  There aren’t many places where five or six people can meet for an hour or so without having to plan it out well in advance.  Most libraries have public-use meeting rooms, but those require advanced sign-up.  The local mall’s food court might work, but it isn’t as conveniently located.  This particular fast-food joint is centrally located for the agents who attend, has plenty of room, and no one bothers us.

After the meeting I headed off to a sales call in a semi-rural part of central Suffolk.  I say semi-rural because even though the immediate neighbors of the customer’s house are woods and farm fields, there are several housing subdivisions within no more than a half-mile.  One sort of gets the idea that if and when the housing market picks up significantly the nearby farm field’s days will be numbered.  Not that I was concerned with such issues, my focus was on the sales call.  It turned out very well indeed, with a sale that should yield a nice commission.  It was my first sale of a life insurance policy. In addition to this sale, I spoke with a friend of the policyholder’s wife who was present, and may be able to sell something to her too.

Once this sale was completed, I headed back home for a couple hours before heading out to an evening sales call in eastern Suffolk.  Google Maps wasn’t particularly helpful, showing the area in which the customer’s house was located but not the actual street.  Trying to find the street in the dark was not easy, but fortunately I had left plenty of time and despite the delay made it to their house right on time.  Being late in this business is a very big no-no.  As things turned out, I didn’t end up making  a sale this time, but helped the customers with making a claim on their existing policy and dealing with some billing issues.  Providing helpful service of this sort lays the groundwork for future sales even if it doesn’t produce immediate results. All of this took over 90 minutes, so by the time I got home it was close to 9:30 and I just didn’t have any enthusiasm for going to the gym.  Looking back, it would have been better to have gone during the time I had off in the afternoon.

Published in: on October 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wednesday, October 20

A tale of two geese

My two-day string of doing relatively little driving came to an abrupt end today.  I started out with the weekly new agents’ meeting in the office, arriving barely in the nick of time on account of heavy Expressway traffic and wretched luck at traffic lights.  Lateness is not tolerated, and for the last mile or so I kept an anxious eye on the dashboard clock.  Following the meeting I went back home and didn’t do much of anything for the next few hours.  In the mid-afternoon, however, it was off to the roads for what turned out to be almost 150 miles of driving.  I did basically a counterclockwise circuit of eastern Suffolk County and called on 14 active or recently lapsed customers.  Or tried to call on them, I should say.  Several of the addresses turned out to be nonexistent, with no matching house numbers to be found, and a couple of the houses I did find looked abandoned.  The telephone numbers were either no longer in service, or wrong numbers.  While it might be possible to track down some of these “missing” customers using contact information from the customer service department, it probably isn’t worth bothering.  For all my driving, I only succeeded in making contact with two people.  One of them didn’t want to be bothered.  The other seemed interested at first, but when I tried to schedule a time to meet with her and her husband she said they had no time at all because their kids are involved in sports activities.  “I have your card, I’ll call you,” she said.  A reasonable guess is that the chances of my receiving such a call are about one in five hundred quadrillion, give or take a million.

Oh, the two geese?  Well, today I went on a wild goose chase, and earned a goose egg.  Hence the two geese.

Gym: I’m still having some shoulder soreness, not anything that bothers me at other times but which does interfere with bench pressing and pull-ups.  Accordingly, I did more work on the stationary cycle, 40 minutes on a hill-climber course at 18.8 mph.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 2:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, October 19

Yesterday, the sequel

Today wasn’t what I’d call an eventful day.  Just like yesterday, I spent the morning in a training session, the difference was that this one was with my manager and three other agents rather than an office-wide session.  It was in my managerial group’s office-away-from-home, namely a fast food restaurant.  Hey, it’s free and reasonably spacious, and as long as we order an occasional coffee or burger the workers don’t mind.  We started the session at around 9:30 and finished up shortly after noon.  The restaurant was starting to get a bit crowded by then, it’s possible that we would have overstayed our welcome if we hadn’t left.  As for the training, it was reasonably useful, and I got some helpful tricks of the trade from a veteran agent.  If a potential customer calls to cancel a scheduled sales call, and then resorts to the hackneyed old “let me check my schedule and get back to you” line, this agent will come right out and ask the customer if he or she is really interested in getting together, or is just trying to say “no” in a roundabout manner.  I’m not quite ready to go that far.

Following the session, I went home and just hung out for a couple hours, and then started making telephone calls.  Tomorrow I’m planning to be on the road for several hours, so I figured using the phone would suffice for today.  I had gotten more lead cards at the training session, mostly active or recently lapsed customers residing in the county seat in eastern Suffolk.  I didn’t have much luck contacting people, a mixture of voice mail and not-in-service numbers.  Some of the latter ones were for active customers, which is somewhat surprising.

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 5:15 am  Leave a Comment