Friday, February 4

The Mystery of Third Avenue, mediocre food, and a surprising revelation

I left the house at the unaccustomed early hour of 6:15 for the conference in Rockland County.  Being unused to driving at this hour I wasn’t sure what sort of traffic conditions to expect. It would be nice if the conference weren’t so far away, but Rockland is a reasonably central location given the various local offices that attend. To my pleasant surprise Expressway traffic was moving briskly most of the way through Suffolk County.  Shortly after crossing into Nassau the overhead signs warned of some congestion ahead, so I took the Northern State/Grand Central Parkway as an alternative.  It moved very well all the way into Queens, at which point I took the Clearview Expressway to the Whitestone Bridge.  Once again there were no delays, though I noted with more than a little displeasure that the toll on the Whitestone is now up to $6.50 each way.  Combined with the $8 eastbound-only toll on the George Washington Bridge I was looking at a ridiculous $21 in round trip tolls.  But hey, someone has to pay so the transit workers and cops can retire at disgustingly young ages with enormous pensions.

Despite my toll-related grumblings I was pleased to note that I was in the Bronx less than an hour after leaving home.  At this pace I’d be early to the conference.  Of course, my pace was about to change, and not in a good way.  No sooner did I get onto the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) than traffic slowed to a near-stop.  It took over 45 minutes to crawl the next few miles.  The one thing I was hoping is that traffic would speed up once I got to the Third Avenue exit, for reasons I’ve never been able to explain that often seems to be the case.  The Cross Bronx doesn’t widen at Third Avenue, and exiting volume doesn’t seem nearly enough to have measurable effects on traffic flow, but for some reason getting to the vicinity of the exit can make a huge difference.  Whatever the reasons, traffic today indeed got much more tolerable at Third Avenue.  The rest of the drive was more or less uneventful, though because I took the lower level of the George Washington Bridge I found to my surprise that I didn’t have direct access to the Palisades Interstate Parkway and had to make a short detour through the streets of Fort Lee.  One thing that displeased me a bit was that the walkways at the scenic overlooks on the Parkway weren’t cleared.  Normally, you can park in a small lot (which was cleared) and then walk about 25 feet to the wall at the top of the cliffs.  The view is spectacular, with the river 200 feet almost straight down, but I had no desire to clump through the snow.

When I got to the conference venue, a large upscale hotel, around 8:45, I was not pleased to see that the continental breakfast was almost gone even though it was supposed to be served until nine.  At least I could look forward to lunch, as when we were at the same place a few months ago the food was really good.  Wrong again!  There was grilled chicken that seemed almost entirely devoid of flavor, ziti that had been boiled a few minutes too long and was just crossing the line into mushiness, and mixed vegetables that were underdone and too crunchy.  I dislike using sports metaphors, but one is clearly indicated here: the hotel’s food service department had dropped the ball on this one.

The conference itself wasn’t bad, things moved more quickly than usually is the case.  Its definite highlight came during a breakout session that discussed business canvassing.  Most agents engage in two main types of activity, contacting existing customers via lead cards to try to sell additional products, and business canvassing.  A show of hands made it clear that most agents spend a lot more time on the former activity than on canvassing.  I certainly do.  This is not surprising in the least, as it’s a lot less scary dealing with people who already know the company than going around to strange businesses and dealing with condescending gatekeepers (“let me take your card and I’ll pass it onto the office manager”) and occasional hostility.  What came as a hugely surprising revelation to me, and no doubt to many other people too, is the fact that according to some research at the home office, business canvassing actually has a higher success rate than does contacting existing customers.  In other words, a given number of canvassing contacts is likely to lead to more sales than the same number of contacts with existing customers.  I never would have guessed this to be the case.  One thing I did know is that the commission rate on most policy types is much higher for sales to new customers (as would result from canvassing) than for sales to existing customers.  Some bonuses also require a certain percentage of sales being to new customers.

Putting this knowledge into practice is another matter.  For a variety of reasons it’s easier to go business canvassing in pairs, especially for newer agents.  That could be difficult for me, as the other four agents in my managerial group all have many years’ experience and quite understandably would prefer to canvass alone.  I might be able to go around with an agent from another group in a different territory, I’ll have to ask my manager to see if that could be arranged.  Clearly, however, I’m going to have to break out of the “comfort zone” of dealing mainly with existing customers, especially now that we have minimum production quotas.  I’m also thinking about some of my recent sales and how much higher my commissions would have been had I sold to new people.

Getting home from the conference wasn’t easy, but was somewhat less eventful than the morning’s trip.  I got onto the George Washington Bridge without much trouble, and traffic across the span was heavy but moving at a reasonable pace.  There were some worse delays near the ramps to the Major Deegan Expressway and (yes!) on the Cross Bronx, but they weren’t nearly as bad as in the morning.  I took the Throgs Neck Bridge (same extortionate tolls as the Whitestone) to the Cross-Island Parkway to the Long Island Expressway.  Once again, the slowdowns were mercifully brief, and once I got into Nassau County there were none at all.  The trip home took just under two hours, about 20 to 25 minutes less than in the morning, though to my slight dismay all the driving left me a bit too worn out for the gym.


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Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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