Click an image to view the story. For other samples, contact Mary Engel.
Special Olympian Leif Babcock prevails -- Focus on one extraordinary athlete from the 1999 Special Olympics Summer Games.
Something's Afoot -- An article examining the versatility of the gaited horse, written for horse-specific publications.
Mastering all the instruments -- In-house sales publication feature details the successes and styles of two high-performing insurance sales agents in Massachusetts. Scoreboard magazine design by Pike & Co. of Madison, Wisc.
Chairman's Challenge puts Stoffel behind Baars -- Special edition of in-house sales publication motivates insurance sales force with this story of two agents who were the first to win trips to Hawaii.
Expectations of the turnaround team -- Story of the unexpected successes of an inexperienced sales team from Indianapolis.
Turning metal into gold -- Profiles and how-to information from agents who found their commercial lines insurance niche with metalworking shops.
Special Olympian Leif Babcock prevails
Supplement to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Standing at the edge of the red gymnastics mat, 15-year-old Leif Babcock has an incredibly skeptical look on his face. His coach, Lath McLeod, has just described the next series of movements in the floor exercise they are developing for the upcoming Special Olympics State Games in Bozeman. Leif puts a hand on his hip, and stares at his coach.
Its 8:45 on a Monday morning in April at Sacajawea Middle School, just 10 minutes into the one-on-one gymnastics session. Leif arrived for the session outside room 139, pulling his oxygen tank behind him by the handle of its little wheeled cart. Coming up the carpeted hallway, he looked a lot smaller than you might expect for a young man who has come through such incredible adversity. Leif has Downs Syndrome, and a complex combination of heart and lung problems.
Lath McLeod helped him to unwind the long tube from the handle of the oxygen cart, giving him more room to maneuver, and they began their workout.
The first minutes of the session went smoothly, as coach Lath went over part of the floor routine by showing Leif a sheet of paper with a series of drawings: a little figure standing straight, stepping to the side with various arm motions, jumping, doing a handstand, and finishing with a rocking backward roll. Lath demonstrated the moves, then asked Leif to repeat.
But now theres a momentary standoff as Leif considers the next move required. He demands to see the paper showing the little figures.
"See," he says, putting his hand out for the paper. Its almost as if he cant believe thats really what he is supposed to do. He studies the drawings thoroughly, and then tries it. Pointed toe. Step forward, turn, arms out.
Lath shouts encouragement. "Yes! Thats it. Okay. Now arms out perfectly straight like an airplane." Leifs wings droop. "Straight, Leif! You can do it!" The wings perk up.
Now the routine calls for him to stand like a flamingo on one leg, and execute a little turn. Lath demonstrates. Leif starts to try it, but the long clear tube leading from the oxygen tank to his nose becomes tangled and distracts him. Leif stops, and says "Hard."
"Yep. I know its hard, but you can do it," says Lath. "Again!"
Leif gives it a halfhearted try. "HARD!" he insists.
But soon they work through that one. Move by move, the routine comes along. Sometimes Lath will refer to the diagrams, showing Leif what to do next.
Then they come to the handstand. Now Leif shakes his head, completely suspicious.
Lath says, "You go like this, see? What do you think of that?"
"Uh uh," says Leif. "No way." But hes smiling, laughing a little at the idea of refusing, and at his coachs matching look of disbelief that his student would think of quitting now.
So Leif tries the handstand, each time insisting more fervently that it is hard. But Lath knows this is a time to push for a little more, to ask for that next little bit of progress.
When Leif gets his hands down and his legs moving up, Lath lavishes praise, and they move on. Just one more thing, the back roll. They sit side by side. Lath can see that Leif is getting tired. After one good attempt, they call it a day. The workout is a success.
By the next session, two days later, Leif has made great strides. Movements are starting to flow together, and hes farther into the routine. He demonstrates unbelievable flexibility. Leif is gaining confidence, and leaving doubts behind. Its clear hell be able to navigate this floor routine.
After all, this is a kid whos made his way through so much already in his life. His path has been one medical challenge after another, and any of them might have been too much for him. One of the first was open heart surgery when he was just six months old.
* * *
It would be an understatement to say that Leif Babcock is very complicated medically. He was born with a hole between the four chambers of his heart. During his surgery at six months of age to correct that condition, the phrenic nerve was nicked, impairing the action of the diaphragm and the ability of the lung to reinflate. His chronic lung condition means that every cold, every infection, is potentially life-threatening. Physical therapists said he would never walk.
But this is a boy who has participated in the Special Olympics for seven years, in events including skiing, running, gymnastics, bowling, baseball and basketball. He loves sports, and his bedroom walls are covered with posters of his athletic heroes. He hikes, climbs mountains, swims and rides horses.
Still, none of these things came easily. He didnt start learning to walk until he was five. Leif must have oxygen nearby at all times, and he takes medication twice a day. It took the inimitable spirit of his parents, Linda and Clark Babcock, to guide him, to find a way to work within the limitations to create a full life.
"The Downs Syndrome was really the least of our worries, in some ways," said Linda. "Our first priority was to work to save his life."
Yet, in that work, they found that they couldnt abandon their own lives, and that on the contrary, it was more important than ever to continue to do the things that brought them joy. In the larger view, theres a wonderful rhythm to the story of their family life. They live in the house Clark grew up in on South Bozeman. Linda is a teacher at Longfellow, the school attended by her mom, her husband and daughter, Erin, whos now a freshman at the University of Montana. These roots in Bozeman make this their true home, but the pace and quality of life here also make it a safe and welcoming community for the handicapped. Special Education programs in Bozeman schools are top-notch, says Linda, and the local organization Reach continues to provide support and life enrichment into the students adulthood. Through the exchange program Partners of the Americas, Linda met with parents of handicapped children in Patagonia, Argentina, and gained even more appreciation of the Bozeman community.
"Not all that long ago, children with these challenges were simply hidden away or institutionalized," said Linda. "But thats such a loss of the gift they can bring. We just always brought Leif along, whatever we were doing."
While the first five years of Leifs life were a terrific struggle, Linda and Clark wouldnt make that struggle the entire extent of their lives. They continued the life and the activities they love, skiing, backpacking and hiking, and they found ways for Leif to be part of it.
"You have to keep living. You have to take even better care of yourself, to make sure that you will be there and be strong," she said.
Leif started working toward skiing with the help of Eagle Mount, the Bozeman organization that provides programs of physical activity for the handicapped. With his oxygen tank in a pack, he started out on the ski hill in a sled, then worked his way up to using a walker-like apparatus, and later skied in front of or tethered to another skier. For the last two years, hes been off the tether and going solo.
When he began hiking with his parents, Leif brought a new perspective, the view of the whole experience. On a given day, his hike might not include much walking at all, but might focus on all the treasures that can be discovered along the trail.
His mom feels thats a good metaphor for the experience of being around Leif.
"Hes just an incredible gift to our lives," she says. "He always brings you back to the moment. It stops you in your tracks. Theres no chance of getting so caught up in some other thing that you forget whats important."
She speaks of her son with enthusiasm and wonder, but also points out that hes a regular kid with the usual independent streak of a teenager. A suggestion from his parents might make him digs his heels in or say in that familiar exasperated-teenager way, "Mommmmm! Stop!" Hes determined and strong-willed. A couple of years ago at the Sweet Pea festival, he asked the police to arrest his dad for not buying him a pop.
Hes also got the busy schedule of a typical teenager: school, homework, karate, TV, the dog, Boy Scouts, friends. Next year he goes to high school. And then?
His parents vision for his future is of a happy life and a place for him in the world. Theres no trace of some of the things you might expect from parents who have been through so much. No self-pity, no disappointment, no pessimism. There is some uncertainty, because the medical challenges continue. And there is gratitude.
For his part, Leif says he wants to go to college and he wants a car. He says he wants to be an Ice Dog when he grows up. He quickly reconsiders when he remembers that hockey players have it pretty rough. So he says he wants to be coach instead.
* * *
Maybe Leif is inspired by his own coaches. His current coach, Lath McLeod, circulates among the Bozeman schools to work with kids all over the district. His energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and he is clearly a good match for Leif and the other kids he coaches.
Starting at about age eight, Leif had worked with coach Ed Berry, Special Education Aide and coordinator for public schools for the Special Olympics.
"Special Olympics was really beneficial to Leifs growth," said Ed. "Ive seen him become more and more confident over the years. Youll see his showmanship in his gymnastics routine he loves to play to an audience. He truly enjoys competing and being with his friends from other schools that he wouldnt otherwise see during the year."
Special Olympics gave Leif a chance to be in the spotlight, a place he clearly relishes. Last year, he stepped out in front of a big Special Olympics audience to begin his gymnastics routine, but decided on the spot that the music just wasnt rousing enough. So he demanded different music, and then still wouldnt begin until he had the entire audience clapping along. Another time, he displayed his brand new self-administered butch haircut at the opening ceremonies, walking up to the front of the audience and removing his hat with a flourish before taking a seat in a high-visibility position beside the governor.
Leif also discovered through Special Olympics events that he loves to dance, and he especially likes the opportunity to wear one of the neckties from his snazzy collection. During the three days of the Games, there are social events like parties, dances and dinners. Throughout the year, there are more dances and picnics, chances for the athletes and their families to reconnect and socialize. At the State Winter Games, for example, the athletes have the run of the Lost Trail area south of Missoula for three days of winter sports competition and social events.
Leif is just one of many people in Montana that will be touched and enriched by Special Olympics. The Olympians, their families, volunteers, teachers and coaches each will come away with some unique discovery.
This years State Summer Games in Bozeman kicks off at 6:30 pm on May 12 at the Field house on the Montana State University campus. The opening ceremonies have been dubbed "Opening Spectacular" by Special Olympics volunteer and board member Trish McKenna. Starting with a performance by the US Marine Corps band, the Spectacular includes a musical performance by Chris Burke, star of the television series "Life Goes On" and his band; Elastic Gymnastics of Florida, an athletic bunjee performance; Extreme Team of Canada, a skateboarding, roller blading and cycling troupe; performances by recording artist Amber LePrey and Nashville country and western band Brother Love; Ballet West of Salt Lake City; and the Bozeman High School marching band. The finale is a fireworks and light show.
"Its sensory overload, just an amazing show, and incredibly, admission is free," says Trish. "The whole community will enjoy this."
Three days of competition follow, with over 800 of athletes competing in such events as aquatics, track and field, gymnastics, bocce, cycling, equestrian events, golf, bowling, powerlifting, basketball, and more. All day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, events will be held at the field house and other venues. Forty-four of the athletes will advance to the World Games, held in late June and early July in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
And finally, the closing ceremonies on Friday bring the games to an emotional end. The Games give us a peek into the power of the human spirit, from literal first steps through the trials of training to those glorious moments in the spotlight. For the whole community, the Games are about much more than athletic achievement. Theyre an example of conquering limitations, of finding the gift in adversity, and a chance to gain a little of that stop-in-your-tracks perspective.
And this year, who knows -- you might even be treated to one of Leif Babcocks impromptu revisions of his routine or some other surprise. The kid who wasnt ever supposed to walk really is full of surprises.[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]
Magazine featureBack to top
Out in the heart of stock horse country, four riders saddle up and head east at sunrise on the opening day of big game hunting season. There's a splash or two of high-vis orange mixed in with the riders' cowboy gear, but no gun among them. The horses move deftly over the hilly, rocky terrain, quickly climbing up and over to crest the first ridge just as the sun slips through the gap above Bear Canyon.
They continue on, rising and falling with the contours of the land, across long high meadows and down into the timber, crossing the streams that are no more than a trickle this late in the season. As they traverse the steep face of a hill in single file, still smartly heading east, the long Gallatin valley and the snow-capped peaks beyond rapidly fall away behind them.
From the looks of the rapid, purposeful pace, these riders on are a mission,. They pass over rocks and through brush, skimming forward with momentum and intention.
Still, there's something missing from this picture. What is it? Something seems unusual about the way they're moving out. Then suddenly it's clear: what's missing is the big yee-ha, seat-flying, theme-song-from-Bonanza vertical motion you'd expect to see riders exhibit when they're tearing along in a splendid mountainous setting. Instead, they have a level, floating manner, practically gliding, even at speed.
Uh huh. Gaited horses. In particular, three Tennessee Walkers and a little foxtrotter mare, registered North American Single-footing Horse Association horses, owned by Tim Kearns of Bozeman, Mont.
Man, they can fly. Today they're off to run interference at the far end of a neighbor's ranch, where it's easy for hunters to be unsure about which areas are open to hunting. This is not an anti-hunting mission by any means, but since folks have homes and livestock scattered about in this complex terrain, there's some need to keep tabs on the activity. Kearns offered to bring his horses over with a few friends to lend a hand and take a look.
In a few hours, though they've covered vast distances and made large elevation changes, they see no other riders and hear only two distant shots. They've spotted elk, though -- Kearns' sharp eyes were the first to pick them out from a long-off hillside. Apparently the elk hadn't seen hunters that morning, either; they watched with alert curiosity but not alarm when they saw the riders approach.
Kearns, an intent man with that rangy lean look of someone who never stops moving, frequently rallies friends together and volunteers his prized gaited horses for riding outings. Owner of a construction business, he loves a reason to get out and ride, especially if it involves loaning one of his horses to someone who hasn't experienced a gaited horse before. He relishes the moment when a rider first perceives what he calls the "sweet spot," where the horse collects up and goes with that magnificent smooth propulsion.
"You can explain it to someone, but it doesn't really make sense until they feel it for themselves," says Kearns. "That's why I really like to get someone out there on one of my horses."
He has lots of opportunities to do just that over the summer months, inviting friends to help out with cattle-herding in the Story Hills near Bozeman. Two hundred-some black angus roam the ranch now owned by friend and construction-biz associate Tim Barnard, and Kearns arranges rides to move the cattle to water or to the corrals at the west end of the property to be counted or sorted.
Most of these days in the Story Hills, Kearns rides out on his personal favorite, a versatile 5-year-old roan gelding named T-Bird. The handsome horse is a Tennessee Walker, but because he's out of an unregistered, though purebred, Walker mare, T-Bird's registry is through the North American Single-Footing Horse Association.
Where all the riders on a given day will contribute to the assignment at hand, the serious cowboying often falls to Kearns on T-Bird, and ranch manager Keith on his American Quarter Horse gelding.
"T-Bird's the horse that demonstrated to me that gaited horses are on a par with quarter horses when it comes to real work," says Kearns. "The real beauty lies in the comfort of the ride, without giving up any athletic ability."
Kearns and T-Bird have bushwacked through thick timber to flush out the most obstinate cattle, and have come nose-to-nose with moose and black bear while looking for strays in deep brush. Steep hillsides, rocky trails, mud, down timber and long hours are de rigeur for T-Bird, who still covers ground in his rapid gait at the end of the day with no sign of fatigue.
In fact, Kearns has shown his gaited horses to be worthy of some pretty tough distance and time challenges in all sorts of conditions. His horses have been on a good number of backcountry elk hunts, and they've packed elk carcasses out of some mighty precipitous country. They've taken long and strenuous treks in the labyrinthine desert canyons of the Escalante region of Southern Utah, been over the top of the Crazy Mountains near Big Timber, Mont., and travelled into the depths of Montana's Bob Marshall wilderness.
This all seems a far cry from the Gentleman's Plantation Walker origin of the Tennessee Walker. Yet according to the Tennessee Walking Horse Association, the Walkers were really "working horses bred to create a comfortable ride for long hours in the saddle." That applies to both the gentleman plantation owner and the horses gathering cattle or hunting or engaging in whatever athletic endeavor.
A purist would probably want to understand exactly how the ride works, maybe studying videotape of the gaits in slow motion to determine the precise pattern and timing of footfalls. Lots of people come to understand and appreciate it just by hanging around them. But the most likely scenario is the same as with any breed of horse people get turned on to it by an individual that touches their life in some way and influences their preference about horses for all time.
That's how it happened for Kearns himself.
Kearns comes from a ranching family, and he grew up riding horses he refers to as "trotting horses," meaning all those unfortunate other horses who are not naturally gaited. He had some experience with draft horses, too, since an uncle in Clyde Park broke teams to drive.
Many years later, when Kearns was looking for a 4-H horse for his horse-crazy daughter Natalie, they came across Joe. He was a 20 year-old Quarter Horse/Walking Horse cross who had a true single-foot way of going. Well, at that time, 4-H didn't acknowledge the single-footing alternative; all classes required a trot or jog. But Natalie stuck with it anyway, and put the horse in every event she could, not just rail classes, but pole bending and barrels and anything else.
"I think she kept going with him because all along she was expecting to get another horse," says Kearns.
Meanwhile, Kearns started riding Joe, too, to see what the single-footing thing was all about. He says that's where he started to get very hooked. Before long, he heard about a Walking Horse mare over in Townsend, owned by a family named Rouser who were making an effort to bring some good horses and bloodlines into Montana. He called about that mare, and was told that someone else was very seriously interested in her, too. He had to make a fast decision. Naturally, the choice was to go and pick her up immediately.
Eventually, Natalie did get a trotting horse, a quarter horse that she had through her college rodeo years. Joe went back to his original owner.
Now Kearns had his nice mare, named Spook, Nat had her rodeo horse, and... they found that, with two horses so different in gait and speed, they were having trouble trail riding together! So they picked up another TWH in Ronan. It was starting to become very clear where all this was heading.
Later Spook was bred to the outstanding versatility stallion Merry Boy's Spirit 88 owned by Laura Frederick of Bozeman, producing Kearns' current favorite horse, that roan, Spirits Best Yet, aka T-Bird.
Kearns found that the longer he was around these horses, the more he appreciated them not just for their combination of comfortable ride and athleticism, but also for their tractable, forgiving, highly-trainable temperaments. As with most people who have a real passion about something, Kearns found it irresistible to want to share the horses with others; while he's far from being a career horse breeder, he does get a chance to tell lots of people about gaited horses, and now and then, to sell one.
Kearns says that there are two fairly common misconceptions he must address with novice horse buyers or those unfamiliar with gaited breeds. First, it's often not understood that the smooth gaits are natural, inherited ways of going to these horses and not something that they are "made" to do. Second, they're not shod in any unusual way, and in fact, they just use a regular keg shoe set naturally.
Beyond that, the ride sells itself. Tim Barnard, the Story Hills rancher, first started riding on one of Kearns' horses. Later he tried trotting horses, but quickly switched back. He found that the quiet ride gave him more confidence in the saddle while he was learning, and as he became more accomplished as a rider, he wasn't willing to give up the smoothness of the ride.
Those ideas are reflected in the increasing numbers of gaited horses in the United States. The Gaited Horse International Association lists some 32 breeds of gaited horses. Most of the breeds are described in terms of utility, beauty and temperament, and not strictly in terms of show ring performance.
The emphasis on working and non-show types of uses may be a counterpoint to the over-promoting of the spectacular show ring gaits as achieved through artificial means. Or it may simply be that appreciation for the natural athletic ability of gaited horses is really catching on.
The North American Single-Footing Horse Association, for example, was formed in 1991 specifically with the natural beauty and utility of the gaited horse in mind. Rather than create a set of standards based on show ring performance, the registry specifically excludes horses that are of show-ring-only ability and experience. Instead, the Association registers and rewards based mostly on working ability, with determinants for true single-foot status. NASHA founder Barb Bouray's feelings about the use of any artificial methods for altering a horse's natural gait are quite clear: zero tolerance.
Overall, it's good news for aficionados like Tim Kearns. But regardless of registries or popular opinion, Kearns is using what works for the wide variety of activities he enjoys on horseback. If others discover this, all the better, and to that end, he'll gladly give a test drive.[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]
Commercial, Personal, Group, Life: Mastering all the instruments
Scoreboard magazine featureBack to top
Janet Leger looks like every career womans role model: smart, polished, precise in manner. Here, at Sentrys Route 2 building in Concord, Mass., Leger has taken time out of a busy morning to talk about her work. At first she finds it difficult to dissect and explain a style that is, after seven years as a Sentry rep, second nature. So she starts at the beginning.
With a biology/chemistry degree and aspirations to a career in medicine, Leger came to Sentry to pick up some practical work experience. She started in underwriting, and three years later joined the sales force. Of the change to sales, she says a friend once told her, "If you want position or security, then stay on the inside. But if you want to make some real money, get into sales." And those words have stayed with her as shes become more and more successful at selling.
Legers sales results during those years have leaned more heavily toward commercial lines yet she consistently produces in all other areas as well. She acknowledges that the diverse task at Sentry is difficult at first, when there is so much to learn and so many areas in which to produce.
"Its hard to be a one-man band all the time," says Leger. "You ten to get a stronger confidence level in one area."
Listening to her, though, its hard to imagine her lacking confidence in any area. She has been on the Leaders Trip for the last four years, is the only female Master Sentry Sales Representative in New England and has been named Sales Rep of Distinction. In 1986, Legers total sales approached $400,000 with premium growth of $279,000.
And shes still going strong.
* * * * *
East across the highways, twisted New England forests and historic sites, Alan Bandoni, a Sentry sales rep for 20 years, has already put in his 30-minute morning run ("How far is that, Alan?" you ask. "Lets just say I run for 30 minutes," he answers), has prepared his paperwork for the day at home on his personal computer, and is now at the Wakefield, Mass., office returning phone calls. A typical day doesnt exist, he says, but these parts are constant.
Bandoni, once considered mostly a commercial lines salesman, consistently shows very impressive numbers across all lines. For the past several years, hes been a Sales Leader, and this year in Maui, Bandoni will receive the Top Performer award.
This morning, the calling and organizing finished for now, hes off to his first appointment, a service call on the executive officer of several Midas Muffler stores. Heading out to Burlington in his red Audi, wearing a pair of Carrera sunglasses, he talks about his all-lines expertise.
"If you dont sell in all areas, youre crazy," he says, because each customer is good for more than one sale often many more. He says one way to beef up sales across the board is to get a list of all your current policyholders, start at the As, call them all and ask, ask, ask.
* * * *
On this spring day, bright midmorning sunlight fills the office that Janet Leger has borrowed for the morning. She explains that shes also a strong advocate of the simple asking technique.
"Most people probably do it differently, but I hit every area at once," she says. "I may lead with the commercial, make the transition to group, profit sharing and so on until theyve heard about everything I can do for them. If theyre not receptive to one area, I move on to something else."
But Janet, you might want to ask, dont these people ever get annoyed with you if you keep ticking off all those products?
"No, never," she says; with a professional approach, people are interested in knowing whats available. "And if theyre not ready to commit to something that day, I might say, sort of jokingly, Well maybe I cant sell you anything today... But I lay that thought on them: we have all lines of insurance."
Shell also ask to re-contact them later, and follows up the call with brochures or letters to reinforce her presentation. Its clear that she, like Bandoni, has no word in her vocabulary that resembles "rejection." Thats not to say she hasnt heard her share of "nos," but that to her its all part of the job.
* * * *
At the Midas Muffler office, executive officer Ed Swerdlick has pulled out three of his latest Midas sales awards and is showing them proudly to Bandoni.
"Exhaust sales leader, regional sales leader..." Bandoni reads from the plaques. "All the other Midas dealers must hate you now, right?"
"They do hate me," says Swerdlick, stashing the awards aside. He and his partner Ginger have called Bandoni to help them figure out the best and easiest way to pay their premiums.
Swerdlick brings stacks of Sentry policies to the table. Bandoni has swapped his Carreras for a pair of gold-rimmed glasses, which he removes and replaces rapidly throughout the interview, using them for gesturing as often as for reading.
They ask for Bandonis advice on payment options, how they might hire drivers more selectively and on other issues, some insurance-related, some not. They also need another key man life policy added to the eight that Bandoni already handles for them. Theyre just barely through with this list of requests it sounds like enough to keep Bandoni busy for a week when Swerdlick is called to the phone. He alternately hollers into the receiver and turns aside to speak to Ginger in barely audible tones.
Swerdlicks voice gets louder, his face gets redder, and Bandoni takes his cue: he mouths "Anything else?" Swerdlick shakes his head without missing an explosive syllable, knowing without having to ask that Bandoni will take care of everything.
On the way back to Wakefield, Bandoni says, "Thats how he was even when I was first trying to get the account eight or nine years ago. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got through to him."
* * * *
Its easy to be discouraged or intimidated by important people who are constantly busy. But Sentry reps, like Janet Leger, are themselves constantly busy and very important. Though many reps make their cold calls in person, Leger prefers calling business owners of insurance buyers directly to set an appointment.
"This may sound a little funny, but I think theyre doing themselves a favor by talking to me," she says. "Im not a policy-pusher I think of myself as a consultant, like an accountant or a lawyer."
Legers reference to other professionals here is by no means exaggerated. When her customers find that she sells all lines of insur4ance in a very knowledgeable and professional manner, they start calling her for advice on any number of issues. Clients have called her to ask how to bond employees, how to become a notary public, and what the law is regarding paying employees during jury duty.
She laughs about this, but at the same time considers it the highest compliment.
"It means people rely on me. What theyre saying is, Yeah, youre really good! Its a great motivator."
Legers sales manager John Parent would agree with those customers. Earlier in the week, Parent had said during a phone conversation: "Shes one of the most consistent and professional reps I have. If I had a dozen Janet Legers I could work at home every day."
* * * *
Bandoni arrives back at the office; his desk is covered with phone messages, mail, papers and a faded but still-resonant handmade mug with crayon letters DAD and a scribbly dad figure. Hanging above the desk is a recent picture of Bandonis two daughters and two sons, who now range from a high school freshman to a recent college graduate.
Sales manager Frank Yukna approaches Bandonis desk, wanting to know how the Midas call went. Bandoni mentions that they asked for an additional key man policy.
"Ha!" says Yukna. "And you call this work?"
Joking aside, though, Yukna has called Bandoni "the consummate professional sales rep."
"His clients swear by him. Hes truly an asset to the companies and exemplifies the title of Master Sentry Sales Rep," Yukna has said. Interestingly, he has echoed John Parents comments: "If I had 14 more like Alan, I could phone in my job."
Yukna and Bandoni decide to catch a bite to eat before Bandonis first afternoon appointment with a new account hes quoting. At lunch, Yukna orders a Virgin Mary. "Make it very spicy," he tells the waitress. "I gave up drinking for Lent."
While they wait for their order, they talk more about selling all lines, and performing well in many different product areas.
Even though a rep may have most activity in one area, Yukna says, its to the reps definite advantage to know the other product areas well and to be selling and prospecting them. For example, says Yukna, say youre a heavy personal lines producer and fluctuations in pricing or market conditions suddenly put you at a disadvantage. Without a base of customers in another area, you could be faced with hard times until you build that base.
Bandoni says that Sentry reps who can offer all lines of insurance are providing another invaluable service to the customer.
"Just recently, I had a guy, a grocery store owner, who had three different agents handling his auto and two separate properties. He had no idea what coverages he had, how they might fit together or overlap," he says. "And he shouldnt have to learn or keep track of all that. Thats a job for one agent. One professional."
Yuknas drink arrives. He tastes it. "Ah, the power of suggestion!"
Yukna and Bandoni agree that clients would most often prefer to deal with one agent for all needs. But clients sometimes take a recommendation from the person who sold them the house or the car, and they end up with many x-dates and lots of confusion. Other times theyll change agents or spread business around for price, but may end up putting more time and worry into it than its worth.
* * * *
Meanwhile, Janet Leger is getting into her red BMW, heading into an afternoon of sales calls. Along the way, she talks about some of the ideas that motivate her work. She will tell you that her success has much to do with understanding the perils of mediocrity she will not stop at average. She will speak with firm morality about her inability to accept what is merely "acceptable."
She will also mention that her experience in underwriting has helped her in the field.
"Part of the job with commercial lines is selling the underwriters on the business," says Leger. "As a former underwriter, I can anticipate the things theyll need to know. I know what questions to ask. So my hit ratio is a little higher there."
For reps who dont personally have underwriting experience, she says that they can accomplish the same thing by teaming up with an underwriter.
She says that although she lacks that same savvy in the life area, she doesnt have trouble asking clients about it. For the technical parts of selling life, she gets the help of a life specialist.
"I start getting a little lost with split dollar and that kind of thing," she says, "but I always ask about life. Ill attempt to sell six products on one call. If you do a good job with one, you can get the others."
Leger gives a fun example of success building on success: last year, she hired a company to do some remodeling and construction in her home. Leger says she never really approached them on the insurance subject. But during the course of the project, the crew noticed what Leger calls her "awards wall" -- a display of sales plaques and awards. "You must be a pretty good salesperson," they said, and started asking her about Sentry Insurance.
And she got their business. Not exactly a typical example of how sales contests help increase sales, notes Leger with a laugh.
* * * *
"Contests are a horrendous pain in the neck," says Bandoni, driving along the waterfront on the way back from his sales call in Winthrop. "They make you do things you normally wouldnt do, so they accomplish what theyre supposed to. Ill always end up selling more during a contest."
He pauses to point out the homes of his brother and parents overlooking the bay.
"But really, the pressure to sell comes from within you," he continues. "It has to be a personal goal. Or I find that Im doing it for my sales manager. You know that hes the one whos really taking the heat, and you want him to look good."
He has just come from Woodside Hardware where he made a proposal to proprietor Bob Wheaton. Again, the reading glasses. The proposal was neatly typed, well organized and easy to understand. Bandoni was very polished, very professional. How could someone not trust this man? Wheaton responded very positively.
Bandoni arrives back in Wakefield just in time to get a call from his youngest son, Neil, who wants a ride home from high school. After some friendly father-and-son banter, other transportation is arranged. Bandonis still got the rest of the afternoon to field the calls that are already coming in on other lines.
* * * *
It will be a work intensive afternoon for Janet Leger as well. She returns to her desk, which is heaped with files and papers.
"I like to keep it this way so I look important," she says. But in truth, this is the kind of workload that Leger handles regularly and expertly.
The beginning of the year is especially busy since most of her commercial accounts are renewing now.
Looking at this paperwork, thinking about how much business she handles, you have to wonder for a minute if she ever has time for anything else. Then you remember the frequency with which she mentions her five-year-old daughter Lauren, and notice the pictures of Lauren in mid-Mickey-Mouse-contest poses above the paperwork-covered desk.
Though Leger defined the idea of selling all lines as a one-man-band, she and Bandoni make it like an orchestra.[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]
Chairman's Challenge puts Stoffel behind Baars
Special extra to Scoreboard magazineBack to top
For the motivation, theres the money. The recognition. Nice extras. Leaders Trips. But Ronnie Baars and Dan Stoffel have just become the first duo to complete the Chairmans Challenge, and they will tell you that all those things are secondary. That motivation comes first from a relationship of mutual respect and shared confidence.
Under the Chairmans Challenge, a previous qualifier for the Leaders Trip is to sponsor a newer rep, and help him or her qualify for the trip to Hawaii. In this case, Stoffel is the long-time big leaguer at Sentry; Baars is the promising rookie. Not only were Stoffel and Baars the first to complete the Challenge, but they submitted their requirements in an incredibly short time, finishing by August 31. And Baars sales turned around and took off so completely that Stoffel will tell you, bursting with pride, "Ronnie has sold more in the past eight months than he did in his first four years at Sentry."
"Thatll show you how bad I was before," Baars says, laughing.
It hasnt always been a laughing matter. After a couple of average to below-average years, Baars sales and self-confidence began to falter. He finally hit rock bottom.
"Last year was the toughest," he says. "I was considering leaving or getting out of sales completely." He wasnt getting much encouragement to stay with it, he says, and almost resigned at one point. He says that he hadnt proven to anyone that he could be good at sales.
Stoffel will protest this, gesturing wildly. "They just werent looking beyond the numbers! Here I see a young man with all this ability hes always had the ability but his sales figures werent reflecting that. You need the personal interest to get the right attitude. Attitude is 90 percent of the job."
The Challenge helped Stoffel, too. He has been a top performer ever since his first year of selling for Sentry 17 years ago. Yet before the Chairmans Challenge came along, he says he was at the bottom of the barrel, too. Hed lost touch with what he considers the important things that make the job fun: getting a real sense of accomplishment out of reaching a goal, seeing someone important to you reach goals, setting and reaching goals that are more than mere numbers.
Stoffel took a three-week vacation to try to come to grips with his disillusionment, and to find a way to put some meaning back into his work. Still without answers, he returned from vacation to find the Chairmans Challenge letter from Larry Ballard. And that was it.
"I couldnt believe it. I was ecstatic," says Stoffel. "This was exactly what Id been looking for, exactly the thing to turn it around for me."
Stoffel had worked with Baars informally in the past to help him improve his sales. "I wanted to work with him because I knew the raw material has been there and it is with a lot of people. All he needed was an arm around the shoulders sometimes."
Until the Chairmans Challenge, however, Stoffel and Baars had never had a formal work plan or goal to work toward together. Under the Challenge, they now had that framework, and within it created their solution to the sales problems before them.
The first step, and maybe the most important, says Stoffel, was to talk to Baars and his wife Jill and get their commitment to making the trip to Hawaii. They were both skeptical at first.
"Just looking at my first four months of sales, I thought there was no way I could make the trip," Baars says. "I was way behind in most cases, less than halfway to my goals and I just couldnt see how it could be done."
But Stoffel convinced them. Commitment, he says, is the key: once they believed it was possible, they just couldnt give up on that goal.
"What really convinced me was that Dan thought I could do it," says Baars. "This guy knows what hes talking about. And he has confidence in me. That meant a lot to me."
The Work Plan
After reviewing Baars results to date, Stoffel set month-by-month objectives to get the job done. He set up his computer to graph out Baars sales and objectives in each of the Challenge categories: life, total sales, premium growth, and property and home sales. This broke the task into smaller units and made it clear to Ron for the first time what he needed to accomplish.
"What I was doing was figuring out where Ron was with his sales and his attitude," says Stoffel. "I dont think he knew where his sales were at the time, or how to start moving toward the goal. A hundred-fifty thousand in sales, 14 thousand in life sales all that was just swimming. Ive found the only way you can begin is to lay it out so you can see it there: where am I starting and what do I have to do to get there? Make it a visible, manageable thing."
The computer can be used to print out results and show how close to a goal youve come. But any way of graphically depicting objectives and progress, even just sketching it out, is worthwhile, explains Stoffel.
Stoffel says that most of the help he gave Ron was this kind of "behind the scenes stuff." In other words, Stoffel didnt go out on calls with Baars or give him any sales leads.
"He went out there and dug it out himself," says Stoffel happily.
John Blanke, director of operations, agrees. "You could physically see the difference in both of them. It was a visible change. You see this kid Baars go from sort of wandering around to running around working all this business he has coming in."
Stoffel says that Baars was never doing it for the money. "He didnt even realize what his earning potential was, or what kind of money was involved."
"I was really doing it more for Dan than myself," confesses Baars.
Weekly Progress Review
Although Stoffels original plan called for a weekly review of Baars progress, he says,"that got to be ten-times-a-day review of progress." Stoffel couldnt wait until the end of the week or even until the end of the day to ask Baars what was going on, how things were coming.
"If the phone rang at 9:30 or 10 at night, I could be pretty sure it was Dan calling to see how Id done that day," says Baars. "Sometimes I wasnt sure I wanted to answer it."
Part of the review was constant reinforcement. Stoffel gave Baars a bumper sticker that he insisted be put on the inside of the car so that Baars could see it. It reads: This is no ordinary person youre dealing with.
The constant evaluation helped them to single out areas that needed attention, or to make a quick change in strategy as situations changed.
Stoffel identifies one such strategic change as a crucial point in the campaign.
"He came in on a Monday morning, tail between the legs, and said, Im losing the $5000 account. So hes taking a debit, which means going backward on these graphs," Stoffel says, holding up one of the computer-printed charts.
Stoffel told him that to make up for that loss, Baars would have to sell an additional 12 auto, homeowners or life policies that week, above and beyond his regular goal. Baars sold 17.
That was one point at which Baars began to believe in his own ability. "Ive never worked harder," he says, "but Ive never had so much fun working, either. I used to look forward to 4:00 so I could go home. Now I look forward to six, so I can grab a bite to eat and be back out there by seven."
Baars says his wife Jills support and understanding were a major factor in his success. He says she didnt mind him being out until 10 p.m. some nights, and kept encouraging him along the way.
"Besides," Stoffel laughs, "I told Ron that if he didnt qualify for the trip, then maybe Jill would have to go with me!"
Stoffel says that for new sales reps, getting organized and learning to deal with all the paperwork is a big problem. Too much time at the desk means not enough time in the field. So he helped Baars to transform his "stack method" everything, regardless of importance, was kept in three huge stacks on his desk into an efficient system.
"When I saw how Ron was doing it, I said, what the hell are you doing with all this stuff in a big stack? Do you even know whats in those stacks? I told him to keep the paper moving," says Stoffel. "Once you get something, you figure out what to do with it right away, either putting it in its correct file or throwing it out, whatever. Dont put it back in the stack!"
Baars got organized, all right. His desk was clear, things were filed and labeled. His top-priority slot is labeled DBDYAM.
"Do Before Dan Yells At Me," Baars explains, grinning.
Stoffel also showed Baars the value of utilizing binders: you have to go into a commercial sale, says Stoffel, knowing that youre going to write it, not just bid on it. And when you get an agreement, since you dont have a policy to issue yet, you need something there for the client to sing, and to keep. Thats what you take: a document with the name of the insured, a brief summary of coverages, an agreement. This way, says Stoffel, you get the commitment, and you get the check.
For Baars it worked with Jarp Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic cylinders in Wausau, Wisc. Besides being a way to get organized, it was a method of mental preparation for him he felt like he was simply going in to get the signature and pick up the check. Baars had a 5 p.m. appointment, and by 5:30, he had the account, and couldnt wait to call Stoffel to say, "It works!"
As Baars sales started to pick up, Stoffel revealed that hed been planning all along to change Baars over to a Task in 10. This meant qualifying for the trip in 10 months instead of 12.
"First I had to get him to see that, yes, it can be done by the end of the year. But once that momentum was building, I said, were really going to do it by October," says Stoffel. "And Ronnie says, OCTOBER?"
"He just kept coming up with these ideas, and I just kept believing them," says Baars.
Baars has a great sense of humor about Stoffels constant pushing. He gave him a button that read: Im easy to please. Just do it my way! He refers to Stoffel as The Bulldog.
What Baars didnt know at the point was that Stoffel, in his usual hyper-competitive way, was already wagering on their chance of qualifying by the end of August. He bet Dick Lippert, VP of Sales, a dinner at Sentrys The Restaurant; he bet John Blanke a lunch. And they made it.
They made it at midnight on August 31. As they were going into a finishing drive, Baars says hed be so excited about what they were doing and how close they were coming that he couldnt sleep. Hed be up at two in the morning, wanting to call up Stoffel and tell him about a new idea.
For the celebration, Stoffel printed a banner on his computer: HAWAII HERE WE COME! He hung it at the restaurant and presented Baars and his wife with Hawaiian shirts. The dinner was paid for by the gleeful loser of the bet, Dick Lippert.
Baars says there was plenty of hula dancing at home that night.
Stoffel and Baars both agree that the best part of qualifying for the trip is that theyll get to spend that time together. And maybe even relax a little for a change.
And after the trip? "Sure, I have the ability to do it alone now," says Baars, "but there will still be some rough moments when Ill need the arm around the shoulders. So we hope to keep working together next year."
Aloha, Ronnie and Dan.[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]
Expectations of the turnaround team
Scoreboard magazine feature
What might you expect from a team like this?
Out of 11 sales reps on the Indianapolis sales team, only two have been with Sentry for over two years. Five have between eight months and 15 months with Sentry. And four of them were just hired in March.
Yet the teams production and growth are at a five-year high. And Sales Manager Jim Chaney predicts that the team will sell more personal lines this year than in all of the three previous years combined.
With those numbers and the way the team looks on paper, there are many expectations to be tested.
For example, Dick Wakefield has been with Sentry almost three years so at the Home Office, hes referred to as the "senior" member of the team, since hes been around the longest.
So lets say that this morning, you show up for one of the Indy teams meetings; you might look around, and since Wakefield hasnt arrived yet, draw the conclusion that hell be 50-ish, very wise, maybe graying a bit, a classic big brother to the rest of the team.
But then this young-looking guy comes into the room, wearing pseudo-Wayfarers, shooting wisecracks at fellow sales rep Ron Lenwell before anyone can say a word. And this is Dick Wakefield, the senior rep of Chaneys team.
So thats one expectation down. But is there any truth to that big brother image? Do team members rely on Wakefield for advice? Do they come to him with their questions?
"I called him for directions the other day," cracks Lenwell. Later he confides his real respect for Wakefield, and for the rest of the team.
The man behind the team
From Jim Chaney, you expect a whole list of other characteristics. But to meet him is to have all your hasty conclusions deflated. From a team whose sales turnaround has been so dramatic, you might expect a fire-breathing cheerleader type, a maniacal motivator, a whip-cracking, leaping and shouting sales evangelist. But Chaney is a sincere, rather soft-spoken nose-to-the-grindstone man and an almost no-nonsense manager.
Todays team meeting begins with a pop quiz of sorts. Chaney asks if anyone is carrying his or her top twenty life prospects list. He is answered with silence, and some surprised looks.
"No one has it?" He pulls a $100 bill out of his pocket. "This could have been your lucky day...just for carrying that list." He waves it, then puts it away as the reps groan and look a little shocked, a little disappointed.
Chaney regularly puts up his own money for extra contest bonuses, awards, anything to make his team more productive and motivated.
Hell present one such award today. He begins by unveiling some impressive numbers on a chalkboard:
Business submitted Dollars Apps
Auto 49,313 111
Home 3,891 24
Commercial 12,777 8
Life 2,500 9
"Can anyone figure out what this is?" he asks. Only one person, Terry Dupont, recognizes them, but he tries not to react to keep from giving away the answer.
"This is Terrys production for the last 12 weeks... just incredible!" Chaney hands Dupont a box containing a very elegant pen and pencil set. "Terry, youve been writing so much business that I was afraid your pen would run out."
Chaney recognizes each sales rep for a job well done: he congratulates Ron Lenwell on his new $46,000 account; Randy Gaskins and Ed Beck for their team places at second and third in personal lines production; Bill Berry for bringing in over $42,000 in premium in a three-month period. And, like any good manager, Chaney reminds the whole team that they need to get their life sales into a higher gear.
As his meeting comes to an end, though, its clear that this team is in a blast of real upward motion those sales and others will come. What Chaney has done with this team is remarkable.
Chaney came to Sentry as a sales rep in southern Illinois. After 26 months, he joined the Sales Manager Unassigned program, in which he says he is a firm believer; he worked as a "floater," recruiting and learning from many teams. Finally last April, Chaney was assigned to Indianapolis.
When Chaney took over the Indy team, he was the fifth sales manager in four years to attempt it. He knew that if he couldnt make it work, the team would have to be shut down or moved elsewhere. Some of Chaneys colleagues told him it would be "career suicide" to go into Indiana, where rates were not competitive, the insurance climate was poor, and the team had not made progress for several years.
At that time, there were only four sales reps in that territory, all of whom left the company shortly after Chaney came on board.
His first successful hire was Dick Wakefield. Wakefield started out with a small territory that needed lots of service, and struggled with his premium growth after a large account fell off the books in his first year. Now hes extremely successful through the use of third party endorsements from floor covering, drycleaning and other associations.
"I was a green as grass when I came to Sentry," says Wakefield. "And if I hadnt had Jim for a boss, I dont think Id have made it. Jim did everything for me and he only asked me to go out there every day."
"I knew if I could just get him in front of people, wed make sales," says Chaney. "Dick does an excellent job of presentations."
"I learned from the best," says Wakefield.
Sharon Stewart was the next good hire. Though her insurance background was strong with a very successful record at Allstate, she says Chaney was key in helping her become even more successful at Sentry.
"He provided that support base. Im three hours away from Indianapolis, but if I ran into a problem, I always knew I could pick up the phone and hed talk me through it. Or if he had to, hed come here to work through it with me," Stewart says. "Lots of times, he made the three-hour drive. With one account it was worth $60,000 in premium, and thats a pretty big account for a rookie I was scheduled to make the proposal at 8:30. So Jim was up and on the road by 5:30 so he could get here for that meeting. And if they needed us to come back, hed be back on the road."
Chaneys efforts have paid off with Stewart. Shes successful. Recently she sold a commercial account worth $189,000 in premium; Chaney and Director of Sales Ed Hinders sent her out with Chief Underwriter Bill Gardner to pick up that sale. Stewart has also learned the value of account completion along the way. Her personal lines sales come from commercial accounts and her persistent follow-up.
Now Stewart and Wakefield provide another kind of leadership for the team, leading in the numbers which others will try to achieve. Both are increasingly successful with commercial lines while their results remain good across all lines.
With that start, Chaney has slowly built a team in which he has enormous confidence. "This is a great bunch, the most talented group weve ever had. Every one of them has enormous potential," he says. "Now my personal motivation comes from working with successful reps. Its a thrill to see them do well."
And for that, Chaney will drop everything to help a sales rep out.
Hes been known to drive 50 or 70 miles on a moments notice just to be there if a rep needs him on a particular call or in a certain situation. He works extensive hours for weeks on end if thats what they need him to do. He does it because he genuinely wants them to succeed.
"That might be my biggest problem in managing," he says. "Sometimes I wasnt able to know when to give up. [With reps who ended up quitting] Id find that I cared more about what happened than they did. Its all attitude, and you cant do a thing to motivate a person who doesnt want to be motivated."
He has difficulty when he recognizes that someones attitude and ambition are beginning to fail. But there are always some people, he says, who wont make it in this difficult line of work.
The team behind the man
In the case of Terry Dupont, Chaneys expectations of a reps success were exceeded. "Im not sure how hes doing it," he says. "I think his success with personal lines has really given him confidence with the commercial business."
But Dupont says theres no secret to what hes doing. He uses all the Payback leads he can get his hands on. "Im just taking advantage of home office support, then going out and seeing people, no matter how many there are.
"I always call and confirm the telemarketing appointments before I go there. I want to talk to people and break the ice. People will also forget about the appointment if you dont call to remind them," he says. But he wont spend much time on the phone during that call he doesnt try to sell over the phone. He finds it much more productive to save that for the face-to-face contact.
Dupont says he likes making his personal lines calls on Saturdays: people are more relaxed. They havent just come from work, or theyre not in a hurry to get back to work to or to do something else.
A great deal of his business now comes from referrals. He does as for referrals, but says hes amazed at the number of calls that come in each week without his prompting.
Hes also been pleasantly surprised to find that yes, you can make money in personal lines sales, and with the Payback policy.
"The thing I like most about Payback is the retention it ties those customers to me for five years. They like it because its a unique product, an original product the pricing is very competitive here," he continues. "Some people might want to stay with another company, because its cheaper. In that case, I say something like, Lets say your rate is a little lower with Company X. But whats that company going to give you in five years?"
If a customer is not qualified for Payback, Dupont switches immediately to the standard auto policy.
Alan Heaston would agree with that procedure. He has the ability to match his presentation to the people in front of him. He seems instinctively to know what their hot buttons will be, what icebreakers will work. Recently on a Payback appointment, the prospects were a couple who were very interested in lowering their auto premiums yet it wasnt clear whether theyd be accepted for Payback. So Heaston quoted Payback and the standard auto. They were very enthusiastic about Sentry and about Heaston by the end of the call, and that makes for good referral material.
"I spent quite a bit of time on that call. They were good prospects, and I think the better I get to know my prospects, the better chance I have of picking up more business from them," he says.
Other members of the team are also finding that personal lines pays off.
"Personal lines has always been my bread and butter before I came to Sentry, and I still support that philosophy," says Randy Gaskins. "Sometimes when quoting on auto and home together, I wont mention the discount right away. I throw that in as a surprise at the end." That way, he says, you sell the policy first, so theyre almost sold at the end of the presentation even without the discount, and then the discount positively confirms it for them.
"From there, most are valid life prospects. I always bring up life, and I may also talk about mutual funds, even if theyre not interested in life," says Gaskins.
Pam Morris says her specialty is to turn Payback leads into life sales. "I like Payback because you can sell life," she says. "Universal Life ties in well with the Payback idea, and the family idea; even where I dont sell the auto, Ill go for the life." She uses the family record of insurance, completing one for every Payback call. Customers consider it a great service; Morris knows its a great tool for her life selling.
Success builds success
All the team members attribute part of their success to Chaneys guidance. "Jims main goal here is that we succeed," they agree.
What strikes you about this team is its cohesiveness, a sense that these people have worked together closely for a long time. Yet they see each other rather infrequently, and have not been together as a team for too long at all; what they share is respect for Jim Chaney.
"Jims a conscientious and empathetic person. He genuinely cares," says Ron Lenwell. The team agrees that Chaneys style suits them he never manages by intimidation, but instead by just being helpful.
"I dont look to someone else to motivate me, but I know that if I need him, hes there," says Randy Gaskins.
Chaney returns all the respect for each person who has worked for him. Chaney, in his own words, is "not the kind of guy to sit around on my duff and tell people what to do." He works with reps, counseling at least three days a week.
And the numbers coming from his team so far this year speak for themselves and for Chaneys winning management style.[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]
Turning metal into gold
Scoreboard magazine featureBack to top
Imagine waking up all alone in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language. Anxiety. Frustration. Despair. This is the way you might have felt if youve tried to sell coverage to metalworkers.
Not just because there are so many kinds of metalworking shops, from precision measuring tool manufacturers to wire spring makers. Not just because metalworkers speak a language filled with the names of imposing pieces of machinery: Komatsu, Bridgeport, CADs, EDMs, CNC equipment. Nor because metalworkers can be tricky accounts to field underwrite: what to look for, how to know when to walk away?
But put all these together and add this requirement for breaking into one of Sentrys hottest target markets: you must get someone your sales manager or a tenured, successful metal shops sales rep to answer your questions, accompany you on calls, help you fill out forms, or just be there for moral support.
And then youll see how you can begin to learn that new language.
The metal-to-gold formula is a variable one
Sentrys training program for selling to this particular target market is currently being updated and greatly improved. Now there is a new series of excellent videotapes available that show the who, what, where and how of insuring metalworkers. That tapes come with literature to help you learn or brush up on the lingo, the SIC dcodes, the types of machinery and the latest selling procedures involved. Most sales managers will have received this new training package by mid-February and if you havent seen it yet, youll want to.
Four of Sentrys most successful metalworking sales reps, Joe Allesi of High Point, N.C.; Bud Megee of Denver, Colo.; Dennis Pihos of Rockford, Ill.; and Bob Palmatier of Santa Ana, Calif. recently visited Sentry World Headquarters to participate in a panel discussion on sales and service to metalworkers. Their discussion was videotaped as part of the new training package.
Each of the four has a genuine interest or personal closeness to the metalworking industry. Bud Megee will tell you that he loves to work with the kinds of people you find running metalworking shops theyre hard working, precise, technically-oriented and intelligent, like Megee himself. Before joining Sentry, Bob Palmatier worked as a journeyman machinist and later as a salesman of steel and metal products it was natural for him to use that knowledge in the insurance business, he says. Dennis Pihos and Joe Allesi will tell you that they really like dealing with metalworkers: its a stable business, theres a great deal of variety among the various accounts, and Sentrys tailored metalworking coverage is a big plus. For all of them, theres an appeal in the challenging nature of this target market theyre specialists in a field where theres a great deal to learn.
And though all four have distinct styles of prospecting,
quoting and servicing metalworking accounts, all agreed that training, training, training in the office and out in the field plus teaming up with a sales manager or experienced rep is the way to go.
Prospecting: looking beyond the yellow pages
When looking for metalworking prospects, its best not to let your fingers do all the walking. Checking the yellow pages may be a good start, but it doesn't give as much information as you'll need to make a successful first contact.
"Metalworking shops often won't advertise in the yellow pages," says Allesi, "because it's not a consumer-oriented type of business. But they will appear in industrial guides or manufacturers' directories."
These guides can be found in a public library and will give lots of information: they'll ofetn list the names of owners and other key personnel, the type of business, number of employees, size of the building, and the distribution area.
"The more you know about a business before you call, the more effective you'll be," says Pihos.
Other ways to find metalworkers? You may be eligible to receive NTMA leads, an excellent source of good businesss prospects. Palmatier always asks for referrals -- he likes to say "a referral is a sale." Allesi says metalworking shops tend to cluster together in an area; once you've found one, you've probably found many.
Allesi, as it turns out, is as precise and systematic as his clients. He uses an "outskirts technique" of approaching new prospects, literally working for the outside edges of a city toward the inside. Not only is it an organization technique, but Allesi says that those businesses on the outskirts are more receptive and don't see as many insurance agents as the ones in the city. Then, when he's written some of those outskirts businesses, he uses their names to gain the confidence of others in the city.
Sales team members and the sales manager will know the businesses in your area, too.
Making -- and maintaining -- contact
Successful reps say that for many people, establishing a technique for making that first contact with a business is difficult. Many styles work for many people, they say, as long as the approach is highly professional.
For Pihos, that might mean sending a letter after he's learned something about a business, then following up with a phone call or visit. Megee prefers to introduce himself in person, hoping to talk briefly with the owner at that time.
However, he cautions, and the other reps agree, the owner is not always the person in charge of buying the insurance -- it may be the controller, an office manager or receptionist. Find out up front who will make the final decision.
In addition to establishing themselves during the initial contact, the reps will briefly tell about Sentry's special packages for metalworkers. All will mention endorsements by NTMA and other metalworking associations as a means of establishing the credibility and reliability of the Sentry programs. They'll ask for the x-date, obviously an immediate essential (but don't underestimate the lasting value of x-dates -- Palmatier says he still refers to an x-date list acquired over 12 years ago).
Finally, they'll ask to quote on the account. Pihos will jokingly say to the insurance buyer at the accounts he'd like to quote: "The worst thing that could happen would be you'd find out that you have a good plan."
For these experienced reps, the time between initial contact and x-date may be unacceptably long -- and for them, that means an opportunity to talk to the client about other products, group, for example.
"Put yourself in front of the prospect instead of waiting niine months for the x-date," says Allesi. "Experienced reps may want to quote at mid-term. At mid-term, you don't have the competition, and you don't have the client waiting for new pricing from the current agent."
Palmatier and Megee agree that maintaining contact is important.
"I like to do warm-up calls on P&C by dropping in and giving the prospect pieces of information," says Megee. "Something written that has my name and address and phone number on it. When a new material information law was passed recently, we did a little write-up on it, put it on my letterhead, and hand-carried it to the prospects I was working with. Just information to keep the name Sentry and Bud Megee in front of them."
Palmatier adds: "The more information you drop off that's of interest to the shop owners and their operations, you're going to create more credibility with him than he's got with his insurance agent right now."
Palmatier suggests using the information provided by loss control departments.
In addtion to giving out information, you'll gather a great deal of information yourself: before quoting, you'll find out as much as you can about a prospect.
That includes touring the machine shops and asking to see the present policies. This, says Pihos, is where newer reps or those just breaking into the metalworking market should be sure to ask for help from a sales manager or fellow metalworking sales rep, to know exactly what to look for in those policies.
Sometimes clients will be reluctant to show their current policies. Palmatier, in his usual low-key way, will explain to the client that without that information, he won't be able to do an accurate job, that to make it worthwhile to both of them he needs to see those policies. Megee says that in his part of the country, it's not very common for a business owner to show the policies, but knowing what to ask for will be almost as good. You might ask for financial statements, an appraisal of equipment and verified loss runs.
Allesi will also get another piece of information he considers critical -- he'll try to determine how committed a client is to his present agent. A fairly solid commitment won't scare him off, but he jokes, "if he's buying insurance from his son-in-law, it'll be pretty tough to make him budge."
Most often our group of reps recommended quoting two ways: quote just as the client is covered now -- an "apples-to-apples" quote -- and then make a professional recommendation as to how Sentry can improve the coverage.
To make that recommendation, says Megee, it's critical for you to team up with your underwriter early in the fact-finding stage, and to maintain a close working relationship during the quoting.
This is also the time for field underwriting, a skill that comes from getting out in the field with a teammate and learning how to read the condition of the shop. Walking into a metal shop for the first time can be somewhat intimidating, but experience helps you recognize the signs of a well-run business. Palmatier says that with a little help, you'll be able to tell the type and age of the equipment as well as to gauge the quality of housekeeping around the shop.
When you and your underwriter work well together, you'll know you've done the best possible job for that client.
Making the proposal with confidence
When it comes right down to the proposal, professional Sentry reps are at an advantage, say the experts.
"Sentry provides specialized knowledge and specialized packages that the average broker on the street doesn't ever get," says Megee. "After you get established, you'll find that we've got a higher level of expertise -- ways of approaching his business that are new and better."
"When you really make a commitment to the metalworking market, you can assume that other companies' agents are rarely as competent as the Sentry rep," adds Pihos.
Palmatier jokes: "When you come across one of those incompetent reps, follow his car! Find out who else he insures!"
Allesi uses a personal computer to tailor his proposals to particular businesses. The proposal always includes a next-to-last page with a side-by-side comparison of the client's current coverage and the Sentry coverage he recommends. The page functions as a summary of the presentation, and as a very simple visual representation of the proposed changes in coverage. That makes it easier for the client to understand.
And Allesi always makes presentations with a pen in his hand, like a pointer -- so that when he turns to the last page, he can simply turn the pen over to the client for a signature.
If you've done you job right up to this point, say our experts, you'll have the sale. You'll have seen your client many times.
Now, if you vanish after you make the sale, you'll lose all the credibility you worked so hard to establish. And that means losing renewals and referrals.
Metalworking accounts may require more attention than other types of commercial accounts. "With some types of accounts, you can stop in a couple times a year and be a hero. But with metalworkers, if you stop in only three or four times, you're a fool," says Megee.
He says service is the biggest part of being a professional. Clients are paying for your professional services, says Megee, just as they'd hire an accountant or a lawyer. And being there, knowing the metalworking business, is part of the job.
It keeps you up-to-date on how the business is running. It helps you keep track of new equipment, new vehicles, or new employees in that business. It helps you maintain a very positive, very professional position with that client.
"They've got to trust you 100 percent," says Allesi. "You have to be dedicated to solving their problems as a businessperson and as a shop owner. That means knowing their business inside and out, knowing your competition's products inside and out."
All of this will translate into referrals and renewals, the things that will help to firmly weld your position as a specialist in the metalworking field. Now, you'll speak the language and know your way around the shops like a native, and perhaps play the part of interpreter for others entering this hot target market.
Precision tooling around
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Roger Beth of the Rockford, Ill., sales office came to Sentry in November after 18 years as an accountant. After just over a year as a Sentry sales rep, Beth has chosen his target market -- metalworkers. He's successfully written a dozen or so such businesses. Beth's eventual goal is to write 90 percent of his total business with metalworking shops.
Beth has become a master of the basics of selling: he knows his prospects, knocks on doors relentlessly and heaps personal attention on his insureds. Beth's simple, persistent approach is proof that the newer sales reps can become specialists in a Sentry target market.
Contact and quick follow-up are the main ingredients of Beth's hard-hitting formula. Here's a typical sequence in a sale by Roger Beth: he'll visit a business that he's found in a manufacturer's directory and that he knows something about -- what they make or do, what size the operation is. He hands his business card to the receptionist, introduces himself and asks for the person who handles insurance, sometimes by name, sometimes not.
If that person is in, he makes a very brief presentation, always starting off with an introduction and his explanation: "Sentry Insurance has a special program just for metalworkers. It's endorsed by NTMA..." He'll come back to that point a few more times before he leaves with an x-date and a promise that he'll call again: "Metalworkers are Sentry's market. You're the kind of business that we know and want to work with," he'll say.
If he doesn't get a chance to make that first brief presentation, Beth will find out who's in charge of insurance if he doesn't know already, and will leave Sentry's metalworking program brochure.
And in either case, he'll follow-up with a letter thanking the owners for their time or for the receptionist's courtesy.
When the x-date approaches, Beth calls again, sets an appointment for fact-finding, and again follows that interview with a note.
Beth will also make an appearnace when the loss control engineer visits a shop. He's a strong believer in putting himself in front of the customer often. He'll stop to drop off a calendar or a new brochure, or jus tto check that things are running smoothly, that paperwork is where it should be, and to make sure he is up to date on new equipment and changes in a shop.
It's apparent when he stops in to see his insured they're very happy with his service. Beth's clients will tell you that he cares a great deal about their businesses. Recently Beth made a follow-up visit to Majestic Tool and Engineering of Rockford. President and owner Ross Wagner said Beth has done an oustanding job for them so far: Beth makes sure that things like paperwork are done on time and correctly, and he's very easy to get in touch with any time there's a question, says Wagner.
Much of what Beth has picked up over the last year has come from two sources: first, just getting out in the field and seeing what metalworkers are all about, and second, enlisting the help of his sales manager Mike Hade or fellow sales reps -- the experts who can help him learn what to look for or what things mean in the field.
With his first presentation to a sizable account, Beth asked a teammate to come along during the proposal.
"I just wanted to make sure that if something came up that I didn't understand, the customer would have an answer," says Beth. "Nothing like that did come up. But it gave me confidence to have him there, just in case, and he was happy to do it." Beth believes that he's giving his prospects better service by having a back-up in those situations.
Hade and other members of his sales team helped him to learn about the market -- competition, types of businesses, what to expect from prospects -- in addition to checking over proposals or lending moral support.
"I'll ask for help in situations that are different, such as an unusually large account," says Beth. "On our team, asking for help is encouraged and expected."
[by Mary Engel, full-time freelance writer and marketing communications consultant from Bozeman, Montana]