Best Practices for Training Downline Agents

While it might look like baby birds leave the nest depending on only instinct to fly, their parents, in fact, slowly teach them to become independent.

Your downline agents aren’t baby birds, or your children (in most cases); however, they’re looking for you to teach them how to soar. They joined the security of your nest, or organization, for training and guidance (regardless of how long they’ve been an agent). It’s imperative that you prepare them to go out into the world and sell on their own, and since we’re an FMO devoted to your success, we’ll show you how to fly.

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Why Uplines Should Train Their Downlines

Intentional training is critical to your agency’s success. Research shows that companies with comprehensive training programs have a 218 percent higher income per employee than companies without formalized training, and the benefits don’t stop there. Companies who go that extra mile enjoy a 24 percent higher profit margin. Employees are also more likely to be engaged in their work and stick around longer.

Ideally, you create a formalized training plan before you start recruiting downlines, but it’s never too late to make one. Your recruits — whether they’re new or experienced — will appreciate and thrive under your intentional leadership.

Everyone has a different learning style and teaching style, so we’ve compiled a list of training best practices that will appeal to different personas. Adapt these suggestions to fit you and your downline’s needs.

Provide Resources

Think back to other jobs you’ve had. On your first day, you likely had lots of things to read or online trainings to complete. Perhaps you received a packet of handouts with important information like a map of the building or who to reach out to if your computer breaks. Resources like these lay a foundation of knowledge for your recruits. Sure, they may not retain every point they read but providing access to useful information will mean greater self-sufficiency for your agents in the future.

Providing access to useful information will mean greater self-sufficiency for your agents in the future.

Assemble a Training Packet

Start by putting together a virtual and/or physical packet of any information you’d like your agents to read or watch during their onboarding. You could include only information to read or make the packet a multimedia experience. Consider including:

Make sure you include these last two points if you bring your agents in as 1099 contractors, as many new agents don’t know the ins and outs of how to approach contractor taxes.

Putting together the materials for this packet will help you clearly define training pathways. Those agents who thrive with structure and learn by reading will appreciate such a thorough compilation. Even those who don’t need such structure or learn more by doing will appreciate having this packet as a resource. It’s a win-win situation.

Build an Agent Resource Library

When you first became an agent, what resources did you turn to when you had a question? Consider curating an agent resource library, not only for your agents’ use, but for your own. This library, which takes the training packet idea and broadens it, could be entirely digital or a combination of digital and physical resources. Useful materials to include may be:

This is a project that you may build up over time, and you may already have informally built up over your years as an agent. Although your agents might not read through the resources in this library as part of their onboarding, they will be a useful tool in the long run.

Train Through Experience

After you’ve laid a foundation for your agents through resources, it’s time to start providing more active training! To learn how to soar, baby birds need to watch their parents fly before they practice themselves. Training by doing is a progression. First, you enact the “doing” while the agent observes. Then, they can give it a go.

Have Your Agents Shadow Sales

Sales shadowing is an excellent way for your new agents to learn useful selling skills without taking away more time from your regular day-to-day schedule. They can shadow you as long as they’re licensed and certified for the plan you’re presenting; however, you should disclose this situation to the beneficiary and ask for their consent first.

Accompanying you to appointments, agents will learn not only about selling certain products, what’s needed to stay compliant, and how to enroll clients, but also, important underlying approaches to selling, like tone of voice, dress, setting boundaries, building rapport, approaching sensitive topics, and dealing with objections.

Sales shadowing is an excellent way for your new agents to learn useful selling skills without taking away more time from your regular day-to-day schedule.

Don’t forget to have a structured debrief and time of reflection after the shadowed sales call. This will reinforce what your new agent learned during the appointment, develop critical thinking skills, and encourage active engagement. Guide your agent through a reflection by asking questions about what happened, why they think it happened this way, their opinions, how things could have gone differently, and what they learned.

Roleplay Sales Appointments & Phone Calls

After job shadowing, your new agent may be ready to step out of the observing role and into a more active one, but maybe not necessarily the real deal. The hands-on learning of roleplay is paramount to preparing your agent for autonomy.

You or one of your assistants could pretend to be a client and your new agent could run through a sales presentation. Call them on the phone and have them take down all necessary new client information or respond to a complaint. If you already have other downline agents, get them involved too. Make a day of it, order lunch for everyone, and have fun! After your new agent has had some practice through roleplay, give them the opportunity to lead a sales appointment with an actual client while you observe and take notes.

After job shadowing, your new agent is ready to step out of the observing role and into a more active one.

Again, after each roleplay session or appointment, have a time of reflection to reinforce learning and give space for questions. Provide your honest feedback on their strengths and weaknesses so they know what they do really well and what they may need to work on more.

Demonstrate Sales Tools & Technology

How your agents learn sales tools and technology can follow the same progression as learning how to lead appointments and close deals. Start by demonstrating how they work. Then, let the agent take over while you observe.

We recommend breaking up any technology trainings over a series of days, since sitting all day in front of a screen trying to learn a new program can be difficult to retain. Strike a balance between formal walk-throughs of the program and natural opportunities to practice as they come up. For example, perhaps you update all your clients’ files in your customer relationship management (CRM) software on Fridays. On Thursday, give your new agent a tour of the CRM. On Friday, update your clients’ files as usual while the agent watches and you explain what you’re doing. Then next Friday, switch places with the agent and talk them through the process.

Training through experience will make up the bulk of the onboarding phase, as this is when your recruits will gain the confidence they need to go out and sell on their own.

Become a Mentor

Training will be most intensive when your agents first become a downline, but training isn’t a one-and-done thing. Being a mentor is about investing in your agents for the long term, not just during the onboarding phase.

Check In Weekly

Schedule weekly check-ins with each of your downline agents. These will be valuable times to mentor your agents by discussing difficult client cases, ideas for career development, issues with work, and more. Weekly check-ins can be an essential time of learning for both you and your downline agent. Consistent communication is key when operating a busy, healthy agency, so don’t skip this important step.

Alternative to 1:1 Meetings

Perhaps you have too many agents under your wing to meet with them all individually every week. If that’s the case, it’s time to delegate. Consider setting up a mentorship program with your more seasoned agents mentoring your recruits. In the beginning of the onboarding phase, get to know your new agent so that you can pick out the best mentor for them. The mentor can then become the person your new agent job shadows, practices with, and meets with weekly. Your new agent likely won’t need a formal mentor forever, perhaps wanting to become a mentor themselves someday.

The mentor can then become the person your new agent job shadows, practices with, and meets with weekly.

Graduate to Group Check Ins

After your new agent is fully settled and no longer in need of a formal mentor (keep an open dialogue with the agent to find out), consider letting your mentee “graduate” and move to a group setup. Or perhaps the agent was already part of a group meeting from day one and simply stops meeting one-on-one with a mentor. You get to decide the structure and progression. A group setting can be a good next step in your newer agent’s development, as it breaks the hierarchy of the mentor-mentee relationship and puts everyone on the level playing field of colleague.

Speaking of group meetings, we strongly recommend setting up a monthly group sales call with all your agents. These meetings can be done virtually and are a great time to discuss what they’re experiencing in the field, latest trends, industry news, and other topics. You can also provide kudos to your top-performing agents, encouraging a little bit of friendly competition.

Building a mentorship program can be very useful, giving you back more time and allowing your new agent to have focused, regular attention from another agent. It also builds an atmosphere of comradery and teamwork in the agency, especially in the group setting. If you’re going to go this route, don’t forget that your mentors need training, too!

Encourage Professional Development

Continuing education is important for any professional to stay current on policies, procedures, and trends and be reinvigorated and energized. It’s also required for health and life insurance agents in many states. Look for events to attend together as an agency (e.g., Ritter Summits). Consider networking with other insurance agencies in your area. Watch webinars together. Collaborative learning is a great team-building activity, so consider doing some of these activities together.

Let Us Show You How

Training new downline agents can seem overwhelming. There’s a lot to do! The good news is that you don’t have to be alone in your journey. Ritter Insurance Marketing has a dedicated agency team to help you set up your agency. We can help you lay the groundwork for success and give you the support you and your downlines need along the way.

We also have a multitude of training resources at your disposal! As part of their training, consider putting your new agents through Knight School, a self-guided learning experience for those getting started in insurance. We also have our active Ritter blog, growing collection of eBooks, ASG Podcast, Ritter Docs Agency section, training webinars and events, and more!

To help you expand your agency’s reach, check out our free Developing an Agency eBook! Learn about recruiting agents, building your brand, and succession planning.

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Your new agents are depending on you to soar. With these tips you’ll be equipped to show them how. Lay the foundation with thorough resources, build off it with job demonstrations, practice, and mentorship, and then watch them fly. Every teacher has a teacher, and we’re ready to help your agency flourish!

Register with Ritter today for free and access all our tools and resources for your agency-building adventure!

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