VICENTE M.A. PINA, CLU, ChFC, FLMI, LLIF, a senior consultant in the Training and Development Department of LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn., an insurance marketing and research association, has noticed some changes in training trends in both his own work and that of LIMRA's member companies. Here's what he had to say.

ICP: Traditionally, insurance companies have used a mix of proprietary training, including on-site training (in the field and in the sales office), regional or corporate office training, self-study training, and industry training (programs open to participants from many companies). Are you seeing any changes in these different types of programs?

PINA: At the salesperson level, there has been a drop in the participation rate at traditional, nonproprietary, industry training programs. The usual audience for these programs is individuals new to the industry and/or companies using career agent distribution. As we know, there are fewer individuals entering the industry as salespeople, and the number of companies using career distribution has also decreased. Cost too is a major consideration. Other nontraditional training programs, such as Dale Carnegie or Business Networking International courses, have gained a foothold in the insurance sector. However, field salespeople taking these courses would likely pay for it themselves.

What is growing is specific training for independent and some career producers. Many independent producers are former career agents, but in their new roles as independents they do not get as much insurance-company — paid training or continuing education (CE), so they have to seek it on their own. Changes in legislation, for example, will prompt independent producers to pay for a workshop on a subject that perhaps a career agent would receive for free or at a discount.

In-house training continues to take place in the sales office by field management or in-house trainers, though there are fewer of these trainers than there used to be. In-house training is primarily for career producers; it's virtually nonexistent on the independent side. Regional or corporate training can be achieved virtually with conferencing technology or simple conference calls. Face-to-face regional or corporate sales training may be held once, or at most twice, per year.

Self-study training courses have always been an option. Because of CE licensing requirements, which didn't exist for the most part until the early 1990s, producers are seeking training programs that have CE credit. The challenge is that not every workshop or training program is accredited for CE. Self-study programs that combine CE credit and teach individuals how to be more productive and efficient are the ideal choices. Self-study programs continue to be popular among employees in the corporate office.

ICP: Traditional insurance company training programs have focused on specific company products or procedures. Is that still the case?

PINA: Nowadays more companies are offering courses that teach entrepreneurship, marketing, and customer relationship management. The topics are geared toward reshaping salespeople into professional businesspeople who are proactively marketing their services to multiple market segments. The emphasis has shifted from focusing solely on acquiring new clients to preserving, servicing, and getting multiple sales from existing customers. These loyal, repeat customers may also provide referrals to new clients. Companies are also using successful producers as training models. This can involve the development of mentoring programs or workshops conducted by these successful producers.

ICP: What factors do you see driving agent training trends in the future?

PINA: Technology will continue to develop to the point where agents with the simplest skills should be able to participate in virtual training programs. This trend, of course, is driven largely by dwindling travel budgets and corporate expense controls. Companies and agents will continue to seek training programs that provide the maximum benefit for the least cost. All types of producers will, more than ever, be asked or required to fund their own career development. Some companies will offer basic training, but many will offer development programs only on a cost-share basis formulated on the attainment of certain production levels. Newer producers will continue to look to experienced producers and their supervisors for training and development. However, newer agents will look outside the industry for fresh ideas on issues like prospecting, sales ideas, closing techniques, and target marketing.

Some companies are also experimenting with salaried sales representatives. These programs will require highly productive individuals who can generate more in revenue and profit levels than the salary and benefits they receive. Quality training for these individuals will be a key. In essence, some companies want to create hungry, salaried salespeople who have the drive and get the results of commissioned salespeople, but without some of their potential disadvantages.