With discussion topics ranging from the economy to site selection to retaining top talent, executives from the 18-member Lynette Owens & Associates Advisory Council met last summer at the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Fla. “The Lynette Owens & Associates Insurance Advisory Council was created more than 15 years ago as a means for key decision-makers from a variety of financial services companies to network with each other and with hotel representatives,” says Owens. “The council also reviews trends in the industry and what they are looking for to continue to motivate their sales teams.” In recent years, she adds, the council has taken on a greater role in the management and growth of Lynette Owens & Associates as it moves toward meeting management and on-site coordination and expands its presence at industry trade shows. At the council's most recent meeting, the economy was top of mind.

Tough Times

“Building for the future is a top priority in today's economy,” says Tom Nicholson, vice president and chief marketing officer for Dakotacare in Sioux Falls, S.D. “Meetings allow companies to showcase new product offerings, create excitement, and boost morale. All three are important elements in retaining employees and attracting new talent. This is especially true with meetings that first-time qualifiers attend.”

And while the perception by the public and some U.S. lawmakers got one insurer in extremely hot water over a recognition meeting, companies would do well to focus on the what salespeople perceive rather than on misrepresentations in the mainstream media.

“Off-site meetings allow high-performing employees and other sales distribution channels to feel your company and industry are ‘alive and well.’ And perception is everything in a down economy,” Nicholson says. “While watching expenses is important, one must consider as well the importance of a satisfied work force.”

Relying on Partners

When things are tough on producers, their relationships with national marketing organizations can really make a difference, says Ed Ledford, CLU, RFC, vice president, business development, for Foresters Financial Partners in Carmel, Ind. Foresters works with 1,400 independent agents and financial advisers nationwide, offering products and services to help them serve their customers and grow their businesses. “Our business is all about relationships,” Ledford says. “In a down economy there is plenty of opportunity for us, as producers have a strong need for quality products, along with support services that help them stay on focus and find planning solutions for their clients.”

Getting Face to Face

One way that Foresters keeps its connection with producers is through meetings. “Meetings offer a platform for training, building relationships, and helping producers create and maintain their network, and those are critical parts of every business. We don't conduct meetings without education. Our meeting content is a major part of our value proposition.”

Ledford's company holds an annual conference for agents and advisers that is part training, part incentive, and all about maintaining relationships and growing business. “We bring in our product provider partners as well as experts to do educational presentations on topics such as estate planning and retirement planning opportunities,” he says. The incentive piece of the program? Foresters picks up the hotel and travel tab for attendees who reach a certain level of qualification. Otherwise, attendees pay their own way and are hosted while on site at the two-and-a-half-day conference.

Foresters Financial Partners executives also do annual road shows, visiting areas where agents and advisers are concentrated to present programs on sales techniques and practice development strategies (such as customer relations or prospecting). One thing these shows are not is pure product descriptions. “There is a lot of product out there,” Ledford says. “What they need to know is how to use it, how to integrate a new concept into their practice. That's where we, as a national marketing organization, come in. We have expertise to help producers grow their practice.”

That concept mirrors the mission of Foresters as a whole. Providing products and services is just the foundation, says Ledford. “The differentiators are, first, our relationships and, second, our ability to help producers find new ways to meet clients' needs and to make sales.”

Loyalty Matters

At Dakotacare, Tom Nicholson echoes Ledford's emphasis on commitment. “Recruitment and retention in a down market are probably more important than during good economic times,” he says. “Making a long-term commitment in staff today can save you three times the amount you might spend in the future because you have maintained strong loyalty that employees won't forget when the economy turns more positive. And from a recruitment standpoint, there is a huge amount of talent looking for jobs due to other companies downsizing. You need to take advantage of this situation.”

Nicholson's advice for doing so is to make it easy for new people to decide to join you. For example, he advises, if you are looking at new talent outside your geographical area, “allow them flex time or the ability to work from their home to save them long commutes [while they are relocating]. Be sensitive to their being able to sell a home before they make a permanent move. Keep them involved with the decision-makers and communicate with them about what is going well with your company. They need to believe they can advance within the organization.”

Communication also is critical to retaining top talent once you have them on board. Nicholson suggests forming internal committees that meet regularly with senior staff. “This allows employees to ask questions and give opinions,” he says. “It helps alleviate doubt about their future with the company. Communication is key in a down economy.”

Sidebar: On the LOA Roster

The following hotel representatives were in attendance at the 2008 LOA Summer Advisory Council Meeting:

Elizabeth Gould, Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, Calif.

Myra Howath, Claremont Resort & Spa, Berkeley, Calif.

Paige Cabacungen, Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Maui, Hawaii

Mike Wagner, Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst Village, N.C.

Carole Tucker, La Costa Resort & Spa, La Costa, Calif.

Candace Bengston, La Quinta Resort & Spa, La Quinta, Calif.

Related article: Industry To Work Together to Prove Power of Meetings