Top Five Challenges for Insurance Sales Ops and How to Fix Them

Insurers seeking to gain or maintain competitive edge can tap into the rich possibilities of sales performance management data to discover how it can help their business.

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Today’s insurance marketplace is in a state of rapid change, adapting to new technologies, dealing with the disruption those technological advances have enabled, and managing shifting customer expectations.

That’s left insurers looking for new ways to grow sales and profits, while offering producers and customers the best possible experience. Historically, regulatory and compliance issues made the insurance industry an early technology adopter, but its investments in that area have slowed, meaning most companies are still dealing with outdated manual processes and siloed systems.

Despite that, the importance of technology updates isn’t lost on the industry. Eighty-seven percent of insurance companies recently surveyed by Celent said they either have digital transformation initiatives underway or will implement them in the near future. This movement toward digital transformation has spurred a new focus on analytics in underwriting, claims, and product development. Still, only a few pioneers within the industry have begun transforming their distribution management through more complete data coupled with powerful analytics.

Those early adopters know that sales operations is the link between insurance companies and the distribution channels that enable them to drive new business. But for most, it’s too often overlooked. In today’s digital landscape, companies that fail to invest sufficiently in their sales ops are left facing five key operational challenges that can negatively impact their relevance and bottom line:

  1. Legacy Systems

The industry’s existing systems were largely built long ago to service regulatory reporting requirements by line of business, by product, and by state. In that era, companies weren’t thinking along the lines of gaining a holistic view of their customers and their purchasing habits. That trend has started to shift, but it still isn’t always carrying over to the agent experience.

For instance, internal data coupled with external information can help identify cross-selling opportunities by alerting agents to customers likely to buy additional products. But for most companies, achieving that relatively simple-sounding task requires pulling data from a variety of disparate legacy systems, then manually transferring that information into Excel spreadsheets.

This approach is time consuming and increases the chances of human error and inconsistent reporting, negatively impacting growth, customer retention, agent satisfaction and ROI.

  1. Annual Sales Forecasting

Each year, the executive suite outlines organization-wide goals for growth. It’s the sales ops staff, however, who are tasked with determining where that growth will come from. Excel spreadsheets are still widely relied on to run “what-if” scenarios to determine which distributors can help them meet those objectives.

The back-and-forth between finance, sales, regions, and divisions occupies endless hours of work. There are many cooks in the kitchen, with each department contributing comments and pushback to documents that can’t be updated in real time. What results is a lack of timely, actionable insights into present and future sales performance and decisions often based on out-of-date, inaccurate and incomplete data that may or may not drive the right behaviors to achieve the set objectives.

  1. Contracting & Appointments

Ambitious insurance carriers are increasingly aiming to drive growth through expanding their distribution networks—whether by market or product.

The contracting process, a manual and time-consuming process for sales ops, is critical to this expansion, but can be problematic for carriers. It’s often conducted back and forth via email with no set methodology for tracking progress. And since many agents are often onboarded at once, without a centralized tracking system, some of those agents can fall through the cracks.

Creating a positive agent experience from the very beginning is vital and the damage that those types of errors can do to a new relationship between an agent and a carrier is immeasurable. Afterall, a negative first impression stemming from organizational dysfunction can only harm productivity and ultimately, revenue.

  1. Licensing

It’s common for insurance companies distributing through independent agents to track licensing for all their producers either as policy or as required to comply with state regulations. Confirming that an individual or business entity is licensed, appointed, and contracted in the right state for the right product is important when preparing for a market conduct exam.

But manually retrieving that information can be both challenging and time-consuming, resulting in the waste of precious human resources.

  1. Agency Segmentation

While commission or remuneration is the primary source of income for insurance producers, companies often offer other benefits, most commonly, trips for top producers, commission overrides, annual bonuses, or incentive compensation. Research shows that most insurance companies incent their big producers based on premiums written.

But bigger isn’t always better. Insurance companies do themselves a disservice when they focus their commission plans and incentives on rewarding only their current top producers. Potential for growth is an equally critical consideration. When insurers fail to take care of smaller producers who reside in geographic territories with opportunities for further development, they can lose valuable sales.

The Right Data Is the Key to Success

It’s easy for sales ops to become sidetracked by burdensome manual tasks and therefore lack the bandwidth and resources to focus on activities that can make their distribution channel more productive and drive greater revenue. Transitioning away from legacy systems to automated sales performance management (SPM) can help insurance sales leaders clean, consolidate, and harmonize their data.

With an integrated SPM platform that pulls in data from all sources, sales ops can more easily build impactful commission and incentive compensation plans that reward and drive the right behaviors. The insights gleaned from SPM can help sales ops identify top (and high-upside) performers, geographies with the greatest potential for business growth, and cross-selling opportunities.

With the marketplace more competitive than ever, the time is now for insurance companies to focus attention on the growth-driving ability of modernized sales ops. They can tap into the rich possibilities of SPM data to discover how it can help their business become—or remain—an industry leader.

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Lucinda Colberg // Lucinda Colberg is director of product management for insurance at Optymyze. She has more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, both as a broker and with a global insurance company. Colberg can be reached at

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