How to run a successful sales internship program

In Careers & coaching by Eric Silverman

College kids are referred to as millennials these days, but the top two questions that I get asked by agents and agencies who want to start or better their insurance sales internship program haven’’t changed at all.

Let’’s remember why millennials need an internship in the first place. The sharpest ones seek an internship to garner professional experience in a real-world environment to beef up their resume and embark on what could be a potential career. These are the best and brightest students you can find, and ideally, the only ones you want to spend your time developing.

Some simply need to finish school, and since they can typically get credit toward graduation, they look for an easy internship so they can fulfill their college requirements. Be very careful with this group, since their intent may not be pure and oftentimes results in wasted effort on your part and a missed opportunity for someone more genuine.

Then, you have the students who are a little of both; these can be very good, but if they’’re graduating seniors, make sure you hold them accountable, and rein them in by keeping a very short leash, since a severe bout of senioritis can make even the best-intending students veer off course quickly.

Hiring part-timers is simply delayed gratification

What do stay-at-home parents and millennial-aged college students have in common? Each needs a part-time and flexible schedule. A parent needs to tend to their family as a top priority with personal time restrictions, while a college student needs to focus on their classes (and partying) as a top priority that has its own unique time constraints.

I’ve always believed that hiring a part-timer in commission insurance sales was never a bad thing. Let’’s face it: Starting a new career in sales, let alone commission-based insurance, is a tough pill to swallow for many. Statistically, I find that a large percentage of my top producers started out part-time, getting their feet wet in the business, before devoting full-time hours and effort. Some insurance agencies will disagree with my opinion on hiring, training and working to develop a part-time person who can’’t devote their full attention to our industry. To those naysayers, I ask them if they’’re solely interested in immediate results, or are they interested in recruiting and developing their future insurance rock stars who’’ll act as their bench, that at some point in the future will knock the cover off the ball and give their current rock stars some fierce competition. I hope for the naysayers’ sake it’’s the latter.

Let’’s say that your new part-time parent needs off on Fridays, but can devote five hours a day, Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while their kids are in school. And let’’s say that your new part-time intern wants off on Fridays, but can devote the same five hours scattered throughout the week around their classes and partying schedule. That’s 20 hours a week, 86.67 hours a month, 1,040 hours a year of sales potential and productivity, per person. Does it really matter if their title is “part-time” as a working parent or “intern” as a millennial college student who just happens to be wrapping up their last few credits at the local university? Not at all.

So, here are the top two questions I often get:

1) How do you pay your sales interns?

Whenever I get this question, I always turn it around and fire right back, how would you pay a part-time agent who wants to give the insurance industry a fair shot but can’’t commit to full-time hours? That’’s right — commissions! I’ve always believed in the age-old saying: You get out of life what you put into it,” and since we’’re looking for hungry and aggressive sales professionals, to me, there’’s no better or other way to pay them than to reward them heavily with the effort that they put forth.

The typical response I get from my answer is two-fold: So you don’’t pay your sales interns hourly, salary or even a semester-long stipend? And what about licensing and training?” Not to be redundant, but again, I turn their question around and ask if they pay in that fashion for a part- or full-time career agent? Assuming their answer is no, as it typically is, then they have their answer as to how they would pay their sales interns. Part-timers just need a more flexible schedule and an intern, in short, is simply a part-timer. As far as licensing and training is concerned, dare I say it’s the same thing? We can’’t hire a sales person, part-time or full-time for that matter, without them obtaining their state-required insurance license. In turn, I would hope for their sake, your sake and for the sake of your future clients that you would never hire someone without putting them into a serious training regimen designed to get them off to a fast start, which, in my book, always means making money quickly!

2) What do your sales interns do?

I promise I’’m not trying to be a smart-aleck, but here we go again.— I would turn this question around, and ask what you would do with your full-time or part-time career sales agents? Would you have them sit in the office all day long doing mundane clerical duties like making coffee, filing, answering phones and working blindly on the computer? I most certainly hope not. Thus, what you would do with your interns is mentor them to success by giving them your most valuable and precious asset: Your time. Teach them how to prospect for appointments, show them how to close and enroll new clients, instill into them the value of after-the-sale service, and last, but most certainly not least, ensure that they see you ask for referrals from all of your newly delighted clients.

So there you have it. As I discussed in my last blog, we know insurance isn’’t very sexy, so we must passionately sell millennials on why the insurance industry is the accidental opportunity of their lifetime. With that in mind, now we know that the answer to the top two questions about recruiting millennials into your internship program is to simply hire, train and treat your sales interns, and any part-timers, exactly the same as you would when hiring full-time career agents, but allowing for greater flexibility of their schedule.

Would you like a free sample of what my sales internship description looks like? Reach out to me directly, and I’ll gladly share. Happy hunting!