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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



August 31
09:28 2022


Garner bigger and better results
by following these tips

Do you have a process—an explicit strategy—or do you
sell based on a whim or your mood that day?

By Brent Kelly

Have you ever had a conversation with a salesperson and knew the conversation was about them, not you? If so, did you think to yourself, this person is just trying to make a sale?

Whether or not that salesperson was aware, they were exhaling commission breath, that unmistakable smell of desperation that tends to linger in the air.

While commission breath is a common problem for insurance producers of all experience levels, it is particularly prevalent among rookie producers. Unfortunately, it erodes the trust and respect of potential future clients, which ultimately results in a lack of sales.

One way to recognize commission breath in the insurance world is if the salesperson is doing most of the talking and very little listening. Other tip-offs include the following:

  • “We can get you a competitive quote and save you money!”
  • “We are a one-stop shop. We can insure anything, whether it’s a multi-million-dollar business or a trailer.”
  • “Let me show you all of the cool things we do and tell you about all the products we offer.”
  • Although these generic sales pitches may appeal to some people, they’re unlikely to attract the caliber of customer you want.

The three keys to eliminating commission breath

If you lead a team of producers, how does their breath smell? Or, if you are a producer, how does yours smell? Does it smell like a high-level professional who has a mission to help move the prospect’s life or business forward or does is smell like an amateur who is desperate to drum up some business?

Once you’re able to recognize commission breath, you’ll want to avoid being on the giving or receiving end. I’ve outlined a few of the best ways to prevent it, and garner bigger and better results in return.

Know your value and own your model. Producers serve a high purpose, but marketplace messaging too often sabotages their value. That’s probably why I often hear producers (especially new ones) say things like, “I’m just an insurance agent,” or “I just sell insurance.” What does a message like that convey? It definitely does not convey professionalism, credibility, value, trustworthiness, or any other characteristics of a first-rate producer. Instead, it suggests that you minimize the importance of what you do.

In any professional interaction or transaction, the first sale you must make is to yourself. You must believe that what you do truly matters and helps the world—because it really does. The economy depends on what you do. However, unless you believe it, no one else will either, and you’ll reek of commission breath. One of my all-time favorite quotes is, “If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise the price.” Don’t diminish yourself! Embrace and exemplify the value that you, your agency, and your partners bring to the table.

Besides knowing your value, it’s critical that you own your model and the rules that you will play by. In other words, you must know your standards. For example:

  • Will you quote any account, regardless of multiple factors? If anything, and everything is possible, you’ll be chasing a never-ending series of transactions and you’ll smell strongly of commission breath. This may also occur when you try to operate outside your level of expertise. You don’t need to quote every account. If you’re trying to land a long-haul trucking account but know nothing about it or commercial transportation, you’re not adding value or helping anyone, including yourself.
  • Do you have a process—an explicit strategy—or do you sell based on a whim or your mood that day? Obviously, your process is going to vary depending on the product (a home or auto quote vs. comprehensive coverage for a multi-million-dollar business), but you still need to have one. Or are you practice quoting—dispensing free advice and throwing stuff out there because you have nothing better to do?
  • Do you know how decisions are made? Although this applies more to commercial lines than personal lines, you need to ask who makes the insurance decisions and how they arrive at them. Is it up to the CEO or the CFO? Don’t guess, have them spell it out. Be clear on the rules before you talk to just anyone or you could be wasting your time.
  • What is the timeline for moving forward? What do both parties agree is a reasonable amount of time to do what needs to be done? The goal is to get them to agree to a time for your next meeting or a deadline for deciding.

When you have clarity in your value and model, commission breath evaporates.

Consistent pipeline development. How important to a producer’s success is having a full pipeline? Ask any producer and they’ll all give the same answer: It’s extremely important! They know that a pipeline is a lifeline. Yet, if you ask how many of them make a concerted, consistent effort towards pipeline development, you’re apt to hear crickets. That’s because there’s often a disconnect between the power of a full pipeline and the effort required to keep it that way.

Typically, pipeline development has more to do with convenience than consistency. The best producers make it an ongoing priority. They have a process for it. Regardless of how busy they are, they make time to work on their pipeline. They understand that no matter how good they are, it doesn’t matter if they have no one to talk to.


The best producers are polished and prepared. They really
own their craft and so they exude confidence.


On the other hand, an average producer will start looking at their pipeline once they realize it’s empty, but by then it’s too late. Often, this occurs after they make a big sale or have a good month or quarter. They think everything will work out automatically, so they become complacent and put pipeline development on the backburner. Unfortunately, when things don’t magically fall into place, they’re left with an empty pipeline and no prospects.

A full pipeline of future ideal clients provides many things, but there are three major benefits that jump out:

  • More opportunities than time.
  • More results and, therefore, more money.
  • The power to walk away. The power to say “no” is arguably the greatest benefit of all. When you have a full pipeline of future ideal clients, you gain the ability and confidence to super-qualify them. This means you can be more selective, more patient, and more prepared.

Your pipeline development should be intentional. We always say that if you market to all, you market to none. So, stop working on suspects (anyone with a pulse) and prospects (usually just a database of names), and start identifying your future ideal clients. Being intentional allows you to exclusively target those people that meet your specific criteria, such as account size, business type, etc. Conversely, finding so-called prospects at random sounds more like a producer with commission breath than a risk professional.

Relentless preparation and practice. We’ve all known producers who think they’re great at “winging it,” when in fact they’re simply unprepared. They show up, throw up and blow up! Because they won’t practice their craft, producers who wing it almost always have commission breath. They’ll say whatever they think you want to hear to make a sale.

The best producers are polished and prepared. They really own their craft and so they exude confidence. And nothing reduces commission breath like a confident, poised, professional producer.

While it’s vitally important to be well-rehearsed, being well-researched is equally critical to success. Commission breath is a tell-tale sign that you haven’t done your due diligence before meeting with future ideal clients.

The best way to eliminate commission breath is to understand the needs of those involved so that you can ask intelligent questions and provide ideal solutions vs. focusing on the transaction itself. Clarification is a key part of this process. For example, a client may ask to be “fully covered,” or demand “high-level service,” but do you understand exactly what that means to them? If not, it’s important to ask them to prevent any misunderstanding. The same goes for other nebulous terms such as “low price.” Low compared to what?

As author, speaker and business consultant Jeffrey Gitomer says, “People don’t want to be sold, but they love to buy.” I concur, although I’d add that people want to buy from experts, so prepare to know their business like your own. With consistent, ongoing preparation and practice, you’ll come across as credible and respectful, someone people will want to buy from.

The bottom line

How do you want to be positioned and how will you be positioned? Will you be transaction-based or relationship-based? Ultimately, you can choose to be someone who offers expert risk and insurance advice or just another Quoter and Floater with commission breath. It’s up to you.


The author

Brent Kelly, president of Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please contact him at or visit



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