Introduction: Felicia Lewis-Thorpe was selling major accounts for ADP when CIB recruited her in 2014 to become a Commercial P&C producer with AHT Insurance in Leesburg, VA. Now a Vice President with AHT, her clientele is predominantly focused on government consulting and technology companies.
Q: Thinking back to your transition from sales outside of insurance, besides the technical learning curve, what was the biggest transition challenge that you encountered?
A: It’s a lot of being on your own. It takes some work to know what you need to do, who you are going to go see, where you are going to focus your time, and where to put in effort on the types of things that are going to result in actual money. There’s a lot of flexibility that worked to my advantage. But, it also can be a little disheartening and lonely. It took some colleagues reaching out asking me how things are going and for me to take their offers of help literally and really assert myself into their situation in order to learn and also to have more of a connection with the organization.
Q: What surprised you the most – both good and bad – when you got into this career?
A: Let’s start with the bad. I was surprised how many prospects (CFOs) were open to conversations but not seriously open to changing their broker. The good surprise is that I genuinely had some fears about validating and what that meant for my compensation. I knew the math and that it should all work out. When it did and I validated, it’s been a huge uptick in my income and earnings capability. It confirmed my choice for what I was doing and what I’m looking for in this career going forward.
Q: Thinking back to your first year – how hard was it and how did you get through the early challenges and frustrations?
A: My first year actually wasn’t all that difficult. It was a lot of learning and getting out there. I hit on a huge first account sale in my first year. So, everything the first year was accolades and I didn’t know what I didn’t know! My second year was a bit more challenging. It’s just staying on the horse. You have to keep doing the same things. It’s easy to let your foot off the gas when things are going well, and then, all of a sudden, things aren’t going well. That’s because of what you didn’t do (the prospecting) when you were celebrating.
Q: What’s the most important thing a new producer can do in year 1 to be successful?
A: Find a prospecting plan and stick to it. If you’re going to network and then follow up, then just do it and stick with it. That first year is the one time that you really have to prospect and build the foundation for what’s going to happen in the next two to three years.
Q: You’ve been successful, in part, because your background included competitive sports. Why do you think that’s so?
A: The obvious benefit from sports is competitiveness, but the single most important value in my career has been the teamwork aspect. When I started, there was an account executive who offered to help me. The more she helped, the more I learned and the more she enjoyed spending time teaching me. It turned into an important relationship, particularly at the beginning when it can be lonely and intimidating. Then, I engaged in a relationship with a benefits broker colleague. We had similar personalities and approaches, and we started working together and showing up at networking events together. Now, people know us as a sales team. She comes to my client accounts and vice versa. It’s made such a big difference because we figured out that there were crossover opportunities that we would have never accomplished working alone. We hold each other accountable. And we’ve created a great dynamic between her group benefits team and my business insurance team where my team goes above and beyond for her clients and her team does the same for mine.
Q: What’s a typical “day in the life” look like for you now? How is it different today compared to when you started?
A: Once you have clients, they have real needs and some of those cannot be handed off to another person. There is a piece of you that has to deal with what being a broker means. I focus on doing at least five new business generating activities per day, and that usually happens in the morning before I can get distracted. I have these activities organized in SalesForce. I can go to a certain area in SalesForce and pull those out easily. Even on a very busy day, I can do five new business generating activities. So, even at full capacity for client issues and meetings, it’s a minimum amount of business development activity that I make sure happens.
Q: What’s your workload and your work/life balance look like now?
A: This job has quite a bit of work/life balance. There are days when I’m getting up to go to an event that starts at 7:30 am and that same day I may not get home until 9 pm. Then the next day, I may not leave my house. It’s a matter of the same amount of work has to be done but it doesn’t have to be done within the same hours or in the same place. It allows for me, being a parent, to go to whatever’s happening at the school today or pick him up early from school because he’s sick. For the most part, it allows for a lot of flexibility but I’m also always on for work and be available for an evening commitment when that’s necessary.
Q: Looking back on your choice to become a producer, how did that decision change your career trajectory?
A: This career is well suited for me because when you are talking insurance on the business side, there is so much that you have to know about the client company. You learn with each client. I love business and understanding about growth and strategy. A lot of what I do, from the standpoint of protecting clients by using risk mitigation techniques and strategies, comes from talking to my other clients and being able to share from what I’ve learned working with my other clients in a similar situation. That’s something I truly enjoy.
Q: What career advice would you give to a sales person considering becoming a producer?
A: If somebody is business-minded and can look at how a company is growing and have ideas on how to help them, this is a great career avenue to be able to create real tangible improvements for clients. This is a great career to look at, especially as the population of commercial insurance brokers is aging rapidly. It’s an industry that every business has to engage in regardless of the economy. That’s a very strong industry to be a part of and not a lot of professionals are getting into it.
Q: What do you find most satisfying about the producer career?
A: My client engagement. Knowing that I’ve come in and I’ve had clients tell me that I completely changed their experience. That is huge. I’ve aimed to have that kind of impact on every client.