Introduction: Jennifer Cavalle Black sold payroll services for Paycom when CIB recruited her in 2012 to become an Employee Benefits producer with IBTX Risk Services in Dallas, TX. She’s become a Partner in IBTX, now a part of Acrisure the fastest growing insurance brokerage in industry history.
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: Payroll sales was more transactional and the cycle was quick. In insurance, it’s truly a relationship sale. It’s a less structured sales environment. And the sales cycle is much longer. As an example, an account I just picked up on a broker of record letter, it took me two years of relationship building to finally get it.
Q: What surprised you the most when you got into this career?
A: I was really surprised at the financial potential. There’s a huge amount of money that you can make in this industry. One of my biggest regrets is not getting into this industry sooner! Your income is driven by the residual commissions, which I had never had and that’s a huge selling point for this career.
Q: Thinking back to your first year – how hard was it and how did you get through the early challenges and frustrations?
A: The key is to have a mentor, someone who is transparent with you from the beginning so you know what you’re getting into. My mentor kept reminding me how long the sales cycle is and that you’re not going to get instant gratification in the first year. That you need to come in with realistic expectations and be prepared to put your head down and put in a lot of work before you get rewarded. My mentor helped me to stay centered and focused and to keep the big picture in mind.
Q: What’s the most important thing a new producer can do in year 1 to be successful?
A: Find people in your company who are experienced and knowledgeable and who will find time to help you and be on your side.
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: When I first started, I was prospecting hard. I was literally in the office from 8 to 6 every day and then going to networking events and building my centers of influence. Now, my business comes from referrals, which is awesome and a lot easier than cold calling. As your book of business grows, you have less time available to sell. I have a service team that helps me tremendously but the reality is that the business owner expects to see my face at the client meetings. So, as your business grows, you do have some challenges to manage your time. I have flexibility and get to work from home but I’m also on-call for clients. There will also be situations when, for example, I needed to have a conference call with a client on Saturday afternoon this past weekend.
Q: What’s the one thing that happened in your career when you realized being a producer is what you should be doing?
A: I really love to help people. I get to help business owners with their health insurance, which is typically their largest expense after payroll. But I also get to help their employees on a personal level. When you’re dealing with health insurance, you’re dealing with their lives. I had a client employee call me in a panic. Their child needed a prescription filled after an emergency room visit. Somehow their child was mistakenly not showing in the system for insurance and the parent didn’t have the money to pay for the prescription out-of-pocket. So, I drove across town and met the employee and paid for a short-term prescription because that was what the client’s employee’s child needed. That’s when I realized that what I’m doing is making a difference. We’re positively affecting people’s lives every day.
Q: Looking back on your choice to become a producer, how did that decision change your career trajectory?
A: I’m a single mom with two kids so the flexibility in my schedule and the financial freedom that it’s been able to provide has been life-changing. There are not too many parents who get to do what they love as far as helping people and making a very good living and also being able to make it all of their kids’ games and dropping them off at school. So, it has been life changing. Again, my biggest regret is that I didn’t start earlier. I’m now a partner in my firm so it’s provided me with opportunities that I would have never had in the other industries and B2B sales jobs that I had.
Q: What career advice would you give to a sales person considering becoming a producer?
A: If you come from payroll or copiers or similar hunter B2B sales, you have an opportunity to do very well in this business. The sales training and the cold calling from those industries translates well into this industry. If you come in and put in a ton of work in the first couple of years, and especially if you’ve got contacts and a network, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll be successful. If you’re willing to do the work, you’ll be successful. It’s being realistic in the first year. I even took a step back in pay. I made less money. I knew the potential to make more money was so much greater than staying in my old job that I was willing to take that chance and put in the work. So, be honest with yourself about if you’re at a time in your life where you can put in the work for the first 18-24 months knowing that it will pay off for many years after.
Q: You’ve been successful and yet you’ve seen others with similar backgrounds (including competitive college sports) fail at this career. Why do you think that’s so?
A: I’m a big believer that the best sales people have a very high pain tolerance. That’s not a direct link to being an athlete. It’s a mindset. Another thing – and this may sound weird – but I watch body language like how fast people walk. Sales people who walk briskly have a sense of urgency, which is huge. You need to be able to fail and come back. The athletic competitive drive obviously helps. I also believe that we need to do a better job in this industry helping new producers. It’s hard to be thrown into this career without a call list, without a mentor, without training, and without much money (let’s be honest!). It’s hard for new producers so the industry can do a better job of training and supporting new producers.