My Dalliance in Insurance
Okay. So. If you are in, or might be in, the market for a new career, allow me to provide you with some red-flag phrases.
“Work whatever hours you want.”
“Be your own boss!”
“Unlimited earning potential!”
Put these phrases together, and you get this: “This so-called job does not pay an hourly or annual wage, it is strictly commission, and you are on your own, we will not help.” This is a company that will hire 100 people knowing that at least 95 of them will wash out in less than a year. That’s one of the reasons I walked away from the Investor’s Group, the sense that my “unlimited earning potential” was based entirely on my ability to generate my own leads and sell investment packages. (We’ll get to the other reason in a minute.)
So when I got an email out of nowhere from an insurance company we’ll call… “Blank Insurance Life…” no, that sounds like I had a stroke… “American Insurance Blank?” Eh, one of those. When I got an email from them out of the blue, saying they saw my resume and thought I was perfect for the insurance game, I was a little sceptical. However, it passed my initial tests… the email didn’t go right to my spam folder, they were a real company with a not-fake website, and when I emailed back for specifics, I got further reassurances… no cold calling, no high-pressure sales tactics, no door-to-door sales.
This was key. I will straight walk out of any interview involving door-to-door sales and I’m not sorry.
So I went to the interview. Which, if I’m being honest, had a couple more red flags… first, it went way too fast. Three interviews and a presentation from one of the top people at the branch and I had a job offer. That’s not how most hirings go, but along the way I’d been told that they had more leads than they could chase, and thus needed to massively expand their workforce. So, sure, I bought into it, especially since the main person I’d talked to had walked me through just how quickly I could rack up more money than I’d ever had before.
Which was red flag number two. Legit jobs ask about you, talk about what the position requires, and try to deduce whether you’re a good fit. Multi-level marketing schemes talk about how, if you apply yourself, within five years you’ll have a Tesla, a yacht, and a big house with no mortgage.
However, unlike that pyramid scheme an old colleague once tried to enroll me in, the manager actually got specific about what was required to earn this kind of money: learn their pitch script, make calls to people who had expressed interest in this product, deliver said pitch script with no high pressure tactics, sell policies, earn money off those policies as long as they exist. Also bring in some other sales agents to advance through the ranks and earn even more.
Okay, so, a couple more warning signs there… I didn’t know the term “downstream” in regards to sales companies yet, but an emphasis on bringing in people below you so you can earn off their work is not a great sign. But hey, it wasn’t like I had to kick money up the ladder, the company paid bonuses to your supervisors. And to be frank… I was blinded by the possibilities. This is how companies like this manage to recruit people: they make earning huge piles of money seem so possible, and then you get sucked in by what that kind of money could mean.
This wasn’t just a living wage, this was fancy-electric-car money. This was fund-my-webseries money. This was “Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, this year’s family vacation is on me” money. And as for recruiting… I had friends in fucking grim financial circumstances, and maybe we could all do this together, and not only save their bank accounts but, I don’t know, all go to Monte Carlo for our work-anniversary or something.
So that’s why I accepted the job. The next few weeks I became a complete recluse: if I wasn’t at work or rehearsal, I was studying insurance, getting certified, and reviewing the training material. I didn’t give notice at my other job, though, not wanting to risk it should the bottom fall out on this new opportunity. Still, my last shift there felt deliciously close.
So with that, let’s do a speed-round of everything wrong with this company/job!
Right after a soothing visit from our old pal Derpy Wombat.
- “No cold calls.” Theoretically true, because every lead I was handed was someone who had expressed interest… by ticking a box on a card a year and a half ago. Didn’t mean they were excited to hear from an insurance salesman while at the grocery store.
- “Just use the script.” My training agent, let’s call him “Guy the cast of Entourage would find a little douchey,” never once used the script. He specialized in re-signing lapsed policies. Fine, whatever, but I’m not being given those leads, so how is this helpful.
- “Low pressure sales” turned out to mean “Extremely passive aggressive sales,” as when a customer told me they were no longer interested in the product (having ticked a box wanting information on a child safety kit a year and a half ago), my trainer told me he’d have said “What part of your children’s safety doesn’t interest you?” and that just seemed… monstrous.
- My training agent, and others, had sold enough to win a trip to Las Vegas for a convention. As such… the managing agent told them not to take any days off before the trip, to make up for being bought a vacation. Um… didn’t winning the sales contest do that? What the hell. That just felt abusive.
And now the one sales meeting that pretty much killed my determination to stick with this…
- “No door to door sales.” At my first company sales meeting, following a Skype call about sales techniques, one of the branch’s top guys talked about the importance of “drop-ins.” Which meant, if you had a gap between sales calls, just… going to the house of a lead that lives nearby and trying to sell to them. Fucking what. I don’t just “drop by” my very best friends’ houses uninvited, I’m definitely not doing it to strangers, that cannot be a good idea. And yet they were insisting it was necessary. This was the beginning of the end right here.
- Afterwards, while my trainer sat in the hall, attempting to book appointments, some of us new hires practiced the script in the meeting room. A couple of moments call for you to check your watch, thus implying that you also don’t want to be here all day. I don’t wear a watch, so I didn’t do that. The guy I was running lines with corrected me by, without breaking eye contact, clapping his entire hand over his watch. My greatest regret about these two wasted months is just saying “I don’t wear a watch” and not glaring at him and saying “Well if you want to bring that up, you should know you’re doing it wrong, maybe work on that before correcting other people.”
- As we left the office, my trainer said that one of the main managers asked him to chide me about having only worn a dress shirt and jeans to the meeting. The same basic ensemble my trainer wore to sales calls. Apparently that was fine, but any time we were in the office, we were supposed to wear a full suit. Which… WHY!? This company exclusively meets customers at their houses, never the office. Why should I have to dress nicer at the one place I won’t be meeting customers? This was a Skype call, running lines, and talking on the phone. Nothing I couldn’t do in my pajamas, let alone need a suit for. Also one of my trainer’s friends was wearing a pastel blue Easter brunch number and you cannot convince me that looked better.
So between the suit nonsense, agents being punished for high sales, and the constant… “encouragement” from the Whatsapp group thread they made us join (it’s 8:00 on a Saturday, managing agent, I don’t want to hear from you, I can’t imagine any possible customer wants to hear from me), I was getting a little fed up with the corporate culture. And it seemed like “no cold calls, no door-to-door, no high pressure sales” had been, at best, lies of omission. I was in a rage while driving home, screaming at how terrible this job had become, in no mood to spend the rest of my day phoning strangers to ask them to let me come to their house to sell them insurance.
To this point, I’d been determined to stick with it. Through the training and the testing and devoting myself to studying so thoroughly I cut myself off from human contact and took several days to watch all of Stranger Things season two. (I skipped a lot of TV but I’m not made of stone.) But enough was enough, I hated this “job” and this MLM masquerading as an insurance company, so I did what I had to do… emailed in my resignation, left and deleted the Whatsapp thread, and ghosted my trainer when he called right after I did that.
When I went back to my previous job the next day, (which I had wisely not given notice for) I had a new zest for the work… every customer was my friend, every task a delight. Because whatever else, this job had an hourly wage and didn’t want me to just show up unannounced at somebody’s house.
But hey, something better had to be around the corner, right?