You are a business owner. And your business is to recruit producers and wholesale life, annuity, linked benefits, or other products to those producers while also focusing on service, support and growth initiatives that encourage them to continue doing business with your firm. Meanwhile, the relationship with your upline IMO should be running smoothly in the background.
Because you also have overhead to meet, staffing challenges that crop up, industry roadblocks… The last thing you need is to be frustrated by your upline IMO, so much so that it leads you to explore other options — adding to your already lengthy list of duties as agency Principal. Perhaps you’re content with your current IMO relationship, but wonder if all IMOs are the same or if there’s one you aren’t currently working with that could offer you more.
As you weigh the pros and cons, we’d encourage you to take into account what we’ve found to be hallmarks of a quality Agency — IMO relationship. Your upline IMO should:
1. Fill whatever role you ask them to.
An IMO should be satisfied “behind the curtain” if that’s what you want. If all you need is the back-office support, for instance, then that’s what they should provide. And there should be no “gotchas” where they suddenly change the rules in the middle of the game and take your agents “hostage” by contacting them directly (see #2, affiliation agreement). Those are relationships that YOU built and it’s your upline’s responsibility to honor that. They should also be offering the products and sales concepts that you’re interested in and not be insistent that you do something that’s “not you”. Your IMO should respect the boundaries you set for the firm you’ve built and take their direction from you.
2. Be transparent.
You have a choice in who you work with so if there’s no trust in the relationship, it eventually self-destructs and you choose to partner with a different IMO. To prevent it from getting to that point, one of the foundational elements that should be established from Day 1 of any working relationship is transparency.
This starts with the affiliation agreement that you sign, which should provide all the details regarding compensation, etc. There should be no doubt or insecurity around the accuracy of payment. At Partners Advantage, one way we ensure this transparency is by not only paying weekly but conducting compensation audits when necessary.
Also, get rid of the elephant in the room and ask your upline, “How do you make money on my business?” We all need to realize revenue, and the IMO should have no qualms about laying out their model for you.
3. Treat you like a business partner.
You should be treated as a business partner because you are one. This means any and all changes should be communicated to you in a timely manner. This could include changes in leadership, pivots in company vision, or simply keeping you aware of acquisitions as well as providing carrier updates. Your IMO should keep you in the know.
The Platinum team at Partners Advantage does this by hosting conference calls and live events or making visits to our business partners. We’ve seen that a side-by-side working relationship is more effective than one that operates top-down. Our goal is to make sure our business partners’ needs are being met and that we’re aware of any challenges they’re facing. This allows for accountability from both sides and provides assurance that everyone is on track with the plan set forth in the beginning of the relationship. Continuous process improvement is only possible when there is a collaboration between an IMO and the partners they work with.
4. Appreciate your partnership.
No one likes being taken for granted and it can quietly erode any business relationship. Appreciation for the partnership can be demonstrated in just taking the time to return your calls, for instance — which has to be done to keep the lines of communication open.
The IMO you work with should be responsive to your needs. We have a team assigned for each of our groups and they treat those groups as if they were their own personal account to manage. It doesn’t matter what you need assistance with — it could be something as simple as needing a current carrier comp grid. Each request gets the same amount of attention as any other.
5. Challenge you to reach and exceed your business goals.
An IMO should know its place and let you direct the course of your business, but they should also know when to challenge you to reach greater heights and invite you to step outside your comfort zone.
Maybe you’ve never hosted an agent event before, your upline could suggest it and help you coordinate it. Perhaps, you are a life-focused firm that wants to venture into the annuity world. Your upline should offer proven ideas you could implement in your business that would penetrate that market and move the needle. That’s what partnership is after all — to make sure all involved realize success from working together.
The bottom line...
As we enter third quarter, I encourage you to take a close look at your business. Ask yourself the tough questions: Is there anything you’d like to improve or something you’d do differently so you can hit your targets by year-end?
And then ask yourself … did your IMO help you get to where you are now? And are they going to help you get where you want to go in the future? Would they earn 5 stars?
Lastly, I’d urge you to have a conversation — with a colleague, a carrier rep you trust, or an IMO executive that will give you honest feedback or suggestions regarding the future of your firm. If an IMO you talk to says they are absolutely the best fit for your firm without asking any questions beyond, “How much premium did you do in 2018?” — move on.
No one agent/agency/IMO ever bats a thousand; there is a certain percentage of relationships in our business that just aren’t meant to be. Keep that in mind, and approach these conversations not from the viewpoint of “running around behind your current upline's back” but more from the intention of evolving in your business, taking it to the next level and protecting the health and future of something you’ve worked so hard to develop.