The Real Poop
You may have heard companies say in their commercials some cheesy line like, "What we sell is a promise." Makes you gag, right? However, in the case of an insurance sales agent, it's actually true. (Both the "promise" part as well as the "gag" part.)
Insurance sales agents sell...nothing. Your name and a bunch of figures printed on sheets of paper—that's all you get in exchange for the hundreds or thousands of dollars you pay them every year. That and the promise that, should anything ever go terribly wrong, they've got your back. Financially, anyway. It's not like they're going to come to your home and give you a great big hug when your kitchen burns down. Although it might be nice if they did.
For this reason, many individuals treat insurance as if it is unnecessary, or just a huge scam. But the fact is that you need insurance—hopefully nothing bad will ever happen to you, but if it does and you are uninsured, it can basically ruin your life. Unless you’ve got a few hundred thousand on hand to pay for all of the surgeries you’ll need when you become horribly mangled and disfigured in a car accident, in which case, sure—go ahead and keep all your bills stuffed in between your mattress and box springs. Or more aptly, take 'em to Vegas.
Because insurance is so necessary for everyone, it's not a bad business to get into. Pay is decent, the hours (usually) aren't too bad, and you get to work in a small office with beautiful overhead fluorescent lighting. Bzzzzzz.
If things go boring, the insurance company makes out like a bandit. Say you own fire insurance on your home. It has cost you $200 a month and you paid it for 20 years or 240 months. So the insurance company took in $200 x 240 or $48,000 of your money (and got to invest it for their own benefit along the way)—and they didn't have to pay out a dime. Well, maybe a dime—there was sales commish to the guy who sold it to you (yeah, that’s the career we're talking about here) and there is the annual report they send you and maybe every now and then you get a holiday card. But on the $48,000, assuming nothing happens, which is what everyone wants, the insurance company makes bank. And, in turn, so do you.
Technically, you work for and get paid by the company that hires you, but really it's up to you to carve out a high quality of life for yourself. You don't want to be some drone just doing enough to get by, moving from company to company each time they figure out how substandard you are. You are in sales, so the more business you generate and the more accounts you are able to handle successfully without messing up or letting anything slip through the cracks, the more commission you make and the more likely you are to be promoted. It's a long road from Junior Vice President to Assistant Vice President to Senior Vice President to Vice President to President. If you're wondering why so many people in your company have the word "President" in their title...let's just say it looks better on the letterhead.
You may work for an insurance company, selling directly to the client, or you may work for an insurance brokerage, where you act as the middleman between the client and the insurance companies. In that case, you would determine the required coverages, then shop around to the companies you have a relationship with to see who can quote you the best price on each. You then bundle the policies together and provide them to the client. Here you are getting paid to do the legwork and research, and to make use of your personal connections with the insurance companies to achieve the lowest possible premiums. The real downside is that you have to call yourself a "broker" rather than an "agent," which sounds much less sexy.
Not everyone is cut out for sales. You should be personable and likeable to a certain extent, but you also need to be willing to be disliked. You can't just cater to a client's every whim—just because they say they're not interested in earthquake insurance doesn't mean you shouldn't push it anyway if you believe there's a chance you could convince them to change their mind. Not that we would advise you to do anything sleazy or underhanded, but if you can get a client to purchase coverage they may not necessarily need, you can't feel bad or let that keep you awake at night. Despite the fact that you're the insurance guy or gal, it is the client's responsibility to know what they need—it is your responsibility to sell. At the same time, you have to establish a relationship of trust to keep these people as your clients for many years to come, so it's a delicate balance. Good thing you can kill it on the pommel horse.