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How Network Range Affects a New Agent’s Success Rate

There is a fair amount of drama involved In the age-old debate on team production versus individual producers.  Clients reportedly prefer the feeling and security of a team of advisors.  It gives the client the feeling that the advisors are specialists who know more and are able to help offer the best care.  The home office has long held the opposite view.  Teams are more expensive and less productive — 10 individual producers will out sell a team of 10 any day.

Developing nations are a hotbed for research these days.  There are masses of people in India and China who are coming into the middle class and now have disposable income.  Life insurance sales are on the rise and this is a ripe stage to study in these developing markets.

Many of the lessons learned may be useful here in the US.

Chen, Zhang and Fey (2011) recently published significant findings that may alter the course of the team/solo debate.

Take the example of an agent joining a team.  Simply being in a team environment does not mean that the individual stands any better chance of surviving in the business.  Common thought holds that a team will rally around an individual to provide training and mentoring.  This isn’t always the case. The researchers found that teamwork by itself does not do the trick.  It has far more to do with the social capital — the new agents network.  The counter-intuitive piece to their observation hinges on what type of natural market this individual brings.

The key distinction is what is known as network range.  Just because a person brings a large network to the practice does not mean that the new advisor will be successful.  The new advisor is more successful if the range of his or her network spans different types of people.  The researchers explained that range deals with groups of people who are heterogeneous.  Range is defined as “the number of occupations in which more than one contact existed for the insurance agents” (Chen, et. al., 2011, p. 445).  By this definition a person with a network of 2 lawyers, 2 carpenters and 6 brick masons has a greater range than a person who knows 1 lawyer and 9 teachers.  Same network size, far different network range.

The reasoning is that dealing with a homogenous population, no matter how high or how low their associated income, the agent learns only the products that they need for that one population; therefore, they grow less reliant on team members.  A heterogeneous network requires knowledge of many different types of products, which lends to the agent’s seeking help from team members.

Reference

Chen, Y. Y., Zhang, Y., & Fey, C. F. (2011). When collaborative HR practices may not work well: The moderating role of social capital in the Chinese life insurance industry. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22(2), 433–456. doi:10.1080/09585192.2011.540164.