Episode 22B - Lessons from Nick Saban for the Insurance Industry

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MicroCast - Insurance

Lessons from Nick Saban

This is the time of year when we get fired up about the college football playoffs, who is going to which Bowl game, and which teams will be in the elite four for a chance at the college football National Championship.  Nobody in college football has been to the “big dance” more often and won more national titles than Nick Saban, the coach of the Crimson Tide of Alabama.  Unfortunately for the Tide, Auburn took care of them in the Iron Bowl this year squeaking out a last-minute win. 

Now, it pains me to talk about Saban because I’m a Georgia Bulldog fan, so Alabama is considered one of our arch enemies, and frankly, I’m tired of seeing them at #1 year after year.  Of course, that pleases one of my colleagues Danny who not only is a “Bama Boy”, but also worships at the feet of Tom Brady.   But when you have someone that is successful, you have to take a look at what he does differently and think about what we might learn from his strategy, plan and process to see if there are some lessons we can apply to the insurance business.

Here are four things I’ve researched that break down Nick Saban’s strategy to stay at number one that I think we can all learn from.

It all begins with recruiting.

Agencies need to recruit new producers. Master agency networks and carriers need to recruit new agencies.  In insurance, recruiting is always an on-going process.  So, what can we learn from arguably one of the most successful college football coaches of all time about recruiting?

Saban’s recruiting coaches are taught to have a conversation that goes somewhat like this, “This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what we’ve done. This is what we feel like we can do for you. This is what we feel like you can do for us. If you want to be a part of it, great. If you don’t, someone else will.'”  Imagine the clarity that gives a producer or agency owner to know what your program can do for them, AND what you expect in return.

Saban never waits for players to come to him, he finds those hidden gems, recruits year-around, and knows he faces stiff competition from the likes of LSU, Georgia or Clemson.  That lesson should translate to producer or agency recruiting.  You have to go out and find producers or agencies proactively and not depend exclusively on passive ways to get them to notice you.  Advertise, offer new business incentives, host lunch and learns, or be at regional meetings in order to find the people you want to work with.

Next, perfect “the process”.

Simply put, Saban shares that “The Process” is maintaining a relentless focus on things that we can control.  It also means not being distracted by the opponent’s perceived strengths or the score, but rather do your job so that you can contribute what you have control over.  How many times have you gotten distracted over incomplete application forms, inaccurate risk assessments or changes in your organization?  Saban teaches his team that they are responsible for what they create, not what the other team has going on that they can’t control.

Saban also breaks his process down into smaller parts so each routine is understandable, manageable and measurable.  We develop software at Convey.  No task takes our developers more than a day or two and each new feature is compiled of many smaller tasks that we can manage and measure to keep us on track.  Those of us managing complex sales processes to commercial accounts, commission tracking, or risk assessments should take a lesson from Saban’s playbook to take a big process, break it into its component parts then track and measure it.

Use technology to gain a competitive edge.

I was astounded to learn that Saban focused hard on technology to increase not only his players’ performances but increase fan loyalty.  A few years ago, he installed a GPS tracking system to look at a player’s speed and acceleration during the season and in post season play.  He used that data to change his practices post-season to keep his players fresh.  He offered students a loyalty app using GPS again to see if they stayed through the fourth quarter.  He viewed a full stadium as a competitive advantage, but when you are 50 points ahead, that’s harder to keep people in their seats.  If you stayed, then you accrued points for early access to post-season tickets.

In your business, you have many ways to use technology to give yourself a competitive edge and Convey Insurance provides quite a few of them.  Take the data out of Convey to track producer behavior and see what products they are interested in.  Make sure that all of your education, marketing assets, and business incentives are online and easy to find.  Automate your processes by investing in a producer portal to take the stress off your staff. Without technology to boost your program, your competitors will use it and overtake you.

Develop bench strength by being an effective leader.

Saban has produced more successful head coaches of other programs than anyone in the league. Kirby Smart was tapped as Georgia’s head coach three years ago.  After a successful run at Colorado, Jim McElwain lead the Florida Gators, and Will Muschamp moved from Florida to South Carolina.  Saban’s secret is to focus on developing leaders by exhibiting the leadership skills he wants his coaches to adopt. 

In the insurance industry, we have opportunities to lead our organizations to get the maximum result in terms of revenue or customer satisfaction. Saban always lets you know at the end of the day he’s the boss and is ultimately held accountable for results.  Insurance businesses need a strong leader that they can follow.  Saban is known to be hyper-focused with a work ethic that is unparalleled with an eye on the ultimate prize, winning. Staying focused and minimizing distractions is critical to make sure you have the right orientation to keep your eye on the prize – satisfied customers and revenue.

Saban surrounds himself with talent, invests time in practicing and insists that everyone always look the part of a winner, even on game day.  We can all do the same.


Saban’s Crimson Tide will not make the playoffs this year and another National Championship has eluded them, but his process, strategy and work ethic will ensure that you can count on him to be at or near the top every year he coaches his team.  For everyone in the insurance industry, if you want to be at or near the top every year, you should take the plays from Saban’s playbook.  Focus on recruiting, understand and perfect all of your business processes, use technology to give your program a competitive edge and be the leader that your business needs you to be. 

For all of you willing to do the work to run your organizations like Saban runs his, I salute you and give you a hearty “Roll Tide”.

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