Regional Vice President
Health Insurance Industry Trends. Q &A with Jan Mesa
Jan Mesa is Vice President for the Word & Brown General Agency’s Northern California region. Based in San Jose, she oversees sales and service in 48 counties, from the California-Oregon border to Central California. Jan’s extensive experience working with carriers, third-party administrators, agencies, and general agencies gives her a unique perspective of the insurance industry and future trends that could impact health insurance brokers.
What is it about this industry that attracted you to it in the first place?
I was asked by a friend who worked as a life agent for Equitable Life, to make a few calls to their clients. They gave me a desk, a list of clients to call and told me to call to get appointments.
I found it easy and loved talking to people. No one told me it was called “cold calling”. If they had I might have been intimidated! I loved the feeling of helping people.
What is it that keeps you coming back?
Mentoring sales people by helping to create strategies that close sales. I love the “hunting” aspect of sales. Relationships count because developing trust is everything in sales. Trust needs to be earned. I like the preparation that leads up the “hunt” for new clients.
I love teaching new sales people skills. Even veterans overlook things that may appear to be simple, but need to be learned. I see it every day working with brokers in our industry. Skills such as treating every conversation as though it is the first time you met the client. It helps to stay engaged. Many things change over the years but much has stayed the same. Conversational skills are something that should be taught as Insurance 101.
What keeps you motivated?
Teaching sales people and watching them grow. The thrill of working hard for a common goal, and the confidence I see on the faces of sales people as they realize their hard work has paid off.
It is while they are learning how to sell that I become the most excited. I like teaching how they can create value for their clients.
At Word & Brown we focus on winning the client and then retaining them. I talk to many successful sales people every day. In almost every case the winners are the ones who have the ability to make a difference for the clients they serve.
Describe what it takes to be a successful broker? (Knowledge, dedication, relationships, etc..)
To be a successful broker you need knowledge, a willingness to want to help and the ability to listen.
A new broker can learn a lot from veteran salespeople who not only genuinely listen to understand, but can offer value adds. Many new sales people forget the people aspect of our business. There are real people and there are lives involved in the selections they recommend to their clients.
I am fond of saying to employees and employers at enrollment, “Ladies and gentlemen get active in choosing your healthcare. You just may need to use it someday”.
Many sales people and employees alike forget this. Especially those that have not used their health plans often. This has been the case in both my husband’s life and also my own. You never can predict when you will get that cancer diagnosis that rocks your world as was my husband’s case. Or a surgery that goes wrong as in my case. The level of comfort benefits allow should not be discounted. It allows you to concentrate on getting healthy which is predicated on a person’s benefits. Nothing can replace that security.
The ability to listen ranks as the number one tool that separates the successful from the mediocre. Nothing in my opinion is more important to the career of a salesperson than the ability to listen and stay focused on the desired outcome of the client.
What are some trends you have noticed throughout your career thus far? What is the biggest surprise/shock you have been apart?
I have been in the health insurance business for 40 +years. The changes in our industry have been significant. The introduction of the first quote by John Word & Rusty Brown was a significant contribution! Prior to the introduction of their Quotomatic system, we used to have to figure premiums by hand. We would type the proposal on typewriters, (we did not have computers), copy it, present it and that was just the preliminary process. There was no “guarantee issue”. Obtaining an approval which included obtaining medical information from doctors would take weeks or months. Everything was done by mail. Then, depending on the medical information we received back on the groups population it could be declined by the carrier. Many weeks of work would have been for nothing. It was difficult and laborious.
I manage the Northern part of California, so regarding trends, there has been a movement of our market to PPO’s. The majority of what we sell is PPO. We also see a lot of Creative Self-funding. Brokers and carriers have become more creative in Northern California because of the cost associated with PPO’s. They have learned to marry high deductible plans with Self-Funding creating a less expensive option for employers.
The introduction of the Affordable Care Act has changed the landscape of our market. I have enjoyed being on the front end of change by working for Word & Brown in launching California Choice. It is the only privately held exchange in California. John Word & Rusty Brown were trailblazers. They launched California Choice long before Covered California was created.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Mentoring and building teams. Watching them come together and all the trials, tribulations and challenges associated with building a cohesive working unit. Bringing people together and helping to create synergy is my favorite part of the job.
Describe what it is like to handle such a large Region. What are your challenges?
Our challenges are that we are technically not just one region. We are 7 distinctly different territories within one region. The territories within the region are Fresno, Modesto, Sacramento (and surrounding area which is large), East Bay, North Bay, South Bay and sitting out by itself is Santa Cruz.
Every single territory operates differently and the broker base is different. The carrier products preferred by clients are different and we need to know each one intimately in order to be on top of our game.
Our Inside representatives at Word & Brown are the best in the business and have product knowledge of all territories. They are adept at selling in all areas.
Our Outside Regional Sales Managers and enrollers are experts in their own territories and know their broker base. Our bilingual enrollers (Spanish and Chinese speaking) are also experts at enrolling groups as well as working with our brokers and their clients. The Inside Administrative staff are superior to most as they need to know a lot about every territory in order to assist on the back side of a sale.
Managing a region of this size takes experience and a lot of patience. You have to be able to juggle all seven territories at the same time while also working to continue to mesh the team together as a cohesive unit.
For brokers just starting out, what would your advice be to the newbies?
Find yourself a mentor! It can be a General Agent like Word & Brown. Our representatives are adept at walking you through the process every step of the way, from sales techniques, product, census, quoting and sale. We will do the presentations and enrollments for you as well as assist in the underwriting process to get your case approved.
We will become your mentor. We are good at what we do. When I entered the business there were no General Agents like Word & Brown. Take advantage of what is right here for you. It costs you nothing. Just a willingness to allow us to help jump start your career. Let us do the investing for you, in the cost of doing business and the technology that is now rapidly hitting our marketplace.
Our Home office has 500 team members to assist you with Compliance, Underwriting, Marketing, Technology and a plethora of other aspects of our industry. I wish someone would have offered me 40 years ago, what we are offering now.
If I had to pick one tool besides getting a mentor, it would be to tell new sales people to get to know the antiquated piece of equipment that still sits on most of their desks today: The telephone.
It used to be respected as an incredibly effective tool of our sales industry. In spite of the advice of some false teachers and the proponents of “Inbound Marketing Only” teachings, I believe in the old fashioned proactive telephone call.
It still works if it is used well!
How vital is technology becoming in this industry? How do you keep up with the trends?
It is quickly becoming the foundation for everything we do. Employers want everything quickly. Technology is helping to give that to them.
Brokers are embracing new and innovative ideas emerging in the marketplace, They want custom quoting with wrapping capabilities, sales consultation such as plans, rate, benefits vs. current plan portfolio with side by side comparisons.
Word & Brown has a technology department that is second to none in the business today. The opportunities for online enrollment is taking over the marketplace. Companies and carriers are coming to Word & Brown for advice. We are on the cutting edge.
Do you have a favorite motivational saying or video to share?
Yes. Definitely. I have read the Vince Lombardi speech “What it takes to be number one” to my team every year. It is motivational and inspiring. There are a few videos showing excerpts from that speech on YouTube.
We have put the words “What it takes to be number one” on the wall of our conference room with pictures of inspiring people who have overcome hardships. I am a true believer that no one enters the field of battle or gets up in the morning to finish second place in anything they do. Certainly not true sales people.
If you find someone who is a winner, then copy what they do! Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Word & Brown believes relationships are built on trust. We are thankful for the opportunity to earn that trust. We will show you how to become number one! We believe in the ONE TEAM approach. A very big part of that is the partnership we develop with our brokers.
What are you most proud of? Personally and professionally?
Personally, I am proud to be a fighter. I have faced a medical challenge I thought I could not recover. When I was at my lowest I had friends and family that surrounded me and told me I was capable of living life again.
I had preached for years to so many sales people the advantages of setting a goal and concentrating on it to accomplish what you want. I now had to apply it to my own life. I fought for every breath, every step even when I thought all was lost. Reaching from deep within, I used the values I was fond of teaching and tried to become an example of my own words. I gave myself 24 hours to feel sorry and then fought my way back. I am proud of that. I am also personally proud I am married to a man who is my definition and example of survival. He has lived with cancer for 20 years and has never let it define him. He gets up every day as if it was the best day of his life. That takes dedication and hard work to stay positive. It does not happen by itself.
Professionally, I am most proud of the company I work. The two men who started this company believe in “Service of Unequalled Excellence”. It is not some motto on a wall, it is their core belief we will do our best and go one step above to create the best experience for our brokers and their clients. They believe in brokers, are about brokers, and have worked tirelessly the last 33 years to invest in our industry to keep it growing.
When you are not thinking and breathing Word & Brown, what do you like to do in your “free time”?
I love spending time with my husband Ralph and my grandchildren.
Ralph is my hero! As I said before, he lives life to the fullest. He is a bicyclist, a classic car nut, and manages to be supportive of me in all I do. He is quiet and strong and confident. He is empathetic of those who are also challenged and helps them when he can. Never needing to be the center of attention he continues to teach me humility. How could I not enjoy spending my free time with someone like that? The time spent with my grandchildren is golden. My grandchildren and their friends teach me so much about living. They are creative, believe they are invincible and open themselves to all that life has to offer. Sometimes we forget the simple things in life as we get older.
I hope to continue to grow as a person, continue to mentor in all that I do, and enjoy every new day.
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