For the past few weeks I’ve been coaching a team of relatively young producers. They are bright, eager and want to win. You’d be surprised at how often in our consulting we run across clients who lack this kind of motivation.
These guys want to win every day. They want to get better every day. They are open and want to learn from failure every day. As their coach I am rewarded emotionally by the sense of accomplishment I feel when they take something away from our conversation and implement it. I am rewarded intellectually by having to connect with them from where they are vs. where they strive to be. They are doing great work and I’m confident in how our engagement is helping them see a bigger picture and contributing to their success.
How do you connect with your clients? Are your relationships rewarding. Do you learn something new everyday? Do you have a sense of accomplishment from what you do? If not, maybe it’s time to gain clarity around who you want to work with, and why..
We have entered the second half of 2014, and many Producers are not half way to their annual new business revenue goal. As a result, in the process of trying to catch up, we see Producers start chasing low probability opportunities and throwing “Hail Mary” passes toward the end zone. This pattern frequently repeats itself year after year and creates stress for the Producer and less than satisfactory results.
It’s tough to get off this treadmill, but at some point it is necessary to take the plunge. We encourage Producers in the last half of a calendar year to make certain they are positioned to open the next year strong. If a Producer can write 2 to 3 large accounts on January 1, the whole world changes for them. Entering a year strong allows the Producer to better select their prospects and gives them the “walk away” power with low probability prospects.
Typically you don’t open a new calendar year strong if you wait until 90 days before renewal to get engaged with prospects. Start now and sift through 10 to 15 suspects that renew on January 1. Determine which ones are the best fits to move forward, and gain agreements to do business before the holidays.
We encourage you to endeavor to avoid the “catch up” game. You may take a short term hit, but if you open the new year strong you can change the game for many years to come.
In a recent conversation with an insurance agency principal we were discussing the role of the producer. Actually the many roles of producers; business developer, sales person and account servicer.
Each role asked of the producer requires a different set of wiring. The business development role requires someone to make multiple phone calls, over an extended period of time with the idea of creating a highly qualified sales ready opportunity. Focus, consistency, the ability to connect with different buying styles and “sell a first appointment” is essential. A true producer, one whose only goal is to grow their book organically, requires leadership. They must be able to deal with buying teams, business complexity, and lead change behavior. Account management and servicing requires a steady hand to drive implementation, calendars task and execute the agency’s value proposition in a timely and efficient manner.
With their hands in so many roles is it any surprise that producers struggle to write new business? Perhaps it’s time to remove the anchors that hinder producer performance. The technology companies and other forward thinking industries recognized years back that greater rewards are possible for all when sales professionals focus on selling instead of developing and nurturing leads or servicing accounts.
What kinds of anchors are hindering organic growth in your agency?
In this crazy, harried world of time starved and distracted buyers, it is increasingly vital for insurance agents to be able to prompt a decision maker to take a 20 minute meeting. Most business leaders and decision makers are defending their calendar like a rabid dog with a bone. You don’t get on it, unless the decision maker feels they will get value from the first meeting with you.
Ask yourself the following questions before you pick up the phone to contact a prospect:
• Why should someone meet with you?
• What will they get from the first meeting?
• Why would they want to take the next step which is likely an assessment?
The days of, “I am an insurance agent and I would like to come by and introduce myself and discuss your insurance program,” are long gone. Decision makers can stick their foot outside their door and trip insurance agents walking by that can deliver on that promise.
Decision makers don’t have time to waste. They don’t need friends or new relationships. They need people who will help them learn what they don’t know and to see around the corner at risks off their radar screen.
So, tell me. What value will I get from a 20 minute meeting with you?
When was the last time you asked a colleague to review one of your top accounts? Sometimes in our belief we’ve done the best job possible, we lose sight of the opportunities in front of us. Recently a client shared a story with us that I suspect could have happened at any agency.
As the new sales manager he was taking his production staff through a new cross-selling and up-selling exercise. A producer with good bit of experience was fairly confident that his accounts were “buttoned tight.” However, when a set of fresh eyes reviewed the account and policies new opportunities emerged.
This happens all the time. The lesson here: get a fresh perspective on your top accounts from someone within your agency, before the competition outside does!
Client retention is an important component of an agency’s long-term profitability and stability, but too often, agencies invest a lot of time and effort into building initial client relationships and not enough time ensuring that those relationships are being continually nurtured over time. For example, in an article on Sales & Marketing Management, Rick Reynolds warns businesses not to make an assumption that we often hear:
“My clients would tell me if there was a problem…”
In reality, just like your prospects, your clients likely aren’t recognizing issues or problems that they’re currently experiencing or that might pop up due to things like marketplace disruptions or compliance requirements arising from new regulations. And if they are, and you aren’t proactively evaluating the relationship, you’re leaving the door open for a competitor to step in.
As a partner and advisor, you have the opportunity (and responsibility) to periodically assess your client’s needs, hidden or otherwise, and their expectations from the relationship. Reynolds says: Just like in any relationship, this becomes a refreshing dialogue once you get past the upfront discomfort of having such an honest conversation.”
Are you taking the time to assess your current relationships with clients? Are your goals and objectives still in alignment? Have you gained new capabilities that might be beneficial to them? By asking yourself these types of questions, you’ll increase retention and perform at your best.
Speaker and innovator Simon Sinek told a story on his blog about a Groupon deal from an auto center offering headlight restoration. The catch? The deal was only for one headlight. He explains: “What the company appeared to be saying was ‘Come get a great deal on headlight restoration!’ What I understood was ‘Come let us take care of half of what you really need…’”
How are you engaging with prospects to offer value? If you’ve ever said “If we’re close on price and you go with us, we’ll give you ____ for free” during a sales conversation then you may want to think about whether or not your prospects are having a similar reaction to Simon’s.
Are you offering value-added services to try to influence transactions? And, even if you’re landing a few accounts this way, what does it say about your genuine interest and capabilities to help employers get better?
We’ve said it before: it’s not your services that differentiate you, its how you engage, and how you collaborate. It’s your process.
If your goals are to grow your business, build mutually beneficial business relationships, help your clients uncover problems and achieve the best outcomes, don’t undermine these goals by offering empty incentives or services that aren’t connected to employer needs.
Inc. contributor and Sales Source blogger Geoffrey James recently wrote a great article on why the quality of the questions business owners ask themselves determines the success of their business strategies. For example, consider the following two questions:
“How can we beat the competition?” versus “What do we do that is uniquely valuable to customers?”
So, how would your answers and subsequent business strategies differ for these two questions? The first question is the wrong one to ask because it directs your attention away from your customers and toward your competitors. On the other hand, the second question is customer-focused and it helps you find out what’s distinctive about your process and offerings. James also explained: If you ask Question #1, your strategy will probably involve dropping your price. If you ask Question #2, your strategy will be to emphasize more strongly whatever it is that makes your company special.” And, understanding what differentiates your agency is the first step in building, following and believing in a strong and consultative approach to selling.
Here’s another example to consider: “How can we make our numbers better?” versus “How can we serve our clients better?”
Agency owners and sales managers: Are you asking smart and client-focused alternatives to common questions business leaders ask themselves? What questions have you asked yourself in order to help you improve your business strategies? Share them with us in the comments.