Super Agent

The Threat of Being a Generalist Agent in a Specialist’s World

Insurance producers tend to fall into one of two categories with respect to their approach to the marketplace, usually engaging with prospects and clients as either a generalist or as a specialist. While there are advantages to both, it is critical for agencies and producers to reassess their positions due to dramatic disruptions in the marketplace.

Operating as a generalist has always had a strong appeal: not being restricted to certain industries or lines of business and being available to all opportunities in the marketplace. Even historically, insurance agencies have marketed themselves as a “One Stop Shop” where all insurance needs can be handled. What is common is that agencies with a lack of experience will gravitate towards less hazardous or less complex accounts. Whereas high hazard and complex accounts, by their nature, require specific expertise and that expertise is accompanied by a higher learning curve.

But now generalists must be aware that they face a number of serious emerging risks that were not present just a few years ago. Carriers are interacting more directly with customers, at lower cost and often with more consistent service levels. The once clear division between agent and carrier is diminishing, but agent commission structures remain largely unchanged. So generalists must ask themselves:

“Who is more likely to change from a traditional agent model to an internet based, or other alternative model?”

It is reasonable to assume that it is far less likely for those companies who need specialized expertise to move to an alternative distribution source, than those who perceive themselves as a “One Stop Shop” company.

Additionally, threats to generalists include the emergence of non-traditional players who are either entering or gaining greater market share in the insurance space. These include payroll companies, private equity/hedge funds, and software as service (SAS) companies. These start-up business models are becoming more difficult to describe or categorize since they are bundling multiple business products and services; but you can be certain that these nontraditional competitors will, at least initially, feed from the lower risk, less complex accounts.

Another drawback to operating as a generalist is that it is nearly impossible to gain the necessary knowledge and insight into a particular industry, which is necessary to differentiate from competitors.

Although it is understandable that it is not feasible for all agents and agencies to specialize in niches, it is advisable to explore the option.

If your demographics allow for specialization, then it is probably the best way to insulate and protect yourself from dramatic disruptions in the marketplace.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

What Level of Risk Are Your Clients Willing to Assume?

In the 1971 song by Janis Joplin, “Me & Bobby McGee” Joplin opines, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” Unlike in the 70’s classic, your prospects and clients have plenty to lose.

Understanding the risk-tolerance of your prospects is a critical aspect of the assessment process, but it’s a conversation that is sometimes overlooked.

In a workshop a few years ago, a gentleman shared how he broaches this important subject with his prospects. He starts by drawing a line on a blank piece of paper. At the beginning of the line he writes down the date the business was started, for example, 1985. He then engages the prospect in the following dialogue:

“I assume, way back her in 1985, you didn’t have too much to lose. I suspect you were willing to take more risk than you are today.”

Going back to his drawing, he writes down 2016 at the other end of the line and says,

“Here we are in 2016. I suspect you’ve created a lifestyle and a certain level of wealth that you’d like to protect. Is that correct?”

By utilizing a simple illustration on a blank piece of paper, he is able to engage the business owner in a fairly intimate conversation about what’s important to him today; and focus on what it is he’s trying to protect.

Entrepreneurs, though sometimes cowboys, most often want to protect the wealth and other assets they’ve accumulated through hard work. Even though their business may be strong, and appropriate for a risk financing strategy other than guaranteed cost, doesn’t mean they’re willing to assume a greater level of risk that comes along with some alternative risk financing methods.

The strategy shared can help you engage your prospects in an important conversation that sometimes gets overlooked in the sales process and will help you present solutions that are in alignment with the level of risk your clients are willing to assume.

How are you initiating this conversation with your prospects?

Six Considerations for Disruptive Selling

We often hear about the retention rates within our industry when talking to agency owners and principals. While they fluctuate between agencies, they typically are somewhere between 87-92%, which on the surface appears pretty good. But why are retention rates so good? Is it because a majority of agencies are doing an excellent job, or is it a sign that few agents are able to disrupt the status quo?

We believe it is the latter. The fact is, most employers are at risk and don’t know it, and that’s why it is so important that producers gain the ability to disrupt the status quo.

So what makes a selling process disruptive? There are actually six important steps in the Disruptive Selling Process. As you master and leverage these steps, you will become more effective in disrupting the complacency of your prospects. One other comment: it’s important to remember that your prospects don’t want to change to you. In fact, they see you as a risk. Helping them realize that the greater risk is staying where they are is what selling is all about.

So how do you do that?

1. You must pique the curiosity of your prospect. We know that this is one of the most difficult steps in the sales process. Your prospects are overwhelmed and distracted. Which means that you must engage them with content and messaging that speaks to them. Your messaging must focus on the topics of most-importance to their survival, prosperity and ability to remain competitive in a challenging business environment. It can’t be about you, your agency or your “special programs.” They’ve heard all of that before, don’t believe, or don’t care, and they will tune you out.

2. You must cultivate awareness. You likely will have to help your prospects understand where they are, which is their current state or status quo. This is critical, because it ties in with the next step which is to,

3. Create contrast. Helping your prospects understand where they are versus where they could be. You will be better positioned to,

4. Shift their perception. In past trainings we’ve shared just how well this resonates; because we know the brain thinks in terms of contrasts. By creating awareness of a current state where they are unknowingly assuming risk, or buying insurance in a manner that is not in alignment with their goals and objectives, and juxta-positioning that with either the realization that they are actually at risk or with an approach to assessing risk and buying insurance, you are able to shift perception. In reality, shifting perceptions is just another way of diplomatically telling your prospects that they are wrong. And that can be uncomfortable.

5. Gain agreements. Agreements that the risk to remain in the status quo is too great and that there is less risk in changing to you. Producers too often skip this step and try to close the sale too soon. Think of agreements as the glue in the sales process. Without them, all your hard work may fall apart at the finish line.

6. Lastly, you must champion change. Championing change means that you will continue to lead your clients through the various stages of implementation and continually monitor and measure your progress. As their champion, you will help them realize their business goals and objectives.

Mastering and implementing the Disruptive Selling Process requires that you believe that your prospects are at greater risk when they are not privy to your leadership, and that may very well be something you have to believe yourself before you ask them to.

How to Begin Your Messaging Strategy

While working with a new producer it is not uncommon to wonder, “Where do I begin with my messaging, do I start with an email or make a phone call?” The truth is it doesn’t matter.

A study by The Bridge Group of three-hundred fifty-five companies found that there was a 50/50 split between how inside business developers approached getting sales. Among the successful sales reps who met their goals, it didn’t really matter, there wasn’t a better way. Half focused on piquing curiosity with emails while the other has felt more confident on the phone.

The key word here is confident. Interrupting prospects, trying to engage in a dialogue, writing emails that don’t get deleted; these are all important steps and require a level of confidence, because each step almost always is met with rejection at some point or another.

Found out what works best for you and stick to it. Just because your colleague has had success one way doesn’t mean you will. Scheduling the appropriate amount of business development time and consistently delivering valuable content to your prospects with the requisite amount of follow up activity will help you build a strong pipeline of prospects. Just do what feels right for you consistently overtime and you’ll be far more successful than your competitors who spend their time just contemplating how to get started.

Interview Your Peers

Every office has a producer that excels and seems to effortlessly close deals; maybe it’s you or one of your colleagues. Or, perhaps, you know a business owner whose operations run smoothly and grows steadily despite market conditions. What are they doing well that you can learn from?

Taking time to sit with a peer, who is successful regardless of the industry they are in, can help you fine tune your own skills and help you reach your next level of success.

Often times, and it’s unclear why, people are afraid to ask their colleagues, “What’s in the secret to your success?” First off, it’s an incredibly flattering question. It shows that you’ve noticed that they are successful, but more importantly is what it says about you. By asking the question, you’re sharing that you’re striving to get better.

Once you’ve asked the question, you may want to spend some time following up with these questions:

• Have you used a consistent process or practice that seems to work best for you?
• What obstacles have you had to overcome to enjoy your current success?
• If you could get better at one thing what would it be, and why?

The more people you engage with this line of questioning, the more insights you’ll gain in how you can improve your own experience.

Are You an Intrapreneur?

One of the many benefits of being an agent is that you have the opportunity benefit from the structure of an agency, and the freedom and flexibility to shape and grow a business to reflect the life you want to build.

As an intrapreneur you have the best of both worlds; the ability to select the profile of your perfect client type and the service team to support your delivery of service and value. The autonomy to create a vision for the lifestyle you want to create for yourself and your family with the backing to help you get there.

As an intrapreneur you didn’t have to secure a loan to buy a building, lease equipment or create the infrastructure of an agency. You aren’t responsible for making payroll or building a brand.

With all its upside, being an intrapreneur is a pretty sweet deal. But with this tremendous opportunity comes a level of responsibility.

The responsibilities to select clients that will help your agency grow profitably;

The responsibility to work on the type of business that leverages the capabilities of your team;

The responsibility to never stop growing and never settling for ‘good enough’;

The responsibility to walk away from prospects who commoditize you and therefore devalue the work of your support team;

The responsibility to continually learn, grow and develop so you can protect your asset and the reputation of your agency;

And, finally, the responsibility to nurture and protect the brand that someone else risked so much to develop.

You’ve got the best of both worlds as an intrapreneur.

Leverage, protect it!

What’s Missing

As we move to the halfway point of 2016, what better time to evaluate the progress you’ve made thus far?

Some of the key concepts we’ve shared this year can be segmented into three different groups:

Strategies to attract new business
Strategies and tactics to make selling more effective
Ways to help you protect your existing book of business

Day to day we tend to get caught up in the needs of our clients and business, leaving little time to focus on our individual professional growth and personal development. As important as it is, focusing on remaining sharp and competitive can take a backseat.

With that in mind, now may be the perfect time to assess where you are year-to-date and what areas of your business practice you may want to improve upon. To help you organize your thoughts, here are a series of questions to consider:

Concerning the pipeline of opportunities

• Do I have a solid list of prospects to message each month?

• Am I sending purposeful emails that are piquing the curiosity of my prospects?

• Have I had enough first appointments over the past six months to allow me to walk away from the opportunities that aren’t a good fit, but still have enough quality ones to work on and meet my financial objectives?

When it comes to my meetings with prospects:

• Have the first appointments I’ve been on been with the quality of prospects I want?

• Am I advancing the sales process confidently?

• Am I identifying pain and raising levels of dissatisfaction with my prospects?

• Am I gaining agreements and reinforcing those agreements throughout the sales process and prior to sharing solutions?

When it comes to your existing clients, ask yourself:

• Am I confident that my top-20 accounts are seeing the value of our relationship?

• Can I clearly articulate the impact I’ve had on their business should I be asked?

• Have my top-20 accounts helped me get in the door or referred me a colleague?

There is a lot to think about here, but it’s critical that you ask yourself these questions. If you don’t you’ll likely never identify what you’re missing, and of course never put a plan in place to help yourself get better.

Your challenge: Take a few hours this week to answer these questions. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Purposeful Interruptions

One of the challenges we often help new producers overcome is their disdain, ambivalence or frustration with making “cold-calls.”

First, let’s define “cold-call.” It is not calling someone with whom you do not have a relationship for the sole purpose of either soliciting their business or “introducing yourself,” rather it is a call with the purpose of gaining permission to share industry or business information which will help them cultivate awareness around potential risks, threats or waste which may be occurring within their business.

This mental framing serves a couple of purposes. First, from a producer’s perspective, the idea that your calls may actually help your prospects gain value from the information you share or the questions you ask is far more motivating than thinking that you are interrupting a prospect’s day or being perceived as a nuisance.

This is also true from your prospect’s perspective. While a “sales” call may be unwelcomed, taking a call that may teach them something new or help them gain valuable insight may be worth considering.

When you set out to make contact with a prospect, ask yourself:

“What is the purpose of this call?”

“What do I want the prospect to consider as a result of this conversation?”

“If I don’t make this call is there a possibility that this prospect’s business could continue to experience a risk, threat or potential financial waste?”

Here are a couple of positioning examples for your “purposeful interruptions”:

“Hello, _____, This is (you) with XYZ Agency, the purpose of my call today is to see if you’re aware of the recent changes to _____?”

“_____, I’m glad I reached you today, the reason for reaching out is _____.”

Framing your calls and, more importantly, preparing your calls to make them more purposeful will not only improve your results, they will differentiate your calls from your competitors more “salesy” approach.

Remember, purposeful interruptions lead to purposeful conversations and ultimately more successful first meetings.