Super Agent

Archive for 2012

Gaining Agreements During the Sales Process

In our last post, Frank touched on the importance of gaining agreements during the sales process; it is the only way to establish mutual accountabilities and move the process forward. Implementation agreements are equally as important once a deal is in place to develop an action plan, establish a timeline, and measure success, but without clarity and agreement during the sales process, the producer has no way of knowing whether or not the prospect has the intention of making a commitment to engage in a business relationship.

According to an article on Inc.com “for successful businesses, the sales process has become a communications process that evolves through a series of decisions both you and your customer will be making. At each decision point, you will be achieving mutual understanding and establishing clarity about what you are saying to each other and how you will proceed.”

So, what should you and the prospect agree on before the deal is closed?

(1) The prospect should want to address the risks and threats to their business that were discovered and discussed during the sales process. They must be dissatisfied with their current situation before making the decision to change.

(2) There should be clarity and confidence in yours and your agency’s capabilities to reduce or eliminate the identified risks and threats. If they aren’t confident in your capabilities, they most likely won’t be ready to move forward.

(3) Finally, there should be clarity and confidence from both parties that a business relationship will be developed. If this isn’t the case, it probably means one or both of the first agreements haven’t been made.

Asking Questions Like the Pros

A recent article on FastCompany.com by Shane Snow provides advice on how to ask questions like the pros: Walter Cronkite, Larry King and others effectively formulate questions to provoke meaningful answers and lead the conversation with genuine curiosity and control. The list of journalistic tips Snow provides can also be used by agents to help prospects self-discover risks and successfully lead them through the sales process. Here is Snow’s advice:

(1) Don’t ask Multiple-Choice questions.

For example, asking “What would you do?” is better than asking “Would you do X?” Multiple-choice questions limit the buyer’s answer, and you will ultimately uncover, and help them discover more if you stick to open-ended questions.

(2) Don’t Fish.

Don’t ask questions to seek confirmation or that make assumptions about the buyer. Remember, you are also trying to identify whether or not the prospect is a right-fit to work with you and your agency.

(3) Interject With Questions When Necessary.

Snow says “a good journalist will steer the conversation by cutting in with questions whenever they need to. This helps reign in ramblers and clarify statements before the conversation gets too far ahead to go back.” The same is true of insurance agents. It is important to follow a systematic process in order to comprehensively assess the prospects needs, align goals and objectives, and gain agreements.

(4) Field Non-Answers by Re-framing Questions Later.

Producers often have to probe and dig deeper before a prospect will self-discover risks and reveal what they need. Snow explains that as long as you are genuine and sincere, gaining clarity around questions by reframing them won’t come off badly.

(5) Repeat Answers Back For Clarification, Or More Detail.

It is vital to gain agreements with a prospect as they move through the sales process and to establish clear next steps in order to create mutual accountabilities.

(6) Don’t be Embarrassed.

Snow explains: “the worst kinds of questions are the ones left unasked.”

Using this advice to ask the right questions can help you have successful consultative and client-focused conversations to get prospects on the same page and move toward a mutually beneficial business relationship.

Are You Setting Up Young Producers for Success?

Every insurance agency wants to find and keep good talent, but many traditional orientation and training programs for young producers only set them up to fail. They often look like this: the agency sends them to insurance carrier schools, provides them with current phone books of their territories so they can fill their pipelines, encourages them to work off of X-dates, and offers words of encouragement.

If this sounds familiar to you, it may be time to consider a change. These development tactics foster bad habits and agency leaders become frustrated when producers fall short of their expectations and move on to another agency or profession. In the end, any money spent on hiring and training has been wasted. According to an article on Property Casualty 360, “industry surveys suggest as many as two thirds of new producers don’t survive through their second years in the business.” So, how can you set producers up to succeed instead?

- Implement a consistent and effective sales strategy—a repeatable and systematic process.
- Adopt a process for evaluating young producer abilities (non-revenue indicators of success and sales skills) as well as revenue generation.
- Create a culture of permissions to conduct business only with the right-fit clients for your agency.
- Mentor and coach, then hold young producers accountable. This includes training them to transition from a transactional selling process to a consultative one.

Adopting this approach requires some investment, but recruiting the right new producers with leadership capabilities and providing them with the appropriate training will produce greater rewards for everyone.

Sparking New Awareness

I’ve recently been reading  Shift: How to Trigger Events that Turn Prospects into Customers, a book written by Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto focused on leveraging important “trigger events” to get ahead of motivated decision makers at the opportune time. According to the book, a buyer is in one of three phases before you engage with them for the first time.

(1) Status Quo mindset: this is the stage that you will find most decision-makers in; they are currently satisfied and are completely unaware of any risks or threats to their business. They see no reason to change or look for alternatives.

(2) Window of Dissatisfaction: Decision-makers in this stage are unhappy with the status quo; they have some awareness of dissatisfaction, but they aren’t actively seeking out alternatives.

(3) Searching for Alternatives: At this point, decision-makers are already dissatisfied and are actively seeking out new solutions. They have probably already engaged with one or more of your competitors.

When a buyer has entered into the Window of Dissatisfaction, their perception of the value you provide is much greater than in either of the other phases, and they are more likely to change. The greatest opportunity for agents is when buyer’s are in this phase—after they have become dissatisfied with the status quo, but before any competitors enter into the picture. A movement into this phase can be triggered by one or more of these events:

-The buyer has had a bad experience

-There has been a change in their organization. For example, a new CEO is hired.

-A new awareness has been sparked, particularly with regard to risk.

Agents can’t control the first two factors, but they can spark awareness.  Engaging in client-centric dialog with a decision-maker and asking pointed questions allows agents to help buyers self-discover risks and threats to their business so that they become dissatisfied with the status quo and are ready to make a change. One of the most powerful triggers and catalysts of change is to craft a narrative of “what is” vs. “what could be”. Only when a decision maker is dissatisfied will they come to a turning point and make a commitment.

Grow Your Client Relationships

In a previous blog post, we discussed producer cross-selling reluctance and provided a few pointers on how agency leaders can encourage and facilitate cross-selling in order to raise the profitability of each client and capture more business opportunities. Cross-selling and up-selling are important components of organic growth. For example, if only 10 percent of an agency’s P & C clients are also Benefits clients, there are opportunities that are being missed. Agency leaders and team members should continually bring innovative ideas, offer creative solutions, and make sure that agency capabilities are being utilized across the board by identifying opportunities to grow client relationships.

How often do you evaluate your client relationships? What percentage of your clients’ insurance wallet is being shared with you, and what percentage is being shared with your competitors? Why are they turning to your competitors?

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “Customers may be very satisfied with [you] and happily recommend [you] to others—but if they like your competitors just as much (or more), you’re losing sales. Making changes to increase satisfaction won’t necessarily help.”

What drives changes in share of wallet has less to do with client satisfaction in your services and more to do with whether or not you are assessing relationships, prioritizing opportunities and providing value.

Commit to Strategic Activities

As this year begins winding down, hopefully you’re getting geared up for next year and taking the time out of your schedule to plan out the activities that are likely to help you achieve your goals and objectives.  In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of strategic planning, but without tangible activities on the calendar to support your plan, it is often forgotten as day-to-day tasks begin to take precedence—according to a Harvard Business Review Management Tip, “most people tend to do the most urgent things instead of the most meaningful things.” When was the last time you evaluated how many strategic activities you have on your calendar? Each of your goals should be supported by activities that are measurable so that you can hold yourself accountable and assess your effectiveness.

For example, new producers should consider activities to develop centers of influence such as meeting with COI’s monthly, or activities to help them improve their selling skills like role-playing during weekly sales meetings. Seasoned producers should plan out meetings with existing clients necessary to retain their business, or set time aside to write a monthly newsletter article.

Once you’ve determined what activities will help you achieve your goals, it’s important to commit to them. Try to plan out your calendar by quarter at the least (we like to take 3 days in October to plan for the entire year), and don’t procrastinate or let perfection become your enemy. Executing now is better than waiting for a perfect start, and you often learn more in the process. 

Planning out your calendar far in advance may seem unrealistic or overwhelming, but ultimately you will have more focus, and less stress if you are aware of how you’ll be spending your time, and you will be comforted in knowing that you have tangible, measurable activities in place to help you be successful.

3 Tips to Stop Being Commoditized

How can producers facilitate dialog to help prospects uncover risks and reduce the possibility of being commoditized? Here are three tips:

Tip #1: Follow a Process 

Developing and following a repeatable process will allow you to build conversations utilizing the kind of disruptive dialog necessary to facilitate change behavior in the buyer and help them self-discover risks to their business. It also helps to sharpen and strengthen your brand, and it ensures that each prospect who engages with the agency has a similar experience.
An article on Inc.com examines the importance of subscribing to a process:  “For successful businesses, the sales process has become a communications process that evolves through a series of decisions both you and your customer will be making. At each decision point, you will be achieving mutual understanding and establishing clarity about what you are saying to each other and how you will proceed.”

Tip #2: Understand Your Why

Ask yourself and your colleagues this question: “Why should a prospect engage with us instead of our greatest competitor?” Knowing why your agency engages in the way in which it does is essential. Simon Sinek explains: “Those who know their Why are the ones who lead. They are the ones who inspire.” Is it because you are certain your process is more effective and will yield the best outcomes? Is it to help employers select the right-fit carriers, or help them more effectively navigate the complex buying experience? Whatever the reason, producers must know the answer to this question and be able to convey it to prospects.

Tip #3: Believe

Do you believe that most employers follow a flawed process to manage risk and buy insurance that is potentially harmful to their organization? Do you believe most prospects are underserved in the marketplace? Developing a belief system in what you do and why you do it will help you stay motivated throughout the year to help your clients achieve better outcomes.

Leveraging Carrier Assets

Just like agencies, not all insurance carriers are created equally, and both are facing similar challenges in today’s uncertain business environment. Although agents become frustrated when they are treated as a commodity, they often play carriers against each other to get the lowest price and essentially take the same commoditizing approach they despise from their own customers.

Carriers have the ability to assist agents and buyers in the transfer of risks, in reducing and avoiding losses and in helping make better risk-management decisions. For example, some carriers have stronger loss control and safety teams, some have experience and knowledge in specific industries, some have more effective claims teams, etc. How frequently do you conduct a comprehensive assessment of the buyer’s risks and needs, and then seek out a carrier that is best suited to address them?

According to an Insurance Journal article that breaks down a survey of independent insurance agents conducted by Channel Harvest Research, “Independent agents named customer price as the leading factor that influences them to select another market over their preferred market.”

Opportunities await agencies and carriers that take the initiative to align their partnerships to improve their respective outcomes, and most importantly, to better serve the buyer. By combining the unique capabilities of the agency and the unique capabilities of the carrier, producers will position themselves to best address the risks of their clients, and prospects will see the value of engaging, even if the relationship comes at a higher price.