Super Agent

Archive for August, 2012

Why Doing Your Research Is Crucial

As we’ve mentioned in the past, decision makers today have higher expectations, greater demands and changing communication preferences. They don’t have the time or the proclivity to educate you; they demand value up front and expect that you understand their industry and their company before you even reach out to contact them.

The good news: It has never been easier to conduct research on specific industries and individual companies. With search engines, social media and the vast information out there on the Web, you can easily identify the primary challenges of virtually any industry groups, and educate yourself on individual companies who are a right-fit for you agency in order to be well prepared. Inc’s Nan Mione affirms: “I find that my appointment rate goes way up when I show prospects I am interested enough in their businesses to have done some homework.”

For example, let’s assume that you identify nursing homes and assisted living facilities with more than 50 employees and within a specific range from your office as your ideal clients. You can then go to LinkedIn and join a number of industry related groups; soon you will be able to identify the top challenges and market forces in this specific segment of the healthcare industry. Now, you already know more information than the majority of agents who are calling these prospects.

It’s fair to assume that risk and insurance issues will be among the challenges—it may be government safety regulations, litigation arising out of poor hiring practices, or frequent employee injuries. Whatever the risk, you must determine if you have the capability to address it and improve business outcomes for the prospect. If you bring real value to employers and address their issues up front, you can differentiate yourself from your competitors.

The next step and another great advantage of doing your research: you can use your expertise to create content messaging for prospects and clients, including industry articles or White Papers that address market challenges. By doing this, you position yourself as a thought leader on insurance issues within a specialized niche.

Consider this example on the benefits of specialization and specific expertise from Seth Godin: “Harley Davidson isn’t #1 in the market for motorcycles, but they are certainly #1 in the market for the kind of motorcycle that they sell. The other bikes may have two wheels, but they’re for different customers with different needs. Mass ennui is defeated by focused passion every time.”

Doing your research creates multiple opportunities for increased success, and most insurance agencies and producers are behind the curve—it’s time to catch up and learn to adopt the new methods and strategies necessary to compete in the 2.0 world.

Being Vulnerable with Clients

I’ve recently been rereading one of our old favorites by Patrick Lencioni called Getting Naked. What does “getting naked” mean? According to Lencioni, “naked service is a term that refers to the idea of being vulnerable with clients—being completely open and honest with no sense of pretense or cover”. Doing this, he asserts, will lead to a deeper level of trust and client loyalty. In the book, he discusses the three fears that sabotage client loyalty. Here are the 3 fears and a few tips on how you can overcome them:

Fear #1: The Fear of Losing Business

Many agents operate on the belief that they need to take advantage of every business opportunity that presents itself, even if it means working with wrong-fit prospects or refusing to walk away from a sale that isn’t a real opportunity. Many will also hesitate to be completley open with clients to avoid damaging existing relationships. Here are a few tips to ensure that the fear of losing business isn’t what drives you: 

-Always consult instead of sell- Focus on the needs of the client and become a trusted advisor.
-Tell the “Kind Truth”: Lencioni talks about the kind truth that clients may not want to hear, and that agents may not want to discuss for fear of losing business. Employers demand new ideas constantly, and creating a little bit of tension can lead to positive changes and growth.
-Enter the Danger: Don’t be afraid to deal with the issues everyone else is afraid to address if you are acting in the best interest of the client. Transparency and honesty lead to trust.

Fear # 2: Fear of Being Embarrassed

This fear is often rooted in pride. No one wants to make suggestions or provide ideas that embarrass them when they turn out to be wrong, but employers will appreciate and trust you if you don’t hold back ideas, hide your mistakes or edit yourself to protect your reputation. “Naked” service providers are willing to ask questions, give suggestions, and celebrate their mistakes. You can learn as much, if not more, from your mistakes as you can from your successes.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”—James Joyce

Fear #3: Fear of Feeling Inferior

It is important that the focus is on the client. Great producers are willing to make everything about the client’s successes. Thinking long-term, and always making decisions with the client in mind might mean sacrificing immediate gain but will cultivate loyalty and be a great investment in the future of the business relationship. A relationship that is mutually beneficial lasts much longer than one in which the producer is self-focused and superior.

Bridging the Gap Between What Is and What Could Be

We often talk about how selling isn’t simply offering solutions and solving problems, it’s about influencing change in the buyer. Most employers are in a satisfied state when you meet with them for the first time, so it’s necessary for producers to use dialog to help them gain insight about the reality of their current state.  Philosopher Blaise Pascal explains: “We are usually convinced more easily by reasons we have found ourselves than by those which have occurred to others.” But, once the employer understands what risks and threats to their business exist, how can you bridge the gap between what is and what could be for them if they engage in a business relationship with you?

Here are a few questions you can ask to help paint a picture of a better future for the prospect, work toward gaining agreements on current issues, and create a way to move forward:

 (1) “How confident are you that these conditions will change if you don’t address them?”
 (2) “How are you impacted by these issues?”
 (3) “Is anyone else impacted?”
 (4) “Let’s assume (paint the picture)… how would you and your company be impacted?”
 (5) “If you were able to…”
 (6) “How important is it to you to change these conditions?”

Using these questions as catalysts can help the prospect come to a turning point and facilitate resolution, ultimately leading to a decision and/or commitment.

“The future influences the present just as much as the past.”- Friedrich Nietzsche

Carrot-and-Stick Motivators: Why They Fail and How to Keep Producers on the Path to Success

When an agency creates an environment of expectation by clearly communicating what success looks like within the agency, and when the agency and a producer work toward a common set of objectives that have been clearly defined and articulated, the likelihood of success for both parties is increased. But in order for this to happen, producers must be intrinsically motivated.

Great producers actively seek learning and growth opportunities, and are committed to their craft. So, how can you motivate producers to succeed? The first step is to look beyond simple monetary rewards, and to understand the complexity of human motivation. According to author Daniel Pink, “Employees must have autonomy…They must desire mastery of tasks or skills that matter to them. And they must see their work as contributing to a greater purpose.” Agency leaders can facilitate motivation by making sure producers have a clear understanding of the distinct value they bring to employers. In a past blog post, we provided a list of endeavors producers can focus on to see the bigger purpose in their work. Here are just a few:

- Create greater opportunities for clients
- Facilitate better care for injured employers
- Protect clients’ businesses

If producers feel that they are working for a purpose larger than just making sales, they will be more likely to work hard and stay driven. This means that engagement and communication is key. Agency leaders should be open to input from team members, promote an action-oriented culture, and give feedback frequently.  Kevin Plank explains: “Motivation, passion, and focus have to come from the top.”

Why Technology Matters

In today’s technologically driven environment, agencies that have been slow to adopt new technologies often find themselves at a disadvantage and at risk. Whether technology is used to engage with and deliver messaging more efficiently to clients and prospects, to manage pipeline and other data or to enhance agency brand visibility, it must be utilized if agencies want to successfully compete.

According to Michelle Davidson, editor of RainToday, utilizing technology can be good for your business in a multitude of ways. It can be used to: “demonstrate [your] expertise, attract buyers, develop and nurture client relationships, and prove that [you] are trustworthy”.

If an agency is established as a thought leader and expert via content published through social media platforms, brand enhancement and increased business opportunities will follow. Social media marketing allows agencies to deliver valuable and relevant client-focused information consistently and conveniently. If an agency establishes a presence online, each client or prospect that they engage with will have to ability to become a public advocate for them—sharing and discussing within their own online communities. Social media marketing can be a powerful component of your business development process, but remember that it takes time and frequency to establish a strong and effective strategy.

Utilizing cloud-based CRM tools is also a must. Unfortunately, many agencies are still managing leads and business activities on paper. Why invest in a CRM? Inc.’s Brenda Porter-Rockwell explains:  the CRM can be the tool you use to “track and maintain client contact data” and to “set and measure sales goals, [and] devise, deliver and track e-mail marketing campaigns up through and including interfacing with your social media accounts.” Effectively using a CRM will allow producers to access and manage client/prospect data anywhere, increasing productivity and decreasing desk time.

You are the Prize

A top objective of most producers is to stop being treated as a commodity. The process of buying insurance is complex and, because of this, buyers try to simplify it by focusing on the numbers and making decisions based on price. Many view all insurance agents and agencies as virtually the same. However, if you take a step back to look at the equation, at one end, there is only you, and you have the ability to enter into a specific number of new business relationships every year. At the other end, there are hundreds of thousands of buyers who are a right-fit for you and your agency. You have the capability to choose which prospects to pursue, and you won’t be treated as a commodity unless you allow yourself to be.

It is important to focus on these right-fit prospects whose relationships with you will be based on long-term shared success. If you are spending your time with commodity based prospects and focus on short-term deals, you are losing time with prospects who are eager to engage with you and work collaboratively. Seth Godin explains: “The very act of seeking out the shortcut and the quick win might very well be the reason you don’t have enough successful long stories to share.”

Don’t be afraid to walk away because you are worried about missing out on opportunities. There are plenty of right-fit buyers ready to start a business relationship with you. The challenge is to change your mind-set.

As long as you enter into the sales process with humility, with genuine curiosity, and with the objective to help the prospect achieve better outcomes you should also enter believing that they are going to be best served by you as opposed to any of your competitors.

Strategy vs. Execution: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Unfortunately, according to many business leaders, execution is more important than strategy because execution leads to results, and results are what matter most. But, if agencies and producers fail to develop a sales strategy, it will often lead to sales failure. According to an article published in Strategy + Business by Kevin Favaro, “you cannot have good execution without having good strategy”. Your ability to execute well depends on whether or not you have a strategic plan in place. Developing an annual, comprehensive, and written-out strategy will raise the number and quality of accounts written, improve revenue predictability, and increase overall profitability.

According to Favaro a business strategy “is the result of choices made on where to play and how to win to maximize long-term value.” So, how can you successfully create a strategic sales plan to increase your success, achieve growth and maximize value?

1)Don’t be afraid to analyze your past failures to determine why prospects didn’t buy with you. Be sure to also analyze your successes to determine how and why your relationships were successful. You can use this knowledge to understand the challenges you face, and to understand what works for you and your agency. Analyzing past performance will help you establish the framework for developing an effective strategic plan.

2)Be sure that all stakeholders are involved in the creation of the plan, and that everyone’s objectives, goals and capabilities are in alignment.

3)Set realistic revenue goals—consider pipeline quality and activity, past performance, producer capabilities, and market considerations.

4)All aspects of the strategy must be written down and put on the calendar. And, all stakeholders must fully understand their responsibilities, goals and roles.

5)Measuring and assessing your success is essential. Build room for measurements into the plan to be sure that goals and objectives can be re-evaluated regularly.

With an effective strategic plan in place, you will be able to execute consistently with confidence and enthusiasm.

If you are interested in learning more about strategic sales planning, you can download our whitepaper on the subject here.