Super Agent

Archive for September, 2012

Back to the Basics

Most independent insurance agencies and agents would agree that relying on contingency commissions alone is not a reliable strategy for long-term growth. In today’s competitive and complex market there is only one option for growing an agency: organically. Organic growth involves implementing a distinct and repeatable sales process that attracts and retains higher revenue accounts. It is a top objective of many agencies today who struggle to gain new business and differentiate from competitors.

The good news? Many basic organic growth tactics can still deliver results if they are practiced within a well-structured sales process. Here are a few crucial questions that can be used as indicators of the quality of your pipeline and growth opportunities:

(1) When was the last time your agents cold-called right-fit, high profitability prospects?
(2) When was the last time your agents reached out to peers and leveraged their centers of influence?
(3) Are your agents practicing and reevaluating strategies that will cultivate long-term client relationships?

According to Ken Favaro of Booz & Co., “growing organically is a skill companies can develop, not an advantage they temporarily gain as a result of a hot product or successful business model. When companies put their minds to it, organic growth is the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly outcome of finding, funding, and acting on opportunities that are often hiding in plain sight.”

6 Steps to Shorten Your Sales Cycle

What can you do to develop a strategy and action plan that will lead to closed sales within 3 to 5 meetings? Here are 6 critical components:

Step 1: Develop a concise and client focused value proposition. Why is this important? Your value proposition is designed to immediately capture the attention of the prospect—it communicates what value you have to offer, and it establishes a strong foundation for dialog. According to sales strategist Jill Konrath, “Weak value propositions are the root cause of most sales failures.”

Step 2: Establish credibility by being a thought leader in your specialized area of expertise. Provide articles, White Papers, and any other content with valuable information—doing so will help the buyer trust your expertise and positions you as an advisor and partner.

Step 3: Get in front of the decision maker. Be proactive and enter in at the highest level possible.

Step 4: Plan! Don’t wing it; you should always have goals in mind for every conversation. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish during this conversation?”

Step 5: Address any objections early. It’s vital to be transparent with prospects and ask the uncomfortable questions to be sure that your goals and objectives are in line before moving forward. Buyers may cloak their objections and fears, but an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal explains: “work on [objections] earlier during the sale and you’ll find your sales cycle shortened, your credibility enhanced and most importantly, more sales closures.”

Step 6: Establish clear next steps. It is vital to gain agreements and set goals with the buyer up front in order to establish mutual accountabilities.

Do you have any successful stories/strategies to help shorten your sales cycle? Let us know in the comments.

Testing Your Message

According to a CBS Money Watch article by Geoffrey James, “Your ability to sell is greatly dependent upon your ability to communicate sales messages. Unfortunately, many sales professionals don’t understand how to provide [messages] that actually motivate the customer to buy.” An agency with a distinctive message that piques curiosity will attract the type of clients that want what the agency has to offer, and a good, client-focused message will get the employer to say to the producer: “I want to hear more about how you can help me.”

Does your message resonate with prospects? Here are a few questions to test the effectiveness of your message:

(1) Do you mention specific issues or challenges your prospect may be facing and that you can address them?

An effective message is externally focused and communicates to prospects that an agency is seeking to work toward mutually beneficial goals with the objectives of both parties in alignment. 

(2) Do you make it known that you have done your research by expressing knowledge about the prospect?

It will capture the prospect’s attention if the producer has taken the time to learn about them and mentions that they’ve researched their business.

(3) Do you pique curiosity and interest?

A message that piques client curiosity entices the employer to meet with the producer, inquires about the employers’ business needs and objectives, and identifies potential fears the employer is facing to get them emotionally engaged.

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may want to revise your message—stay focused on communicating the leadership, value and capabilities you have to offer, and more right-fit prospects will begin gladly opening their doors for the first meeting.

It’s Not Your Product; It’s Your Process

One of the best ways to displace your competition and differentiate is to change your strategy and start executing in a different way. It’s not about offering better products or services; it’s about how you approach the sales process.

According to a study from the Sales Executive Council, the most successful salespeople push buyers out of their comfort zones and lead them to where they really want to go (even if they don’t know it yet). Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of The Challenger Sale, call these successful salespeople “Challengers”. They explain: “We live in an era when product innovation alone cannot be the basis for corporate success. How you sell has become more important than what you sell.”

So, how can you improve your process and become a Challenger?

  • Prompt buyers to think
  • Offer innovative ideas
  • Find creative ways to help the buyer improve their business
  • Ask questions that create constructive tension and disrupt the buyer’s way of thinking

In complex sales, like risk management or insurance, possessing these skills is even more critical. If you are currently on a path to a more consultative, outcome-based and value-based approach then the ability to challenge prospects is essential to your success.

Avoiding the Value Assault Approach: Show Don’t Tell

In today’s commoditized sales environment, producers continually strive to differentiate from competitors and prove their value to prospects. However, a vast number of producers are making the mistake of telling prospects that they are different instead of actually demonstrating it.

When someone says, “I’m strong” or “I’m smart”, are you likely to accept their statements and believe they are telling the truth, or would you be more impressed if you listened to a compelling lecture or watched a heavy-weight champion beat out the rest of the competition?

Inc.’s Jeff Thull explains this problematic approach as a “value assault”. He says: “Most salespeople present their value proposition as, “This is the value we provide, this is what it has enabled customers like you to do and you will be able to do the same if…” It is definitely seen as “selling” and therefore, whatever value you suggest it is, the customer is likely to reduce its value because they will assume it is likely exaggerated to make the sale.”

If you simply tell a prospect you’re different, they may think you’re being disingenuous and dismiss you before you have a chance to be innovative, insightful and client-focused—the things that will really confirm your value and show that you are different from the agents who are self-focused and falling into the dreaded bid-and-quote trap. Instead of pointing to your differences let the prospect see them, and you’ll see better results.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.Anton Chekhov

Setting Realistic Revenue Goals

We often see agencies and producers setting their revenue goals based on what they want or hope to achieve, or what an account manager needs to achieve. These are important considerations, but when setting realistic revenue goals they are rarely the indicators that equal success. According to finance writer Leo Sun, “failing to set realistic goals by being too conservative or ambitious can have disastrous results.”

So, what indicators are necessary to consider when you are setting revenue goals?

1. Quality and activity of your pipeline. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that these factors are at the top of the list. Without an adequate pipeline producers and agencies will struggle to grow their business. Whether you rely on cold-calling or referrals from centers-of-influence, it’s important to assess your pipeline on a regular basis in order to set realistic revenue goals. If your pipeline doesn’t accurately represent the current market opportunities available to your agency, it’s time to reassess.

2. Past performance and producer capabilities. Analyzing your past performance can help you assess the probability of future success, or, in some cases, failure. It is important to remember that desire isn’t ability. Without a change in behavior, it is unlikely that a producer who has consistently been in the middle of the pack will become a top performer.

3. Market conditions. Although this should play a more limited role when assessing revenue goals, it is still important to consider. A hardening market, for example, will increase difficulties for producers who have focused on high-risk businesses—especially in workers’ compensation, and market conditions can also transform a right-fit client into a wrong-fit client.

Agencies and producers who consider these facts and performance measures will be less likely to set goals based on hopes,  and will be more likely meet the objectives they set as a component of their growth strategy.

The 4 Dangers of Starting Out on Smaller Accounts

Many young producers start out their careers by selling and servicing lower revenue accounts, and eventually end up taking any business, regardless of profitability. Working on smaller accounts at the beginning can have some benefits—most agency owners and producers claim that the best way to get practice is by working on all opportunities. But often there are many more dangers than there are benefits. Here are four dangers to consider:

(1)  Fear of Letting Go: Once a relationship is developed, new producers have a hard time letting go. They become nostalgic about their first accounts.

(2)  Lost-Opportunities: Any time spent serving smaller, less profitable accounts means lost time and lost opportunities developing relationships with larger, more profitable prospects. 

(3)  Over-servicing: There is not much a producer can do to service or improve outcomes for clients who generate very little revenue—a producer’s time is valuable, and it should be spent focusing on more significant opportunities.  

(4)  Self-Doubt. After working on and with small accounts for an extended period of time, producers become reluctant and fearful of transitioning to larger, more complex accounts. Once this reluctance sets in, it’s difficult to shake. If producers are expected to be successful in working with higher and more challenging opportunities they must start relatively early-on in their careers with the guidance and help of senior producers and agency leaders.

Addressing this issue can be challenging, but when producers are successful everyone benefits. Clients are better served and their needs are addressed, lucrative opportunities are identified and captured, and agency revenue increases.

“Go for it and when you go for it you’ll learn what you’re capable of, what the potential is, [and] where the opportunities are.” – Michael Dell