Super Agent

Archive for November, 2012

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.

Take the Initiative to Be Successful

Most of us can relate to this scenario: you walk into the office, poor a cup of coffee, boot up your computer and immediately begin responding to the list of emails in your inbox. But, according to Seth Godin, you should start out your day engaging and initiating your best work in order to keep focused and be successful. In his book, “Poke the Box”, Godin challenges his readers to make something happen every day. In a Forbes article, Dan Schawbel calls “Poke the Box” both a manifesto and a permission slip: It’s “a manifesto in that it argues that the only real way for us to succeed today is to take initiative. It’s not given, it’s something we do. We provoke, create a ruckus, experiment, fail, repeat, learn, succeed… it’s a permission slip because people are waiting for one.”

So, what can you do to be an initiator and take control of your own success?

(1) Don’t let perfection be the enemy you constantly run up against. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a process, and a plan, it simply means that you shouldn’t let the fear of imperfection prevent you from having a conversation with a prospect.

(2) Stop waiting for permission. Initiators are hard to come by, and if you choose to initiate it will differentiate you from your competitors. You should ask yourself: What idea or opportunity can I seize in the marketplace? What new market forces or pressures are my clients currently facing? Am I reading what my clients and prospects are reading? Am I asking what matters to them, and to their customers?

(3) Initiate more client-centric dialog, and create time for business opportunities or meetings.

(4) Don’t be afraid to experiment—if something didn’t work last year, find out why and what you can you do to change it.

(5) Initiate more opportunities for your clients to learn and be trained by you, and for you to learn and be trained.

Warm Up A Cold Call

Many agents treat cold colds the same way they treat an introductory meeting; they immediately pitch a sales presentation on their clients, services and successes. Leading with your services and capabilities doesn’t work in either situation. In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of building a relationship with a prospect that is based on common goals and objectives, and that focuses on the value the agency has to offer. Customer centric conversations are the key to changing a buyer’s way of thinking, and good dialog should lead the prospect to recognize previously unknown risks to their business. Once they have recognized that they are dissatisfied you can step in to connect your services and capabilities, but this should never happen at the start of the sales process. Marketing guru Seth Godin affirms that salespeople need “more conversations and fewer announcements.” 

So how can you warm up a cold call with customer-centric dialog and position yourself for success?

(1)    Offer to share your expertise and insights and apply it to the prospect’s specific situation.

(2)    Immediately move to “What’s in it for me?” with a value based offer.

(3)    Position yourself as a Thought Leader—business writer Scott Ginsberg explains that a thought leader is “a trusted source who moves people with innovative ideas.”

 Here is an example of an effective call:

The reason I’m calling is to schedule a brief meeting to review the findings of the research we’ve been doing on what makes the biggest difference in preventing and managing employee injuries for leaders who want to reduce to number, cost and duration of employee injuries.

In the next few years there will be critical changes in the industry for which you may want to prepare. If you’re interested, we can discuss what areas to focus on that will make the biggest difference in your specific situation.

Note that this approach leaves you open to schedule a follow-up phone call or first meeting, and it is a non-threatening call to action that doesn’t confuse or overwhelm the prospect with insurance jargon and a list of services.

What successful cold calling strategies have you used to capture the attention of prospects and secure a next meeting?

Aligning Stakeholders

At the end of this year, many agencies will fail to develop a strategic sales plan for next year that is more comprehensive and focused than just a list of business activities. Unfortunately, without a strategic plan it is virtually impossible to successfully predict and meet revenue goals, and producers are not held accountable. There are many steps in creating a successful plan, but one step that is critical and that agencies often struggle with is the alignment of all stakeholders.

In an article on Inc.com, Paul Schoemaker explains: “When drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Ben Franklin famously said, “Surely we must all hang together lest we all hang separately” (as traitor to the British Crown). When leaders bring new strategies to life, the biggest obstacle they face is aligning others along the desired path.”

A comprehensive plan should take into account the goals, objectives and capabilities of the producer, carrier partners, clients, prospects, and any other party. Lack of alignment often leads to frustration and an ineffective approach to gaining new business. For example, when a producer and agency aren’t in alignment, producers may attempt to write business that can’t be profitably serviced, they may be messaging ineffectively, or the agency may not be providing producers with the resources they need for business development such as CRM or other web-based tools.

Prior to the development of your plan, you can ask these questions to assess stakeholder needs, opportunities and commitments:

- What level of account complexity is best served by your agency?
- What is the appetite of your carrier partners?
- What kind of business does the agency typically have the greatest success in attracting and servicing?
- What is the profitability of existing books of business?
- Are client acquisition strategies in alignment?

Aligning all stakeholders before developing a strategic sales plan will not only increase retention and shorten sales cycles; it will also ensure that all parties are profitable and successful.

Employers Need the “Why” and the “How”

With Election Day near, the New York Times published an article on “Why Partisans Can’t Explain Their Views”, suggesting that most people in the U.S. have only a superficial understanding of how complex systems and policies actually work. According to the article, Yale Psychologist Frank Keil calls this behavior the “illusion of explanatory depth”. Keil’s theory goes something like this: when we’re asked to simply defend our opinions, we are steadfast and confident, but if we are asked to explain how a system or policy works, we realize how little we truly know and waver in our resolve, often taking a more moderate position.

The article asserts that this is true for any complicated system—“whether it’s what’s involved in a trade deal with China or how a toilet flushes”—and in order to be completely informed, people must understand the “why” and the “how” behind an idea.

So, how does this apply to sales?

Producers are often frustrated by the “bid-and-quote” process employers attempt to take them through, but it’s important to recognize that what they are really trying to do is simplify something they don’t understand by focusing solely on what they do. Price is concrete and easy to wrap your head around. Insurance and risk management are not. Employers are sometimes just as staunch as extremist politicians when it comes to price—they won’t budge, they are resolved, they feel like they have the only information they need to make a decision.

It’s the producers job to help them navigate through the complex process of buying insurance, and help them to understand how the decision they make (whether or not to enter into a business relationship with the agency), will actually affect them. Once they delve deeper and understand the process and the effect of their decision they will probably be more open to change and more likely to listen.