Super Agent

Archive for January, 2013

That Sale You Lost, It May Be Your Fault

When we ask producers why they failed to close a sale, they often respond that the employer “just didn’t get it.” They will go on to explain, with frustration, that the employer decided to stay with their current agency, and that the solution to this problem is simply finding more prospects that “get it”.

But, producers are too quick to blame their prospects when things go wrong. Marketing expert Seth Godin recently talked about this issue in his blog. He says: “the thing is, blaming this group [of customers] for getting it wrong helps no one. They don’t want to be blamed, and they’re not going to learn.”

Many producers have been instructed to “pitch” their agency’s capabilities and services during the early stages of the sales process as a strategy to differentiate from competitors, but taking this approach is self-sabotage because, as we often say, buyers “don’t know what they don’t know.” The risks your services and capabilities address and mitigate aren’t yet on their radars, and instead of recognizing that you can help them improve their business they become overwhelmed. They nod along with you, letting you move forward, when they’re really thinking “Just get to the price.”

Leading with your “pitch” disregards the way the buyer’s brain works, and is too agency-centric to create any emotion. Great producers are able to help prospects self-discover threats and risks which they were previously unaware of before connecting their services and capabilities. Doing this evokes the important emotions that inspire decisions; a buyer will only be comfortable with change after they are unsatisfied and truly fearful that they are at a greater risk if they don’t.

Are you asking customer-centric questions at the start of the sales process?

Are you helping the prospect see a vision for a future relationship before introducing your agency’s services and capabilities?

Producers don’t need to find more customers who get it; they need to develop the skills to create more customers who will.

Protecting Your Brand

In a recent article on Property Casualty 360, Laura Toops poses this question: “Does the insurance industry even have an inkling about the disconnect between what they do and what they say—and more to the point, do they even care?”

She discusses an incident in which Allstate ran a popular ad campaign after Hurricane Sandy, “complete with sweeping music and square-jawed insurance adjusters tramping resolutely through the rubble on behalf of their customers”. The problem is that the ad featured a couple who, in reality, are very displeased with the settlement offering on their home. Toops talks to brand strategist Tony Wessling about this disconnect, and he stresses the importance of developing a transparent and authentic brand.

He says, “if you apply (brand strategy) to all situations, whether its business decisions or marketing… your message will come out consistent.”

 Many of the branding problems that Toops discusses in this article apply to insurance companies as well as independent agencies. There are often two issues that we see at an agency level that threaten the value and reputation of an agency in the marketplace.

(1)    Agency and carrier goals and objectives aren’t aligned. When working with a third party there must be clear rules around engagement and execution in order to convey goals and objectives to prospects seamlessly. It’s important that both parties are moving away from just providing the lowest premiums and are instead joining together to improve employer outcomes.

(2)    “Lone wolf” agents advance their individual brand that is not in alignment with the agency brand. This can quickly erode the agency brand and decrease credibility and trust. It is vital to be sure that messaging strategies and methods of engagement are consistent and aligned. Agencies often spend money on branding and messaging campaigns to attract right-fit prospects and to differentiate, but they are putting their brand at risk if they do not hold producers accountable to a singular view of success and value.

Tip the Silos

Most people are familiar with Michael J. Fox—the film star who traveled back in time as Marty McFly in Doc Brown’s silver DeLorean. But today, 15 years after publicly announcing his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, he has come to be known as an inspiring and positive activist. He is the founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, dedicated to finding a cure for the disease that he and so many others live with.

According to an article published in Networking Magazine, his foundation “funds hundreds of millions of dollars of research, and produced a cutting-edge Parkinson’s trial program…one of its goals is to unite research into one stream toward a cure, instead of having a bunch of separatist efforts compete with each other.”

Fox explains: “There are all of these silos of collected information — whether it’s academic or government or pharma or whatever — and they’re just stacked on top of each other and there’s no means forward. There are no highways to cures and therapies,” explained Fox. “And so our mission is to try to tip those silos over and get them moving in a linear way as early as possible, and then creating a thruway for this information. And that happens through collaboration.”

Agencies can learn a lot from this approach. Currently, there is a dynamic at play in many agencies that is fueled by the fear of sharing business between producers and departments. Producers are reluctant to refer their clients to their colleagues because of past experiences or personal relationships and agency leaders rarely intervene, even when they can’t afford to deploy resources to accounts that aren’t working with them in multiple business units. It’s like Fox says, producers and departments are “stacked on top of each other” with no means forward. There are “a bunch of separatist efforts” rather a unified team working toward the same, clearly defined goals.

In order to achieve profitability and sustainability agencies must learn how to be more collaborative, tip the silos, and in turn create a linear path to success that will benefit everyone.

The Duck-Rabbit Paradigm: Why You Can’t Just “Go Back” to a Consultative Approach

 

In conversations with some of our members we find that too often, producers allow their fear to drive them to a place of comfort even when they know the behaviors they revert back to aren’t effective. Much like their own clients and prospects, it is hard for them to make the decision to change without looking back. We hear, “I’ll just do this for a while, take some pressure off, get a couple wins on the board, and then I’ll go right back to a more consultative approach.” The problem with this is that two, three, even 6 months down the road they’re still making transactional, commodity driven sales and there’s never a good day to switch back.

Take a look at the photo above. What do you see? If you see a rabbit, look for a duck and vice versa. Now, can you look at it again without seeing both? According to scientific research, most people would answer no. Once you’ve allowed yourself to make the shift, it’s very difficult to go back. The same is true in the sales process.

So, you have to ask yourself: Who do I want to be? Am I addressing the real challenges employers are facing? Am I leading them away from a dangerous path? It takes gumption to take a stand and make the decision to change, sincerely and entirely. But, we would argue that if you adopt a consultative, collaborative approach with the objective of helping the buyer self-discover risks to their business you will differentiate yourself from competitors and see greater success.

“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”- James Cook

Human Decision-Making: What Really Drives Change?

There is a field of neuroscience and behavioral science called “Behavioral Economics” that focuses on how people make decisions—according to a Harvard Magazine article, it was born out of the need to explain odd observations and human anomalies. For example, “People say they want to save for retirement, eat better, start exercising, quit smoking—and they mean it—but they do no such things.” The article also explains that for decades, the standard academic model of a decision-maker has been someone who is intelligent, analytic, rational, and logical. The problem: “when we turn to actual human beings, we find, instead of robot-like logic, all manner of irrational, self-sabotaging, and even altruistic behavior.”

As the examples above suggest, logic alone cannot explain human-decision making. If people were inspired to act by reason alone, everyone would exercise, eat healthy, save money, etc. The same principal is true of decision-makers in the sales process, but we often see agents trying to use logic to persuade them to make a change. Producers come to the first meeting prepared to provide a list of statistics and facts meant to affirm their expertise, but instead they create barriers rather than breaking them down and are ultimately unsuccessful. Why? Because emotion, not reason, drives change behavior. If decision makers are emotionally engaged at the start of the sales process, they will be much more open to trust the logic that comes as the next step.

So, how can you effectively appeal to the buyer’s emotions? There are two important steps:

Step 1: Believe. We focused on the importance of belief in our last blog post. If you are truly invested, the buyer will feel it.

Step 2: Use stories. A good story can provide important information while arousing the listener’s emotions and energy to act. Innovative business author Daniel Pink explains: “Humans are creatures of emotion as much as logic, and facts and arguments move us most when they are embedded in good stories.  The world’s priests, politicians, and teachers have always known this by instinct… storytelling is increasingly seen as an essential business skill.”

Are you evoking the emotions that will inspire your prospects to act?

Belief Influences Non-verbal Communication

According to Michael Bosworth and Ben Zoldan, authors of What Great Salespeople Do, “People tend to think of spoken language as our primary means of communication, but studies suggest that words alone make up only 7 percent of human communication. The other 93 percent consists of tone of voice and nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and body posture.”

Sales conversations are reciprocal; the more you engage, listen and communicate effectively the better the conversation, and body language plays a large role in showing the buyer that you are sincerely curious, caring, knowledgeable and a confident leader.

An article in Insurance Journal suggests that “if the non-verbal communication is not congruent with the verbal communication, there will most likely be a failure in the overall communication.” So how can you be sure your body language is consistent with the message you are trying to convey?

Have belief—buyers respond to sincere empathy and concern. Your body language, tonality, facial expressions and gestures will convey your message if you truly believe your leadership is critical to the prospect’s success.

Does Your Value Proposition Communicate These 3 Things?

A unique and specific value proposition helps agencies attract the right-fit clients that will benefit from the expertise and resources they offer. In an article on Business Insider, investor and business advisor Joseph Bockerstette says that “while entrepreneurs freely throw around the term “value proposition,” they rarely offer a thoughtful explanation for the value their business is providing and, more importantly, an understanding of who their real customer is and what valuable benefit their customer perceives they are receiving.”

Good value propositions communicate an agency’s LCV. What is it? LCV stands for leadership, capabilities and value.

Leadership = Take the leadership role; lead prospects toward identifying what their greatest challenges are.

Capabilities = Leverage the capabilities and resources your agency possesses to address prospect and client challenges.

Value = Demonstrate your value so your prospects and clients recognize that they are at great risk without it.

Does your value prop articulate these things? If not, now is the perfect time to get back to the basics and refine it. Just remember that communicating your value proposition is a process; don’t simply recite a statement to a prospect, let them see your LCV.

Selling to a Team of Decision Makers

In today’s world, most people don’t want to take on change and risk alone. Instead, they prefer to have others involved in the decision, and this enhanced risk-aversion has generated an increase in consensus decision making. What does this mean? “Getting to the decision-maker” is no longer possible. Consider this excerpt from a blog post by Seth Godin:

“When making a b2b sale, the instinct is always to get into the CEO’s office. If you can just get her to hear your pitch, to understand the value, to see why she should buy from or lease from or partner with or even buy you… that’s the holy grail. What do you think happens after that mythical meeting? She asks her team.” In most sales situations today, there are multiple decision-makers involved.

So, how do you persuade a team of risk-averse executives who have access to a wealth of information online and have no time to listen to a conventional sales pitch that sounds like every other agent or agency?

Reach across the entire team with leadership and vision—be a “Challenger.” Prompt them to think, bring innovative ideas, and find creative ways to help their business. Most importantly, be mindful that although the CEO, CFO and other high-level executives all ultimately want to make the best decision for the company, they each have their own set of objectives. Address questions to them individually to find out what specific challenges they are facing before moving forward. Only when there is clarity around what is important to each stakeholder can you link agency resources and capabilities to address the business’ risks and threats.