Super Agent

Archive for February, 2014

Harness This Powerful Force

According to a scientific study discussed in the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review, “dread—the anticipation of negative outcomes—is a powerful force.” How powerful? The study showed that 70% of subjects opted to receive a painful electric shock right away, rather than wait for a less painful shock in the near future. So, the feeling of anticipating pain was worse than the actual pain. And if the feeling of dread could be avoided, that’s the route that most chose to take.

What does this mean for you?

We often talk about tapping into employers’ emotions during the sales process, and finding points of pain or frustration is one of the best ways to do this—particularly when a prospect is unaware that they are facing a specific risk. If they are lead to self-discover problems and begin to anticipate negative outcomes, (just like the study participants that chose no-dread over dread) they are much more likely to decide to make a change.

Lets say an employer is being overcharged through the premium audit process, their experience mod is incorrect or mismanaged and its preventing them from bidding on jobs, or their workers’ comp claims costs are rising because their injured employees aren’t getting the right treatment by the right doctor at the right time. When they discover this during the sales process, and the negative outcomes are isolated in this way, the door opens for you to:

(1)    Ask: “how confident are you that these conditions will get better if you don’t address them?”

(2)    Paint a picture of a better future if they choose to engage with you

(3)    Ultimately, work toward gaining agreements on how to move forward

What points of pain do you lead with in order to move prospects to make a change? Share your stories with us in the comments.

Should You Act or Assess?

Many of the producers we work with push back when we talk about engaging in a consistent and consultative sales process with prospects—one that allows employers to delve into the real issues they’re facing and discover where opportunities exist to get better.  It’s likely because leading, asking the tough questions, and offering innovative capabilities isn’t easy. So, even when they begin to believe in it, they are hesitant to jump in.

Then there are the producers who are satisfied with the status quo…rather than putting in the time and energy to break through existing boundaries to their own success, they are constantly on the go, moving from one transactional sale to the next.

Seth Godin explains this idea in an excellent blog post. He says, “Stalling is the last thing you need…[asking] why is often an escape hatch for people when they know what they should do, but fear doing it. The best answer for the stalling why is: Go.” But, “the best response to the impetuous, status-quo driven “Go” is to ask, “why?”

In other words, if you’re finding yourself on the verge of committing to a change that will enhance your success, rather than teetering on the fence, it’s time to forge ahead with belief and gumption. And, if you find that you’re still doing what’s worked in the past or you’re following the same flawed approach as most other agents, it’s probably time to take a step back and assess.

How Prospects “Check You Out”

A recent study by Hinge found the top 4 ways buyers “check out” sellers in today’s crowded marketplace. In the age of the internet, most no longer turn to referrals of references to get a better perspective on the capabilities, resources and expertise an organization has to offer.

So, what are the top methods?

(1)    Website. According to the study, over 80% of buyers evaluate you through your website before turning to any other method.

(2)    Online search. The next most common strategy is utilizing a search engine to look more deeply at your online presence.

(3)    Friends and colleagues. Word of mouth is a powerful tool when you have advocates.

(4)    Social Media. We’re often surprised by how many agencies aren’t utilizing social media tools to help build their brands. Social media plays an important role in establishing yourself as a thought leader and industry influencer.

The study suggests that “in most cases, a buyer can Google [you], check out your website, and explore conversation about your work on social media in less time than it would take to get in touch with a reference you’ve provided…. As buyers increasingly look online for solutions, it is more essential than ever that sellers address their online brand. Social and search are no longer optional.”

Have you been building your brand using strategies of the past? Does your marketing plan rely heavily on referrals? If you’re still considering whether or not to invest in quality website development or in committing to building a social media presence, there is no better time to take the leap than now.

“The key to success is often the ability to adapt.” – Anthony Brandt

Having Difficult Sales Conversations: Part 2

Last week we discussed the common reluctance to having sales conversations that push the boundaries of comfort and tackle big issues other agents likely aren’t addressing. But, creating positive tension during the sales process isn’t the only difficult task producers struggle to master in order to truly differentiate.

Another similar area is developing a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent with clients and prospects, which can help producers build lasting business relationships but is a point of issue for many. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of the business fable Getting Naked, “those who get comfortable being vulnerable are rewarded with levels of client loyalty that other[s] can only dream of….naked service is rare, which means it provides an opportunity for a powerful and tangible competitive advantage for those who embrace it.”

This means letting go of the fear of being embarrassed, asking questions or raising suggestions even if they could turn out to be wrong, and admitting to errors rather than hiding them. As James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” In return, those you work with will be attracted to your honesty, trust that your intentions are to help them achieve the best outcomes, and appreciate your directness.

Are you comfortable with both types of difficult conversations that we touched on in this two-part series? If not, there are big opportunities waiting for you.

Having Difficult Sales Conversations: Part 1

In a great post on The Sales Blog, Anthony Iannarino says that in order to create greater value, you have to have difficult conversations—“You are going to have to talk openly about the big changes that are going to need to occur for your client to succeed, for you to succeed together… What makes you strategic is your willingness to deal with the biggest, nastiest, foulest issues.”

We often talk about the importance of producers leading the sales process during the first meeting and willingly stepping into tension filled moments to challenge and engage a prospect. Without a little discomfort, it’s unlikely that anything new is being brought to the table. And today’s buyers expect new ideas.

So, if you find that you’re reluctant to have difficult and probing conversations with clients, it’s important to assess where your fear is stemming from. Do you need to gain new capabilities in order to confidently address the issues a prospect or client is facing? Are you letting self-doubt or the need to “be liked” get in the way of your success? Do you know the impact you have on your clients and the outcomes you help them to achieve?

Getting comfortable with uncomfortable topics of conversation is a big step toward differentiation, as long as you do so with humility and without pushing away the prospect.

Iannarino asked: “Will you go there? Will you give the elephant a name and tame him?”

What strategies do you use to create positive tension during your sales meetings? Are you trying to overcome your fears around this issue? Let us know in the comments, and be on the lookout for Part 2 next week.

Do Your Email Messages Count?

According to a recent article by McKinsey & Company, “there’s a reason your inbox always seems jam-packed: e-mail marketing works.” So, if you’ve been toying with abandoning your email marketing strategy in favor of a strategy focused solely on social media, you may want to think again. Although utilizing social networks can be a very effective way to build and market your brand, email is still king when it comes to acquiring clients. In addition, the right message can help agencies and producers get in the door and even position them to generate more productive first appointments.

So, how do you harness the full potential of email messaging? McKinsey offers these three tips:

(1)    Focus on the journey, not the click. In other words, focus on not only what’s within the message, but also where the prospect is taken when they interact with it. For example, it’s more effective to link to a specific landing page with information on what’s featured in the email rather than linking to your website home-page.

(2)    Share the lessons. As with all processes and strategies, it’s important to constantly evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Which messages are really sticking with prospects, and which are getting lost? If you believe the content in a specific email is great but it’s not having much success, could a low-impact subject line be to blame? Share the lessons you learn along the way with your colleagues or team members.

(3)    Get personal. McKinsey says that “the best emails feel personal”, and personalized messages can help you differentiate when decision makers’ inboxes are crowded. So if your prospect has recently downloaded a Whitepaper from your website, or their business is going through an organizational change that may be creating specific challenges, be sure to mention it within your message. Think about what would prompt the buyer to say, “I want to hear more”.

91 percent of all US consumers use email daily—are you making your email messages count?

Will You Be Bold?

As most of you have likely heard, CVS has made the decision to remove all tobacco products from its pharmacies nationwide by October 1st, putting 2 billion dollars in revenue on the line. Why? CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said: “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health…put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

This is a powerful stand that many have commented on in the media, collectively wondering how the decision will impact the company, whether any others will follow suit, and what it all means for big tobacco in the U.S.

But the biggest takeaway here is this: what they’ve done is to assess whether or not their practices are in alignment with the “Why” of their organization, and then took steps to make a change that shattered the status quo.

Are you willing to do the same?

We often talk about the opportunities that exist for agents and agencies willing to be bold—those who understand their “Why”, choose to reject the status quo and develop the skills to offer new insights during sales conversations, ask disruptive questions and steer prospects away from the transactional process that leaves them at risk.

When was the last time you evaluated whether or not your day-to-day activities are in alignment with your purpose? If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to take a note from CVS and start making changes.

Producer & Agency Alignment: Gain Clarity Around These 5 Things

It makes sense that one of the most important aspects of an effective sales plan is that the agency and producers have a common understanding of their goals, motivations and capabilities. But, it’s not uncommon for us to see producers attempting to write business that can’t be profitably serviced, or agencies not allocating resources to purchase important business development tools like a CRM or email marketing software.

As you’ve likely seen, this disconnect often leads to frustration and gets in the way of an effective approach to acquiring new business. So, how do you ensure that you aren’t missing out on opportunities because of a lack of alignment? Start by gaining clarity around these 5 things:

(1)    Who is your perfect client?

(2)     What level of account complexity is best served by the agency?

(3)    What constitutes a profitable account?

(4)    What class of business does the agency have the greatest success in attracting and servicing?

(5)    What’s your story– what clear, effective message do you want to convey to prospects?

Agency principals, do your producers have the same answers to these questions as you do? Brian Tracy said: “Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you [also] perform better.” In order to shorten sales cycles, increase retention and boost the probability of success, consider taking the time to align agency and producer strategies as part of your overall strategic sales plan.