Super Agent

Archive for March, 2014

Leading By Example

We often talk about how to deal with and change the minds of today’s decision makers who are opposed to veering from the status quo—who make a change only after producers put in the hard work to lead them to discover the problems they’ll face if they don’t, and to see a future with better outcomes if they do.

But, what if you haven’t made it to that step yet? What if you’re dealing with a team putting up barriers to changes you’re trying to implement within your agency? Maybe you’re implementing a new sales process or you’re gaining new capabilities in order to focus on targeting larger accounts…but you’re not seeing the level of engagement and adoption you’d hoped for.

It might be because you haven’t addressed the emotional fears of your team or other likely barriers, but it could also have something to do with the leadership.

Are sales managers on board and committed to the changes? Do you have your own doubts about implementation? As Albert Einstein said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” If you don’t believe in what you’re doing with certainty and if you’re not engaged, excited and available to address challenges when they arise, then your team won’t be able to transition wholly and successfully. Even worse: they may have embraced the change and are ready to become better, but when a sales manager or leader has not then their motivation and their ability to be successful will be stifled.

So, if you’re thinking about what the barriers are that may be preventing a successful transition or evolution within your agency, don’t forget to consider leading by example as an important factor.

Are You On Cruise Control?

Sales strategist and expert Jill Konrath linked to an excellent video on her blog recently about how to be an invaluable sales resource. She said, “prospects have so many options — and they know it. When you tell them, “We’re special” — they don’t believe you. If you say, “We have a passion for excellence” — they don’t care one little bit. Tons of companies have the same passion for excellence… I bring this up because lots of you are on cruise control. Believe me, I’ve been on cruise control before and had my whole career wiped out because of it.”

Are you on cruise control? Are you engaging in the bid-and-quote cycle that is ineffective and dangerous to employers, are you scrambling to fill your pipeline because you haven’t spent enough time on prospecting activities, do your marketing materials still highlight your agency’s features and benefits?

There are a lot of people on cruise control in our industry, but that only means that there are big opportunities for agents who take back the controls and drive against the wind. Jill’s advice is to be constantly growing and learning, to be students, “to make more connections, go to a conference, sign-up for newsletters, learn more.”

If you haven’t done anything recently to increase the value you provide to your clients and to increase your own success, now is a great time to start.

Check out the full video here and let us know what you think.

Have Confidence

In a recent post by one of our favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, he talks about how easy it is to feel confident when we’re on a roll—how the batter who has already hit two home runs is feeling great when he gets up to bat for the third time.

Maybe you have been on a roll recently—you’ve been closing sales and your motivation is high. But, what gets you through on the days (weeks or months) that aren’t so easy?

We would argue that the answer is belief.

Do you believe that your process for engaging with employers helps them to reach their business objectives, provides them with the best outcomes and serves their needs? Are you consistently following through with prospecting and networking activities set in your calendar? Are you investing in yourself and your success by assessing what you need to do today to get better tomorrow?

If you answered yes to these questions, and you have belief in your answers, don’t be afraid to choose to be confident. Seth Godin said: It’s not really useful to require yourself to be successful before you’re able to become confident…effective confidence comes from within.”

Why Adaptability is Key

In recent years there has been a lot of concern and talk about the changing role of the insurance agent. McKinsey released a report suggesting that in order for agents to succeed in the future they will need to develop new capabilities and tailored expertise. In response to ACA, headlines on industry websites and magazines included things like “Brokers Seek to Preserve Role in Marketplace”.

There are agents and agencies who choose to deny that they need to respond to the changes and those who are embracing them, but overall there is still uncertainty on all sides. Added to the effects of evolving technology and the impact of health care reform is the fact that buyers today are risk averse, they stick with the status-quo and most view insurance as a commodity purchase.

But even in the face of all these challenges, there will still be agencies and agents that not only survive, they’ll thrive. How?

Consider this story on Inc.com about a travel agency facing a “growing army of internet competitors”: Elaine Osgood launched her travel agency before the explosion of online sites like Expedia and Orbitz threatened her business. But rather than panic, she listened closely to what her customers wanted and answered the call by adapting her capabilities to suit their most pressing needs. She offered them better data made available by new technologies that helped them see “which airlines flew the same route and how much might be saved by consolidating all travel …or how much could a customer save by consistently booking 14 days in advance rather than 7?”

She combined access to these metrics with new self-service tech that provided her customers with instant access to Atlas agents able to take care of any unforeseen problems that might disrupt travel plans. In other words, she assessed what her capabilities were, how she might grow or adapt to better serve her customers and provide them real value, then made necessary changes to ensure her continued success.

In our industry, the disruption exists in various forms—“Big Data” isn’t going away, commodity transactions will increasingly be performed electronically, health care reform will continue to create uncertainty…

But, the good news is, we firmly believe that these challenges are actually opportunities for those agencies willing to embrace and leverage them. For example, are you utilizing the power of “big data” to help employers effectively bend their health care cost curve in the right direction? Are you pairing your knowledge and expertise with a consultative and consistent sales process?

In today’s ever-changing and complex marketplace, adaptability is key.

It’s All About the Conversation

A common practice that we see during coaching calls with producers is that many of them are using language that creates push back or resistance from the prospect. They have the capabilities necessary to help employers get better, and they want to engage in a consultative way but they’re too quick to revert back to agency focused assertions rather than having an open dialog. So, they’ll say “we have this unique process”, “we don’t go out for bids”, or “the way you’re engaging is flawed and puts you in danger.”

These statements may all be true, but a more effective approach is to invite the prospect into the conversation with conditional language. Conditional language means you’re not telling the prospect what’s wrong or what you do differently. Instead, you’re asking pointed questions that help them to gain new insights about their current state, self-discover risks, and move toward that “Aha” moment that leads to change. Think about using phrases like, “Let’s assume…” or “What if it were the case that…”

The RAIN Group says this about the power of conditional language: “Open-ended sales questions are great for helping us to find out what’s going on in our prospects’ and clients’ worlds. They help us connect with buyers personally, understand their needs, understand what’s important to them, and help them create better futures for themselves.”

Here is an example of a question that uses conditional language to achieve a better response and effect than “we have a unique process”:

“What if you were to discover that the process you’re engaged in is actually creating barriers to what you’re trying to achieve?”

Changing the conversation in this way can make a big impact when you’re goal is to lead a prospect to see a future that you’re a part of. We challenge you to try out this approach during your next sales meeting. Did you see better results? Let us know in the comments.

Use Action Plans to Manage “Initiative Overload”

A recent article from Bain & Company talks about the common problem that occurs when organizations are bogged down with initiative overload—they “are like swimmers buffeted by cross currents coming from every direction”, and the result is often fragmentation and unremarkable results for the company and the client or prospect.

As an agency owner, producer or service team member, you’ll likely relate to the problems that arise from “initiative overload”…maybe you have to tackle a surprise request from a client, address an unforeseen risk or scramble to deliver on promises made during the sales process.

The article provides a few great tips for overcoming initiative overload such as (1) managing your time to determine what your strategic priorities are, (2) clearly defining your responsibility for each initiative, and (3) determining your involvement by establishing distinct decision processes and maintaining open communication. But in order to avoid initiative overload all together, we would recommend creating action plans.

So, when and how do you create an action plan? Action plans are the culmination of agreements gained during the sales process, and depending on the size of the agency, the prospect and producer should agree to take on 1 to 2 initiatives per quarter or year. They represent the work that needs to be accomplished by both parties in order to strengthen and protect the client’s business.

In many ways, in order to retain accounts and grow your book of business, implementation of agreed upon initiatives is not only necessary; it also provides a big opportunity to differentiate. But, successful implementation only happens when there is a strong action plan in place. In today’s challenging marketplace, an action plan ensures that timelines won’t become hazy, promises won’t be broken, and both parties will get the most out of the relationship.

Turn Skepticism to Belief

In her recent column in HBR, CEO of the American Red Cross, Gail McGovern talks about her journey from the private sector to a non-profit. In her new role, after assessing what changes needed to be made within the organization, she and her team first came up with a logical restructuring plan to present to the board. But that plan failed to capture the interest of or change the minds of the board members. So, they decided to take a different approach.

At the “make-or-break” meeting, she instead delivered an emotional talk that pointed to recent disasters, how local chapters responded and asked the board to join her in saving the Red Cross. As a result, she saw skepticism turn to belief.

In her words: “Now I look back on my career in the private sector and realize how I should have been leading all along. Non-profits don’t have a monopoly on meaning…Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical.

How are you leading prospects? Are you seeing skepticism turn to belief by tapping into the emotional drivers that cause people to make a change, or are you falling into the common logic trap?

In a first face-to-face meeting with a prospect, you usually have 20 minutes or less to move the sales process toward a business relationship; don’t let the prospect dismiss you by opening with information that requires heavy mental lifting right from the start. We’ve said it before—the most powerful way to lead and persuade a buyer to make a decision is by getting them to a point where they are emotionally engaged and can see and feel the value of moving forward.

But you have to see and feel it first. Ask yourself why you do what you do—what higher purpose or meaning is a part of your agency’s story? When you know it, and you believe it, you’ll be able to help prospects see it too.

Sales Opportunities Beyond Placing Policies

Many of the agents we speak with believe that only the broker of record (BOR) is in the position to establish a relationship with an employer and gain new business. But when your sales process and approach is truly consultative, this idea doesn’t hold up. Insurance policies don’t always address every risk or problem an employer faces. In fact, many (if not most) times there are issues that have been transferred year after year to an employer’s policy that are still unresolved. What’s more, the road to obtaining new clients is more complex in today’s selling environment.

So, when an employer has a problem that is exposed during a conversation, why not be prepared to offer them a solution for a fee?  Leading a prospect to recognize issues that exist and offering your specialized services, tools and capabilities on a fee-basis  not only helps diversify your revenue, it also differentiates you and allows you to establish an initial relationship that could lead to engagement in the future.

For example, what if your agents performed an injury management assessment for a fee and helped employers uncover underlying issues with their reporting process?

If a business is implementing dangerous practices or is struggling to assess their risks, the opportunity is there for agents to step in and offer solutions. Don’t be afraid to put a price tag on the value that you bring to your client relationships—value based fees are directly related to serving their best interests.