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Make an Appointment with Yourself

The number one challenge facing agents and agency owners is that producers aren’t getting enough first appointments.

It’s not surprising considering the increasing number of touches that have become necessary to connect with prospects and capture their attention.

There are a few steps a producer can take to overcome this challenge.

First, it is important to understand that persistence matters. I’m not talking about stalking your prospects, but rather developing a well thought out series of strategic contacts that bring insights and value specific to their business needs.

This may sound like a lot of work, and if you are not working within an agency that has an inside-business development team, it’s likely that the work will be yours alone. This makes setting time aside to do the important work of developing and executing messages all the more critical.

Look at your calendar. How much time do you have specifically set aside over the next 90 days to do business development work? What is the likelihood that it will get done if it isn’t on your calendar?

Here’s the deal. If it isn’t on your calendar, it likely isn’t going to happen. Business development isn’t a default behavior for most producers.

If you are serious about making your numbers this year, you may want to consider the following:

- Carve out two 4-hour sessions each week, perhaps two days per week.

- Organize your prospects into a central database; a spreadsheet will do just fine. Organize those prospects by Industry, Date (if you’re a Property and Casualty agent) and number of employees (if you’re focusing on benefits.)

- Think about what’s important to your prospects; if you make your message about you, they won’t be interested. What they want to know is that you understand their business and can help them either reduce risks, or teach them something new.

- Finally, develop 3-5 messages in a template form.

This will help you become more efficient. If you’ve got your email message ready to go, you won’t have to waste valuable time creating one each time you reach out to a new prospect.

Remember, it’s critical to follow a plan. Start with about 10-25 prospects at a time. Make all of your calls, then follow-up each call with an email. Try to include an article or link that is relevant to your message. It’s a great way to bring value.

You may find that getting organized and started is the most difficult part. Once you create a pattern of calling, then following up with an email, you will get into a productivity groove that will yield results.

Ask yourself: “If I don’t try to become systematic, how many first appointments am I likely to get this month?”

The Reports of Cold-Calling’s Death are Exaggerated!

There is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when new selling strategies are introduced. When “thought leadership” and “sphere of influence selling and strategies” were introduced as a way to engage prospects, many sales gurus and trainers touted the end of cold-calling. I believe they were sadly mistaken.

First, let’s define what cold-calling is and is not. Cold-calling is the act of reaching out to someone who does not yet know you or the value you offer. Unfortunately, far too many sales professionals reach out without first having conducted research on the prospect, their industry or their business. That’s not cold-calling, it’s stupid!

According to a 2014 study on optimizing business communications 61% of executives say they are likely to respond to a voicemail at work. And, according to a DiscoverOrg survey of more than 1,000 senior executives, 75% of decision-makers have taken an appointment or attended an event based on an unexpected sales call or email.

So, if cold-calling isn’t dead, what strategies can you implement to increase your effectiveness when reaching out to a prospect?

Do Your Research

If you’re reaching out and trying to connect with a busy CEO in order to learn something about their business, well…. don’t bother! Instead, spend time researching your prospect, understanding the challenges that someone in their position may face, and gain insights into what’s happening in their industry and specifically within their organization.
When you have an understanding of the challenges and risks facing your prospects you have something to talk about and an opportunity to effectively position yourself and your products and services.

Take Advantage of Voicemail

Far too often producers hang up when their prospect doesn’t answer and that’s a mistake. Voicemail is the equivalent of a blank piece of paper. You have the opportunity to share your message, uninterrupted and when done right, effectively. The challenge for many producers is that they fail to leave a purposeful message. Instead of outlining the purpose of their call, which by the way shouldn’t be to introduce themselves, but rather to share an insight, they hang up.
Before a call is placed, it’s critical that you are clear on the 2-3 insights you want to share, and how they connect to risks and threats your prospect may be facing.

Leverage Scripts

To increase your effectiveness, we strongly suggest developing scripts. If you want to make the best use of your time and be consistent in the messages you share, scripts are a great way to help you stay focused and in control.
Let’s assume you are trying to make 10 calls per hour and you want to follow up each call with an email, wouldn’t it be more effective to have the purpose of your call and the insights you want to share written out in front of you? Wouldn’t it be easier to customize a follow-up email rather than write a new one for each prospect?
Scripts are a great way to keep you focused, on message and make the best use of your time.

Don’t Give Up

If you expect your prospect to be aggressively sitting by the phone for your call you’re in for a rude awakening. It can take somewhere between 12-15 messages touches before you’re likely to engage in a dialogue. Be prepared for the long haul.
Instead of preparing for a single call, layout a campaign with a series of insights that align with the risks and threats your prospects face. Your persistent, value-focused messaging demonstrates that you understand their business and you have depth of knowledge in areas that are important to them.
Cold-calling isn’t dead. Conducting research, developing a plan and consistently executing on that plan will help you convert cold-prospects to effective 1st appointments. Give it a try!

Setting Benchmarks-Getting Started

As an industry we are seeing a dramatic shift towards utilizing data analytics. As insurance professionals it’s important to have tangible measurements to understand the impact our strategies are having on our clients business.

Benchmarking allows us to focus on best practices and strive towards continuous improvement with our clients. In addition, because it is used far to infrequently by agents, it is a significant differentiator and competitive advantage.

Selecting the right benchmarks to be measured should be a collaborative process between and your client. There are a number of different benchmarking strategies that can be considered:
• Competitive benchmarking: This is done when a company wants to compare their performance to other businesses within their industry and when trying to attain industry performance standards.
• Strategic benchmarking: is used when identifying and analyzing world class performance.

While these types of benchmarks are important, we believe internal benchmarking is most often the best place to begin. Helping your clients to understand their current performance, setting strategies to improve and developing benchmarks which will measure performance is a necessary business process and one in which you can bring leadership.

Getting started requires that you
• Agree on objective and the scope of the project-making sure leadership is committed
• Agree on the metrics-what is to be measured
• Agree on the benchmark-the goal you are trying to attain
• Develop a data collection plan – what data is to be collected and who will be responsible

Give it a try-your clients will benefit from your leadership and appreciate your guidance in helping them measure and improve their performance.

Helping Your Prospects Overcome ‘Good Enough’

Understanding the Real Competitor

Why don’t your prospects move to you and your agency? Is it because they’re receiving the best consulting and services the marketplace has to offer? Or, is it because they’ve engaged in an effective process to buy insurance and manage risk? Likely, it’s neither. The fact is most businesses stay with the incumbent not because of what they are getting from them, but rather, because of what they aren’t getting from you.

It’s easy to fall into believing that your biggest competitor is the larger more sophisticated agency or the agent who is a brother-in-law or golfing buddy. The truth is your greatest competitor is the status quo. And, your toughest job is helping your prospects overcome it.

In many cases your prospects believe that where they are is ‘good enough’. And why shouldn’t they?
From their perspective, nothing bad has happened and so their belief is, why should I fix what isn’t broken. Unfortunately, it’s that complacency that is putting their business and maybe their personal assets at risk, without them even knowing it.

So, how do you overcome ‘good enough’? First, you must recognize that your prospects don’t want to make a change. Business owners are time-starved and overwhelmed and would rather focus their attention on issues that seemingly are of a higher priority. Secondly, and this is a tough one to swallow, they aren’t expecting you to bring any real value or insights. See, your prospects likely believe that all agents are the same. And if the one they have is ‘good enough’, why change?

Show Them You’re Different

The human brain, even with all its complexity, can be triggered to respond in your favor if you know how. One way is to demonstrate contrast: Our Approach vs. Their Approach.
Ask your prospects the following, “would you please share with me your current process for buying insurance and managing risk?” What response do you think you’ll get? Often times, it will go like this, “we typically bid it out every year or two, just to see what the market has to offer.” They may make it sound a little more sexy and sophisticated, but chances are it’s the same process that you’ve encountered time and time again. A process that you know won’t help them and certainly doesn’t favor change to you. In fact it is flawed and dangerous. But, by asking that question, you’ve perfectly positioned yourself to show them an alternative process, your process.

Notice it wasn’t suggested that you tell them you’re different, but rather to show your prospect that you’re different. Saying, “we’re different, we don’t bid and quote”, will mean nothing to your prospect, in fact, chances are they have heard that before. True contrast comes from your demonstration of differentiation. Here’s how:

1. Share a graphic overview of your process. This creates an anchor. Not only are you sharing what your process is, you’re showing them that it is tangible. Visual impact is another trigger. By having a picture or flow chart of your process, you create a greater impact and impression in your prospects mind.
2. Lead them through your process. It’s probable that your prospects have been following their ‘flawed and dangerous’ process for years. Not because it’s effective, but because no one has showed them an alternative approach.

Your prospects believe that where they are is good enough, because no one has challenged their status quo. And as a result they are assuming risks they don’t know about. Your job is to change their perception and move them from believing they are ‘good enough’ to “we are at risk.”

This can’t be accomplished by the typical producer who allows the prospect to follow their flawed buying process and then tries to ‘wow’ them at presentation. At that point it’s too late, and they’ve already acted like every other agent.

The next time you find yourself in front of prospect who believes they are ‘good enough’, take it on. They don’t know what they don’t know and likely have never been challenged to think differently. If you want to be treated differently, then you need to act differently.

Inspire Your Prospects with Email Messages About Them!

One of the biggest challenges facing producers today is developing enough quality 1st appointments. And it’s no wonder why, prospects are busy, distracted and overwhelmed. Capturing the attention of prospects has become increasingly difficult, leaving many producers frustrated and asking the question, “How do I fill my pipeline if I can’t get my prospects on the phone?”

To break through the noise producers and agency owners must evaluate the strategies and messages they use to get in the door. One thing is for sure, messages that are about you, your agency and the resources you have won’t inspire your prospects to meet with you.

So, what does work? To pique the curiosity of your prospects your messages should focus on them, their interests, concerns or industry.

Let’s take a look at 2 different types of email messages that will help to differentiate you from your competition.

Trigger Event Messages

Trigger event messages are messages that focus on the news of the day. For example, let’s say you are focusing on developing restaurant and hospitality prospects; one of the big stories of the day is food contamination. The recent outbreak of E. Coli linked to Chipotle restaurants has been all over the news. A quick email to your prospects with a subject line of: “Would Your Restaurant Survive?” is likely to spur your prospects interest. In the body of your email you could share a link to a recent article on the subject and invite your prospect to consider if their current risk management strategies are adequate.
Closing your email with an invitation to continue the conversation demonstrates that you have knowledge and something to offer.

Congratulatory Messages

Everyone likes to get noticed. Savvy producers know that following their prospects on LinkedIn and through Google Alerts is one way to keep abreast of what they are up to. If you receive an alert about a recent bid your prospect was awarded or speaking engagement they recently conducted, let them know you noticed.

A quick email with a subject line of: “Jim, Congratulations on Your New Client!” will certainly prompt your prospect to open your email. In the body of your email you can share a message of how you’re impressed with the quality of work they do (as long as you’re sincere), and congratulate them on the big win. Close with a desire to learn more about the project and why you’re interested in learning more.

For example, “I’m interested in learning more about how you landed that account. We also focus on mid-size [account type] and enjoy working with businesses of that caliber.”
This strategy aligns your objectives with your prospects’ and creates a common bond.

It’s important to remember, that there is no one ‘silver bullet’ messaging strategy. But, we do know that a steady flow of messages focused on your prospect, rather than on your agency, are far more likely to resonate. Give it a try!

Retention Vs. Loyalty

In the insurance industry we often focus on client retention rates. (Typically we see agencies with a retention rate of 87%-92%.) But what does that really say about your agency’s relationship with your clients?

Retention is really just a measurement of how many clients you keep from year to year. It doesn’t really tell you why your clients stay, which is far more important for you to understand.
Understanding why your clients choose to do business with you and what they gain from the relationship will help you better understand how to communicate your value proposition. Asking your clients what delights them about your service and approach will not only help you and your teams make it a habit, it will serve as an opportunity to improve the areas where you’re not exceeding expectations.

Conducting simple surveys throughout the year around servicing moments is a great way to capture these insights. How do you measure client loyalty?

Who Would You Reach Out To?

Your best prospect in months is ready to do business with you. As a final act of due diligence he/she wants to speak with 3 of your current clients to learn how you’ve impacted their business.

I Love These Clients

For the past few weeks I’ve been coaching a team of relatively young producers. They are bright, eager and want to win. You’d be surprised at how often in our consulting we run across clients who lack this kind of motivation.

These guys want to win every day. They want to get better every day. They are open and want to learn from failure every day. As their coach I am rewarded emotionally by the sense of accomplishment I feel when they take something away from our conversation and implement it. I am rewarded intellectually by having to connect with them from where they are vs. where they strive to be. They are doing great work and I’m confident in how our engagement is helping them see a bigger picture and contributing to their success.

How do you connect with your clients? Are your relationships rewarding. Do you learn something new everyday? Do you have a sense of accomplishment from what you do? If not, maybe it’s time to gain clarity around who you want to work with, and why..