Super Agent

Posts Tagged ‘agencies’

Be Better

Many agencies are using transactional selling strategies—they offer products and services without ever assessing a business’ needs, and they aren’t delivering true business value to employers. On the other end of the spectrum, the most successful agencies are employing a consultative sales approach to deliver value, establish long-term business relationships and grow organically over time.

But, there is also a large group of agencies in a state of flux. They’re trying to move toward a more consultative approach and to adapt to meet the needs of today’s employers, but producers aren’t always taking control of the sales process and are getting pulled back into engaging in a way that isn’t beneficial for either party. Does this sound familiar to you?

Anthony Iannarino talks about it in a recent blog post. He says: “The dangerous place to occupy is in the middle. In the middle, you might be a little better than the low price competitors, but you’re not “better” enough to make you worth paying more to obtain. This is how you lose to lower priced competitors. The gravitational pull here is to compete on price, and by doing so, giving up what makes you a little better. You might be a little faster and a little cheaper than the higher-priced, caring, consultative competitors, but not enough to make it worth saving a few bucks to miss out on the better outcomes they produce. It’s difficult to be better. You have to try harder.”

Differentiation takes hard work—it requires producers to engage in a new way, the willingness to have disruptive conversations, and the leadership to stick to the agency’s process when met with resistance.  But, don’t get caught in the danger-zone between these two strategies. Once you’ve fully committed to being better, and you’ve taken the plunge without looking back, you’ll be able to work with and capture big opportunities that your competitors won’t.

The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

In an excellent article from Bain & Company, the writers point out something that we hear all the time from producers. They said: “When we ask communication executives what causes their customers to defect, they often point to the last thing that happened before a customer left. Often, that’s a competitor’s offer.” But the important thing to point out, and what the writers go on to say is that although “competitive offers do sometimes lure customers to switch…typically [its] after a long period of eroding trust that results from a series of misadventures.”

Assessing only the last few problems or bumps in the relationship won’t lead to a full understanding of why you lost the business. Instead, consider asking yourself:

  • Was the client a right-fit to start with?
  • Were the agency’s goals, your goals and the client’s goals all in alignment?
  • Were you able to communicate your value, and consistently evaluate where you might bring new value to the relationship over time?

Most agencies invest a great deal of time and effort in building initial client relationships, but the biggest mistake they can make is to let those relationships go unattended over time. The enemy here isn’t the competition, its complacency. How many of your clients are sticking around because their fear of change is bigger than the impact of your value? Are you focusing enough time, energy and resources into your current business relationships in order to ensure your long-term profitability and prevent a “series of misadventures” from building into the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Address These 3 Barriers to Change

Agency owners and sales managers, before implementing a change throughout your agency do you consider what barriers you might face from your team? Maybe you’d like to move upstream and focus on large accounts that use Alternative Risk Financing methods like Large Deductibles, or maybe you are adopting a new sales process that all producers will be held accountable to follow.

Whatever the change is, we often see three common barriers surface during a transition.

(1)    Emotional Barrier

It’s that feeling of, “I’ve always done what I’ve always done” that often creates hesitation from team members. Just as we talk about risk-averse buyers who are comfortable with the status quo and afraid to change, team members are likely to put up an emotional barrier when they are pushed outside of their comfort zones.

(2)    Demographic/Geographic Barrier

If you are moving into a new space, producers will sometimes be concerned about the number of potential clients that exist. For example, if the size of your perfect-client is changing, they’ll want to be sure that significant opportunities are present in your area.

(3)    Lack of Capabilities Barrier

Let’s say you’ve decided to target larger accounts in the group health arena…having the capabilities to help them get better is critical. For example, a barrier to this change will occur if your team doesn’t have the selling skills or technical knowledge to assist employers in identifying their compliance and cost issues or align employers’ business goals with their health plan.

Remember that identifying barriers is only the first step in planning for a smooth transition. Be prepared to address them, and have timelines and resolutions in place to help your team jump on board with the changes, and give them peace of mind.

What Not to Do On a Sales Call

We recently had a call with a company who does excellent marketing and lead generation work. Their messaging is clear and consistent with no sales jargon or company-focused language. And, they push out a great variety of content including survey results, articles and engaging videos. So, we were expecting the same level of quality and seamlessness from their sales process.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. Here’s why the call blew up:

(1)    They didn’t do their research.

They started off by asking us to tell them a little bit about what we do and what we were looking to achieve on the call, immediately handing over the reigns as opposed to leading. We’ve said before that, during sales conversations, it’s critical to answer the questions prospect’s don’t know to ask by challenging them to think, proposing new ideas and revealing creative ways that you can help them. Instead, without research, the first portion of the meeting will be spent gathering information that could have been learned online.

(2)    They didn’t qualify us.

This goes hand-in-hand with the issue above. Because they didn’t qualify us before scheduling a call, during the meeting, it became clear that we were most likely not a right-fit to engage with them. Don’t get caught in the fear-of-losing-business trap. Many agents operate on the belief that they need to take advantage of every business opportunity that presents itself, but doing so is not in your best interest or in the best interest of the buyer.

(3)    They made it about price.

Even as we tried to steer the conversation away from price and toward what value they might have to offer, they continued to focus on the cost of their services instead. Imagine the difference in power between conversations that begin with “Here’s the bottom line, we offer ___ and it is ___ price.” versus “From the research I’ve done, I understand that you are facing these challenges…”

(4)    The conversation was company-focused.

“This is what we do.”

“This is who we do it for.”

“This is how much of an investment it will be.”

Dialog is only effective when it’s consultative and client-focused. Are you trying to sell your services to prospects, or are you trying to positively influence them to get to a better place?

Overall, it is important to ensure that the process you use to nurture prospective clients aligns with the conversations you have once they raise their hand. Also, remember the significance of researching and qualifying your prospects, and ask yourself how you will pivot if you identify early on that they are not a right fit. Do so in a way that still allows you to keep the door open in the event that your value proposition changes and the opportunity to engage with them arises in the future.

Your Agency At Its Best

“Enterprise at its best:

An emotional, vital, innovative, joyful, creative, entrepreneurial endeavor that maximizes individuals’ growth and elicits maximum concerted human potential in the wholehearted service of others”.

When you first read this definition from management and business writer Tom Peters, it’s easy to dismiss it as idealistic or impractical. But, in his book The Little Big Things, Tom asks his readers to examine it one word at a time. He says that if your organization “is not aimed at mind-blowing development for each staff member and window rattling service for each customer…” then what’s the point?

We often encourage the agencies we work with to think big when it comes to their purpose. How would you define your agency at its best? If you believe in your definition and everyone in your organization lives it every day, it will drive you and your team when thing are going well, and keep you motivated when you hit a rough patch (as we all do). So, don’t limit yourself.

Are Your Clients Fiercely Loyal?

In an interview on Inc.com, Sarah Robinson, author of Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities talks about why developing a community of loyal clients requires a commitment that goes beyond great service. She says “You’ve got to be willing to listen for and acknowledge the specific needs your customers have, and most importantly, you’ve got to invest in a way to meet those needs.”

Think about what companies or brands you’re loyal to. Are you a die-hard Apple fan who’s first in line at the store for every new iPhone launch? Do you forgo a soda during lunch if the vending machine is stocked with Pepsi products instead of Coke?

Our loyalties to specific brands develop over time and through reinforcing, positive experiences. Customers who are loyal often act as brand ambassadors, and will provide you with honest feedback on what’s working and what you can improve on—both are valuable benefits in today’s crowded marketplace. So, how can you foster fierce loyalty in your clients?

Here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Can you, your producers and other team members clearly articulate who you are, and who you want to be it to?
  2. Does your value proposition or “brand” communicate more about you, or does it focus on outcomes for the client?
  3. Are your producers able to articulate and provide tangible value to prospects and clients?
  4. Are you investing time and resources in meeting the specific needs of your existing accounts rather than focusing solely on winning new accounts?

 

Are You Moving Too Fast?

When a producer see’s that a prospect’s current agent isn’t doing anything to help them, it’s easy to become excited about the opportunity to step in with real leadership and deliver value. But, too often, we see producers try to squeeze all the steps of their process into the first meeting, without meeting the objectives they’ve already outlined for each step. It’s like popping the question at the end of a first date.

Without clearly delineated steps and a strategy, the sales process is easily muddled and the prospect is less likely to leave their current agent. Are you losing opportunities by falling into this trap? Here are a few tips to consider:

- Before the first meeting, know your goals. Inc contributor John Treace gets it right when he says, “To make the most of the meeting, establish your objective[s] in advance and share it with all attendees.”

- The purpose of the first meeting is to get the prospect curious enough to engage in the next step. Don’t plow through to an assessment before you’ve met the following objectives:

(1) Communicate your value proposition

(2) Share your research

(3) Establish what the prospect’s current process for buying insurance and managing risk is, then share your own process

(4) Uncover the prospect’s top challenges

(5) Gain agreement on the next step

- In the second meeting, determine if there is really a need for what you have to offer through an assessment process. When used correctly, assessments bring clarity to the situation; they answer questions like: are our objectives in alignment? Is the prospect willing to engage in a consultative process? If the prospect doesn’t commit to the work necessary to improve their outcomes, don’t move forward.

- Once the prospect agrees that risks, threats and dangers are too high not to address them, you can move on to the last step—presenting your solutions and services.

As Samuel Smiles said, “Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.”

Chicken-and-Egg Debate

We often see agencies get trapped in a vicious cycle that plays out like this:

-Producers aren’t producing
-Pipelines are empty
-There is a lack of belief or confidence that producers can fill their pipelines
-Agency leaders choose to do one of two things:

  • Provide training to producers with the expectation that they will sell more
  • Hire a group of telemarketers to fill producer pipelines

So, which investment comes first? Do you invest in helping agents get better, or do you hire a business development person/team to generate leads. The problem with option one: What good does it do if you have a flood of new business appointments but your sales team can’t execute an effective sales process? The problem with option two: What good does it do if you have the best sales team in the world, but they never have a first appointment?

Focusing on only one tactic will likely lead to frustration and disappointment—agencies should focus on both simultaneously in order to set producers up to succeed.

How? Here are 5 steps to consider:

1.  Cultivate lead development and nurturing strategies—agencies have a choice to make here.

  • Outsource, or hire an inside business development person/team making sure that they are representing the agency brand, qualifying right-fit prospects, and successfully positioning producers for first appointments.
  • Train producers to employ an effective messaging and lead generation strategy that piques curiosity, and measure key performance activities

2.  Implement a consistent, repeatable and effective sales process. In addition to providing structure, and strengthening your brand, it also ensures that prospects and clients enjoy a consistent experience when engaging with the agency.

3.  Adopt a process for evaluating producer abilities (non-revenue indicators of success and selling skills) as well as revenue generation.

4.  Mentor and coach, then hold producers accountable. Top producers will lead during the sales process, learn the skills to align resources, goals and objectives of all stakeholders (agent, agency, prospect) and demonstrate how they create value for businesses.

There are no magic bullet solutions for helping producers achieve success, but if you take a, thoughtful, process-driven and comprehensive approach instead of getting caught up in the debate of which comes first, there is greater opportunity for improved outcomes.