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Posts Tagged ‘agency’

The 2 Anchors Hindering Producer Performance

In a recent conversation with an insurance agency principal we were discussing the role of the producer. Actually the many roles of producers; business developer, sales person and account servicer.

Each role asked of the producer requires a different set of wiring. The business development role requires someone to make multiple phone calls, over an extended period of time with the idea of creating a highly qualified sales ready opportunity. Focus, consistency, the ability to connect with different buying styles and “sell a first appointment” is essential. A true producer, one whose only goal is to grow their book organically, requires leadership. They must be able to deal with buying teams, business complexity, and lead change behavior. Account management and servicing requires a steady hand to drive implementation, calendars task and execute the agency’s value proposition in a timely and efficient manner.

With their hands in so many roles is it any surprise that producers struggle to write new business? Perhaps it’s time to remove the anchors that hinder producer performance. The technology companies and other forward thinking industries recognized years back that greater rewards are possible for all when sales professionals focus on selling instead of developing and nurturing leads or servicing accounts.

What kinds of anchors are hindering organic growth in your agency?

Are You Making This Dangerous Assumption?

Client retention is an important component of an agency’s long-term profitability and stability, but too often, agencies invest a lot of time and effort into building initial client relationships and not enough time ensuring that those relationships are being continually nurtured over time. For example, in an article on Sales & Marketing Management, Rick Reynolds warns businesses not to make an assumption that we often hear:

“My clients would tell me if there was a problem…”

In reality, just like your prospects, your clients likely aren’t recognizing issues or problems that they’re currently experiencing or that might pop up due to things like marketplace disruptions or compliance requirements arising from new regulations. And if they are, and you aren’t proactively evaluating the relationship, you’re leaving the door open for a competitor to step in.

As a partner and advisor, you have the opportunity (and responsibility) to periodically assess your client’s needs, hidden or otherwise, and their expectations from the relationship. Reynolds says: Just like in any relationship, this becomes a refreshing dialogue once you get past the upfront discomfort of having such an honest conversation.”

Are you taking the time to assess your current relationships with clients? Are your goals and objectives still in alignment? Have you gained new capabilities that might be beneficial to them? By asking yourself these types of questions, you’ll increase retention and perform at your best.

Ask Yourself Smart Questions

Inc. contributor and Sales Source blogger Geoffrey James recently wrote a great article on why the quality of the questions business owners ask themselves determines the success of their business strategies. For example, consider the following two questions:

“How can we beat the competition?” versus “What do we do that is uniquely valuable to customers?”

So, how would your answers and subsequent business strategies differ for these two questions? The first question is the wrong one to ask because it directs your attention away from your customers and toward your competitors. On the other hand, the second question is customer-focused and it helps you find out what’s distinctive about your process and offerings. James also explained: If you ask Question #1, your strategy will probably involve dropping your price. If you ask Question #2, your strategy will be to emphasize more strongly whatever it is that makes your company special.” And, understanding what differentiates your agency is the first step in building, following and believing in a strong and consultative approach to selling.

Here’s another example to consider: “How can we make our numbers better?” versus “How can we serve our clients better?”

Agency owners and sales managers: Are you asking smart and client-focused alternatives to common questions business leaders ask themselves? What questions have you asked yourself in order to help you improve your business strategies? Share them with us in the comments.

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?

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.

Invest in Yourself

Henry Ford said, “The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.” We’ve always been advocates of continually staying ahead of the curve, gaining new experience and knowledge, and frequently assessing where to become better in order to really differentiate. And to do this, it’s necessary that each of us takes the time to invest in ourselves.

When was the last time you asked, what do I need to get better at today in order to improve outcomes tomorrow? What are the leaps you want to take personally, professionally and as a part of your agency? Here are a few areas you might consider:

  • Marketing & networking to attract right-fit prospects
  • Improving your business acumen, specifically in the niche industries that you’ve decided you want to target
  • Enhancing technical knowledge by reading materials or attending webinars and training events
  • Developing and leveraging Centers of Influence
  • Becoming a better speaker and presenter
  • Better using innovative technology in your sales process

It’s also important to surround yourself with people that will help you to broaden your scope of knowledge and your capabilities, and engaging with people you admire will often motivate you to take the steps necessary to become better.

What have you done recently to invest in yourself and your success? Share your stories with us.

Why Culture Matters

Regardless of politics, there is something to be learned from the widely talked about scandal behind the lane closures at the George Washington State Bridge. The latest news surrounding the issue is that Governor Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly has been fired for arranging the traffic jams in order to punish a town mayor who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.

Christie says he had no knowledge of or involvement in the closures. So the question is: if Kelly is solely responsible, what made her feel confident enough to act on behalf of the leader of the state? The answer can be boiled down to culture and what it does or doesn’t permit.

More importantly, how does this relate to you?

When was the last time your clients evaluated the culture of their organization? People work safely when the culture supports and promotes safety, and people sue if they are in a hostile environment that permits it. Julie Ferguson of Workers Comp Insider wrote in a blog post that “truly excellent companies stand out: safety is a pervasive value that you notice from the minute you walk in the door until you leave.” And, studies show that employees who believe they work in a safe environment experience significantly fewer injuries.

What outcomes might improve if your clients were to develop and foster a culture that is alignment with their goals, beliefs and values? Would supervisor/employee communication improve? Would employees return to work faster? Consider having this conversation with your existing clients. And if you’re an agency owner or sales manager, take the opportunity to also evaluate the dynamics of your own culture.