Super Agent

Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

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.

Believe Your Own Eyes

At our recent annual event for members, Knowledge & Networking 2014, we were honored to have Al Lewis as the Keynote speaker. He launched the event with a dynamic presentation on challenging the fuzzy math of wellness industry experts and he encouraged the group to believe our own eyes when what we see contradicts the status quo.

Have you considered whether ROI vendor’s reports are plausible or mathematically possible? Does wellness really “move the needle”, or is it crediting a program with changes that would have happened anyway? These are the kinds of questions that he took on, and we found ourselves amazed at what we saw in the data.

The problem is, most people are unwilling to challenge the experts when we would suspect that there is an opportunity to reduce health care costs by providing incentives for employees to get healthier. And the same is true of many other industry standards or processes. But, it’s important to always question conventional wisdom and go against the tide if you want to find the best and most innovative ways to help employers achieve better outcomes.

So, the next time you find yourself arguing in favor of the conventional, ask yourself if you believe something is true simply because it’s widely accepted.

“All that I say is, examine, inquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the grounds of your opinions, the for and against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for [that belief]. – Frances Wright

Everyone’s Plan

In a recent conversation with a producer and an account executive, they told us how they were moving through the sales process with a large account. And what they had to say about their approach is worth sharing with you here.

To start, the two of them conducted 3 separate meetings with 3 different groups of people within the organization—the feet on the street, middle management (including HR) and finally, the C-Suite. Each conversation was tailored to the needs and wants of the groups and assessments were made about the state of the company.

Then they made an interesting decision. Before going back to the C-Suite to deliver their proposal, they created a draft of it to take to the other groups. In that meeting, they presented their plan with the intent to not only gain agreements but to also collaborate. They said, “Here are our recommendations….did we miss anything?”

The result was enormously powerful.  The feet on the street people and the middle managers became invested in the plan, and everyone at all levels of the organization eagerly anticipated the next step—the meeting with the C-Suite. It became everyone’s plan, and everyone had a stake in it being received well.

Too often, we see producers trying to get around this person or that person in order to get to the people at the top who really make the decisions. But that’s a mistake. Engaging with teams of buyers at all levels is becoming more common, and, as this story demonstrates, if you can get the entire organization on board so that they are invested in the success of the proposal, you win.

Discovery = Opportunity

What kind of producer are you? Do you search to find what most prospects think they want—the lowest price—or do you help them discover what they didn’t know they needed?

Seth Godin recently wrote an excellent blog post on the difference between search and discovery. He said: “Search is what we call the action of knowing what you want and questing until you ultimately find it…discovery is what happens when an organization, or a friend help you encounter something you didn’t even know you were looking for.” He argues that helping your clients find something they didn’t know they needed is a huge opportunity, and we agree.

Most employers are satisfied with where they are; they have no idea that their business may be at risk or that their process for engaging with insurance agents is putting up barriers to their own success. The good news is, the majority of agents aren’t leading prospects through a process of discovery. So, if you do, you’ll not only help the prospect along the road to better outcomes, you’ll also differentiate yourself.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We are all inventors; each sailing out on a voyage of discovery…the world is all gates, all opportunities.”

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.

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.

Motivating Your Team

To be successful in our industry, it’s critical to build a team who are motivated beyond simple monetary incentives. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, “non-financial motivators are more effective than extra cash in building long-term employee engagement in most sectors, job functions and business contexts.” Humans are complex, and we crave things like autonomy, mastery of skill, and contributing to a greater purpose.

So, how can you motivate your team?

Communicate your “Why”; whether it’s creating greater opportunities for clients, facilitating better care for injured workers, or something else, make sure producers know why they are valuable to clients. Also, be open to input from team members, promote a productive and action-oriented environment and give feedback frequently. In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink says this about employee motivation: “The biggest motivator by far was making progress in their work. They felt most connected, engaged, alive and loyal on days where they were making progress and getting better at something”

While monetary rewards have an important role to play, if you haven’t considered other factors it may be time to take a step back and reassess.

We want to hear your stories? Owners and managers, what successful steps have you taken to motivate your team beyond offering financial incentives? Producers, what makes you feel motivated?