Super Agent

Posts Tagged ‘opportunities’

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.

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.

Having Difficult Sales Conversations: Part 2

Last week we discussed the common reluctance to having sales conversations that push the boundaries of comfort and tackle big issues other agents likely aren’t addressing. But, creating positive tension during the sales process isn’t the only difficult task producers struggle to master in order to truly differentiate.

Another similar area is developing a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent with clients and prospects, which can help producers build lasting business relationships but is a point of issue for many. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of the business fable Getting Naked, “those who get comfortable being vulnerable are rewarded with levels of client loyalty that other[s] can only dream of….naked service is rare, which means it provides an opportunity for a powerful and tangible competitive advantage for those who embrace it.”

This means letting go of the fear of being embarrassed, asking questions or raising suggestions even if they could turn out to be wrong, and admitting to errors rather than hiding them. As James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” In return, those you work with will be attracted to your honesty, trust that your intentions are to help them achieve the best outcomes, and appreciate your directness.

Are you comfortable with both types of difficult conversations that we touched on in this two-part series? If not, there are big opportunities waiting for you.

Will You Be Bold?

As most of you have likely heard, CVS has made the decision to remove all tobacco products from its pharmacies nationwide by October 1st, putting 2 billion dollars in revenue on the line. Why? CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said: “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health…put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

This is a powerful stand that many have commented on in the media, collectively wondering how the decision will impact the company, whether any others will follow suit, and what it all means for big tobacco in the U.S.

But the biggest takeaway here is this: what they’ve done is to assess whether or not their practices are in alignment with the “Why” of their organization, and then took steps to make a change that shattered the status quo.

Are you willing to do the same?

We often talk about the opportunities that exist for agents and agencies willing to be bold—those who understand their “Why”, choose to reject the status quo and develop the skills to offer new insights during sales conversations, ask disruptive questions and steer prospects away from the transactional process that leaves them at risk.

When was the last time you evaluated whether or not your day-to-day activities are in alignment with your purpose? If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to take a note from CVS and start making changes.

Are You Taking These Steps to Qualify Your Pipeline?

You’ve probably experienced it before—any mention of the word pipeline during a meeting and the mood of the room immediately changes, most of the time for the worse. But we see pipeline development as more than putting down names and contact information into a spreadsheet. A pipeline is a reflection of what you want to achieve and conveys the rewards and opportunities it can generate for you.

There are many steps to take in order to build a rewarding pipeline, but one that is often overlooked (and so important in today’s technology-driven world) is investing the time to research and qualify your list. Sales expert Jill Konrath said: “Learning how to qualify my prospects to ferret out those opportunities where it was worthwhile to pursue low-hanging fruit was hard… But by doing this, I saved myself lots of hard work. And, I had more time to spend on prospects where I could win.”

So, how do you get started? Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Utilize LinkedIn to search for prospects and their companies. Make sure to identify what groups they are a part of or any connections that you have in common. This is a great way to seek out introductions.
  • If you’re leading with Workers’ Comp, procure their experience mod history.
  • Access state insurance databases for X-dates.
  • Set up Google Alerts to notify you when they or their company make news.
  • Conduct calls to share the research you’ve gained and determine who is responsible for managing risk and buying insurance within their organization.

Using these activities to augment the data you already have can help you better understand your prospects and narrow down your list to include 100-200 suspects that are likely to be right-fits to work with you.

What other strategies do you use to qualify prospects in your pipeline? Share them with us in the comments!

Who Do You Want to Work With?

During a recent coaching call with a group of producers, we ran into a common problem that’s worth sharing here. After an agent was asked what his ideal prospect looked like (and after being provided with a few examples of accounts that varied in size, industry and other factors) he said that he needed to focus on writing new business and would work with them all, regardless of whether or not they were a right-fit.

Who do you want to work with? As Seth Godin wrote in his blog, “Answering, “anyone who pays us money,” is a cop-out.”

In today’s overcrowded marketplace, knowing where to focus your offerings and expertise is essential if you plan to differentiate and win business over your competitors. So, examine the types of relationships your agency is best at pursuing, earning and managing. But most importantly, stick with the prospects who believe what you believe—who are willing to engage with you collaboratively. Help them to discover what dangers or problems they’re facing, and agree to move forward toward a better way.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to walk away from “opportunities” that have no potential to lead to a valuable partnership for both parties. You owe this to yourself and to your prospects. Inc’s Geoffrey James said, “finding out who is not a potential customer is just as valuable a discovery as finding out who is one.”

Don’t Wait to Be Picked

One of our favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, recently wrote: “skip depending on being found on the shelf and go directly to the people who care.” He suggests that because your odds of getting found on a crowded shelf are slim, the shelf shouldn’t be your goal.

What does this mean for you?

Likely you don’t want to work with every business owner that wants or needs to buy insurance—you want to work with those who are willing to adopt your process, who are interested in building a collaborative relationship to address risk management strategies and who motivate and reward you intellectually, emotionally and financially. But too often, we see producers hoping to be found instead of acting with intention to attract the clients they want to work with.

Are your messages and thought leadership focused on the issues your ideal client might be facing, or the opportunities that exist for them to get better? If not, then you’re simply creating content for content’s sake.  Are you allowing yourself to be treated like a commodity during the sales process? Instead, think abundance. Don’t leave too early, but don’t stay too long if the prospect isn’t open to your leadership.

Allow yourself to believe that the decision makers you want to do business with would be best served by engaging with you, and don’t wait to be picked from the shelf.

Seth said it best: “Be the one and only dominator in a category of one, a category that couldn’t really exist if you weren’t in it.”

Make an Impact with Capabilities

According to a survey by Forrester Research, only 39% of executives say that meetings with salespeople are valuable and live up to expectations. Would the executives you meet with fall within that 39%? In our industry especially, client retention ratios are high because most employers aren’t seeing or feeling the need to change during sales conversations.

Unless they are provoked to recognize what problems threaten the success and sustainability of their business they will stick with what they have. And, they are unlikely to respond to slick jargon or a list of complex features and benefits. As Anthony Iannarino wrote on The Sales Blog, “Your dream client has seen and heard it all. Features. Benefits. Yeah. Who cares? Your dream clients don’t, that’s for sure.” Pushing a list of products, services, resources and tools isn’t value creation and doesn’t connect in the mind of the buyer with how their problems will be solved.

Instead, if you want your prospect the change, having the capabilities to help them get better is critical. Where has your agency created the greatest impact with existing clients? Maybe you have unique capabilities in the group health arena to assist employers in identifying their compliance and cost issues as well as their need to align their company’s goals with their health plan.

Identifying specific problems employers are facing and developing or honing your capabilities to address them will put you in the position to answer this question differently than the incumbent agent: “What can I do that takes on big issues and improve them in measurable ways?”