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Posts Tagged ‘sales process’

Is Your Prospect Really a Prospect?

According to Inc. contributor Geoffrey James, “finding out who is not a potential customer is just as valuable a discovery as finding out who is one.” In fact, if you take the time to assess whether or not your prospect is truly a right-fit for your agency, you’ll avoid wasting valuable time and resources pursuing an opportunity that doesn’t exist.

So, where do you start? Consider this:

- Unless the organization is ready to do business with you within the next 90 says, then they aren’t a real prospect. If they’re dragging their feet and you don’t have a commitment after 90 days of assessment, it might be time to walk away.

- Are your business objectives aligned? For example, if they aren’t interested in a consultative and collaborative relationship remember that they are the commodity, not you. Don’t let a prospect take control of the sales process and move it in a negative direction. If it comes to a point where they are insisting on the lowest price or are unwilling to explore your process, know that there are plenty prospects out there that will.

- Do they have a need for what you can offer? And even further, are they willing to make agreements around what issues are most pressing and put in the work necessary to improve their outcomes?

The most effective producers understand the importance of gauging the long-term probability of engaging in a business relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Is my prospect really a prospect?” in order to make sure you’re not leaving too early or staying too long.

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.

6 Questions to Ask CFO’s

Many of the agents that we talk to, especially those working with larger accounts, struggle to drive sales conversations with CFO’s. The good news is, part of the role of the CFO is to have a long-view of the success of their organization, and so managing risk is often of special interest to them. But, most CFO’s want risk to be clearly identified and defined, and managed with specific responsibilities assigned. So, if your dialog with them is jargon-filled and vague then they’re likely to lose interest and take you back to price.

In order for a CFO to see the value of engaging with you, it’s necessary that you bring strategic ideas, data connected to strategy and, most importantly, thought-provoking questions to the table. Dialog is the pathway to discovery and change behavior, so here are 6 questions you might consider asking a CFO in a sales conversation:

How confident are you that…

1- …your risk profile and risk management strategies are in alignment with what you want to achieve as an organization?

2- …you are using non-financial information (along with financial information) to build your organization’s risk profile?

3- … you’re adequately assessing how risk events can potentially affect your business strategy?

4- … you’ve identified the smart risks that will create opportunities for success?

5- … risks are well integrated with operational management goals?

6- … risks and performance indicators are being continually monitored to gauge progress toward business objectives?

Having conversations with CFO’s around growth and sustainability, more effective and efficient use of their premium dollars, improved outcomes and a future based on their vision for their business is something that most agents aren’t doing. So, assess your prospect list, talk to your current clients… take advantage of this opportunity to differentiate and grow your business.

Who Is Your Biggest Competitor?

We say it all the time: many agents make the mistake of thinking that their biggest competitor is the agent down the street. In reality, it is the status quo creating the biggest obstacles to their success. The majority of prospects you meet are following an ineffective process to manage risk and buy insurance, but they’re unaware of the dangers they’re in and too risk averse to be actively considering making a change.

It would be nice if there were a large number of prospects in the “action stage” of change. But, most need leadership and a push in order to get there. In a recent Forbes article, Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions was interviewed on this subject. He talks about the need to engage a buyer’s emotions in order to get them moving toward the action stage and offers these three tips to do it:

  1. Context- He says: “if a tornado siren sounds on a sunny day, most people don’t take action. But, on a cloudy windy day that same siren can lead people to take action. A simple change in context makes all the difference.” For agents, this means asking thought provoking questions and bringing forward new ideas in order to help prospects see the problems and challenges of the status quo
  2. Contrast- In other words, bring a sense of urgency to the conversation. If you create a stark enough contrast between what is and what could be, they’ll want to know more.
  3. Concrete- As we’ve discussed in the past, in order to engage the emotional centers of the brain that lead to change behavior, skip over talking about complex “features and benefits” that require heavy mental lifting. Talking about your capabilities should come later on, after agreements have been made to move forward and around existing issues in need of being addressed.

How are you taking on the status-quo? We want to hear your stories! And, if you’re interested in attending a unique conference for insurance professionals focused on overcoming the status-quo, you can check out more information here.

It’s All About the Conversation

A common practice that we see during coaching calls with producers is that many of them are using language that creates push back or resistance from the prospect. They have the capabilities necessary to help employers get better, and they want to engage in a consultative way but they’re too quick to revert back to agency focused assertions rather than having an open dialog. So, they’ll say “we have this unique process”, “we don’t go out for bids”, or “the way you’re engaging is flawed and puts you in danger.”

These statements may all be true, but a more effective approach is to invite the prospect into the conversation with conditional language. Conditional language means you’re not telling the prospect what’s wrong or what you do differently. Instead, you’re asking pointed questions that help them to gain new insights about their current state, self-discover risks, and move toward that “Aha” moment that leads to change. Think about using phrases like, “Let’s assume…” or “What if it were the case that…”

The RAIN Group says this about the power of conditional language: “Open-ended sales questions are great for helping us to find out what’s going on in our prospects’ and clients’ worlds. They help us connect with buyers personally, understand their needs, understand what’s important to them, and help them create better futures for themselves.”

Here is an example of a question that uses conditional language to achieve a better response and effect than “we have a unique process”:

“What if you were to discover that the process you’re engaged in is actually creating barriers to what you’re trying to achieve?”

Changing the conversation in this way can make a big impact when you’re goal is to lead a prospect to see a future that you’re a part of. We challenge you to try out this approach during your next sales meeting. Did you see better results? Let us know in the comments.

Use Action Plans to Manage “Initiative Overload”

A recent article from Bain & Company talks about the common problem that occurs when organizations are bogged down with initiative overload—they “are like swimmers buffeted by cross currents coming from every direction”, and the result is often fragmentation and unremarkable results for the company and the client or prospect.

As an agency owner, producer or service team member, you’ll likely relate to the problems that arise from “initiative overload”…maybe you have to tackle a surprise request from a client, address an unforeseen risk or scramble to deliver on promises made during the sales process.

The article provides a few great tips for overcoming initiative overload such as (1) managing your time to determine what your strategic priorities are, (2) clearly defining your responsibility for each initiative, and (3) determining your involvement by establishing distinct decision processes and maintaining open communication. But in order to avoid initiative overload all together, we would recommend creating action plans.

So, when and how do you create an action plan? Action plans are the culmination of agreements gained during the sales process, and depending on the size of the agency, the prospect and producer should agree to take on 1 to 2 initiatives per quarter or year. They represent the work that needs to be accomplished by both parties in order to strengthen and protect the client’s business.

In many ways, in order to retain accounts and grow your book of business, implementation of agreed upon initiatives is not only necessary; it also provides a big opportunity to differentiate. But, successful implementation only happens when there is a strong action plan in place. In today’s challenging marketplace, an action plan ensures that timelines won’t become hazy, promises won’t be broken, and both parties will get the most out of the relationship.

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.

Harness This Powerful Force

According to a scientific study discussed in the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review, “dread—the anticipation of negative outcomes—is a powerful force.” How powerful? The study showed that 70% of subjects opted to receive a painful electric shock right away, rather than wait for a less painful shock in the near future. So, the feeling of anticipating pain was worse than the actual pain. And if the feeling of dread could be avoided, that’s the route that most chose to take.

What does this mean for you?

We often talk about tapping into employers’ emotions during the sales process, and finding points of pain or frustration is one of the best ways to do this—particularly when a prospect is unaware that they are facing a specific risk. If they are lead to self-discover problems and begin to anticipate negative outcomes, (just like the study participants that chose no-dread over dread) they are much more likely to decide to make a change.

Lets say an employer is being overcharged through the premium audit process, their experience mod is incorrect or mismanaged and its preventing them from bidding on jobs, or their workers’ comp claims costs are rising because their injured employees aren’t getting the right treatment by the right doctor at the right time. When they discover this during the sales process, and the negative outcomes are isolated in this way, the door opens for you to:

(1)    Ask: “how confident are you that these conditions will get better if you don’t address them?”

(2)    Paint a picture of a better future if they choose to engage with you

(3)    Ultimately, work toward gaining agreements on how to move forward

What points of pain do you lead with in order to move prospects to make a change? Share your stories with us in the comments.