Super Agent

Posts Tagged ‘strategies’

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.

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?”

Planning with Intention: Do You Know the End at the Beginning?

When you step into a meeting with a prospect, do you have a clear sense of where you want it to end and the steps you need to take in order to get there? Do you spend time at the end of the year putting activities on the calendar that will help you reach your goals for the following year? According to Seth Godin: “Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start… most organizations focus on shiny objectives or contentious discussions or get sidetracked by emergencies instead of honoring the critical path.”

It might be easier to follow a prospect’s process instead of leading them through your own, and the same goes for focusing on the front end of your pipeline instead of filling it from the back end. But those producers who plan for the end at the beginning will be able to pivot when the time is necessary but never lose sight of the path to the end goal.

For example, if you are clear on the value you provide and who you want to work with then you are much less likely to engage in a transactional sale with a buyer who was never the right fit to begin with. And, if you include business development activities on your calendar as you look toward 2014, you will be comforted in knowing that you have commitments in place that will help you achieve your goals.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift.” Do you want to drift, fighting fires as you face them, or do you want to approach your year, your day or your meeting with intention?

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.

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?

 

The “Wow Me” Trap

Producers love wowing; most are passionate go-getters who like to take on challenges. So, when a prospect says “Wow me”, “Tell me all about yourself”, “Why should I do business with you?” it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s an attractive direction for a producer to follow, but it’s a trap. Instead of falling down the rabbit hole and discussing all of the services and solutions you can provide, always stick to the cardinal rule—never share any resources, processes, tools or intellectual capital without first gaining awareness and agreement on the prospect’s area(s) of dissatisfaction.

If you start talking about what you have to offer before you know what they need, it won’t resonate with them, and they won’t become aware of the real value you can provide.

Instead, take the time to engage in dialog that will:

  1. Lead the prospect to self-discover what their greatest risks and needs are by asking pointed questions and challenging assumptions;
  2. Come to an agreement that your prospect will be at a greater risk if they don’t engage in a business relationship with you;
  3. Paint a picture of a better future (one that allows the prospect to eliminate risks, and capture opportunities).

It’s important that producers have the ability to take a step back in this situation, avoid declarations and articulating solutions, and instead follow a process to allow the prospect to truly understand what they hope to accomplish.

“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

What is the Opportunity Cost of a Transactional Sale?

You may remember the phrase “opportunity cost” from your college economics class. Essentially, it’s based on the idea that when a choice must be made between two options, there is a cost involved in not choosing a specific option. So, you miss out on the benefits (monetary and otherwise) of the option you didn’t go with. Investopedia provides this example: “if a gardener decides to grow carrots, his or her opportunity cost is the alternative crop that might have been grown instead (potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, etc.)”

What does this mean for you?

Many producers we talk to get stuck when the buyer pushes for a low price, saying “if this is what the customer wants, isn’t it my job to give it to them?” But, what is the opportunity cost of engaging in the typical bid-and-quote process?

The most obvious cost is working on a low-probability, commodity-based prospect when you could be working on a high-probability, collaborative prospect. If you aren’t doing enough to qualify and work only with prospects that are in alignment with your business model and your objectives, you are missing out on right-fit, long-term and more profitable accounts (who appreciate the value you provide, not just the price).

Of the hundreds or thousands of employers who fit your profile, how many will you not meet or even speak with this year?

The more time you spend on transactional sales, the less time you spend with these right-fit employers. You weigh the opportunity cost—is it worth it?

The Best Behavior Change Trigger

According to one of our favorite sales strategists Jill Konrath, “since making any change is more work for your already stressed out prospect, you have to give them a really good reason to take action.” We’ve said it before: it’s necessary for your prospect to be dissatisfied before they will make the decision to change—dissatisfied enough that they are willing to abandon the status quo. Because of this, many producers dream of prospects who offer them a list of problems, expecting solutions that the producer has the resources to provide.

But, these producers are missing a big piece of the puzzle. What is the best way to trigger a change in behavior? A prospect must become aware of a previously unrecognized problem or risk, and then be presented with a solution that they did not anticipate. The best prospects aren’t the ones who’ve already figured out what issues they need to solve, it’s the ones who aren’t aware there are any issues.

Anthony Iannarino explains: “Your dream clients don’t recognize a gap themselves. You haven’t done anything to show them that they have good cause to be dissatisfied if they’re not. And they don’t have a compelling vision of a better state that they want to bring to life.” It’s your job to lead them through an effective process, help them self discover risks, and show them a vision of a better way.