Is anyone following you?
By Roger Sitkins
One big blinding flash of the obvious is that in many agencies, leaders don’t lead. Now if I’m preaching to the choir, please feel free to stop reading right now. But if you believe that true leadership is lacking in your agency, then I think it’s a topic worth exploring.
Our definition of leadership is pretty simple: Turn around and see if anyone is following you! If people are following (not chasing) you, then it’s likely that leadership exists in your organization.
Of course, there’s a difference between management and leadership. Management is about controlling the day-to-day operations and getting things done. Leadership is much more about the vision and culture of the company.
We find that the best leaders focus on a vital few core issues. Every agency will have its own set; however, here are the three that we think are crucial from a leadership perspective: sales, service and financial.
All too often, we see that true sales leadership does not exist. For example, when we talk to agencies that are interested in becoming members of Sitkins International, we find that those with the best top-line revenue growth are owned and managed by true leaders. Here are some of the telltale signs.
Role models. True leaders of agencies with the best net revenue growth are role models for their selling system. They’re not winging it. They absolutely know how to run a sales system, they can document it, and they can demonstrate and teach it to others. They’re role models in many other ways, as well.
If you’re an agency owner/manager, you’re a role model whether you want to be one or not. People look to you for the direction and culture of the organization. What sort of role model are you as it relates to the top-line, net new revenue growth? Are you a positive or a negative role model? Are you a positive or a negative role model when it comes to the concept of No Practice Quoting? No Unpaid Consulting?
Pipelines. True leaders understand the importance of pipelines and excel at focusing on them. Almost without exception, the owners of the agencies have the best natural pipelines simply because they’ve been in business and active in their communities for quite a long time. But what we’ve observed about agency owners and CEOs is that despite their great pipelines, often they will not call on their prospects because they don’t really want the work associated with a new piece of business. It’s sort of like the dog that chases the car. Once he catches it, he doesn’t know what to do with it!
Most agency owners and CEOs are already pretty darn busy and/or they’re satisfied with where they are financially. So the incentive to take on additional work really isn’t there. Although they may not admit it, they usually aren’t convinced that landing and personally servicing the account of someone in their network is worth the ongoing effort.
True leaders realize this. But rather than blow off opportunities to make the most of pipeline contacts, they’ll make the initial contact and then hand off the additional sales and service aspects to others. That way, they’re building up their producers and enhancing the value of their organization without personally taking on additional work.
Retention strategies. Sales leaders are experts at retaining their best clients. They recognize that their agency’s most profitable accounts are the top 20% producing 80% of the revenues. Because these top profit-makers are long-term accounts, agencies must implement specific retention strategies that make it extremely difficult for these clients to leave.
Future producers. Top agency leaders understand that, eventually, every producer in their organization will plateau. They realize that most producers will quit when they reach a certain income level—even if it’s a high financial plateau that greatly benefits the agency—or they run out of energy.
The problem is that when the producers plateau, the entire company will plateau unless there is “new blood” to keep it growing. Accordingly, true leaders constantly seek new producers, much as they constantly seek new accounts.
Automation. Making the most of automation is a key element of sales leadership. I’m not talking about maximizing just the agency management system, but any Client Relationship Management (CRM) tool that they possess. This must be non-optional.
Compared to other agency functions, service rarely gets the respect it deserves. Typically, it is viewed as more of a back-office function than an integral part of the overall organization. That’s regrettable. In reality, the service staff is critical. True agency leadership understands this and values the power of the service staff.
Concierge-level service. True leadership understands that superior service drives the client experience. Consequently, the best leaders fully support concierge-level service. That’s the kind of service that makes clients think, “Wow, that was unbelievable!”
What level of service does your agency provide? Is it the level of service the Ritz-Carlton offers its guests, or is it the type of service you’d expect from a local mom-and-pop motel? Not that there’s anything wrong with small, independent hotels or inexpensive accommodations! But, typically, they can’t compete with the level of service provided by a premier luxury resort.
Do you want to be known for superior service in your marketplace? If so, you’ll need not only to pay attention to your clients’ every need, but to anticipate their every need. Finally, you must cater to their needs, consistently and flawlessly.
Future staffing needs. As with producers, every employee eventually will leave the business, either of his or her own accord or someone else’s. Therefore, in planning for the future, you must have a list of potential service staff, just as you have a list of potential producers. Where and how are you going to recruit new service staff, and how will you bring them in?
Promise keeping. When the producers make promises, leadership drives the service/administrative staff to assist in keeping those promises.
“It’s not what you make; it’s what you keep,” should be the financial mantra of every agency. True leaders will focus on this idea by constantly examining the following:
Business model. Does your business model guarantee you an operating profit? This is the figure you get when you take your pure commission income minus your sales and service expenses only. It does not include any contingency or profit-sharing income.
I’m sure that at least 99% of you already know this. But how many of you are managing strictly according to a business model that gets you to an operating profit of 25% or more? Our model for that is as follows:
The Four 25s. When planning, most agency owners start with total income at the top of their P&L and work their way down to arrive at the operating profit. We prefer to take the opposite approach by starting with profit at the top line. In terms of percentages, the first 25% is profit, the second 25% is sales expense, the third 25% is service/administrative expense (electricity, rent and other operating costs), and the fourth 25% is the people expense (salaries and benefits of employees other than salespeople).
Leaders make sure their agency is differentiating itself from the competition. Differentiation methods include:
The “D Filter.” You know you’re differentiating when the client or prospect says, “Wow!” about what your agency has to offer. This includes products, service and approach to business.
You know your “D Filter” is working when prospects are so impressed by what you do and how you do it that they ask, “How much more does this cost?” Because they perceive the tremendous value of what you can provide, they assume it will cost them extra to do business with you.
The value. Value is something for which people are willing to pay more, or are willing to change providers to obtain. Leaders differentiate by having a unique process or plan that brings prospective clients unexpected value.
Peer to peer. The key to differentiation is having relationships with clients that are peer-to-peer rather than subordinate. Quite often, salespeople will try to ingratiate themselves with clients by acting in a subordinate manner. Typically, they go out of their way to make it known that they work for—not with—clients.
You should consider your clients to be peers and therefore work with them, not for them. A true peer-to-peer relationship is one between a client and a trusted advisor. That advisor works with the client to constantly improve his or her business and focus on the three things that entrepreneurs care about most: their clients, their employees and their profits.
The bottom line
Leaders are those who are being followed. Are you leading in the core areas of your agency? And does that leadership provide differentiation in the marketplace so that your agency stands out from the competition?
As always, it’s your choice.
Roger Sitkins is CEO of Sitkins Group, Inc., which offers The Vertical Growth Experience™ exclusively to its membership known as Sitkins International. The programs focus on continual improvement of agency/brokerage operations, providing ongoing development and strategies that literally force vertical growth in the critical indicators of closing ratios, revenue per employee, revenue per relationship, and revenue per producer, revenue & profits.