Why "Johnny" can't sell
It takes a certain kind of person to be a good producer
By Roger Sitkins
Have you ever wondered why some producers can’t sell? It’s a question I’ve pondered often during my 30 years of coaching independent insurance agents and brokers in the United States, Canada and, now, internationally. But before we can find a meaningful answer to such a broad question, I think it’s important to define the job description of a “producer.”
Literally, a producer is one who produces. However, all too often I see that these so-called producers really can’t sell. They may possess the title of producer, but that’s not necessarily what they’re doing. Instead, many are either highly competent order takers or expert “keepers” of accounts. Certainly, they write business, but typically that’s because they’re likable people who are well connected in the community. Simply by hanging around, they’re bound to write some business, even though they’ll never be superstars.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough in today’s trying economy. Now, more than ever, agencies must improve productivity. That means enhancing performance in several key areas, including:
• Revenue per employee
• Revenue per relationship
• Revenue per producer
But beyond revenue, and arguably even more important, is profit. What is your agency’s Profit per Employee? Profit per Relationship? Profit per Producer? There’s an old saying: “New revenue doesn’t solve all your problems—just most of them!” And I think that if agencies would really examine the way they operate, they would work more diligently to get a higher return on investment.
Here are the top reasons why I believe “Johnny” (producers) can’t sell:
Bad hire/inappropriate position
Perhaps the number-one reason why some producers don’t produce is that they’re not cut out for the job. They may be totally capable as an underwriter, technician, marketer or service person, but when it comes to sales, they simply don’t have what it takes. They’re the right person in the wrong profession or are ill-suited to the position.
It’s unfortunate that we continue to see people trying to fake their way through the position of producer. They hang around and go through the motions, and after 20 years in the business they might have $300,000 in commission income, which isn’t too impressive. But that’s what happens when you have a non-producer trying to play the role of producer. We see them running west looking for a sunrise because they tend to do all the wrong things.
I apologize for preaching to those of you in the choir. However, it’s common to see average producers who are missing that all-important “factory-installed equipment.” They simply lack the natural talent to be a great salesperson—even if they’re quite bright otherwise. Agencies cannot afford to have average producers sitting around the office waiting for the roast ducks to fly into their mouths. The roast ducks have been permanently grounded!
I know you’ve heard this a thousand times before, but most agencies continue to operate without a set offense. And to maintain order in the marketplace, producers must employ a set offense on a consistent basis. Does your agency have one?
If I were to ask the average producer to describe each of the steps in his or her sales process, what do you think I would hear? At best, I’d probably hear something like this: “Well, we talk to them and listen to them. Then we look at their policies, we copy their policies, we quote their policies and we hope we get the account. But we really don’t have a process.” That’s the old way of selling! It’s also a huge mistake that many producers make.
One of the problems we see is that most producers don’t know how to tell a story that will set them apart from their competition. They’re perceived as “just like all the others” in the insurance industry because they can’t say what makes them different from, or superior to, the competition. A true offense will help you differentiate yourself from other producers by enabling you to open new files in people’s brains. You must be able to communicate your individual brand or you’ll find yourself in the same nondescript box with all the other producers in the industry.
Lack of accountability
Without accountability, there is no incentive to sell, and failure is all but guaranteed. Why? Because left to their own devices, most people instinctively do the wrong things. It’s human nature! Although undisciplined individuals can still be successful in our industry, the most successful ones are those who adhere to a system of accountability.
What we find is that many times, producers will claim they’re accountable when in reality they’re held accountable for their actions but not their results. While it’s quite common to confuse the two, doing so is a major mistake.
Many times people will say that their agency has a plan, complete with annual goals for each producer. But if you ask how they’re doing with their plan, they’ll say it’s not Christmas yet. That’s because most people review their results at the end of the year. Over the years, we have discovered that producers who get off track and fall short of their sales goals at the end of the first quarter never catch up for the year. So by the third or fourth quarter, it’s much too late to correct poor performance.
Obviously, a plan without accountability is not a plan; it’s just a picture. It looks nice and fits well on a shelf or in a file. But unless producers are held accountable on a monthly basis (“This is what you said you were going to do. Did you do it? What were the results?”), there’s no way to know if the plan is working or if it needs to be adjusted.
The larger the agency, the greater the accountability problem, even in agencies that have full-time sales management (which is the case at fewer than 10% of all agencies). It gets to the point where there are just too many producers for one sales manager to hold accountable. That’s why we recommend creating accountability partners.
These are alliances in which producers are accountable to one or more producer-partners for their actions, techniques and skills. In some cases, they may give each other “pop quizzes,” in which they ask their partner to explain his or her set offense or to spontaneously ask for a referral. Such “ambush” techniques help sharpen producers’ skills and enhance their performance while shifting some of the accountability burden from the sales manager.
Even though I’ve talked about this ad nauseam, it bears repeating: Producers can’t sell if they’re not in the game often enough. In order to succeed (or to compete at all, for that matter), they must have both the quality and quantity of at-bats. As basic as that sounds, many producers and managers have forgotten the fundamentals—with disastrous results.
Having a sufficient number of quality at-bats is about as fundamental as it gets. Producers who are out there telling their story often enough to the right people will succeed. But forget the fundamentals and you’re going to fail.
Personal and professional distractions
This is one of the top reasons why some producers can’t sell. They may have good intentions, but they allow endless diversions to get in the way of their work. Typically, they receive numerous voice mails and e-mails because they do a poor job of separating sales from service. Consequently, they attend to things with which they shouldn’t be involved.
Co-workers often compound the problem. For instance, there are always people who want to see you “for just a minute,” or ask “one quick question” (which takes an hour). Such interruptions make it impossible for a producer to focus on the job of selling. Instead, the distractions that start on Monday often result in hysterical activity that sabotages productivity for the rest of the week.
Some distractions are inevitable. For instance, agency leadership should make allowances for producers who need to address pressing personal problems (provided they’re not a daily occurrence). But more often than not, the average producer has an inbox overflowing with non-essential tasks that distract him or her from focusing exclusively on obtaining and retaining ideal clients. This has to stop.
Another reason many producers can’t sell is that they don’t believe they can. They have a diminished sense of worth that stems from a poor self-image. Deep down, they feel as if they don’t deserve their clients’ business. Sadly, it shows.
An unconfident producer is easy to spot. They’re the ones with their heads down who practically grovel in front of prospects, thanking them profusely for the opportunity to share their air space.
Conversely, the attitude of the best producers is not one of arrogance but od confidence. They take pride in their appearance and walk with their heads held high and their shoulders back. They believe that people should be happy to have them as an agent and that they have the necessary expertise. These producers are confident that a customer’s business is better off because of the products and services they can provide.
Confidence comes from believing in yourself, your agency, your systems, your products and your services. A confident producer is always well rehearsed and prepared to play the game. They’re extremely knowledgeable without ever coming across as a know-it-all. More important, they spend time being confident in order to project a self-assured image at all times.
No agency sales culture
Does your agency have a sales culture? By culture, I’m referring to the language and behaviors that a group or organization considers normal. The fact that many agencies have more of a service culture than a sales culture is yet another reason why producers can’t sell.
For example, how does your agency recognize new business? How does the staff react when a producer lands a new client? A service culture will view new business as a burden that translates into additional work, while a sales culture will celebrate the news! They want the agency’s book of business to grow, especially in today’s market when revenues at many agencies are down 20% to 30% compared to last year.
Meanwhile, many of our Sitkins members reported year-end growth of up to 30%, with net growth of 15% to 20%. So even though income per account is down, their sales-focused culture is helping them garner new accounts. At the same time, they’re keeping existing customers by working even harder to provide outstanding service.
Now more than ever
Now more than ever, your clients need you. They’re facing risk management and other economy-related issues that require your expertise. At the same time, other people need you, too.
Your prospects need you. Increasingly, companies are exploring their insurance options as they seek new ways to get more value for less money.
Your team needs you. If you’re a salesperson, they need you to get out and sell. They need you to focus on retaining and obtaining ideal clients. If the agency fails to grow, someone will have to go because the owners can’t afford to absorb ongoing losses.
Your family also needs you now, more than ever. You can’t make more money without growing your gross commission income.
Finally, YOU need you! You need to become more productive to ensure that you’re providing value to your customers. If you’re not providing value to your clients, your prospects and your centers of influence, I promise you, someone else will!
As always, it’s your choice.
Roger Sitkins, CEO of Sitkins International, Inc., offers his Vertical Growth Experience™ programs exclusively to his client group, known as The Sitkins 100™. These programs focus on continual improvement of agency operations, thus providing members with ongoing development and strategies that literally force vertical growth in the agency’s critical indicators of Closing Ratios, Revenue per Employee, Revenue per Relationship, and Revenue per Producer.