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Winning Strategies

Producers' dirty words

From lame and lazy to downright dangerous, here's a list of things producers should never say or do

By Roger Sitkins

Through the years, I've heard all the statements and excuses from producers that drive agency owners and sales managers crazy. I thought I'd review some of them with you to see how many of them sound familiar.

"What a great industry! I had a bad year last year; I hit none of my goals and I still made $100,000!"

Isn't that kind of a good news/bad news scenario? On the plus side, our industry rewards successful producers with great compensation. That's also the bad news because it encourages them to perform at a less-than-stellar level that will inevitably result in a long-term producer plateau. I've met numerous producers who plateau because they are comfortable with their current income. If a producer's book isn't growing, neither is the agency.

"Boy, I was really close."

These are the dreaded words spoken by a producer who is out practice quoting based on price only. These people think that if they could have knocked a few more dollars off their proposal, they'd have made the sale. This indicates that they're simply selling a commodity rather than focusing on providing superior value-added services.

"Wow — I saw that coming."

Often, a producer who loses a large account recognized the red flags along the way but did nothing about them while there was still time. These folks know they've avoided addressing problems on the account, so they're not all that surprised when they lose it. What's even worse is when someone else in the agency sees what's happening and knows what's coming, but doesn't speak up.

"I'm too busy."

That's right—some producers are just too busy to sell any new business. Huh? Isn't their primary responsibility to get out there and get new business? If you're a producer, selling is your job!

"We need more carriers. We don't represent enough markets."

Some producers believe that if they could just get three or four more companies, they could get lower prices and therefore do much better. Wrong! Here, the producer is simply blaming his lackluster performance on the agency's existing carriers. Instead, he should be capitalizing on the strengths of these carriers and targeting the classes of business they cater to. Procuring additional carriers for specific accounts is not only unnecessary but also costly.

"I didn't know his brother-in-law was his agent."

You actually worked to get an account that your agency had zero chance of acquiring? Obviously, this producer didn't qualify the prospect. Making such discoveries after presenting a proposal is a huge waste of agency resources. The prospect's relationship with his or her current agent or agency is one of the first topics a producer should broach. For example: What agency is the prospect with now and for how long? What does the current agent/agency do really well, and what could it improve on? An honest prospect will come clean if he or she is shopping around with no real intention of changing agencies.

"I didn't have time to prepare."

It really drives me crazy when producers have an opportunity to meet with a future ideal client but show up unprepared. They've done no research ahead of time, so they know little or nothing about the company and consequently have no idea what questions to ask. They do the show-up, throw-up and blow-up routine that we've talked about before. The reality is, preparing wasn't a priority and the prospect knows it.

"Guess I wasn't dealing with the final decision maker."

When producers work on an account for a significant amount of time, it's important that they're working with the person or persons who will make the final decision. Unfortunately, when the person they think is the decision maker doesn't have the final say—and the person who does absolutely loves the current agent—they've wasted considerable agency resources.

Typically, there are two levels of decision makers on large accounts: the level that can say "yes" and the level that can say "no." That's why the producer must ask about the prospect's decision-making process and identify who chooses the new agent.

"Hey, that's my prospect; I've been meaning to call him for the last three years."

Thinking about doing something is not the same as actually doing it. In this case, we have a producer who had a prospect in mind, but never actually worked on the account. In other words, this producer's so-called prospect wasn't even a suspect! In our system, having someone on your list and not moving on it within six months means it's no longer yours—it goes to someone else.

"The prospect told me that no one had ever shown them all the gaps I uncovered, but they decided to stay with their current agent."

This tells me that the producer did a ton of work, gave away his or her intellectual capital (knowledge and experience) and still didn't get the account. Why? The producer made two major mistakes.  First, the producer didn't qualify the prospect sufficiently and, second, the producer acted as an unpaid consultant.

"I picked up bid specs from two really big prospects this week."

This is one of the worst things a producer can do, as it's nothing more than high-level practice quoting. These producers automatically put themselves in a bidding contest with any number of other brokers who also picked up the bid specs and are all rushing them to the marketplace at the same time. This is, unfortunately, a common practice on larger accounts. As you well know, some prospects actually hire a consultant to create the specs for their ideal insurance program and then invite agents to come get the package and go to the marketplace to shop the coverages.

The best way to avoid this problem is to remove yourself from that game. Don't play it! It's just another beauty contest and a race to see who gets to the marketplace first. At the same time, it's also an opportunity to explain to prospects that you have a unique sales process and would like to talk with them about their total cost of risk and other aspects of their business before deciding whether you want to proceed. Finally, it's yet another reason to keep your pipeline filled!

"The prospect really liked me and said no one had ever worked so hard on his account. In fact, he appreciated my efforts so much that he's invited me to come back and give him a quote again next year."

With few exceptions, you should never be proud of this type of "compliment." (Clue: It's an insult!) This is not a serious prospect, but rather someone who is yanking your chain.

"I like writing smaller accounts; they're easier, and when I lose one it doesn't hurt as much."

Here's a producer who has set himself up to have a small book of business. It exemplifies the "Too Too Syndrome" we've talked about before (too many customers paying you too little each). While it might not hurt as much to lose them, can you really make a great living writing small accounts? No! Instead, we want these producers to continually increase their minimum and targeted account size and work on writing larger accounts.

It's not unusual to see producers with accounts that pay, on average, $100 in commission. Unfortunately, you can't build a big book of business that way. Remember, you can't be a million-dollar producer writing thousand-dollar accounts because you'd have to write a thousand of them.

"I don't like automation."

This is truly troubling. Here we have an agency that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a great automation system and the producer refuses to use it because he doesn't like it. The problem here transcends the huge sums spent on automation; it indicates that this producer is totally killing productivity around his or her book of business. Doing business the old-fashioned way—hand writing notes and preparing proposals on typewriters (yes, it happens!)—is absolutely unacceptable.

"I hate going to those networking events." 

If you don't want to go out and network in your marketplace, build your personal brand, and connect with movers and shakers who can help you, then I guess you'll have to be really good at smiling and dialing!

"Asking for referrals makes me feel like I'm begging."

This is a prime example of serious head trash. Your next great account is waiting to meet you through a referral or introduction—but you have to ask! One of our clients will attest to this, after totally embracing the concept of the 50-seat restaurant (a maximum of 50 clients). In a year-end letter to his customers, he shared his 50-client goal and told them he was at 42. "Who would you like to nominate for the remaining eight?" he asked. The referrals poured in!

If you're not asking for referrals, is it because you realize that you haven't earned them? How else will you fill your pipeline? Through direct mail that you hope someone will read or e-mail blasts that people will find annoying and immediately delete? Ask directly and you will receive.

"I've taken a second job in the evenings so I can make more money."

If you're struggling to make ends meet, how about really working hard at your first job and implementing the behaviors that will allow you to have continued, systematic success? It makes no sense (and very few dollars) to take a job at night or on weekends when you already have a full-time job! The sad fact is that most producers are working part-time at their full-time job. They're not spending their workday doing things that create production. Therefore, their second job should be to work really hard on their first job.

"Hey, if you throw enough against the wall, something is bound to stick."

This is a producer who firmly believes in HAWG: Hysterical Activity on the Way to the Grave. These people believe that if they provide enough quotes and chase enough people, eventually something will stick. It will, but we all know that what sticks usually smells.

Also, consider the time and agency resources that are wasted by producers who randomly provide quotes in the hope of generating sales. Ultimately, the question remains: Did you get a good result or a bad result?

The bottom line

As you were reading these statements, how many of them hit home with you as a producer? If you're a sales manager, which producers kept coming to mind? All of the excuses listed above are red flags warning of a producer who is unable or unwilling to change behaviors in order to improve.

We all know that if you're not doing the right behaviors, you're not going to get the right results. So, if you identified with any of the producer quotes in this article, you need to either address the excuses that are holding you back and curbing productivity or continue doing business as usual.

As always, it's your choice.


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