The gift of sales management
A powerful blend of science and art
By Scott Addis
What is the greatest gift of high-performing insurance agencies? The gift of sales management!
Sales management represents the planning, development, execution and achievement of business development goals using available resources effectively and efficiently. The gift of sales management is both a science and an art.
The science of sales management embodies the design and implementation of a step-by-step operational system that incorporates each stage of the sales cycle. The scientific approach to sales includes a rigorous application of process, tools and strategies bundled into a system that is understood and wholeheartedly embraced by the entire organization.
The art of sales management, on the other hand, is all about the soft skills of team members, including relationship building, presentation techniques, and active listening as well as guiding and influencing decisions. While the science of sales management serves as the foundation of the sales platform, the art represents the creative flair and natural talents to which individuals apply the process and use the tools to achieve success. By itself, the science is insufficient to achieve sales effectiveness. The art of sales—a person's competence, knowledge and motivation supported by the process—is the ultimate differentiator.
The combination of the science and art of sales management instills pride in an organization. It is this sense of pride that fuels each employee's passion for excellence and dedication to enhancing the customer experience.
In the formative years of an agency, the principals are required to be rainmakers. As the business evolves, the owners impart their business development skills and passion for sales to others in the agency to sustain growth. It is here where many organizations face a significant challenge. As the 500 B.C. Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, wrote in The Art of War, "Your strengths will eventually become a weakness." Let's examine the competencies of the producer/principal as compared with the sales manager.
The role reversal for many agency leaders represents a huge hurdle. However, to create a scalable business model—one that is not dependent on one or two people to bring in the lion's share of the business—a company-wide sales culture must evolve. A true sales culture forms when every member of an organization feels connected to the sales process.
A productive corporate culture represents the perfect blend of the science and art of sales management as measured by the attitude employees have about the environment in which they work. The leaders of high-performance, organic-growth agencies empower staff to understand the link between sales management and business outcomes, including customer loyalty, referrals, cross-sell opportunities, growth, retention and profitability. They have also discovered that by engaging, mobilizing and harnessing the power of the entire organization, they can effectively and predictably boost revenue, profit and agency value. These best practices agencies integrate sales management into all aspects of the organization with the goal of creating a robust, resource-rich experience for the prospective client.
The gift of sales management is reserved for agencies that embrace and implement the following five interconnected elements of sales and sales management:
1. Value proposition
3. Prospect identification, qualification and service delivery road map
4. Coaching and mentoring
5. Success indicators
Value proposition. A value proposition is the reason for an agency's existence. It describes how the firm creates value for others. It allows the agency to stand out in a crowded marketplace. When all members of the staff understand and support the value proposition, they become engaged and active contributors to the sales culture.
Without a compelling value proposition supported by a unique process, the planning, development, execution and achievement of business development goals is an uphill battle. A unique value proposition in the form of a concise, clear and compelling statement that explains why a potential client should buy a particular product or service, how it is superior to that of the competition, and why it is worthy of the price the client must pay represents the first element of sales management.
Addis Intellectual Capital's (AIC) research indicates that most agencies do not have a value proposition that explains the tangible results that their customers will receive, or the unique benefits they bring to bear that others cannot.
The Playbook. The Playbook represents the capabilities (i.e., plays) of an agency, including, but not limited to, client acquisition, account management, and quality assurance strategies, systems and tools.
In the game of football, the coaching staff and players spend countless hours studying their playbook. The playbook allows the coaching staff to design and set strategy to enable the players to achieve results within the framework of the system. While the coach never gets on the field, he demonstrates and rehearses strategies to achieve success. When players execute a play properly, the coach rewards the performance. When the execution is lacking, the coach gives them a pep talk and reviews the play. There are occasions when the coach goes deep into the playbook to adjust the game plan in an effort to alter the outcome of the performance. When the game is over, the players and coaches analyze results so they can continue doing what they did right and learn from their mistakes. With the playbook, the coach is able to execute, motivate and win!
High-performance, organic-growth agencies understand the importance of play and skill development. It is for this reason that they dedicate so much time to building their offensive (i.e., business development) and defensive (client retention/intimacy) systems.
Prospect identification, qualification and service delivery road map. This critical component of a sales management system includes strategies to fill the pipelines, criteria filters to screen out "commodity shoppers," and a planning process that features the agency's unique capabilities.
AIC's research indicates that the vast majority of agencies lack a strategic approach to prospect identification, research and qualification. In a survey administered to more than 4,400 agency principals and producers (see chart above), AIC uncovered the following:
A focused and efficient sales management system effectively uses a referral network of loyal, enthusiastic clients and centers of influences to identify and screen prospective clients. These engaged and passionate individuals help the agency with prospect research, identification and qualification. They help the agency keep the pipeline full!
High-performance, organic-growth agencies are selective in committing and delivering resources and services to prospective clients. These firms reserve their resources and technical capabilities for prospects who have demonstrated a commitment to play the game under the rules determined by the agency. When it is determined that a prospective client meets the agency's criteria, a service delivery road map is established. The road map is comprised of handpicked capabilities from the agency's playbook.
Coaching and mentoring. As mentioned, the art of sales—a person's talent, competence and desire—is of significant importance to sales and sales management. It is the soft skills of the business development team that give passion, purpose and energy to the sales process.
Perhaps most important is the art of the sales manager. Effective communication, guided discovery, prospect research and qualification, interpreting account profiles and building networks are teachable skills. The sales manager must be a good listener and be able to communicate and connect with team members of diverse artistic talents. The most productive sales manager is a person who demands the best from his or her people. This person also has a unique ability to re-energize individuals who may have "lost the fire."
As with a winning football program, the sales manager must develop talent and offer feedback. Top-notch sales managers follow a regimen consisting of:
• Visioning and goal setting
• Value proposition creation and delivery
• Play execution
• Communication of expectations (i.e., accountability)
• Teaching producers how to overcome objections
• Providing constant feedback
Coaching and mentoring are essential components of the sales management process. With a system comprised of effective strategies and tactics, the sales manager is able to maximize the performance of the business development team.
Success indicators. The final element in the gift of sales management encompasses the organization's ability to monitor the results of the sales system. Critical indicators include, but are not limited to, activity-based performance, sales funnel forecasting, and quality new business appointments, as well as the hit ratio. These key performance indicators allow the agency to benchmark the effectiveness of the sales process and achieve results measured against targeted goals and objectives.
Of particular importance are the quality and quantity of prospects in the sales funnel. The funnel/forecast review enables the sales manager to gauge the efficiency and impact of the sales management process.
In today's challenging business environment, an agency must be relentlessly committed to success indicators and fact-based data. It is this discipline that drives performance.
The gift of sales management is awaiting you and your team. Go get it!
Scott Addis is president and CEO of The Addis Group and Addis Intellectual Capital, LLC (AIC). AIC is a coaching and consulting company whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers and carriers use when working with their clients. Scott is a recognized leader who has received the Inc. Magazine "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" as well as the "25 Most Innovative Agents in America" award. To learn more about the "The Gift of Sales Management," you may contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or (610) 945-1019. AIC's Web site is www.beyondinsurance.com.