How the best producers get better
Think like an owner, not an employee
By Roger Sitkins
Between our Producer Training Camps and Sales Mastery Programs, we deal with a broad spectrum of producers, ranging from rookies to multi-million dollar commission-income producers. While I was preparing for one of our sessions a few months ago, I started thinking about how the multi-million dollar producers got where they are. I wondered: How do the best get better? More important, what do these top producers do to keep getting better?
There's a big difference between getting better and continually improving. Producers in the top echelon of their profession never stop growing. They refuse to coast. (As I've discussed many times, you can only coast in one direction.)
Based on my years of experience, I've compiled the following list of some of the key things the best producers do to get better.
They Focus On Their "Me, Inc." Because they realize they are in business for themselves, the best producers think of their book of business as a business. They think like an owner—not an employee. As a result, they work to create a profitable business, not simply to earn a paycheck.
The top producers realize they must focus on their Personal Financial Statements. However, a producer's P&L statement is unlike that of most businesses. That's because a producer's income is generated at work, but his or her expenses are incurred at home to finance life outside the office. Despite that difference, the question remains: Is the business—Me, Inc.—making an acceptable profit, or is it operating at a loss?
Most producers couldn't tell you because most producers don't have Personal Financial Statements. That's unfortunate because, as any financial manager will attest, accounting for what you make and what you spend is critical to success. The best producers are vigilant about keeping their financials up to date. They're constantly thinking about making a profit in order to achieve financial freedom.
They Control Their Calendars. Most people engage in HAWG (Hysterical Activity on the Way to the Grave) rather than planning their days productively. But considering that only 24% of your week is dedicated to working and earning money (40 hours out of 168 hours in a week), shouldn't making the most of those hours be a top priority? For the best producers, it is. They keep their ROT—Return on Time—uppermost in their minds at all times. Not only do they mindfully manage their hours on the job, they're cognizant of whether their activities are generating actual results or are just keeping them busy.
They Follow The Producer's Perfect Schedule. The Producer's Perfect Schedule is one of the Sitkins International tools that we've discussed in the past and that our most successful producers use to allocate their time. With this schedule, Monday is devoted to preparing for the rest of the week. It's strictly a day in which the producer lays the foundation for all the other days.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, producers should have three daily appointments lined up with a prospect, client or center of influence. The best producers don't even go to the office on those days. And with today's technology, it's not necessary (unless you're looking for a place to hide). Friday is cleanup time. That's when the best producers wrap up the week's activities and look ahead to the following week.
They Maximize Their High-Performance Team. We strongly believe in an absolute division between the sales and service functions of an agency. But in the vast majority of agencies, those lines are blurred.
The key to building a High-Performance Team (HPT) is to have producers and their service partners working in concert without any overlap in job duties. They work together, but separately. Salespeople sell and service people service. They don't cross the lines.
The goal is for producers to spend 80% of their time in the four key money-making activities: Sales, Relationship Management, Continuations and Pipeline Building. The unfortunate reality, according to our research, is that most average producers spend less than 10% of their time selling. The rest of the time they're either doing service work or they're hiding.
Great communication is the cornerstone of the most successful HPTs. That means weekly Pre-Briefs and De-Briefs. In a perfect world, the team meets on Monday morning to pre-brief and discuss what's planned for the week ahead, and again on Friday morning to de-brief, reporting on what took place that week. It's one of the easiest, fastest ways to eliminate surprises and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
They Are Trusted Advisors. The best producers position themselves as trusted advisors with their clients. They do this by demonstrating to the client that they're more than just a vendor of a commodity. The trusted advisor provides solutions and advice while the vendor facilitates a risk-transfer transaction.
Producers who are trusted advisors become indispensable to their clients, who value the knowledge and services that the producer brings. The best producers continually develop their business acumen so they can talk knowledgeably with almost anyone in the corporate world, including CFOs and CEOs. They read all the pertinent publications, enroll in educational seminars and pursue advanced degrees in risk management or business management. They do whatever it takes to stay current with business trends and developments that could affect their clients.
The litmus test for whether or not you're a trusted advisor is when your client calls you. If they call you before they make a decision that has any insurance or risk management implications, you're a trusted advisor. If they call you after they've taken some sort of action (for example, signing a lease that includes insurance requirements), you're just a vendor of a commodity known as insurance.
They Know Their Numbers. If someone asks you for a sales figure or statistic and your answers start with "It's about . . ." or "I think . . ." then you don't know your numbers; you're just guessing.
When we look at the best producers, we see that they measure two kinds of statistics: Outcome Stats and Performance Stats. A producer's outcome stats are gross commission income, retention and net new commission income for the year. The performance stats are closing ratio, conversion rate, revenue per relationship and the monetized value of the producer's pipeline (MVP).
The best producers not only know and understand their numbers, they know how to improve them if they're not up to par. As we've said before, the numbers are just the numbers. It's behaviors and strategies that directly affect those numbers, for better or for worse. The best producers identify the specific behaviors and strategies that they need to change in order to improve their numbers. What's more, they work hard to implement those changes. The best producers recognize that just writing it down won't make it happen. They know that significant improvement takes considerable time, energy and effort.
They Are Networking Animals. When you look at the best producers, they know EVERYONE! They are at every event—with a plan. They don't waste their time going places just so they can get their ticket punched. When they are out and about, they have a purpose. They know who is going to be at various events and they target the people they want to meet. What's more, they make sure they meet them and then they follow up with a handwritten note.
While they're at these events, the best producers proactively manage their brand. They carefully consider how they look and what they say so that they will project the right image. As a result, their appearance and speech are impeccable, their behavior beyond reproach.
Further, they constantly look for ways to connect their clients with others who can help them. They believe that relationships are about deposits and withdrawals. They want to be known as someone who brings solutions to other people's problems.
They Have a Private Client Group Mentality. The best producers have a personal business model that specifies a limited number of VIP clients, much like the private client groups of the big banks or wealth advisors. For example, let's say the producer's goal is to have no more than 50 clients generating $20,000 each in commission income. That's $1 million. This helps producers avoid the 2-2 Syndrome: Too many clients paying too little each. Sometimes less is more, and with a private client group, the objective is to have fewer clients paying more money each.
Having a private client group allows you to ask for nominations to the group, rather than asking for referrals. It works amazingly well! Case in point: As one of our best producers approached his goal of 50 clients, he informed his existing clients that there were "only eight slots left" in his group. When he asked for nominations, he was inundated with responses! Needless to say, he reached his goal very quickly.
They Are Relentlessly Prepared. The best producers rehearse for every event. Their attitude is that every event deserves their very best. They're not going to waste an opportunity in the marketplace. They're ready to perform at the highest level when the stakes are high.
To prepare, they conduct extensive Web-based research and engage in low-risk vs. high-risk practice. Before they meet with a prospect, they know what questions they'll ask and how they'll ask them.
They also understand how to handle objections. Often when we work with struggling producers, we'll see that they can tell their story pretty well, but the minute they get an objection from a prospect, they stumble. Unless they've repeatedly practiced how they'll respond to objections, they aren't prepared when a prospect goes off-script.
Telephone skills are also extremely important, yet many producers are lacking in this area. Practice is key. We urge producers to periodically get on the phone and practice delivering their 30-second commercial to a coworker. Most phone systems will allow you to record yourself, providing the lowest-risk practice around!
The Bottom Line. These aren't the only things the best producers do, but this list covers the basics. If you want to be the best, are you willing to do what the best do?
As always, it's your choice.
Roger Sitkins is founder and chairman of Sitkins International, a private client group and membership program for some of the top independent insurance agencies and brokerages in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Members participate in training, advising and networking opportunities focused on innovation, sales, growth, profitability and value. Sitkins International is inventing the future of the independent agency system by providing intellectual property that empowers agents and brokers to become the innovators.