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Winning Strategies

The top 10 skills of top producers

Separating the "big dogs" from the runts

By Roger Sitkins

Over the last 15 years, we at Sitkins International have presented more than 75 Producer Training Camps and trained more than 2,500 producers. This does not include all of the private camps or online events that we've hosted. If you added those, the tally would total approximately 100 camps and 3,000-plus producers. Based on those experiences, I can quickly assess whether a producer is going to be an over-achiever or an under-achiever.

I used to joke that producers (and people in general) fall into one of four categories: those who get it and those who don't get it, those who really get it and those who really don't get it! So as I look at producers and talk to the other advisors here at Sitkins about them, it's obvious that the top producers really get it. They consistently exhibit the key skills that are essential to success.

Although I can't list all of those skills in this article, here are the Top 10 Skills that we consistently see among top producers.

1. Questioning and Listening. Of all skills to master, this is the most important. By this, I mean the ability to ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the prospect's or client's answers. The key is to elicit as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. This means listening intently to every response and then using it to formulate the next question.

Typically, salespeople will ask a question and are so panicked about their next question that they don't hear the response. In some cases, if the prospect doesn't answer immediately, salespeople will answer the question themselves, rather than wait to hear what the prospect has to say. Listening is essential to identifying and understanding prospects' needs and desires.

Actually, if you ask enough questions, prospects will end up designing their own insurance and risk management plan (which you then "allow" them to buy from you). It really becomes a collaborative process when the prospect is engaged. But it all comes back to alternately asking questions and listening to the answers.

2. Quantifying. This is another critical skill that the "big dog" producers always possess and that the average producers never do. That's because average producers never get the prospect to understand that there are "pain issues" in their current program. They never adequately convey to the prospect that there are potential areas of loss that could occur, nor do they quantify that loss by putting a dollar amount on it (i.e., what's the cost of doing nothing?). For example, what's the potential cost to your business if you don't have a wellness program, disaster recovery plan or loss prevention program in place?

Average producers may bring up some of these points, but they never ask enough questions to quantify the scope of the prospect's problem.

3. Networking. Producers have to get out in their marketplace, either in the industries that they're involved in or the community to which they're marketing, and expand their centers of influence. First and foremost, they must constantly be expanding their natural pipelines (the contacts they make when they're out in public plus people they've come to know over the years). Whom do you know through church/professional organizations/your kids' activities? You should also be building your centers of influence, identifying the next five to 10 people you want to connect with, knowing that these individuals can help you in your business.

We all know that one of the main reasons producers fail is that they don't have a network or a pipeline in place (which will take a minimum of several years to build from scratch). Therefore, the Blinding Flash of the Obvious is to hire someone who already has a pipeline from a previous job or career.

4. Business Acumen. This is the ability to talk peer-to-peer with business owners or the senior managers of companies. Producers must be students of business or they won't be comfortable or competent enough to lead discussions as a trusted advisor. If you can't talk the language of business, you're positioning yourself as a vendor of a commodity—someone who just gives quotes.

As a producer, you need to understand business in order to understand whom you're talking to. The best producers do. They've sat on "that" side of the desk, so they know how risk affects both the strategic and tactical aspects of a business.

If you have enough business acumen and you're asking the right questions and you can quantify positive and negative results, then you can always return to a business impact discussion. In other words, how has the lack of effective risk management and insurance services in the prospect's company affected its customers, its employees and its profits? When you can discuss business on that level with your clients and prospects, you have business acumen.

5. Behavior Discipline. Numbers (your actual results) are directly related to the behaviors of producers. Accordingly, we find that the best producers are extremely disciplined about demonstrating the right behaviors. Behaviors either lead you toward, or take you away from, your desired results. We know that Poor Behaviors = Poor Results and Great Behaviors = Great Results. Therefore, the key is knowing what behaviors to exhibit in order to get the best results.

For instance, what must you do behaviorally to achieve the highest closing ratio? The highest conversion rate? Great client relationships? Referrals? Once you've identified the behaviors you must employ to achieve the desired results, check up on yourself periodically to ensure that you're staying on track.

6. Super Qualifying. The best producers simply do not waste their time on bad prospects. They establish the rules of the game with the prospect up front: What is the process going to be? What other agencies are you talking to? If they are unable to establish the rules at the outset, the best producers firmly believe that The Best Day to Lose the Sale is the First Day. They have walkaway power, which is extremely important and which we've discussed many times in this column.

Unfortunately, average producers have more time than opportunities because their pipeline is empty and they're not building their networks, among other reasons. Therefore, they'll work on bad accounts that they have no chance of getting just so they can say they're busy. The reality is, that's practice quoting!

7. Referral Generation/Pipeline Management. The best producers realize that it's all about earning and generating referrals and introductions from their clients and centers of influence. However, most producers don't do this very well. They do a good enough job to get clients to renew, but they don't do so well that they get them to refer. In fact, after studying this problem for some time, we discovered that approximately 95% of accounts renew each year, but only 5% refer! Why? Because producers aren't doing enough to create the "wow" factor. They don't have rabid, raving fans! Unlike the fans at college football games, their clients aren't cheering in the stands with their foam #1 fingers on their hands. Instead, they're sitting in the back row of the bleachers, clapping politely.

Once you get the referrals and introductions, the key is to implement a formal pipeline management system to ensure movement within the pipeline. Otherwise, once accounts come into the pipeline, there's a bottleneck because producers don't do anything with them. In their minds, they "own" the prospect, so even if they haven't touched it in two years, they still believe it's theirs. That doesn't happen in the best agencies among the top producers. They believe that if you can't get a prospect in the pipeline moving within six months, you no longer own it. It's fair game for someone else!

8. Differentiate. In case you weren't aware, every prospect has a mental file labeled "Insurance," filled with every experience they've ever had with insurance agents. In almost every case, that experience is about going out to bid to see who can come up with the lowest price. The best producers know this and know how to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Average producers agents do not.

Average producers will say they represent great companies, have been in business a long time and want to provide a quote—just like everyone else! There's nothing new and different, so their file is filled with the same old, same old.

A top producer will say things that prompt prospects to open a new file in their brain by talking about issues that average producers don't discuss. For example, they'll explain that insurance is one of the solutions they provide, but not the only solution. They'll further explain that they deal with risk, wellness and productivity issues, over and above the insurance solution. Doing so differentiates the top producer from the competition.

9. Practice. Top producers are dedicated to continuously improving. They regularly engage in low-risk practice and rehearse their presentations, sometimes two or three times in front of others in the agency, before they meet with a client or prospect. Their attitude: No one is more prepared than I!

Conversely, average producers will just hand the prospect a proposal, mention the limits of coverages and recite the costs. It's a lackluster presentation made worse by the fact that many producers will just read aloud what's written in the proposal.

Contrast that "presentation" with those from the best producers, who explain the services they recommend based on an analysis of the prospect's business. Example: "Based on our risk assessment of your business, these are the five areas of highest impact where we can help you." Not only will they outline the problems one at a time, they'll show the impact each is having on the business and offer a solution. Only after constant practice can producers be conversational and comfortable, which in turn allows them to appear believable.

10. Presentation Skills. Other than possibly a pastor at a small church, have you ever met a great speaker who didn't make a lot of money? Probably not. That's why I'm always amazed at the poor presentation skills I see and the lack of commitment to honing them. Knowing and believing in your product is important, but being able to tell your story in a conversational and comfortable manner is even more important. You must know how to think and talk on your feet.

Regrettably, many producers learn the Head to Mouth selling process: they'll note something in their head and it comes out of their mouth. On the other hand, those who know something in their head, truly believe it in their heart, and can speak passionately about it tend to be the best presenters. Producers who use the Head to Heart to Mouth approach come across as believable and trustworthy, as well as knowledgeable. Like anything else, it's a skill that requires extensive, ongoing practice.

The bottom line

These aren't the only skills a producer needs, but they are the ones you must master if you want to be the best in the business. If you want to be a top producer or agency, carefully review these 10 skills. Assess where you stand today and make a commitment to improve.

As always, it's your choice!

The author

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 insurance system by providing intellectual property that empowers agents and brokers to become the innovators.


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