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Winning Strategies

Play like a Pro

Are you an All-Pro or a Weekender?

By Roger Sitkins

At our recent Extreme Networking meeting, held at Innisbrook Golf Resort near Tampa Florida, our theme was "Play Like a Pro." The main idea was to examine the differences in how professionals and amateurs "play," including how they prepare and the results they get.

These semiannual meetings are always incredibly exciting because they enable Sitkins International members to share their experiences, as well as learn from and challenge one another. There are also presentations from the Sitkins Advisors and outside experts, designed to enrich and enlighten all who attend—including me.

Based on what I've observed at these meetings and learned from outside advisors, I've concluded there are five levels of professionalism within the independent agency system:

All-Pros. These are the best of the best. They're on their way to the "Insurance Agency Hall of Fame."

Pros. These agents are highly compensated and highly professional. They're doing extremely well, but they're not the best of the best. They've yet to reach the pinnacle of their game.

Semi-Pros. They do their job much better than most, but basically they're just working to support a lifestyle. Their personal and corporate checkbooks are one and the same. This is not really a business to them.

Amateurs. They say they want to become pros, but they're not really trying. They sit on the sidelines wishing they could do as well as the pros without actually doing something about it. They live paycheck to paycheck, so they struggle financially.

Weekenders. This group is the least accomplished of all. They're not making any money, but they claim they're having fun "just playing" on the weekends. The truth is, they don't have a clue about what it takes to reach the professional level. Because they haven't decided what they want to become, they drift along with no clear direction or goal in mind.

Knowing vs. Guessing

As I mentioned in my last article, there's a tremendous difference between Knowing and Guessing. While Knowing involves absolutes and facts, Guessing is all about approximations and vague assertions.

There's a similar difference between professionals and amateurs. The Pros and All-Pros always know their numbers and are acutely aware of their Critical Indicators. They don't guess what's going on; they know—and they know the specifics. The Amateurs and Weekenders do not.

Ask about their individual or agency results and Amateurs and Weekenders will always answer ambiguously. "About" and "around" are their favorite words. For example, ask about their closing ratio and they'll typically reply, "Well, it's about (X)%." Revenue per employee? "Oh, it's around $140,000."

One of Yoda's great lines in "Star Wars" was: "Do or do not; there is no try." Along those lines I say: "Know or know not; there is no guessing!"

Do you and your leadership team Know or Guess when it comes to key facts and figures? For example, do you Know or Guess when it comes to:

• Revenue per Employee

• Revenue per Validated Producer

• Monetized Value of Your Pipelines. Do you understand the concept behind this term, and do you know the actual number for each of your producers? (Hint: It should be 2 times your annual sales goal.)

• Conversion rate. Do you know and track what percentage of first appointments with a prospect progress to a second appointment?

• Closing Ratio. What percentage of the prospects that you take through your total selling process say "yes" and what percentage say "no"?

• Operating Profit. What sort of operating profit do you make—or do you depend on contingency income to make a profit?

Granted, these are all numbers we've talked about before. The key is to know the specifics. If you don't know your actual results, you're guessing. More important, if the results are not what you need them to be, what will you do to improve your numbers? What specific behaviors and strategies will you implement to accomplish as much?

How do you know a Pro?

Other than skill levels, there are numerous characteristics that distinguish the Pros from the Amateurs and Weekenders. Topping the list are practice and preparation.

Pros practice while amateurs and weekenders only show up and play. How much time do your average producers invest in practicing before an appointment? How relentlessly prepared are they before they go out to meet with prospects?

We all know how much effort it takes to get in front of someone you consider a future ideal client. But once you get that meeting with someone who's on your radar screen, do you show up thoroughly prepared and well practiced, or do you show up like an amateur and wing it?

The mindset of top professionals is that every event deserves their very best. Whether they play baseball, football or tennis, they bring their "A" game to every at-bat, every down or every serve. The same applies to the selling game. The true pros know that every event or opportunity to be in front of a prospect or center of influence deserves the very best they can give. In turn, that requires extensive preparation.

A true pro will have at least three rehearsals before presenting to a potential "A" account (a prospect that would be in the top 5% of customers). By rehearsing, I don't mean muttering to yourself in private or complaining afterwards about what you should have done differently. I'm referring to practicing in your office in front of co-workers before the appointment, not while driving away after the appointment.

In addition to rehearsing, being adequately prepared means doing sufficient research long before you enter the prospect's office. Rather than walking in and saying: "Tell me about your business," you should know enough about the prospect's company to pose specific questions. For example, a pro would say, "In preparation for today's meeting, I've done some research on your firm and would like to ask you a few specific questions. That way, I can learn even more about your company and how our services could benefit you."

Tips for turning Pro

Dr. Rick Jensen, one of our presenters at Extreme Networking, is a sports psychologist who also consults with businesses. He says there are three steps to making dramatic change and playing like a pro.

1. Identify the problem. What's not working?

2. Practice doing it the right way.

3. Transfer it to the game.

When working with pro golfers, for example, he first tries to figure out what's wrong with their swing and what's going on in their head. Next, they have to practice the new swing until doing it right comes naturally. Finally, they must have the confidence to bring it onto the course. It's one thing to be able to do something in a low-risk environment (e.g., the driving range) and quite another to do it in the high-risk real world. You'd better be well practiced and rehearsed so that you'll have the confidence to do things differently.

The great golfers don't have a lot of thoughts in their mind when they're standing over the ball--they're ready to play. The amateurs and weekend hackers, on the other hand, think of a hundred different things that can go wrong (and it shows in how they play!).

Whether your game is insurance or sports, do you have what it takes to play like a Pro? In terms of your leadership, salespeople and internal staff, do you truly have a pro team? Is your company CRISP in everything it does (CRISP being an acronym for Clear Reflective Image of Success and Professionalism)? What about the look of your letterhead, your logo, your facilities, your Web site, etc.? Do they project a CRISP, All-Pro appearance?

CRISP doesn't just happen. It takes endless preparation requiring a tremendous amount of practice and rehearsal. (I know because we've already started planning our next Extreme Networking meeting, which is six months away!) So I'm well aware that achieving great results isn't something that occurs spontaneously or automatically.

When people deal with your agency or your producers, what are the clear, powerful thoughts they have afterwards? What was the prospects' experience? Were they wowed by your presentation and impressed with your brand? Or did they merely give you permission to give them an apples-to-apples quote? Practice quoting is the sign of a dabbling amateur and not a committed professional.

The bottom line

Where are you today, and where do you want to go? If you'd like a scorecard to help you see how you and/or your agency are doing, I'll be happy to send one along. Send an e-mail to with "Play Like a Pro" in the subject box and we'll send one to you.

As always, it's your choice.


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