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Winning Strategies

Isn't it time to grow?

Keys are behaviors, process, and support

By Roger Sitkins

We talk about growth a lot, but there comes a time when you just have to take the plunge! In other words, quit giving it lip service and stop saying "Someday I'll . . ."

I heard a story years ago that recently popped into my head again. It involved a private piano recital, after which a member of the audience approached the star of the show. "I'd give anything in the world to play like you," he told the pianist, who replied, "No, you wouldn't. You wouldn't give it the time."

That's the problem. Whenever we see people who are great at what they do, we tend to assume that it's due to natural talent. Yes, they probably have above-average, God-given skills and abilities (a.k.a. factory-installed equipment). But they still devote an extraordinary amount of time to their pursuit. They have to continue to practice and work at it.

Just think about the NCAA basketball tournament and how hard those players practice in order to reach the Final Four. All season long, they're preparing for the next game. They spend hours every day in training: running their offense and defense, shooting free throws, lifting weights and studying game videos. Just because they're taller than average doesn't mean they don't have to work on their playing skills and teamwork every single day. They understand that's the only way to improve.

A recent column discussed the importance of creating a sales culture. Now I wonder: Are you willing to give it time? I believe there are three areas that demand our attention and require our time if we want to grow as a sales organization: Behaviors, Process and Support.

There are infinite strategies and tools that I could discuss in each area, but unfortunately I don't have infinite space! Therefore, I'll share just a few of the top tools and strategies in each category.

Sales behaviors

Sales Process. I realize we've discussed this a thousand times, but it bears repeating: Do you have a Unique and Differentiating Sales Process? Are you employing behaviors that separate you from the competition? Behaviorally, are you running a set offense? Do you have a unique offense? The ultimate proof: Are you hearing a "Wow!" from your prospects after you've met with them? If not, you're probably not investing enough time in developing your unique sales process.

Pipeline Volume and Movement. Are you devoting sufficient time to your MVP (Monetized Volume in Pipeline)? We often observe that agencies have alternating good and bad 90-day cycles. One quarter their sales are up, the next they're down. After closer analysis, we discovered why. It seems that producers will prospect until their pipelines are full, at which point they stop prospecting and start selling. Therein lies the rub: Because they pay little or no attention to their pipeline when they're selling, guess what happens when they're finished selling? Their pipelines are empty! Obviously, these peaks and valleys in their prospecting activities directly affect their sales activities.

No one wants to force their producers to prospect, but they probably should. That's why we've been urging our members to have a pipeline event. Recently I helped three of our members conduct a Pipeline Blitz Day, in which their producers showed up with a list of prospects to call and spent at least one entire day on the phone setting appointments. In each case, the agency got phenomenal results.

One agency set 68 appointments the first day and another 20 from making follow-up calls over the next few days. That's 88 appointments in just two or three days! The other agencies set 72 and 45 appointments—each in one day, something it would take most average agencies a year to accomplish! Typically, our best members do some sort of prospecting blitz every 90 days. Obviously, they understand how important it is to keep their pipelines full.

Filling your pipelines is one thing. You also have to track your prospects and make sure there's movement in the pipeline.

To gauge whether your pipelines are sufficiently full, take the potential commission from your prospects times the Closing Ratio times the Conversion Ratio (the percentage of first appointments that progress to second appointments). That gives you your MVP, which should be twice the amount of your annual sales goal. Are you giving pipelines enough time?

Relentless Preparation. Every event deserves our very best. Are you truly prepared when you go out to meet with a prospect for the first time? Do you know the first three questions you're going to ask when you walk in the door (based on the research you've done on the company)? Have you practiced your Executive Briefing? Are you conversational and comfortable with what you're going to be sharing with the prospect?

Your Agency's Story. Are you spending enough time telling your agency's story? Are you doing it on a regular basis? You need to spread the word about whatever it is that makes your agency unique. Are you telling your story to prospects? Centers of influence? Are you out there networking? When people ask what you do, do you have a great story to tell? Or are you keeping it a secret?

The best way to find out if your producers are telling your agency's story is simple: Ambush them! At your next sales meeting (you know, the one you hold every week), ask them: "What makes us unique? Why should people do business with us?" Chances are they'll start talking about the agency's great people, the great service they provide and the money they can help you save. That's what everyone says! If that's what you hear, you're average at best.

Super Qualifying. Are you really adhering to the No Practice Quoting and No Unpaid Consulting rules? Are you practicing what you preach—that the best day to lose a sale is the first day? As a producer, time is your only diminishing asset. It's something you can never get back. So if you spend time with the wrong people, you're squandering an irreplaceable asset.

Referrals and Introductions. Are you spending enough time earning and obtaining referrals and introductions? Have you ever wondered why approximately 95% of your clients renew but less than 5% refer? Apparently you're doing a good enough job to keep them, but you haven't wowed them to the point that they're telling their friends and associates how great you are.

• Mentoring and Coaching. How are you welcoming new producers? Are you spending time mentoring and coaching them or are you showing them to their desk, giving them a phone and wishing them luck? I've often kidded producers that they're still in training until they reach $1 million of commission income. So you can imagine my excitement when I recently received an e-mail from one of our long-time producers informing me that after 10 years, he was no longer in training!

Not everyone sets such a high bar. However, growth-oriented agencies cultivate the most talented producers by taking a long-term approach to mentoring and coaching. Are you taking the time to do so? Or have you accepted such a low level of "excellence" that you've stopped training?

Sales process

Is it time to put more effort and energy into your sales process? Do you even have a sales process to explain to your prospects, or are you a "yellow legal pad" salesperson? (You know, the one who shows up with a legal pad, asks questions and takes copious notes before giving a quote.) When asked, most producers cannot define their sales process.

Our sales process starts with an Executive Briefing. That's when the producer is out there, telling his agency's story. If the producer converts the prospect to a second appointment, the prospect is then led through Discover, Design, Implement and Continue (additional steps in the process known only to our members).

No 90-Day Dance. A key to having an effective sales process is to stop doing the 90-Day Dance. It's widely known that most people start reviewing their policies 90 days before renewal. The problem is that if you're working on an account, a lot of other people are probably working on it, too! That's why we believe that your first appointment with a prospect should be six months before the anniversary of their current program.

When a prospect tells you he doesn't address his insurance needs until 90 days before expiration, that's your golden opportunity to inform the prospect that insurance is only one of the solutions you provide—not the only one—and that there's a possibility you may decide not to work on his insurance. Also at that point, you mention that there are other things to consider besides the cost of the insurance premium—namely the total cost of risk.

Accountability. Are you really making sure that your process is being followed? What are you doing to make your producers accountable (a) to the process and (b) for their results? We've discussed this before in talking about our concept of RPM (Reverse Performance Management) and why having producers "report up" is the best way to ensure accountability.

Sales support

How much time are you committing to sales support?

Sales vs. Service. In order to grow, agencies must establish a clear-cut distinction between their sales and service functions. Unfortunately, most don't. To gauge where your agency stands, answer this question: Are your producers available for sales and sales-related activities 80% of the time (i.e., four days out of five)? If not, they're either in the service trap or using service as an excuse for not selling. Either way, you have an internal structure and support problem!

HPT (High Performance Teams). Does your agency have HPTs that are actually high performance? The ultimate indicator: Is your Revenue per Employee more than $200,000? If not, you have a problem!

Promise-Keeping Accountability. If you're a producer, you'll hear prospects say that their agency always promises to do things that it never seems to deliver. Are you putting time into making sure your producers do what they tell their prospects and clients they're going to do? While making promises is important, keeping them is even more important. Have you designated a member of your HPT who will make sure that either the producer or the agency keeps the promises that have been made?

The bottom line

I realize that this is all pretty basic stuff, but if it were that easy to implement, everyone would be doing it! It all comes down to investing the resources needed to grow your agency: Time and Money. Are you willing to devote the time and money it takes to grow?

As always, it's your choice!

The author

Roger Sitkins is founder and chairman of Sitkins International, a private client group and membership program for some of the top independent agencies and brokerages in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Members participate in training, advising and networking opportunities.

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