I had the great opportunity to attend, and speak at, the recent Employee Benefit Adviser Summit in Phoenix. For those of you who may not be familiar with this event, you really are missing out on a great opportunity. Not only do they bring together the agency/brokerage/consulting side of the industry, there is also a conference track for HR professionals.
Many of the benefits of attending these types of conferences are obvious: education, networking with your peers, realizing you're not alone in your challenges, personal/professional growth, gaining new perspectives, and bringing home actionable ideas. However, many of the most compelling reasons for attending may not be immediately obvious. They actually have very little to do with session topics but very much have to do with the opportunity to make new personal connections, learning from the perspective of others, and building relationships which last long after the conference is over.
Here are a few of the reasons I will continue to participate in these types of conferences and the EBA Summit in particular.
The Summit is put on by Employee Benefit Adviser magazine. For those of you who read the magazine on a regular basis, you will recognize the names Elizabeth Galentine (Editor-in-Chief), Brian Kalish (Managing Editor), and Marli Riggs (Associate Editor). As you might expect, these three dynamic professionals are very engaged in the conference. Connecting with "voices of the industry" is an opportunity not to be overlooked.
As a result of meeting Marli, Brian, and Elizabeth at last year's event, we have had the opportunity to contribute to both their print magazine as well as to their website content over this past year. That exposure has definitely helped us increase our brand recognition within the industry and helped introduce us to many people/organizations we likely would not have met otherwise. It is always flattering when one of the three is working on an article and contacts us for our opinion on the subject. Of course, the press that comes along with that is a nice additional benefit.
Our relationship with EBA continued to build at this year's conference, and we have some great opportunities for Benefits Growth Network, as well as for some of our friends, as a result.
Marli attended my session "Leading Your Clients and Your Agency to Exceptional Performance". Within a couple days of the conference she wrote a great article about my session and the ideas we are promoting.
Brian stopped me in the exhibit hall to discuss a feature they are working on which will focus on powerful "up and comers" (rising all-stars under the age of 40). Not only was I able to give him the names of a couple of worthy candidates, one was right there in the exhibit hall, and I was able to make an immediate introduction.
On the last day of the conference, Brian stopped me again along with one of our network members, Tanya Boyd of Tanya Boyd and Associates. This time he was working on a video project and was wanting to interview Tanya and myself on camera to get our perspectives on what industry challenges agencies will be facing over the next 12 months. While it wasn't something either of us had a chance to prepare for, Tanya immediately saw it for the opportunity it was and eagerly agreed to participate.
I promise you that Tanya's prospects/clients will find further confidence in her and her ability to help them as a result of this opportunity. Seeing her as a thought leader within the industry is what will fuel that confidence. To state the obvious, she wouldn't have had that opportunity if she didn't attend the conference or hadn't been willing to go "all in" when approached by Brian. By the way, watch for that video to be posted on the EBA website in the next couple of months.
The conference also offered me the opportunity to attend sessions led by some of the industry's thought leaders you see contributing to the magazine on a regular basis. People like Nelson Griswold, Jack Kwicien, Sam Fleet, and Robert Lieblein to name a few. Not only did I walk away with some new perspectives, it was a great opportunity to network with these session leaders.
It's amazing how opportunities seized tend to create more opportunities. Not only was I able to make introductions that created opportunities for others, I benefitted from the same.
And of course, there are the business growth opportunities that come from attending and participating in these conferences. After I spoke at last year's conference, I was tracked down in the hall by one of the young women, Jennifer Lencicum of Fickewirth and Associates, who sat in on my session. She loved our message, wanted to learn more about BGN, and, as a result, she and her firm are now members of BGN.
In Jennifer, we have had the pleasure of watching her, and her agency, achieve amazing results over the past year. She was back at this year's conference and this time she was joined by her agency's President as well as four other team members. By the way, Jennifer is the same young lady I mentioned above who I recommended as a "rising all star". Again, you think that will earn her credibility and confidence in the eyes of her prospects and clients? I guarantee it will!
Sure it takes an investment of time and money, but it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to grow, to grow your business and to grow as a professional. Don't base a decision to attend such an event based on what you think it will deliver to you. Instead base your decision on the opportunities you will be able to create for yourself through the connections, perspectives, and relationships to be built with other attendees. If you are willing to go "all in" like Tanya did, the return on your time and money invested will be huge!
I don't yet know the dates for next year's EBA Summit, but I was told it will be held in New Orleans. You can bet I will "save the date" as soon as I hear. I hope you will do the same. See you in 'Nawlins!
Why should we take inventory? Shouldn’t relationships just be altruistic and taking inventory would just ruin the intent?
Well, we’ve only got so many hours in a day and in our lives, and we’ve only got so much space for thinking about things. When we just add to our lives and try to do everything, or be everything to everyone, we eventually reach the point where we’re spread so thin that we’re not seeing quality results from any of it.
So, yes, I think you should take inventory – to be at your best for yourself, your loved ones, and your business.
See, relationships are funny things. Some have hugely positive influences on our lives, some negative, and some just come in fairly neutral.
While we can’t control all the relationships we have in our lives, we do have some control over the time spent together and the influence we allow those relationships to have on our lives. It is the level of control we do have (however great or small) that we want to focus on here.
There are many nuanced details we could evaluate about each relationship, but I prefer a very simple method. Ask yourself one critical question to get at the heart of the relationship, and from there you can decide if you should devote more time or less time to each one.
You can look at this from a personal perspective or a business perspective – this evaluation works for both, and both are really necessary for being at our best and building our best businesses.
“Does my relationship with this person make me want to be and/or help me become a better person?”
Or from the business perspective:
“Does our relationship with this partner/supplier/vendor enable and/or challenge us to become a better company for our clients to do business with?”
I believe that all relationships you choose to have in your personal or business life should be helping make you a better person or a better business. If that’s not actively happening, I think you should seriously evaluate what benefit that relationship is to either of you.
You’ll probably find that it’s completely justifiable to restructure the way you spend your precious time and resources. And in some cases, it may mean you need to fix things or just cut ties. It’s not always easy to do, but when you spend your time in the way that makes you the best You, everyone around you benefits exponentially.
I speak from both personal and business experience that the time spent thinking about this and taking the difficult action on it really becomes a huge positive for everyone. It can clear your lines of thinking, it can free up time for those things and people most important to you, and it allows you to only add new things to your plate when you know it’s a positive for everyone involved.
Photo by Andrew Fogg.
Before I started Benefits Growth Network, I spent 18 years in the independent agency system, the last 14 at the same agency. Most of my time there was spent helping to develop the benefits practice.
It was a great experience, one that came with significant growth, both personal and departmental, through both successes and mistakes.
Knowing that many of you are in agencies that look a lot like my old agency, I thought I would share some of the highlights of that "road trip." As you look to grow your own benefits department, my hope is that you can get there faster by learning from some of my experiences.
Let me first set the scene for the situation I walked into.
Needless to say, I had a lot to prove. The first thing I had to do was connect with three groups of people: P-C producers, insurance carriers, and our existing clients.
Lesson 1—Whether you have someone new or a long-term practice leader, make sure they regularly communicate to each of these groups: their goals for the department, how they will achieve those goals, and how each group will benefit from the effort.
Sure, my business card identified me as the benefits department manager, but the greatest need of the department was growth. There was no one else to do it; I had to get out there and generate revenue. Proving that I would and could do the hard work of prospecting and selling was a major step in building credibility and momentum.
Lesson 2—As you build a benefits practice, you have to put someone in place who can sell. Just putting in a support person and assuming the other producers will do the selling won't work.
It would have been tempting to just demand that the P-C producers cross-sell every account, but it would have never worked long term. I had to help every P-C producer see me and my department as a valuable resource that not only wouldn't put their client relationships at risk but would actually enhance those relationships.
Lesson 3—Treat the other departments as your "internal clients." Spend time with the P-C producers one on one; educate them on the benefits and HR issues facing their clients; and explain how you can help uncover, and then address, those issues.
Revenue report: About three years in, our revenues were up 250%, our revenue per employee had also more than doubled, and we had gone from losing money to making a 16.7% operating profit.
By this point, we had assembled some great tools and resources to offer our clients. We had online resources, actuarial services, and seminars, to name a few. However, we also had to realize that many of our competitors had similar resources.
Lesson 4—If you are going to succeed in the benefits business, you have to make an investment in the resources your clients and prospects expect and need. To achieve an acceptable return on the investment, you have to take the time to determine how you can add value to the process by customizing the solution to meet the unique needs of each client.
Revenue report: Four years since the last revenue report, we had grown by an additional 43%, but our revenue per employee had dropped (there were two additions to the department), we actually had red ink, and our revenue per client was only $7,133. Remember, I told you I made mistakes along the way.
I finally realized that this was an endurance race. In an endurance race, not only do you need the best pit crew, you also need more than one driver.
Looking at the numbers, I had to admit that it wasn't all about me and my ability to sell. It had become obvious that to continue growing profitably, a strong, viable benefits department had to be a destination of its own. Up to this point, we had mainly been there to support growth on the P-C side and help protect its interests.
Lesson 5—Build your benefits department as if it were a business of its own. Make the necessary investments, staff it with the best talent available, run it profitably, and plan strategically for its growth.
For us, we knew we needed a consistent approach that could easily be replicated:
Lesson 6—Run the benefits practice with discipline and as a department rather than a group of producers. Put a leader in place who can create the departmental vision, plan for the successful execution of the vision, use the talents of each team member, and establish successful processes that can be repeated consistently.
If you want to attract the "A" talent in your market, you have to be seen as an "A" agency/department. Investing time in building resources and creating the structure was worth it. Hiring great talent, both producers and support staff, is expensive, but they also deliver an unbelievable ROI.
Lesson 7—This one is pretty straightforward. If you want the best results, you have to be willing to spend for the best talent. Of course, you first have to create an environment that is attractive to the best talent, or they won't even listen to your offer.
Growing the top line isn't enough. It's the bottom line that matters most. Benefits departments in predominantly P-C agencies will inevitably end up with a lot of small accounts that are likely to be "loss leaders." For us, the answer was to outsource the smallest accounts to a service center and focus our attention on those accounts we knew could be profitable. You can offer and support only what you can deliver profitably.
Lesson 8—Profitable ______ should never have to subsidize unprofitable ______. You can fill in the blanks with "departments," "producers," or "clients." I suggest you use all three.
Having the right tools in the hands of the right producers isn't enough; what matters is how those tools are used and to whom they are offered. We aligned ourselves with other organizations that helped introduce us to the right prospects. We also aligned ourselves with other like-minded agencies around the country that were willing to share their best ideas. I referred to this as my "R and D Department" (Rob and Duplicate).
Lesson 9—There are too many great ideas and relationships out there to not expose yourself to them on a regular basis.
Have you ever noticed that as you got older, your parents got wiser? The same is true for those of us who lead departments or agencies: there is more knowledge out there than you could ever acquire on your own. We aligned ourselves with a consulting practice that enabled us to go further than we would have ever been able to do on our own.
Lesson 10—The best performers in every field have coaches and advisors who help make them better. Find that trusted advisor who is able to make you better at what you do by introducing new ideas, challenging your way of thinking and operating, and holding you accountable for doing whatever is necessary for your success.
Revenue report: It's been another four years since our last report and 10 years since the road trip began. Revenue has doubled over the past four years and is 670% higher than when we started. Revenue per employee is now at $417,835. Revenue per client relationship (not including service center clients) is $39,285, and operating profit is just over 20%.
It doesn't matter; you have to do it again (and again and again). You have to constantly reinvent yourself. Change is the one constant, and either you will lead it or your competitors will.
Lesson 11—The road trip never ends; there is always another turn in the road. Remember, what was exceptional yesterday is acceptable today but will be inadequate tomorrow.
While it is critical to have a vision of what you will become, it is impossible to know exactly where it will take you. However, I'm certain it will be somewhere that you haven't been before.
Lesson 12—Someone will be the disruptor in your market. Make sure it's you.
For me, my role in the agency did eventually take me beyond the benefits department and into overall agency leadership. And now, my personal road trip has taken me out of the agency entirely and on a new road trip that has me helping other departments and agencies navigate their own road trips.
I hope you enjoy your journey as much as I'm enjoying mine.
Photo by Victoria Reay.
You know how you’ve got people in your life that make such an impact – either in a brief moment or over an extended period of time? Think about some of those people – are they teachers? Coaches? Bosses? Co-workers? Friends? Grandma or Grandpa? Crazy Uncle Bill?
Take a minute to think about how they impacted you at the time or in the moment, then move those thoughts ahead to what you’re doing today. Did their influence stick? Did you change the way you think or behave as a result of the time spent with those folks?
My parents have some friends they’ve known for most of their adult lives, and I’ve had the privilege of spending time with them and learning from them my entire life.
Recently my high school daughter and I met up with these friends, Denny & Linda. As my daughter shook hands with Denny, he complimented her firm handshake. I laughed because he was the one who taught me how to shake hands when I was about 9. That one small, two-minute lesson he took the time to give me on presenting myself with confidence made a profound impact on the way I’ve conducted myself ever since then. And I’ve passed that lesson on to anyone and everyone willing (or maybe not-so-willing) to listen.
Linda is a really big thinker and always has great aspirations for everything she touches. And she has not-so-subtle ways of letting you know you’re reaching too low and need to set your sights higher.
In middle school we had a Career Day assignment to interview three people and learn more about their careers. I chose an elementary school teacher because that’s what I knew I wanted to do.
Linda, an educator herself, made arrangements for me to interview a couple of accomplished career women in very public positions. She then also connected me with our local congresswoman to be a page at the state capitol.
She always pushed me to think bigger and try new things. She wanted me to know the world was much larger and offered many more opportunities than how I saw it at 13.
When in college, I had the opportunity to work with Denny on a project for his start-up business, and it was a life-changer for me. I suddenly saw a world of opportunities opened before my eyes, and I realized I could do anything with it that I wanted!
The business, unfortunately, met some factors outside of their control and they had to close, but they were still left with the “investment” to pay off as debt. In consistent form, they pushed ahead with their always-interesting and ambitious goals, not letting this slow them down. I learned so many things in watching them through this:
Following this small business experience by working for a Corporation made me realize with full gale force that I needed freedom of thought and action in order to be really effective for those around me. Working within the strict confines of a pre-defined job does not bring out the best in me.
I also began to see that taking a risk was going to be a consistent part of my future. Even when I’ve worked for other companies, I’ve put myself on the line to stand up for my dissenting ideas.
When I look back at my younger self and read through early teacher comments on my report cards, I wonder…
Would I have been this person I am today had it not been for the relationship with Denny & Linda?
I’m quite confident that I would be a little less – less confident, less assertive, less willing to believe in myself, less willing to take a stand and take a risk.
Some of this has been obvious, direct influence, and some of it has been passing conversations, or just observations along the way. But every bit of it has been influential. And that’s the point.
Every time you take the time to talk with someone (kid, family, co-worker, client…anyone!) and really listen to them, you have an opportunity to make an impact on their lives. You’ll influence lives in ways you’ll know and in ways you’ll never know. Sometimes it’s small; sometimes it’s significant.
Who’s influenced your life that deserves a big “Thank you”?
Customers don’t make major buying decisions in one meeting.
Sure, it can happen. Sometimes the value is so obvious or the need is so great that a client says “Will you be my agent?” at the first meeting. But that’s not the normal case. And nor should it be in most situations.
As an insurance agency whose goal is to be an advisor for your clients and bring improved business solutions, it’s in your best interest to take the systematic approach to developing that relationship.
If you want your clients to call you while they are contemplating a decision rather than after they’ve already made a decision, then you need to establish yourself as an advisor. This means someone who listens, understands the client’s value proposition and organizational operations, and can think logically through a variety of options and offer an opinion, or advice as the name advisor implies.
If you try to push this relationship to a quick answer, you don’t have the time to clearly demonstrate the value of doing business with you and establishing a base level of trust. Without this, the client is forced to make a buying decision on things that do not lend themselves to a long, quality relationship.
Perhaps that fast, pushed decision gets made on price or a quick connection between the rep and the buyer. These reasons make for a weak bond between the new client company and the agency.
However, slowing down and taking the time to develop your relationship and clearly showing the client the value they will get when working with you, will yield very different results. Take the prospect through your systematic process of assessing their needs (which means a lot of listening) and making recommendations on how they can improve their current situation. Then the listening, advice, and results they receive from following that advice will be what they use as an evaluation against any competitors who come knocking.
Keep in mind that the only way you can develop these kinds of prospect-turned-client relationships is if you have the time and motivation to make it happen. By this, I mean you need to have a full pipeline of quality prospects you are taking through the same process.
It’s only with a full pipeline that you can have the confidence that the best method is allowing the relationship to develop.
When your pipeline is empty, there’s a desperation that sets in to write any business that comes along. This is when you feel the need to push the client to get the business as quickly as possible before the opportunity slips away.
Slowing down the process and demonstrating your value will take longer to write the business initially, but the relationship will be much stronger as a result. And retaining the business will take on a whole new look and feel – it’s a significant decision to fire a business partner. It’s an easy decision to replace a vendor.
Photo by Jeff Attaway.
Wendy’s previous post about employer entitlement got me thinking about a related issue, employer responsibility.
The behavior and reaction described in her post is all too common and, as bad as it is, the related issue is just as unacceptable (maybe even more so). What I’m talking about is allowing employees who are allowed to hang around too long when they are clearly no longer fit to work at the company.
I have spent my career in the independent agency industry so perhaps we aren’t as unique as I think. However, based on my experience, agencies are absolutely horrible at making the tough employment decisions. We just hold on way too long.
I think it’s largely because, as a small business, we are so personally connected to our employees. We tolerate poor performance out of a sense of obligation to the employee. While that is admirable to a point, all too often it is carried to an extreme.
The first obligation (responsibility) has to be to keeping the organization healthy, and healthy requires that everyone on the team contribute at a high level. If, as an employer, you aren’t taking care of the organization, it is only a matter of time before you won’t be able to take care of the individuals.
Don’t get me wrong, you also have a responsibility to every individual on the team, a responsibility that aligns with keeping the organization healthy.
It should always be difficult to fire someone. If it isn’t, you waited too long.
The other employees should always be a little surprised when someone is let go. If they aren’t, you waited too long.
You should never be in position to badmouth an employee who quit as Wendy described in her post. If you are, you waited too long.
When you wait too long, not only do you allow poor performance to slow you down, you damage your own credibility with those whom you are charged to lead. I promise you, they’re watching and waiting for you to perform your job the way it’s supposed to be performed.
Photo by hobvias sudoneighm.
All businesses experience turnover. How you deal with that turnover says a lot about your attitude, your values, your willingness to learn. And it says a lot about your future potential for attracting new employees.
I see employers who clearly have morale issues and do little to nothing to uncover the source of the problem. Or if they do find the source, they choose to do nothing about it. Then, when employees leave, these employers are shocked.
And then they get mad. They get mad at the employee for “deserting them”, or being “disloyal”, or “using them” and then moving on to a better job (which gives the employer the “right” to feel betrayed).
The final step in this dysfunctional cycle is that they vilify the former employee to anyone who will listen. “He wasn’t very good. Poor performer. Bad for the team. Don’t know why I hired him in the first place.”
Former employers bad-mouthing former employees seems to be pretty common. I personally know a number of such situations myself, and I also have enough information from both sides to know that the problems weren’t just a poor performing employees.
For example, I know a CEO who was a bit of a tyrant. When the CFO left the company (to get away from this new CEO), the CEO, in what I can only imagine was an effort to save face, told the staff that it was good riddance, and it was their opportunity to “upgrade.” Really?? What do you think that did to morale? I can tell you it was already on a downhill slide and simply continued from there.
I think that sometimes employers find a comfort in believing that the employees need them and can, therefore, treat their employees any way they want, regardless of care, fairness, or compassion.
What they don’t realize is that they carry out this boorish behavior at the peril of their future success.
Who wants to recruit a friend or recommend a peer to work at a company where she’ll be bad-mouthed and considered incompetent when she chooses to leave? And if the employer is saying those things about former employees, what are they saying about the current employees? Word gets around; reputations are built and talented people know they don't need to work for companies like these.
Employers are not entitled to employees. Any of them. And employees do not “owe” their employers anything beyond exchanging their services for a paycheck.
If an employer really wants to keep their employees on staff, have employees who are genuinely interested in helping the company grow more successful, and become a magnet for talented people, they need to start by realizing they’re not entitled to any of those things. They have to work diligently to create the culture where people are welcomed, appreciated, and respected for their contributions, asked for their opinions and participation in building the business, and acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts.
If you see the negative, bad-mouthing type of behavior at your company or at your client companies, where the employer is always right and all former employees are wrong, I suggest you help dig into the root of the problem. If left unchecked, this will erode any good will currently in place, and it’s really, really hard to build back lost trust and forward momentum.
Photo by Pixel Theif.
“One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean &*$#.” That is the secret of life according to Curly in City Slickers.
Now, I don’t know if that is truly the secret of life, but I do think it is a great start to finding the secret to your success. Okay, maybe there isn’t just one, one thing. Maybe your sales success is a series of “one things.”
In my article Willpower vs. Self-Discipline I discussed the difference between willpower and self-discipline. The main difference between the two being that willpower mostly focuses on a single act while self-discipline delivers repeated actions. Getting to that consistent, structured self-discipline takes a lot of work, and sometimes the hardest part of that is just getting started. So, I’ve got some suggestions to get you off the fence and start down your path toward self-discipline – one step at a time.
After all, you can do anything once, right? So, let’s talk about the things that if done “once” will deliver you selling success.
Daily ONE Things
Read ONE article/blog from a source that understands your industry. You will be shocked at the opportunities you find to share what you learned.
Personal brand management
Share ONE idea/link/retweet via social media to enhance your personal brand. Give your prospects something powerful to find when they search you online, because they will.
Weekly ONE Things
Identify the ONE suspect (someone with whom you want to do business, but whom is not yet aware of that fact) you will contact this week to set up a meeting. Nothing is more important than filling your pipeline.
Identify the ONE prospect (someone who knows you want to do business with you and with whom you are having ongoing sales discussions) in your pipeline who you are going to move to a final decision. A stagnant pipeline is worse than an empty pipeline because it gives a false sense of security.
Client relationship management
Proactively contact ONE client this week for no reason other than sharing an article, an idea, or to just check in. Goes so far in building the personal connection.
Send ONE handwritten thank-you note to someone who is making a difference for you. It may be the only piece of mail they actually read that day.
Take ONE client or center of influence to lunch this week for the purpose of asking for a referral. Of course, be sure you have earned the opportunity to ask for a referral.
Role play ONE part of your sales process, with a partner, each week. Be prepared to execute your process, as well as to answer questions and objections that are sure to come up with prospects and clients.
Plan out your weekly activities. Instead of meeting each day not knowing what it holds, decide ONE time, at the beginning of the week, what things are the most valuable use of your time.
Monthly ONE Things
Team member relationship management
Take ONE team member out to lunch this month to learn how you can help them be more successful at what they do. I promise, the more you help them be successful, they more they will be able/willing to help you be successful.
Get online and do some in-depth research to find a group of potentially viable prospects. Search through your connections, your connections’ connections, your local marketplace, or industry resources to identify suspects and find possible links to get a referral or introduction.
Quarterly ONE Things
What is the ONE business book you will pick up and read this quarter? Never stop learning.
Annual ONE Things
Take time to plan out your upcoming year with goals for prospecting, keeping prospects moving through the sales process, as well as sales goals. Outline how you plan to achieve these goals with your own personal marketing plan.
Book of business management
What is the ONE segment of your book of business you are going to pass on to someone else? I know this one is tough for producers to get their arms around, basically “firing” some of their clients, but it’s typically the right thing to do. When I profile books of business (ranking the accounts from most revenue to least revenue), I will almost always see that the bottom 25 percent of a book usually only generates 1 percent of total book revenue, many times only averaging a few hundred dollars of revenue per year. These accounts slow your growth more than you recognize.
So there you have it. If you need a little help getting started on that path to self-discipline, use the power you already have in willpower to get it going. You don’t even have to do all of the ONE things, just pick a few. But really, I think you have enough willpower to tackle them all. You just have to be honest enough with yourself and ask, “How badly do I really want it?”
Photo by Lululemon Athletica.
The purpose of the military is to be so intimidating that the enemy dare not attack. – Sun Tzu
This is one of my all time favorite quotes. However, it has become obvious to me that not everyone shares in this belief. As I watch and observe agencies and producers, some of the actions and inactions I see, seemingly driven by paranoia, concern me a bit.
It ranges from not wanting to include relevant and important information on websites (e.g. list of employees and backgrounds) to not taking a visible role in social media. Regardless of its various forms, it all originates with one concern - that the information would some how be used to hurt them. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand and agree that there are certain secrets we want to protect, but that is a rather short list most of the time and should mainly be comprised of “how” we do what we do rather than “what” we do.
Besides, in today’s electronic world your ability to completely hide any information is difficult at best. If someone really wants the information, chances are they will find it anyway. Isn’t it better for you to control the flow of the information in the first place?
If you’re guilty of some level of paranoia, I challenge you to write down two things. First, describe the worst thing that could happen if that information is shared. Secondly, write down what’s the best thing that could happen. If after making this comparison and the scales tip in favor of shrouded secrets, then, by all means, lock it away.
Worst that can happen – Your competitors will try to hire them away. Guess what? If they are worth stealing, your competitors already know who they are and will contact them anyway. Just make sure you are taking good care of them and this shouldn’t even be a concern.
Best that can happen – Your prospects get a much better picture of the depth of expertise and talent you have and feel more secure in moving their business to you.
Worst that can happen – The competition will try to copy it. In that case, just make sure that what you do is not easily replicated. Think about it - any time you introduce your model to a prospect who doesn’t become a client, you have to know that the information is likely going to be shared with your competition anyway.
Best that can happen – If you make it very clear how effective you are at what you do, the competition will realize that they can’t compete with you and will take their prospecting elsewhere. Additionally, prospects that are looking for what you offer, now understand they should be working with you.
Worst that can happen – I’m not really sure what bad could happen as long as you are careful what you write. (Some are paranoid about connecting with clients on LinkedIn for fear that those clients would become easily identified and targeted by your competition. If that’s you, don’t connect with your competition and use the setting that only allows your connections to see your other connections. )
Best that can happen – Your prospects and clients are able to learn what it is that you have to offer. By using social media to enhance and communicate your personal brand, you will give yourself a running head start against your paranoid competitors.
Like Sun Tzu said, if you are the biggest, scariest competitor out there, the bullies will pick fights elsewhere. Similarly, for those future clients who need the protection that you have to offer, be sure they know where to seek shelter.
Photo by HikingArtist.com
Having spent my entire career in the insurance industry, I’m not sure how much of an understanding I can claim for other industries. However, it’s hard for me to imagine an industry where the purchasing decision has historically been tied to the “relationship” as much as it is in ours.
As much as I want to believe that businesses have gotten beyond a decision making process more appropriate for choosing friends in middle school, I’m not sure that’s always the case. I mean, really, with the economic challenges we have faced over the last few years, wouldn’t you think that business owners would recognize the need to make the best business decision, every single time? Even if that means breaking a relationship with someone you could count on for a free lunch and an occasional round of golf?
But, the more I think about it, maybe the relationship isn’t mutually exclusive of good business decisions. Maybe the timing is just out of order. Think about your personal relationships. Who are you most committed to in your personal life? It likely isn’t the friend of convenience who comes around once in a while to take you out to lunch. You know, the one who you can’t really enjoy the lunch with because you know they wouldn’t have asked if there wasn’t something in it for them?
No, your best relationships are with those friends and family members who you know always have your best interest in mind. It’s the people who will drop what they are doing to help you with a moments notice. It’s the people who tell you the brutal truth because you need to hear it. It’s the people who help you see what is special about you and help you take advantage of those traits. It’s the people who make you a better person because you spend time with them. It’s the people who you naturally seek out in times of both need and victory.
Relationships in business aren’t a thing of the past, but I do think there has been a paradigm shift. Relationships can no longer just happen up front. They can’t be built by a little glad-handing, big personalities, or a self-serving lunch. No, relationships have to be earned in the same way you earn trust and true love.
- Take a genuine interest in your client.
- Be brutally honest when necessary.
- Give the best advice (even when it has nothing to do with you).
- Make them stronger as a business.
- Focus on their needs over yours.
- Help them take advantage of their strengths.
Do so without expectations and you will likely see that the end result is a relationship that will be almost impossible to break.
Who knows, they may even be the one who picks up the tab the next time you go out to lunch.
Photo by Erich Ferdinand.