Be your own biggest fan And biggest critic. We’re all selling ourselves. More specifically, we’re selling our ability to make an impact on the business of our clients. If you don’t believe passionately in your ability to do that, and speak about it with energy, you’ll never allow anyone else to see that potential either. This is about justified confidence in the result you deliver, not artificial arrogance. Live by the idea that what was exceptional yesterday is adequate today, and will be unacceptable tomorrow.
Blind faith is a requirement. We all want immediate results. All too often, that’s not the case and we give up on a good idea prematurely. Engaging in social media is a perfect example. I’ve been active in social media and writing/publishing since I started BGN almost four years ago. However, it’s only been in the past year that I have seen tangible results. The lesson is that if you still believe an idea is a good one, stick with it. Stick with it because it is at this point where most of your competition will give up.
Study, discuss and debate. Increased knowledge equals increased success. Study and read as much as you can. Become a student of business, of human behavior, of emerging trends. While reading is a great start, finding someone with whom you can share your new ideas and have lively discussions and debates is what will open whole new worlds of how you can put your knowledge to work.
Jump in the deep end. When something is missing or needs to change in your business, find a way to get it in place. Rather than tiptoeing into the water and trying to get there incrementally, just jump right in. I’m not suggesting commitments to unrealistic ideas. They can be big ideas and big goals, but you have to have a plan and accountability to make them happen. Let everyone know your plans; committing to others that you will create/implement/deliver something is the most powerful catalyst you can find.
Love what you do. There has to be at least one significant aspect of your career/business for which you are wildly passionate. Building a successful business is hard to do under ideal circumstances. To try and do so without passion makes it is almost impossible. And, when you really believe in something, be selective about those to whom you allow access. After all, life is way too short to accept clients you don’t enjoy. However, when you find your professional passion and only allow yourself to work with people you like, it will never feel like work.
This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine.
Photo by mRio.
While there can be a lot of repetition, I do enjoy the myriad articles that come out each year offering advice on what you should do to make it a successful year. I also think that information becomes far more effective when you use it as inspiration to create your own.
Instead of just reading what other people are going to do and possibly bashing the future failure of those ideas and resolutions, set yourself and your agency up for success. I don't actually like resolutions myself, but I do like themes. I think themes can become extremely effective for developing long-lasting changes in behaviors.
Use these first two weeks of the new year as the opportunity to get your team together and go through this exercise. While individual goals and themes are great and necessary, having the whole team thinking about and acting on a universal idea will garner significant results.
And remember, ownership of an idea and a process is about 90% of making it successful. Gather your team together for a fun session of ideastorming, conversations of possibilities, and "what ifs". Make this fun, keep it moving, and you'll get great participation and an excellent end result.
1. Post the Big Goal you're trying to achieve as an agency. Maybe it's a revenue or retention number, maybe it's a goal to adopt a new selling system, or maybe it's a goal to take control of your agency through products and fees.
2. Ask the group: "Visualize us all sitting here this time next year and reviewing the hugely successful year we just finished where we blew the top off our goal. Describe what the year looked like and what we did to make it so spectacular."
3. List all the ideas that people start throwing out. If this isn't a typical activity for your group, you'll probably need to ask some leading questions to get the ball rolling and prod people to think deeper. Be sure to get ideas on each of the following:
4. Group these ideas into logical and natural categories. You'll start to see connections between ideas. Behaviors, actions, and beliefs will start telling you a story and giving advice on what needs to happen. What do these groupings have in common? What do you see as obvious or emerging that you need to do to make the year successful?
5. Select a theme and include examples. When you see the ideas from everyone all in one place, it will hopefully become apparent what you need to do as an agency this year.
As you decide on and document your theme, be sure to include example ideas from the groupings so you remember what motivated this theme in the first place.
6. Write the theme in really big font and give a copy to everyone to hang at his/her desk. When faced with a decision, refer to the theme. Remind one another of the theme in agency meetings, team meetings, one-on-one coaching sessions. Ask yourselves what you've done in support of the theme. Share your stories. You'll be amazed at the type of decisions that get made and actions that take place when you put questions through the theme filter.
Photo by Robbie Biller.
Adding value in everything you do
It is so hard to believe that our fourth BGNLive has come and gone. I made the comment at the end of the conference how it sort of feels like it passes as quickly as a Christmas morning. You spend months shopping, buying gifts, and wrapping the presents and then the packages are torn open in mere moments.
It was much the same for us as we prepared for last week. Literally, months of planning, content creation, the building of supporting documents, and countless hours of practicing our presentations went into the preparation for last week. A week that, for us, seemed to pass in a flash.
However, for all of that preparation to be productive, last week can't be seen as the finish line. Just the opposite; it has to be the beginning for all of those in attendance. If we did our job effectively in preparation, everyone should have left our conference better prepared for their own success. And hopefully, everyone left with a commitment to put lessons learned into practice.
A huge thank you from Wendy and myself for the pleasure of spending the week with some of our best friends. As I said there more than once, it is an honor and pleasure we will never take for granted.
We have already started the planning for BGNLive5. We know, among other things, it will be an exciting reunion with old friends, as well as an introduction to new friends. See you there!
The time when you most feel you don't want to do something is usually the perfect time to get started. Taking a deep breath and making the decision to follow Nike's long-held advice to just do it.
It's not always easy and it's usually not the natural decision to make, but I think when we challenge ourselves at that point of difficulty is exactly the point where we'll see the greatest return.
I've seen several things recently that have inspired me to think about this, so I've taken it as a sign that it's time to write about it and share some of these ideas and thoughts.
Justin Foster (@FosterThinking) tweeted a great and simple point about change that has really stuck with me:
I'm always up for change, but the discipline part is not my favorite and this describes it perfectly. Intentionally uncomfortable – but when you make it through the discomfort of the discipline to the point that you have a routine or you understand/are effective at the new way, then the discomfort drops off and you've got a great new result.
A book we're recently read, Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin discusses at length the idea of employing deliberate practice to achieve higher levels of success than we may or may not have imagined for ourselves. As a summary definition, deliberate practice is difficult, repetitive, and focused preparation of the core skills and knowledge required to perform at the highest level.
Notice that it doesn't say fun, enjoyable, or any other happy adjectives to describe this work, which is necessary for success. Because as Justin pointed out in 108 characters, it's uncomfortable.
But out of that difficulty and discomfort, combined with the commitment to work into the difficulty and challenges rather than working away from them, around them, or avoiding them all together, is where the quality results lie.
I recently spoke with someone who was feeling frustrated with her career and was considering changing industries. But the frustrations she felt were not unique to just her industry. As we talked through it, it became apparent that she hadn't fully engaged in and exhausted the possibilities of her current industry. This takes a huge commitment of researching and educating yourself on all things related to your industry, your company, your position, your clients, your prospects and how all of these things are interrelated and interdependent.
As we talked about the expanded opportunities that become available when you take this approach – for both herself and for her to share with clients and prospects – she started to get excited about the new possibilities available in her career.
My takeaway thoughts from this conversation: Face your frustrations by going deeper rather than walking away from it. Until you understand the whole picture in great detail, you may be taking premature action based on limited information.
And finally, an interesting article came up that kept me thinking about this. It's a post Nilofer Merchant has written on her blog where she describes the avoidance approach she has always taken to writing – reports in college, the first book she published, and now a new book in the works, which inspired this particular article. Her avoidance eventually turns into self-forced work time, and what she ultimately creates from the distraction and then the focus is amazing. She has vast experience and is a very deep and global thinker and challenges me with her thoughts all the time. But to get to the point of moving the ideas from her head to publishing requires a concerted effort to walk right into the voice telling her to go clean the kitchen instead.
Once we recognize and actually accept that those things we desire to achieve will likely require some discomfort and hard work, it's much easier to make the commitment to do the work.
But getting started has to begin by finding the catalyst to face the discomfort of doing what we don't really want to do. Don't give into that nagging voice saying you don't want to do something. Instead, take that as your opportunity to walk right into it. It's at the point of the greatest discomfort that we seem the most capable of producing extraordinary results.
Photo by Vincepal.
We all have things we value and feel are really important in life, but the true test of that belief is reflected in how we spend our time, money, and resources.
I believe we get into habits that carry across all areas of our lives and really develop who we are as people regardless of where we’re doing it. For example, extremely disciplined people tend not to spend a lot of idle time lounging around at home or in the office. People who have a hard time following through and completing anything tend to spend a lot of time maybe thinking about a project at home or at work, but might never get around to actually getting it done.
So what does all this say about us? It’s the choices we make that really make us who we are, not just who we think we are or would like to be.
On the personal side, here a few areas to think about:
On the business side, a few ideas, as well:
Always doing the right thing is hard. We are faced with so many pressures and requests everyday from both well-meaning and self-serving people who want our time, money, and resources.
Allowing others the control through pressuring recommendations, or ignoring things, waiting passively, and not making a choice are all decisions. They’re just usually not the best ones.
As hard as it may be, we each have a responsibility to ourselves and to those around us at home and at work to decide what are the most important things for success, growth, and happiness. And then we need to allow ourselves to make the decisions to use our precious time and resources in the best way possible.
Photo by marya.
This is one of those classic quotes that has as many versions as it does credited authors. But really, could you be given better advice?! And, how amazing would it be if you actually followed this advice?!
As different as each might be, the two things they all have in common is that they require confidence and passion.
I’m not sure about the first three, but I do think that if you work with confidence and passion and like you don’t need the money, you may actually end up in that position of truly not needing the money.
So, how would you work if you truly didn’t need the money?
Like I said already, work this way consistently and long enough, and you may very well find that you truly no longer need the money. At the very least, just start working this way, and you will find yourself in control and no longer having to chase any prospect that can fog a mirror.
What about you? How would you work differently if you didn’t need the money?
Photo by Charlie B. Spaht.
I live in St. Louis and, while I’m not the biggest hockey fan, I do try to keep up with how the Blues are playing. The season did not get off to a great start. In fact, the head coach lost his job and was replaced with Ken Hitchcock.
Since Coach Hitchcock took over, the Blues improved to the point that, as I write this, they have the best record in the NHL. While I could certainly write about how having the right leader in place makes all the difference, I will instead focus on something I heard the coach say on the radio one morning this week. While talking about a recent win, he made the comment, “We’re not the most talented team, but we are a team.”
Of course, he wasn’t talking about being a team in the technical sense, but rather a team in the way they execute. I know that the whole idea of “team” becomes a little tired and cliché, but once you peel back the cliché, there is a lot of substance.
While his statement got my attention, it was a question I received at the end of a webinar this week that really got me thinking. The title of my webinar was, “Redefining the Role of the Broker”. I made the case for what insurance brokers and agencies need to do to both survive and even thrive in face of our current challenges. I was asked, “How can a small agency compete with the big boys in this model?” There are many ways of course, but perhaps none more obvious than what Coach Hitchcock credits their success to: Play as a team.
Right players playing the right position – This means that it is clear and organizationally understood who has what strengths. Who is the best door opener? Who can best articulate the technical aspects? Who is it that can best connect with a new prospect? Who is that loves to organize and create processes? Who can smooth over an unhappy customer? Who can always get the carrier to make an exception?
The team who takes time to recognize individual strengths and use them at every opportunity will find the synergies to be powerful.
Strength in numbers – The glory isn’t in winning alone, the glory is in winning. Producers who are wise enough to take someone else along on a sales call – another producer, an account manager, an agency principal, wellness coordinator…you get the picture – will find their winning percentages climbing, just like the Blues.
I’m not suggesting that extra bodies be taken along just to fill seats, they need to have a purpose. But if you prepare for the game by studying your prospect, you will know what additional knowledge will best compliment your own.
Recognize the value of coach/practicing – Even the best athletes (maybe especially the best athletes) constantly practice their skills and are always anxious to get feedback and direction from their coach. This should be the same for you. Practice presentations, role play how to handle objections, do whatever it takes to improve your sales/service skills. And, go to your manager to get feedback on what you are doing well as well as the areas that are in need of particular help.
It’s not the equipment, its how its used – I don’t know about you, but I could go out and buy the absolute top of the line golf clubs and it wouldn’t change my score a single stroke. Now getting some golf lessons with my current clubs could make a huge difference.
It’s the same with the services you take to our prospects. The fact that you have the services isn’t nearly enough. Your prospect/client is even more interested in hearing about the implementation strategy and potential results for your value added services than they are in the service itself.
Accountability for actions – The best teams have individual players who point the finger at everyone else when they win and point the finger at themselves when they lose or a play goes bad.
So, it may be cliché, but I guess clichés develop for a reason. Modestly talented people playing as a team will beat a group of superiorly talented individuals almost every time.
Photo by ImagineCup.
Networking – different images can come to mind with this loaded word.
On the negative side you might picture a tacky cocktail reception with people milling around looking for the next potential sale, not caring at all about the people or their interests.
It can also be a powerful word and one that conjures up images of getting closer to your own goals as a result of working together with a group of people all focused on similar outcomes.
Networking is a key component to our membership and we design our programs to make it a prominent part of the agenda when we get together face-to-face. At our BGNLive conference last week I was really drawn into recognizing the nuances of networking and the powerful results that can come from it.
The catalyst for change
When you are with a group of people who are all working toward the same goal, networking becomes one of the most critical components to change – it can create that catalyst needed to get started or stay motivated. When you really choose to participate in sharing ideas with one another there are so many things you can gain from it:
This list could go on extensively. The point is that when you choose to share with others and allow them to share with you (ideas, challenges, fears, successes), you’ll gain ten-fold from it.
R&D: Rob & Duplicate
We had a member describe how it’s taken 5 years to develop a system that, from the outside, looks so simple and effortless. It looks so effortless and it’s taken so long because of all the trials along the way of what didn’t work.
When you get the chance to learn from someone else’s trials and mistakes like this and see the elegant end result – take advantage of it! Sure you want to put your own spin on it, but having a solid starting point will get you at least halfway there. The remainder comes from the effort you put into it back at home.
It takes time
Being able to get to the point of this level of comfort and sharing comes with time. It takes a while to develop these kinds of trusting relationships by meeting face-to-face and continuing the connections all year round. I have watched the group, now over three conferences, getting to know one another, greeting and welcoming the new faces, reuniting with favorite friends, and opening up more and more. As everyone becomes more comfortable, the sharing increases, the ideas are exchanged, and you can feel a level of excitement and energy in the room that feels like that tipping point of change – the Ah Ha! moments as people realize they’re not in this alone and they’re probably being a lot more successful than they might have otherwise thought. The power of the group is a strong motivator to get started and keep going.
Effort = Results
All-in networking is a huge boon for your business if done effectively and consistently because it can shorten your learning curve and speed the time to successful implementation of new ideas.
When you have the opportunity to network with a group of similarly focused people who are serious about improving their businesses, I highly recommend taking full advantage of every bit that you can. Networking is as good as the effort you put into it.
If I told you that a 12% increase in your sales effort could result in a 50% increase in your end of the year production, would you be interested?
I’m a runner and, of course, there are days I feel especially strong and others when it’s a real challenge to push myself out the door. Despite the ease or challenge of getting started, I run a pretty consistent pace. However, I have noticed that there are runs when my pace is significantly faster. It’s the days when someone is watching. Or, to be more specific, when I’m running where there are other runners around.
I’m competitive and just the presence of another runner - doesn’t even have to be a race - makes me run faster. This faster pace caught my attention and I decided to compare my paces to see just how much faster I was running because of the “competition.” Turns out that running with other runners around improved my pace by about a minute per mile, around 12% faster.
As producers, we are naturally competitive. Unfortunately, we are more often competing against our own previous performances rather than against the other “runners.” I know that most of you have other producers in your agency, but, if you’re being honest, there are no real competitions going on. You’re all running around a track, but it’s your own private one. That needs to change. I think you should ask another runner to step out on the track with you. I would just about guarantee that it would cause you both to pick up your pace. Imagine what would happen if you improved your “pace” by 12%?
Let’s say that your typical pace is $60,000 per year. Of course, you could look at the final result, increase it by 12% and see that already that would result in a new pace of $72,000. But, I think you can do even better if you start competing at each stage of the race.
Let’s break the race down: Assume that during your last race (last production year), you wrote that $60,000 with 6 new accounts averaging $10,000/account. Let’s also assume you had a close ratio of 20% on the 30 opportunities you worked on during the year. Now let’s look at what would happen if you made each of those stages its own race, one in which you could improve your performance by 12 percent.
It all starts with opportunities. Instead of having 30 opportunities to work on, you now have 34. (I’m taking advantage of the rounding here.)
Your improved close ratio will now move from 20% to 22.4%, which means, with 34 opportunities, you will now write 8 new accounts (again, that rounding thing).
You certainly can’t allow your competition to work on larger opportunities than you are, and you now find that the average revenue per new account you write has also increased by 12%. You have to love $11,200 accounts at least 12% more than $10,000 accounts.
So now, at the end of the race, you have written 8 new accounts averaging $11,200, each for a new pace of $90,000 ($89,600 to be exact, but runners always exaggerate their pace – at least a little bit).
You gotta love the “new math!” A 12% increase, compounded at each stage of the race, results in an overall increase of 50%! And don’t tell me you don’t have another 12% in your tank!
And, you know what? On those days when I am running on the track with someone else, I have a lot more fun, it doesn’t feel like I work nearly as hard, and I definitely step off the track with more energy and a greater sense of pride. Not a bad bonus. As if the 50 percent increase in new revenue wasn’t enough.
Once you run this race, look up ahead; there’s another runner for you to track down. You just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I want to catch them?”
Photo by Bill C.
In fast-changing benefits field, "not losing" won't be good enough
How are you playing the game? Are you playing to win or are you playing to not lose? As hard as it may be to believe at first, a strategy of playing to not lose has produced pretty good results, at least up to this point. However, benefits producers whose continued goal is to avoid losing will find they are facing certain defeat.
Let's start out by discussing what it means to play not to lose, as opposed to playing to win. Don't get me wrong, playing not to lose doesn't mean that the players aren't good. However, it does mean that they play defensively and most likely don't go out with an exceptional performance.
Playing not to lose is actually the result of having successfully played to win at one point. Producers build up a nice book of business, generate a nice income, enjoy a great lifestyle, and achieve an enviable work/life balance. When they realize they have more than they ever really expected to have, a switch is flipped and a level of complacency sets in. Instead of continuing to do the hard things that resulted in all of their wins, they start focusing on protecting what they have. And, up to a certain point, that actually works pretty well.
Instead of continuing to be aggressive, they become defensive. Instead of looking to give reasons for new clients to say "yes" to them, they become much more concerned about not giving their current clients a reason to say "no" with the hopes that no one else comes along and gives that same client a reason to say "yes" to them.
The primary reasons that the same strategy has worked reasonably well for so long is two-fold.
First, at the risk of offending a few, I believe that the financial reward for mediocrity in this industry has been ridiculously high and has perpetuated a game that has too many players playing to not lose. Why play harder than you have to when a fairly simple game has generated such unbelievable financial rewards?
Second, the rules of the game have remained fairly static. Yes, the game has been threatened at times. Hillary brought the threat of nationalized health care, Spitzer threatened their contingency income, the Internet and direct writers even threatened to take them out of the game. However, those threats largely passed with glancing blows and no real damage.
So, there producers sat, going into the sales equivalent of the "prevent defense." They wrapped their arms around what they had accumulated and even fooled themselves into thinking they were playing to win as their revenue and income continued to grow, but only because premiums on what they already had continued to rise. Well, the circumstances that have allowed that to be a successful strategy have changed. The old saying, "What got you here will keep you here," is a saying whose time has come and gone. What got you here in the world of benefits will now take you back to where you once were. For many, a place they haven't visited in a long time.
Before it's too late, benefits producers would be wise to take a lesson from our friends on the P-C side of the fence. They have been in a soft market for years. If they successfully retain every account they have but don't go out and generate new business, they are slipping backwards 15%-20% every year. While the words "soft market" don't even exist in the benefits dictionary, the changes to compensation coming from health care reform are starting to drive the same results. It is for that reason that playing to not lose on the benefits side of the field is a game plan that assures the players' defeat.
So, let's look at some critical areas and the difference between playing to win and playing to not lose.
For quite some time, competing for benefits business has largely been focused on a list of value-added services that benefits brokers' attempts to use in order to differentiate themselves. The reality is that the services brokers have acquired in an attempt to be seen as innovative have quickly become commodities themselves.
Brokers who are playing to not lose will focus on the needs of the clients that happen to fit the solutions they have available. Those playing to not lose will open conversations that could lead only to solutions they already have.
That may seem pretty reasonable, until you contrast that to a producer who is playing to win. When you play to win, the focus is on filling the most urgent needs of a prospect, even if it's a solution you don't currently possess. Those playing to win are willing to create a solution if that's what it takes to win the game. A perfect example is an agency that went into the game competing for the benefits of a very large company. One of the greatest needs of this particular company was some help with sales training. Determined to win, this agency took its internal sales process, turned it into a solution for the prospect who not only turned into a new benefits client, but who also engaged the agency for help with a sales training program. Not a bad win, huh?
Lesson: Don't manipulate the client's problem to fit your solution; adjust (or create) a solution to fit their need.
It is true that producers playing to not lose understand the need to learn from their failure. When they lose out on an opportunity, they debrief with their team and review the "game film" to learn what went wrong. Sometimes, they even get brave enough to go and ask the former prospect why they didn't win.
Producers playing to win go one step further. They aren't just satisfied with learning why they lost or even satisfied with getting a win. No, the exceptional producers want to learn why they won. They will go through the same team debriefing, the same reviewing of game film and will always ask their new client why it was that they were chosen.
Lesson: Having complete clarity about what led to a win is the only way that you can ensure a repeat performance.
In case you haven't noticed, we work in a fairly conservative industry. We don't necessarily embrace change easily. Not many accuse our industry of being on the cutting edge. However, that doesn't mean that your clients aren't on the cutting edge and have similar expectations of those with whom they work, or at least favor those they happen to find who are on the cutting edge. Social media is a glaring example of what I mean.
We all know the need to make a strong first impression. Those who are determined to not lose will do their research, put on their best suit, look the prospect in the eyes, give a firm handshake and be confident that they haven't done anything to hurt themselves as they make this critical first impression.
Now, contrast that to the producers who are determined to win. These producers have created an online presence through their blog, LinkedIn, their Twitter content, and Google ranking. They have used that presence to communicate their expertise. Knowing that their new prospects will be doing their own research on them as well as their competition, they have used that presence to create an advantage and ensure their victory.
Lesson: The first impression is no longer made face to face. It is now made by what the prospect learns, or doesn't learn, about you online.
Those producers who are determined to not lose make sure they are able to make a strong presentation. They make sure they tell their prospect and client absolutely everything about themselves. They want to ensure that they can never be accused of not having told the prospect absolutely everything about them and their agency.
Now contrast that to the producers determined to win. Sure, they communicate the critical information about themselves, but they spend much more time learning about their prospects. They ask probing questions and then, not yet satisfied, they follow up with more questions. Then when they start to get a sense that their prospect/client may have a need, they drill down into the detail with even more questions.
Lesson: Leaving your prospect/client exhausted from answering your questions about them is a much more aggressive strategy than leaving them bored to tears from listening to stories about you.
This is a time in the evolution of the benefits industry that the professional players will be separated from the weekend warriors. This is no longer a game for the casual player. The spoils of victory are about to become greater than they have ever been before. However, if you don't create an aggressive game plan, sharpen your skills and take the field with a fierce determination to win, you'll be much better off on the sidelines.
The game is about to get bloody.
Originally published in Rough Notes magazine June 2011.
Photo by David Goehring.