President & Coach, Benefits Growth Network
Kevin Trokey is a coach and an implementer of business strategies. He works with agency leadership, department managers, and producers of benefits agencies to craft strategies and lead them to successful transformations by breaking down the complexity into manageable steps.
The compliment came from Reid Rasmussen (www.FreshBenies.com) in response to a recent blog post where we introduced our new name and the reasons why we chose the name we did. Reid wasn't complimenting the blog, but rather the actions it described.
@kevintrokey So you're not just telling brokers how to change business for the future? You're doing it yourself. That's credibility!— Reid Rasmussen (@ReidCRasmussen) March 9, 2013
There is nothing in which we take greater pride than leading by example. Hearing someone recognize and comment on that effort is infinitely rewarding. It makes all of the hard work worthwhile and energizes us to do more. And here's why it's most important of all: we know if we can do it, you can too.
It immediately reminded me of a conversation I had recently with an agency owner. During the conversation she was questioning if I truly believe an agency of her size is capable of surviving the current challenges facing our industry. My strong, definitive answer . . . . "Well, it depends." Okay, not very strong and definitely not definitive, but let me continue.
It depends on what business you decide you are committed to. If you are in the business of selling insurance, then at a certain size, you likely cannot survive (at least with the level of financial reward to which you have become accustomed).
However, if you define your business as one whose Purpose it is to make your clients more successful at what they do; if you see insurance as only one of many solutions to drive that success; if you see your greatest value is in your advice and consultation, then my answer changes dramatically. In that case, I will stand up and shout, "Yes you can survive! Not only can you survive, if you will change your business to one with that Purpose, your most successful days are ahead of you!!"
So, this agency owner, liking what she heard, but still not completely convinced, asked me another question. "Will businesses really take advice from a small "consulting" firm and pay for that advice and guidance?" My response, "We (BGN) have built our entire business on the fact that they will."
So sometimes, like for us, changing your business model is a matter of meeting changing customer demands. At other times, like in the face of major industry changes, it's a matter of survival. We know it can be done. We're doing it ourselves. And, like I said earlier, if we can do it, so can you.
Photo by woodleywonderworks.
We all know the responsibility that comes with leadership. Leaders, through their actions, behaviors, and results, set the tone for everyone else in an organization. What we have to remind ourselves of from time to time is that being a leader isn't about a title.
Maybe it's for lack of the title that most agencies don't always think of their producers as leaders. Or maybe its because, all too often, producers aren't acting like leaders – you know, taking the right action, demonstrating the right behaviors, and driving the right results. Well, just because a producer isn't acting like a leader, or would even prefer to not be a leader, that doesn't excuse him/her from the responsibilities that come with being a leader.
By nature of the fact that they are most responsible for driving the growth of an agency, producers are put in a leadership role. I compare it a little to the role model responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete. They may have not signed up to be a role model, but it comes with the job. Similarly, producers may not sign up to be a leader, but it also comes with their jobs.
This puts the formal leader in a precarious spot. After all, they are the leader of the leaders, right? And the way they deal with the actions/behaviors/results of these producer-leaders determines the level of respect they will earn for their own leadership skills.
I heard one agency owner explain his strategy for dealing with his producer-leaders. In his agency, nobody was held to a higher standard. His strategy speaks for itself.
Most agencies, however, have one way they deal with all of their producers. That strategy also speaks for itself.
I've seen the results that happen from both strategies. I'm sure its no surprise: the rest of the team will rise/fall to meet the performance expectation the organization sets for its leaders.
Photo by Keith Roper.
These beliefs apply to any producer, regardless of the line of business.
If you have read my previous columns, you know I believe that the best opportunities for benefits producers are still in front of us. However, they won't be there for everyone. In fact, some of the opportunities for successful producers will be the result of much of their competition not surviving.
You also may have heard me say: "The financial reward for mediocrity in our industry has been way too high." Well, that is definitely changing. Not only will mediocre performance no longer have the high reward it has in the past, but also mediocre performers will struggle just to survive. The big financial rewards are still out there, but they will go only to those who are willing to work hard and make the necessary changes.
I've thought about both of these ideas a lot recently in light of the Supreme Court decision upholding the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The response of benefits producers to the decision reflects a range of opinions. Some think the game is over, whereas others think it is just beginning. Guess what? They are both right. They are right because their beliefs will largely determine their outcome. Those who believe this is a new beginning will share a set of beliefs that will be the foundation of their success.
Here are nine beliefs that will be shared by tomorrow's successful benefits producers.
1. I have two priorities and schedule time for both. All producers have two primary responsibilities: keeping the business they have, and getting the business they don't have. Look at any producer's weekly schedule and you will see the meeting times blocked out for retaining existing business.
It is the rare producer who blocks out time for getting new business. A lot goes into acquiring new business—far more than just cold-calling or networking. If you look at a producer's weekly calendar and see time blocked out for "Prospecting," "Research," "Skills Practice," and "Personal Development," I guarantee that you are looking at the calendar of a successful producer (or at least one in the making).
2. The clients I have are the ones I choose. Some of your clients don't deserve to work with you. These clients may look at you simply as a vendor. They have little to no allegiance to you, or they don't appreciate the resources and knowledge you have to offer, and a few are just flat out toxic. On top of that, in an average producer's book, the bottom 50% (by case count) generates only 5% to 7% of total revenue. Don't believe me? Analyze your own book; it won't be far off.
Successful producers are highly selective about the clients with whom they work. They work only with clients who truly want to be helped, who want to be challenged to think in new ways, and who are willing to use the resources and knowledge that the broker provides.
What's more, successful producers ensure that every account on which they choose to work will generate a healthy amount of revenue. If not, they won't work on it. A $500-per-hour attorney won't waste her time fixing traffic tickets; in the same way, successful producers believe in their value and don't work with clients who just want the insurance equivalent of a ticket fix.
3. Constant learning is part of my job description. You wouldn't entrust your health to a physician who didn't continually explore the newest forms of treatment. Why should clients entrust the health of their business to a producer who doesn't explore new benefits concepts and risk management strategies and present fresh ideas to improve the client's organizational health? Good clients won't work with producers who lack the discipline to keep learning.
Tomorrow's successful benefits producers already know that constant learning is part of their job—and they realize that learning goes far beyond product knowledge. They are committed to learning what it means to run a business and to understanding the role that effective employee management plays in the success of the business: recruitment and retention, employee wellness, performance management.
4. My time in the business means nothing. Results are all that matter. How many of you start the "About Us" section of your Web site with the number of years you have been in business? How many of you have a "get a free quote" button on your homepage? Guess what? Neither of those brings any value to a prospect, and they do nothing to differentiate you from your competition. Actually, they make you sound just like everyone else. Besides, we're in a brand-new game, and the "experience clock" for benefits producers has been reset (but please don't start counting all over again).
Instead of bragging about being in the business since 19XX, future successful benefits producers will be able to demonstrate the ways in which they are contributing to the organizational health of their clients. They will be able to show the positive results their clients are achieving by offering and effectively communicating a robust benefits program that enhances employee engagement and allows the client company to attract and retain top talent.
And a free quote button on your homepage? Please. Instead of a free quote, the prospect of tomorrow's successful producers will leave their Web site having gained a new insight into a real business issue.
5. Not only do I accept change, I am a catalyst for change. What was exceptional yesterday is acceptable today and will be inadequate tomorrow. Successful producers work relentlessly to help bring about healthy change, whether it's in the way they work personally, the operations of their agency, or the performance of their clients.
Average producers will stay within their comfort zone, doing what they have always done. Successful producers will enthusiastically move into a zone of discomfort because they realize that this is where they will gain new knowledge and find new ways of delivering value. Sure, they will fail once in a while when trying something new, but they will view it as moving them one step closer to improved performance.
6. I am responsible for my own success. Successful producers don't make excuses; they take control of and responsibility for their own success. Do they have the same noise around them as the excuse makers? Of course, but the successful producers choose to focus on the things they control: increasing their knowledge; improving their skills; putting prospects into the pipeline; and closing new deals. It's amazing how much of the noise disappears if you just ignore it.
If the noise in your agency is too loud to ignore, then find a new agency. There are plenty of good ones out there, and every one will welcome a successful, no-excuse producer.
7. Every client knows how much he or she pays me. How many of you have someone who does work for you, yet you don't know exactly how much you pay them? I'm guessing it's a very short list. Why should your clients be any different?
The clients of tomorrow's successful producer know exactly how much they pay their broker and understand the value they get in return. They know because it's a conversation the broker has with them at least annually, and they also know because they write the check for the broker's fee. If you're afraid of your clients knowing how much they pay you, then you're being paid too much.
8. The list of what I can get paid for is way longer than the list of what I can't get paid for. Clients need help with benefits in ways they haven't before. Some they recognize; many they don't. Successful producers of the future will no longer see the placement of insurance as their key role and sole source of revenue. Instead they will focus on the many ways they can earn income by creating value for their clients and helping them improve their organizational health.
Tomorrow's successful benefits producers will see health care reform as impacting only one potential solution and, therefore, one potential revenue stream. They will know that they can earn fees by providing benefits and HR consulting services to their clients, and they will explore countless other ways to develop new revenue streams.
9. I will never lose because my competition was better prepared. You can either skimp on preparation and personal development and make every sales opportunity more difficult than it needs to be, or you can work your tail off improving your business acumen, enhancing your sales skills and studying your prospect's business and make every sales opportunity infinitely easier.
Tomorrow's successful benefits producers will be relentlessly committed to the latter course. They will know that most of their competitors won't do the hard work of thorough preparation. They will use that knowledge to strengthen their own commitment and distinguish themselves even more sharply from the competition. These successful producers will know almost as much about the industry, company, and roles and goals of the prospect's decision makers as the prospect does itself. Armed with this knowledge, the successful producer will be competing in a new arena that the mediocre performers won't even know exists.
As you read through these nine beliefs, I hope something jumps out at you, and that you will understand that your future success isn't just about working harder at what you're already doing. It's about ramping up your game, sharpening your skills, acquiring new knowledge, and offering fresh perspectives and solutions to your prospects and clients. It's going to be hard work, but you'll be rewarded with desirable new clients and income from new revenue streams.
Originally published in Rough Notes, September 2012
Photo by Stefan Andrej Shambora.
One of the greatest challenges I have seen for agencies is the ability to make new producers successful. I have seen them approach the problem from every possible angle: threats, hand holding, training programs, providing leads, changing the compensation model, motivational techniques, investing in new resources, and on and on and on. Eventually (and usually way too late), they get rid of the producer, hire a new one, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
For the most part, it's not a training issue, a compensation issue, a motivational issue, a resource issue, or any of the other issues we create in our minds. Mostly it comes down to one issue that really isn't about the producer; it's about the agency and how you hire. Or to be more specific, the problem is in the type of producers you are hiring.
According to a study cited in "The Challenger Sale", there are five distinct sales profiles. While any of them are capable of being an average performer, if you want high performers, there's really only one way to go.
So, let's review the profiles and see which you have been hiring.
This sales type is looking to make friends during the sales process. They try to keep everyone happy and will do everything they can to take tension out of the discussion.
This is probably the most common sales approach in our industry. After all, this is a "relationship business", right? Well, this is the number one reason we fail at producer hires.
Percentage of high performers who are Relationship Builders – 4%
They make sales by being willing to make more calls and conduct more visits than anyone else. I'm not sure how often you come across this type of person, but it seems like it would be a good hire, right? Not so fast.
Percentage of high performers who are Hard Workers – 10%
The rule breaking cowboys of the sales force. They either do it their way or no way at all. This doesn't usually sit very well in an agency environment, or maybe it does all too often. It's too bad it is so disruptive, because they are actually reasonably effective.
Percentage of high performers who are Lone Wolves – 25%
I would argue this is the second most common sales tactic used in our industry: Find a prospect whose current broker has dropped the ball, fix the problem, and get the business. I guess there's a certain amount of logic, but this personality profile is much more suited to be an Account Executive. Which is usually what they do once they are satisfied with their book of business. After all, they are more interested in fixing problems than selling new business.
Percentage of high performers who are Reactive Problem Solvers – 7%
These individuals are assertive. Their assertiveness comes through a well-earned sense of confidence. They use that assertiveness and confidence to push thinking boundaries, control the conversation, share controversial opinions, and actually thrive when there is a constructive tension in the conversation. They understand that it is only when the prospect starts questioning their own situation and looking at it with new perspectives that they will find their motivation to do something different.
This is what buyers want. This is what buyers reward.
Percentage of high performers who are Challengers – 54%!
So, is there really any confusion as to why we fail with our producers? We're hiring for the wrong traits. Stop looking for Relationship Builders and Reactive Problem Solvers who combine to represent 11% of high performing sales people. Instead, go look for the Challengers. It may take a little more effort to find them, but think of the effort saved once they are on board!
If you'd like to know more about these profiles and how Challengers work with prospects and clients, I recommend reading the book. It will change the way you view selling and hiring in your agency.
Photo by Missy Schmidt.