When I ask you to quickly describe the stereotypical insurance agent, what comes to mind?
As a whole, the industry is pretty conservative, buttoned up, slow to change, and, dare I say it, boring. I know there are exceptions out there, but this is basically what a prospect who is meeting you for the first time is expecting, whether they are meeting you in person, via social media, or on your website.
And, I have been in this industry long enough to know that as accurate as the first stereotypes I mentioned might be, most in this industry are not boring, at least not when they are letting their personality come through. And the power of letting that personality come through cannot be overstated during the sales process.
I was reminded of this recently when I spoke at a conference of independent insurance agents. However, the reminder didn't come from the agents themselves, but rather from the hotel at which the conference was held.
The hotel was the Hotel Palomar in Chicago. While it is a part of the Kimpton network of hotels, it very much has an independent, boutique feel. The décor is just enough on the trendy side to feel sophisticated. The hotel staff are all ready to serve and very professional in their demeanor. The meeting facilities are clearly meant to help those using them be productive. I immediately liked the hotel, but it wasn't until I had a chance to experience its "personality" that it really kind of stood out for me. And that personality came through in a slightly unexpected place.
As I was trying to connect to their Wi-Fi, I saw they offered two options. The first was to pay for the service, and the second was to enroll in their loyalty program and get the Wi-Fi for free. I opted for the latter.
As I signed up for program it was clear they wanted to collect information about my preferences to make future stays as pleasant as possible. They wanted to know what newspaper I like to have delivered, what type of pillow I prefer, my ideal room location, etc. Not unexpected, except this is where their playful personality came through.
The options they offer for a pillow:
For room preference they ask, "How you would answer? I prefer a room that is . . ."
Yes, it was a little thing, but I appreciated the humor and the personality they put into their questionnaire! For me, it was a great example that professional and fun don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Insurance agents don't have to be boring. Don't be afraid to let a little personality come through. Sure, you need to be professional, but have a little fun on your website, when your participate in social media, and even when you're meeting face-to-face. I think being able to do so actually shows a level of confidence, makes you more real, and will put your prospect/client more at ease. And when they are at ease, that's when they will open up and discuss honestly how you might be able to help them.
Photo by Jukka Zitting.
"Pull out the latest piece of collateral produced by your marketing organization. Does it equip your salespeople to teach customers about their company or about yours?" - The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
Pulling ideas from the The Challenger Sale, Dixon and Adamson specifically address how marketing and sales can better work together. I don't see the need for insurance agencies to necessarily work better with marketing since it's largely been non-existent in agencies, but instead for agencies to embrace marketing as a valuable way for influencing agency revenue.
Marketing activities should be used to set producers up to succeed in the sales process. All the time and resources your organization currently puts into marketing activities, or activities you're considering, should be put through this filter of priming the prospect for the sales process.
Everything that has been touted as "best practice" marketing since the beginning of time – talk about the product, explain the features, explain the benefits – is no longer enough. At least for those whose sales process now focuses on the buyer rather than the seller. And, this needs to be all of us.
Remember, your marketing message is the first communication you have with a prospect. If it doesn't set the appropriate expectations for the actual sales conversation, then the sales process will prove confusing for the prospect.
So, when a sales conversation is focused on the seller and their products - the features, benefits, and price – then the historic "best practices" makes sense.
However, the most effective salespeople are now focused on the needs of the buyer and finding an alignment of the right solutions - the needs they are already aware of, as well as needs they can't yet see.
If your marketing message doesn't prepare your prospect for this buyer-focused conversation, they won't be in a very good position to participate. Even more important, it will likely be this type of differentiated marketing message that gets you an audience with a prospect in the first place.
Unfortunately, marketing in agencies has been viewed as largely unnecessary since there is a direct sales force; the producers get to do their own marketing. Unless it's for the sake of name recognition, marketing usually doesn't get much, if any, consideration in the scope of the agency budget, resource allocation, or overall strategy.
Shifting a conversation from focusing on you as the seller to a conversation focused on how you can help your clients improve their performance isn't necessarily easy. It fundamentally changes your value proposition as an agency. To do so successfully requires you to plan more strategically, adjust the way you engage prospects during the sales process, and requires you to start with a more a cohesive, insightful marketing message. And it is critical for that marketing message to be driven by the agency, not individual producers.
The type of marketing needed to educate prospects is an intellectual process, not an administrative one. Not one based on just counting leads and impressions, but instead one based on creating valuable information that challenges the customer about the way they see their own business.
Marketing should focus not on what the customers say they most want and value, but instead it should be based on what clients are overlooking as valuable opportunities in their business and challenging them to re-think their current views.
Sure, it can be difficult to think about taking a stand on ideas that people would prefer to avoid. It's like putting yourself out on a limb that might break, knowing that everyone can watch it happen. But, I can tell you from first hand experience, our most popular articles and blog posts are the ones that take on difficult subjects and challenge agencies to reconsier the status quo, and they seem to appreciate it. We know this because they (you) tell us.
At BGN, for about four years now, we've been using marketing as a means to set our sales process up for success and it works, it connects with prospective clients, and it's worth every effort poured into it.
If you want to know more about how we do it and what it might look like for your agency, give us a call. We'd be happy to talk with you about it.
Photo by Casey Fleser.
I'm a pretty tough critic of a sales experience. I have high expectations and find that most people only deliver a mediocre experience, at best. When I do see a sales process executed well, I like to let people know, including the sales people themselves.
And I've recently had a great experience. One that was so well and naturally done that I think you should know about it.
I was searching for an accountant. I asked for referrals from some trusted sources, and I received one that sounded like a good fit. I reached out to make contact and never heard back. Not one word. Remember the post I recently wrote, "Clients See Your Brand One Employee at a Time"? Well you can imagine how I now feel about that firm. I now think of them as "the company that doesn't respond".
Through some searching, I found another accountant who provided good information on their website about the practice and the philosophy. It gave me a sense of confidence. After further searching, I saw that we had some connections in common, so I reached out for a referral and got very good feedback. I then filled out the contact form, got a response back in 24 hours as promised and was sitting in their office for an appointment two days later.
This woman was friendly and welcoming. She asked a couple of open-ended questions to get me talking. Which is always a great way to start because you know business owners love to talk about nothing more than their businesses!
As I talked, she took a couple of notes. She prompted me with a few more questions that made me explore the future-looking situation. I then asked her some questions about what she thought, and instead of answering my questions directly, she started giving me some education on tax law and accounting practices. She wasn't trying to avoid answering, but instead she was letting me get a feel for the bigger picture, rather than just looking at things from my own myopic perspective. I enjoyed this approach and asked some questions. The more I wanted to know, the more education she provided.
Now, do I really want to know all that much about tax law? No. But I want to know that someone I hire does know all that and is willing to and interested in talking about it for hours on end. Because if they're not, they probably won't be doing their job for long.
She made some statements about things we'd want to explore if we were to work together. She gave me theoretical ideas like, "When clients have this situation, it's a good time to start looking at some solutions which might include x, y, and z. However, we won't know your specifics until we dig deeper into it."
As it became apparent we were a good fit for one another, I started asking about some related issues because I wanted to know what type of advice and recommendations she would offer. Would she make a good advisor or was she just a singly focused accountant? She answered my questions openly and explored the topics with me. She then opened her contact book and gave me referrals to other related professionals. She also shared some information about herself, which allowed the business connection to take on a personal feel.
She raised new issues for me. She made me say several times, "I never knew that or thought about it that way before." She let me know how she worked with clients and what the process would be like to uncover all my needs. She didn't solve my problems in that meeting. She educated me. She proved her knowledge and interests, and she let me develop confidence in her abilities by being willing to do some consulting during this meeting: she gave me some advice; she held some back; and she didn't try to overwhelm me with too much all at once.
It's often difficult for sales people to stop themselves from solving the prospect needs right there in the meeting. And it's also difficult to not just push the benefits of a product/service, thinking that these things will secure the sale. However, especially with a commodity product/service, the buyer knows he can get it from any number of suppliers.
Instead, what the buyer is looking for is someone that will provide more just that products or services. The willingness to explore and share advice and insight based on knowledge and experience is by far the most important factor in choosing a business advisor.
This was a sales experience that everyone in B2B sales should be striving to achieve. When the prospect is anxious to wrap up the meeting by securing a next meeting or solidifying a relationship, you've done it right.
Photo by Victor1558.
As an industry, we have to start delivering more value. Anybody in this industry who doesn't, won't find themselves in the industry much longer.
By its purest definition, value is getting something of equivalent worth compared to what we pay. In the book "Go-Giver", the authors define the Law of Value in the following manner: your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. By either of these definitions, I would argue we are not an industry that truly delivers good Value.
First of all, let me ask you a question:
How many people do you have that do any work for you that you don't know exactly how much you pay them? I'm guessing it's a very short list.
Now another question:
How many people do you work for who have no idea at all what they pay for you? If you are like most brokers, and are being honest, that list is way longer than it should be.
The reason is, in our hearts, we don't believe we aren't a good Value for our clients. If you believed you were, you would have no problem going into that $40,000 account and having an open and honest conversation about what you are getting paid and, more importantly, what you deliver in return.
If your business model is like too many, what you are doing for that $40,000 is placing the insurance and then fixing the problems that arise from those same policies. It would be hard to argue that many are truly doing $40,000 worth of work, much less delivering more than what is being received in payment.
So, it appears that if you want to be someone who is considered a good Value, you need to adjust one side of the equation or the other. I'll argue that the right answer isn't on the payment side. If you take that route, you will be setting yourself up to compete against those competitors who will always do it for less. That's a race to the no-profit zone.
The business model of the typical agency needs to be overhauled. To that point, a future blog will explain what I mean in more detail. I will tell you that it has to stop being about selling insurance and has to start focusing on how to improve the business of your clients. However, even before you start overhauling your business model, there are opportunities at every step of the current way to deliver more value than your prospects/clients are expecting.
Marketing – Look at your collective marketing efforts: brochures, website, LinkedIn profiles, blogs, etc. Do you sound like most every other agency bragging about your 112 years in business, offering a free quote, and listing the carriers you represent? Or, do you demonstrate how you truly understand the issues being faced by your clients and make it clear you can offer a solution?
Value test in Marketing – Even if the audience never engaged you in a face-to-face conversation, they should have learned something that will help them in their business as a result of your marketing efforts. Especially with your social media marketing, you should be a regular stop as they look to build their own business acumen.
Selling Process – This is a natural extension of your marketing efforts. Your selling process has to be focused on the needs (known and otherwise) of the buyer and be more of a process of education than anything else.
Value test in Selling – Someone would write a check to go through your sales process. (Don't snicker, I see it happen all the time.)
Customer Service – I know that many of you provide countless Value Added Services to your clients. You probably think that this makes you the exception to the Value deficit I have described. It doesn't. Most of your VASs never get used and therefore have zero value. Worse than that, the frustration that comes from them not being used actually hurts you.
Add value by ensuring that every VAS you offer to your client is implemented and executed as intended. If you aren't going to have a formal implementation plan, then don't even offer the VAS.
Value test in Customer Service – If asked what you do for them, your clients would state the implementation/execution of your Value Added Services ahead of quoting insurance and fixing problems.
No matter what you do, there is always an opportunity to add more Value than was expected. Be a Value Driven producer/agency and you will quickly become invaluable to your clients. You might even be able to ask for a raise.
I was recently speaking to an agency owner who shared a conversation he had just had with one of his producers. The producer had come into the owner’s office, plopped down in the desk side chair and asked, “When did this industry become not fun?” He then went on to tell the owner that he had just gotten word from a long-time account that they were moving to another broker.
Now, I get that losing an account makes for a bad day. In fact, if there is ever a day when you lose an account and it doesn’t totally ruin your day, then it was either such a toxic account you should have fired them as a client a long time ago or else it’s just plain time for you to get out of sales.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone ask the question. In fact, I imagine many of you reading this have asked yourself the same question at some point. As common as the question might be, it still gets my attention when I hear it asked. Sure, it can just be a momentary expression of frustration, but it can also be a signal of bigger issues. It may imply that the producer feels there is some greater industry force at work that has control over him and that it is somebody else’s responsibility to make sure he is having fun. Not feeling you control your own destiny is a scary place to be.
I explained to the owner that “fun” (feel free to also substitute “success”) is like the answer to a math equation. Subtract the number of bad days (losing an account) from the number of good days (picking up an account), and the answer is how much fun you are having. When your good days exceed bad days, you are generally having fun. When your good days significantly exceed bad days, you’re almost giddy. On the flip side, when you are losing more accounts than you are winning, the producer was right – it’s no fun. In fact, it just plain sucks.
Like most things in the universe, our industry has a balance. With the exception of new businesses opening or existing businesses closing, there are an even number of bad days and good days. Whenever one producer has a good day there is another producer somewhere having a bad day as a result of the same decision. That’s just the way it is.
The industry becomes no fun the very same day you quit working hard enough to ensure you have more good days than bad. When we start out, we have no choice. We have to have wins just to survive. When survival is on the line you are driven by your hunger and you have to work hard. Being aggressive is all you know, and the immediate reward of the adrenaline rush that comes from closing deals becomes addictive and further fuels your drive and the next success. Of course it was fun back then – you were winning on a regular basis.
One of the ironies of success is that at some point, (and it’s different for everyone), it quits becoming fuel for your competitive fire and may actually cause that competitive flame to flicker and die. All too often, I have seen producers achieve more success and financial reward than they could have ever conceived possible, and they stop competing, they become complacent. That is the day the industry becomes no fun for them.
When you are no longer the aggressor, it is only a matter of time before you become the victim. Not only the victim of a lost account, but the victim of allowing your control and your fun to be taken from you.
I predict there will be more account movement over the next couple of years than we have ever seen. Convincing yourself that you need to be more focused on defending what you already have is an easy trap to fall into. It’s also incredibly dangerous. You have a team whose responsibility it is to be the primary defense of existing accounts. Your responsibility, as a producer, is to go out and get more and make sure you are on the winning side of that account movement.
Bad days are inevitable; they are going to find you. In an economy like this, the balance is harder to maintain. Some clients will go out of business. Others will get acquired. And yet other clients will be taken from you because of other producers who are committed to building a surplus of good days for themselves.
Unfortunately, good days don’t just show up. It is up to you to create them. It’s up to you to ensure they outnumber the bad. It’s up to you to ensure you are having fun.
If you find yourself relating to the question asked by my producer friend, if this industry isn’t as fun for you as it once was, don’t sit and disparage the industry. Don’t make excuses. Don’t go into defense mode. Get out there and create your own fun.
Go take control. Find your appetite and become the aggressor you once were. Reintroduce yourself to the adrenaline rush of closing deals and feed that habit on a regular basis.
For those who are willing to make it so, the most fun days this industry has ever offered are still ahead. It can be that way for you. You just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I really want to have fun?”
Photo by Lucy Boynton.
Election season is chock full of opportunities to talk about candidates, parties, platforms, and issues. Unlike anything else, politics stimulates emotionally charged responses and debates. People like to jump on board and support their party and their favorite issues, which is part of our great American system.
Politics requires us to review the issues, form an opinion, and take a stand for what we believe. The same goes for being a consultant. Being able to review multiple options, make an informed decision, and offer an opinion and advice is a critical part of being an advisor to clients. It's definitely a skill that needs to be honed to be successful, especially as we're moving to a knowledge/advice-driven model.
The tricky part of this as it relates to politics is being able to understand and distinguish between personal beliefs and the role your business plays with clients and prospects. Getting on your political soapbox or using your company messaging platform as a bully pulpit is where the tide turns from being an active political citizen to creating a sense of negativity that surrounds you and your company.
It's important to recognize that as a business owner or a broker, you are likely working with clients across a broad spectrum. As such, you and your clients may not hold all of the same views. Understanding this and responding appropriately can go a long way in securing business.
On the flip side, if your opinions and communication are passionately and consistently "us vs. them" and your recommendations are overtly based on a strong political bias, you run a couple of risks for your business.
The first risk is offending or alienating those clients with differing beliefs or those who prefer to leave politics out of the office. Clients or prospects who disagree with you, or feel pressured by you, may chose to take their business where they feel more aligned or just don't have to deal with the pressure of the politics.
The second risk, and perhaps the most critical, is that you may inadvertently be demonstrating to clients that you are unable to objectively approach a situation. If they see your belief system as being so rigid that you have blinders on and are not open to differing opinions, the message they might be receiving is that you approach everything with a bias. Clients may feel that with these preconceived beliefs you tout so openly, you are unable to review and assess their needs without prejudice.
As brokers are becoming more reliant on their own knowledge and advice to earn and retain client business, being able to demonstrate the balance of objectivity, along with opinions and sound advice, is critical for business growth.
Make sure the message you and your employees are sending on behalf of the company is what's going to best serve this future growth. Be sure that what you're saying speaks to your audience in a way that resonates positively with them: it makes them want to ask for your opinions and advice; and it makes them want to do business with and refer you.
If you speak more passionately and more consistently about your political beliefs than you do about your company and how you help your clients, the politics are going to overshadow the company message and that, instead, becomes your brand.
Prospects who don't agree, or are turned off by the continuous ranting, dismiss you as being a relevant business option. Clients don't necessarily want their situation always put though your political filter.
There are costs associated with these choices and not ones that can even be measured. For all the clients who leave, they will likely not say it's because of your message. And for all the prospects you don't turn into clients, or the ones you never even talk to because of the brand that precedes you, you have no idea what that potential revenue could be. If the message you're sharing is their reason for not doing business with you, it's probably the last thing they'd ever tell you. So just because you're not getting negative feedback, doesn't mean people aren't listening and forming their own opinions.
Photo by jaydensonbx.
It’s not about the quality of your product; it’s about the quality of your insight.
I read this recently in the book, The Challenger Sale, and feel that it’s such an important idea that it deserves some special focus.
While we all recognize the need to know our “product” inside and out as a critical part of our job, very few recognize that maybe the most important part of our job is to ensure we can regularly bring new insights to our prospects/clients.
So, in the spirit of the book, my challenge to you is to expose yourself to as many new insights as possible. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly and frequently you are able to put those ideas into play.
And to get you started, I have some suggestions as to where to find those ideas.
Read a book – May as well as start with the most obvious. If you’re not always in the middle of a business book of some sort, you are completely missing out on unbelievable ways to gain insights. A couple of my recent favorites include:
Publications & blogs – Being a reader of information through social media is good, but the greatest insights come from being engaged. In other words, participate in the online conversations, discussions and even debates. Don’t be afraid to take a stand and share your opinion. Start with something easy – maybe compliment an article you found insightful – but don’t be afraid to offer a differing opinion either. The more you participate, the more insights you will take with you. Here are a couple of places you should be engaging:
Thought leaders – Ask the experts in various business specialties about the one idea they feel is most important for business owners to know. Your centers of influence and clients are great places to start.
Google – Create a list of challenges you know most business owners struggle with and block time out each week to research a topic. Searching “(topic) + best practices or challenges” will be a great start.
TED Talks – With the tagline, “Ideas Worth Spreading”, you know this is a good place to visit regularly. Go to www.ted.com and you will find a free library of short, idea-inspiring videos on just about any subject you can imagine.
Track and develop – Always carry something with you to capture good ideas as they come to you. Then, regularly block out reflective time to go back to your list of ideas and give them a chance to develop into powerful insights that are worth sharing.
Writing – A great way to further absorb, develop and integrate information you’ve learned is to write. Write your own blog post or whitepaper about what you’ve learned, or simply write an email to someone with whom you want to share the idea/article–you might surprise yourself at how much better you understand the topic or see the potential applications after just a little bit of writing.
Observe – There are powerful ideas/insights all around you. You just have to watch and listen, and you might be amazed at how almost everything you learn can somehow apply to business. For example:
Be genuinely interested – Don’t let an interesting comment from someone pass without exploring it further. Ask for clarification. If you hear someone share a success, be curious and ask questions to learn what led to the success. Not only will this be a huge compliment to the person with the story, think what insights you may pick up that could lead to someone else’s success.
Change your routine – The same routines tend to expose you to the same ideas and thoughts. Change up your routine and I promise you will find new ideas, thoughts and insights. This could be the publications you read, where you regularly exercise or even where you stop for coffee.
Public speaking – Expose yourself to great public speakers (from multiple fields and disciplines). And, if you truly want to put yourself “all in” to develop your ideas and insights to their fullest, find your own speaking opportunities.
Smart people - Have conversations with really smart people. Better yet, have debates with really smart people. Agree to meet on a regular basis with the agreed upon price of admission to the discussion being a new idea or topic to discuss.
There are countless other ways to gain new insights. Whether you follow my suggestions or pursue others, nothing will happen until you write “gaining insights” into your job description and block out the time on a weekly, if not daily, basis to make it happen. It will take work, but the improved value you can deliver will make it all worthwhile. You just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I want it?”
Photo by Brandon Fick.
Each year, we have an overriding theme on which we focus throughout the year. Last year it was “Execution & Implementation.” This year we will be focusing on the ideas of “Teach, Tailor and Control.”
While these aren’t new ideas for us or our members, we wanted to highlight these ideas as we see them being critical for the continued evolution of the broker model. Additionally, we see now being the time that producers/agencies need to make sure they are mastering each of these ideas.
We felt particularly validated when these same principles appeared in a series of recent articles published by Harvard Business Review. These articles were based on the book “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, which shares the results of a recent study on selling performance.
The authors explain the study they conducted on over 6,000 sales reps where they grouped salespeople into five basic categories based on similarities of behavior attributes: Relationship, Hard Worker, Lone Wolf, Problem Solver and Challenger. With the possible exception of the title category, most are self-explanatory.
Their study went on to show that while there is a fairly even representation of each category amongst salespeople, the distribution skews significantly when you start searching for the “high performers.”
In a so-called “typical sale,” the percentages of high performers are broken out as follows:
The results get even more interesting when you look for the high performers in a “complex sale” environment (which I would argue applies to you):
Clearly, regardless of your natural style, it is worth the effort to become as much of a Challenger as you can. So, what is a Challenger? Challengers commit to understanding the business of their customer at such a deep level they are able to push the prospect or client’s thinking and take control of the sales conversation. Challengers makes their audience think in ways they haven’t before. They’re confident enough in the value they can bring that they are not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and assume an assertive position to move the prospect forward.
As interesting as the findings of the study were to us, what we found even more interesting were the three traits that the authors used to describe what it is that makes a Challenger so effective. You may have guessed, it’s the same three principles that we have made the centerpiece of the approach we use within Benefits Growth Network and on which we are focusing this year – Teaching, Tailoring and Controlling.
Let’s explore why we see these areas as critical to the future success of brokers.
If you are going to continually bring value to a client, you have to embrace the responsibility of always bringing them new ideas and educating them on ways you can help them improve their performance. The most important time to assume the role of teacher is during the sales process. Rather than trying to demonstrate your value by providing the same spreadsheet as everyone else, prove your value by helping them better understand their own situation. Most employers can clearly see the challenges they are currently facing. However, far fewer have the vision to see the challenges that are out there on the horizon. This is the “lesson” you need to be bringing to the table. This is your opportunity to bring a conversation they likely aren’t getting from anyone else.
A couple of areas where they need your vision:
Turnover – Between retiring baby boomers and dissatisfied employees, employers are facing unprecedented levels of turnover. And, because of the “jobless recovery,” very few see it coming. You need to educate them on why this will be the reality and challenge them to be honest about how prepared they truly are.
Communication – Communication impacts virtually every aspect of an organizations operation, but let’s just look at its impact on benefits spending. A recent study by The McKinsey Quarterly shows that benefits costs can be reduced by 20 percent through more effective communication. You need to educate employers as to what effective communication truly looks like, explain to them the challenges that stand between where they are and what their goal should be, and show them how to make effective communication their reality.
Rather than trying to impress the prospect with your list of value-added services or manipulate their situation to fit your “solution,” you need to tailor your solution to fit their situation. Not only that, the way in which you communicate your recommendation needs to be tailored to your audience.
A couple of ways the message needs to be tailored:
Tailoring to their situation – Assume that your competition has the same solutions to offer that you do. If by chance they don’t today, they will tomorrow. Rather than try to sell the prospect all of your solutions, focus on learning where they truly have needs and then align your solutions with those identified needs. After learning of needs they didn’t realize they had, the prospect will find much more value in your solutions and be much more compelled to hire you to fix their newly discovered problems.
Tailoring to the audience – You make presentations to all types of roles—Director of HR, CFO and CEO are the most frequent. You need to have a clear understanding of the driving objectives that come with each role. If your presentation doesn’t address these varied objectives, not only do you miss out on an opportunity to pick up a supporter, you run the risk of unintentionally creating an adversary.
Perhaps the only thing worse than an empty prospect pipeline for a producer is one that is filled with stagnant prospects. I argue that this is worse because you have someone who is actively wasting your time and giving you a false sense of security. The stagnation is the direct result of a producer who has ceded control of the process to the prospect. Instead of establishing a peer level engagement with the prospect, the producer has assumed a subservient role. While we don’t condone that the producer take an aggressive role, we do recognize the need to be assertive in moving the prospect forward.
A couple of things necessary to establish and maintain control:
A full pipeline – If you don’t keep your pipeline full, you will irrationally hold on to every prospect you have. Without a full pipeline, you will rarely walk away from an “opportunity.”
Belief in the value you can deliver – Until you are passionate about your ability to help a client, you will lack the confidence required to take control. It is that confidence that will allow you to challenge and push the prospect to look at their situation in new ways, to even push the prospect out of their comfort zone for the purpose of finding their catalyst to change.
So, as the book pointed out, there are five ways to be an average salesperson, but one clear way to be exceptional. Being exceptional starts with challenging your prospects to think in new ways. You won’t be able to challenge them until you challenge yourself.
My challenge to you: how badly do you want to be exceptional?
Photo by Jacob Bøtter.
First impressions can have a pretty big impact on what happens next – or doesn’t – in a relationship. When you contact a potential new client, what is the first thing they’re going to do after they get off the phone or back to their desk? They’re going to search your name and your agency name. What they find is that first digital impression.
Search yourself and search your agency. Look at it from an outsider’s perspective, someone seeing those results for the first time. What will they learn from the results of the search?
I see three likely scenarios based on how you participate in online activities. Take a look through these and see which one best describes your participation and subsequent search results.
You have profile accounts with virtually no information. Your LinkedIn profile or Twitter account was forgotten almost as soon as it was set up.
Either there are no search results for your name or maybe just an old outdated press release about your CIC designation.
Scenario #1 tells the prospect that you’re serious about your business, your career development is an important part of the business, and you are interested in and likely capable of helping the client with their business. And you believe the Internet offers powerful tools for conveying your message and conducting business.
With #3, it’s a mixed bag. There are many possible speculations about those without any results, but we can’t know for sure. A likely possibility is that you don’t believe in social networking as an effective tool for business development. And we don’t have anything to go off of in terms of rating you as a businessperson, so it’s all just unknown.
Now, #2. This is the most dangerous and damaging of the possible scenarios. You know what I mean – you created an account and didn’t finish completing the profile (no photo, no bio, only 3 connections, no experience or only the most recent listed, etc.) or you got really excited and started using it…then stopped. Like 6 months ago. We call these ghost town profiles that have obviously been abandoned. And what this tells that potential new client is that you don’t take Internet tools and networking opportunities seriously, you don’t follow through on what you start, and you leave half-finished projects just laying around.
Does #2 sound familiar? If so, then go fix it right now.
As you go through your search results, make a list of everything that you need to clean up, then go do it.
Avoiding scenario #2 is definitely in your best interest. Cleaning it up will be time well invested in your personal and agency reputation.
While #3 is actually better than #2, understand that clients and prospects who are looking you up online must believe in the power of the Internet as a business tool. So if you are falling into either of these two scenarios, you’re already at a disadvantage with those prospects before you even get started.
Take control of that first impression and put your own positive message out there for people to find.
Photo by Bill Marrow.
You may have read a previous article I wrote about bringing your “inner child” to work with you. Children just have this great curiosity about what is happening in the world around them and aren’t yet saddled with knowledge of “what they can’t do about it”. Wendy recently shared a story of her son that completely reinforces this observation and is so relevant to what we're doing.
When she went to tuck her son (Cedric) in at bedtime, she found him sitting up in bed with pencil and paper in hand. He says to her,
“Mom, give me a problem. I can find a solution. Any problem. What's not working that we need to solve?”
Her response was something along the lines of “Well, what kind of problem would you be comfortable solving?” To which he replied,
“It doesn’t really matter. If I don’t know the answer right away, I’ll go figure it out.”
How cool is that?! How successful would we all be if we brought that attitude to our sales process?!
He wasn’t limiting his mom to a handful of issues he was already comfortable fixing. No, he had a blank piece of paper, was curious about whatever was his mom’s greatest issue, and was willing to do whatever it took to come up with an answer.
Next time you go to meet with a prospect, instead of taking a list of issues you are already prepared to address, maybe you should take a blank piece of paper, a number 2 pencil, and the curiosity, confidence and determination of a 10 year old boy.
Your prospect would likely be just as surprised and impressed with you as Wendy was with Cedric.