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.
Most producers I know are extremely competitive. Not just in sales, but in everything they do. It is not unusual at all to find the best performers in sales still are, or once were, athletes. It’s in their DNA, it’s the way they’re wired, and it’s what drives them to win. That’s probably why there are so many sports analogies used in sales.
While good producers draw on those naturally competitive juices to drive professional success, it is the exceptional producer who takes the similarities between success on the field and success in the office one step further. Just like exceptional athletes, exceptional producers realize that the game isn’t really won on the playing field.
My daughter is a captain for her high school lacrosse team. At the recent team banquet she was awarded the “110% award”. I was telling her how proud I was of her and she said, “Thanks, but I’m not sure that it’s entirely a good thing.” I thought her comment was strange and asked her what she meant. She explained that there are only four end-of-the-year awards given out: the 110% award, Best Defender, Best Offensive Player, and MVP. She seemed to understand that giving the best effort doesn’t necessarily equate to giving the best performance.
It’s the same in selling, we can go in to a sales presentation and give 110% of our ability, but if we haven’t given 110% in preparation to improve our abilities, the 110% game effort may not be enough. It’s easy to get excited and pumped for a finalist presentation. In fact, if that doesn’t happen automatically, you might want to consider another career. However, it’s much harder to give 110% to building your business acumen, to learning new approaches, to practicing your presentation skills when there isn’t anything immediately on the line.
Athletes who go out and wing-it on the field will still win occasionally on sheer will, effort, or due to a less talented opponent. However, it’s the athletes who play just as hard (maybe harder) on the practice field who can complement their effort on the playing field with a well-deserved level of confidence. In sales or sports, that’s a difficult combination to defeat.
Photo by Bill Brine.
The 80-20 rule proves itself all the time. Not surprisingly, its presence is evident as we look at the difference between good producers and those who are exceptional. At first, it may be hard to really see the difference in the characteristics of the two. That shouldn’t be surprising. Eighty percent of the characteristics of an exceptional performer are also characteristics of the good performer. However, it’s the additional 20 percent effort of the exceptional producer that will make the good producer an afterthought in the mind of a prospect.
Where do you fall in the following areas? Are you good or are you a “20 percenter?”
There was a time when having a list of solutions gave a producer an advantage - those days are gone. Now, every producer has a list of Value-Added Services. The list has become expected. The difference between the good producer and the exceptional producer is that the exceptional producer understands the 80-20 rule of services. On most clients, 80 percent of their needs can be satisfied by a fairly standard, off-the-shelf solution. However, the other 20 percent requires a customized approach, or perhaps even the creation of a new solution.
The good - The good producer will relentlessly work to identify the needs of a prospect that align with their solutions.
The exceptional - However, the exceptional producer works relentlessly to identify all of the needs of a prospect, even in areas where they may not yet have a solution. They understand that sometimes you have to go out and create a new solution.
When a good producer is competing with another good producer, standardized solutions may be just fine. However, when they are competing with the exceptional producer, that 20 percent difference will be the only focus of the prospect (aka the exceptional producer’s new client).
The good - Good producers 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.
The exceptional - The exceptional producer goes one step further. They aren’t just satisfied with learning why they lost or even satisfied with getting a win. No, the exceptional producer wants 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. The exceptional producer understands that having complete clarity about what led to the success is the only way that they can ensure a repeat performance.
We all know how important the first impression can be. It’s even been said that we form an opinion of others in just a few seconds.
The good - A good producer clearly understands the importance of that first face-to-face meeting. He researches the prospect, wears his best suit, makes sure his tie is tied just right, looks the prospect right in the eye and gives a good firm handshake.
The exceptional - The exceptional producer understands that the first impression is no longer that first face-to-face meeting. She knows the first thing that prospect does when considering taking a meeting with her; it’s the same thing she does when she wants to learn more about the prospect, she turns to the Internet. Nowadays, before taking a first meeting with anyone, we to go through the ritual of searching their name on Google, seeing what they tweet about, reviewing their LinkedIn profile and reading what they have blogged about.
The exceptional producer knows that whatever a prospect learns through what they find (or don’t find) about her online is now the first impression she makes. So, when she and the competition show up for that “first meeting,” it is no longer an even start; the exceptional producer has already created an advantage by what she has communicated through her online presence.
The good - Good producers are able to make a strong presentation. They are able to articulate well their value proposition and make a compelling case for their ability to perform. This can be effective if the prospect clearly understands what they need and are able to recognize the solution when they see it.
The exceptional - Exceptional producers understand that the recognized problems of prospects are easily addressed. However, they also know that the problem described by the prospect is usually a symptom of a much deeper problem and, additionally, that there are almost always problems from which a prospect is suffering of which they aren’t yet aware. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know.
For example, a prospect may hear that you (as a good producer) can help with the administration of COBRA and see that as something they need. They hire you, you take over the administration of COBRA and you both think that this is a successful resolution.
Now, contrast that to your approach as an exceptional producer. You let them know you can help with the COBRA administration, but you start probing as to why it is so urgent. You learn that their turnover has spiked over the last few years and it has exposed the administration issue. When you ask why the spike in turnover, you get the honest answer that they aren’t sure. When you ask what they are learning during exit interviews, you find that they don’t do them consistently, if at all. When you follow up and ask how they are monitoring the level of employee engagement for active employees, you learn that, with their downsizing as a result of the recession, they no longer have the time or resources to do a survey. It’s the same thing with the hiring process. One of their first layoffs was an HR person who had the responsibility of coordinating the hiring process.
The exceptional producer has helped the prospect clearly see that the COBRA administration is really just a symptom of a much deeper problem. Focusing on that alone would be like putting a band-aid over a gunshot wound. Not only that, the exceptional producer now has several other opportunities to deliver solutions: a hiring process, an employee engagement survey, help with exit interviews, an opportunity to lower their rate of turnover, and (maybe by creating a new solution) the opportunity to create a revenue-generating opportunity for the agency’s HR person by being an outsourced resource to help with their HR issues.
The good - Good producers are hard on themselves. They establish their goals and objectives, they take inventory of the new skills they need to build, and what new solutions they need to acquire. Good producers are always focused on what they need to do to improve.
The exceptional - Of course, exceptional producers stay focused on what still needs to be accomplished as well, but they know that if that is their only focus, it will be exhausting. They also understand that it is easier to maintain momentum than it is to regain it once it’s lost.
It’s too easy to get lost in the overwhelming feeling of what is yet to be done. Exceptional producers find motivation by regularly reminding themselves of what they still have to do, but they find the confidence and momentum to get there by regularly taking inventory of what has already been achieved and by slowing down enough to celebrate their progress. It’s amazing how fast you can move when you slow down for the right reasons.
It takes a lot of work to become and remain good. It may be tempting to become complacent and feel that your goal(s) has been accomplished. By committing to work just a little longer and a little harder to become exceptional, you make playing the game in front of the prospect infinitely easier. It’s your choice, accept good as good enough and make every sales opportunity harder than it needs to be. Or, you can do the hard work up front, become exceptional and take the competition out of the game entirely. Exceptional is within your reach. You just have to ask yourself, “How bad do I really want it?”
Photo by ganesha.isis.
As you read this article, look at it from two perspectives. First, reflect on how your own agency may be impacted by employee engagement. Second, think of your clients and the impact they are experiencing, as well as how valuable a partner you would become if you could help them improve their current level of employee engagement.
See if this sounds familiar:
AnyCo is a mid-sized business. Things were humming along pretty well; the firm's future seemed bright. Then, almost overnight, the economy seemed to implode around it. Revenues were on a steady decline. Margins were evaporating even faster than revenue. The confidence employees once had in their future started to wane. Further investments to grow the business had to wait. They lost complete sight of the vision that once drove their efforts. In fact, all that mattered was the bottom line—keeping the doors open. Survival became their new definition of success.
To ensure that survival, AnyCo had to lay off all but the most critically needed employees. The budget dollars for training and development were quickly eliminated. Salaries were initially frozen and eventually had to be cut. Employee benefits suffered the same fate. Increases in premiums had to be passed on to the employees, but soon even core benefits had to be eliminated.
These weren't decisions AnyCo management normally would have made, but they had become necessary just to survive. However, as necessary as these actions were, they weren't without consequences. The result was that the remaining employees became frustrated, angry, and more and more disconnected from the business until their level of employee disengagement was at an all-time high.
Our working definition is: "The positive connection an employee has to the organization and to the organization's vision. The higher the level of employee engagement, the more positive the employees' behaviors, and the more successful the organization becomes."
More important, why should an employer care about the level of employee engagement?
Recent studies conducted by Towers Watson, and Gallup, have identified that an organization that has an average level of employee engagement has a payroll efficiency of 63%. To translate that to dollars, for every $100,000 being spent on payroll, that employer whose employees are engaged at an average level is receiving only $63,000 worth of work in return. I don't know about you, but after I read that statistic, I had an entirely new appreciation for employee engagement.
Of course, payroll efficiencies will never hit 100%, but think of the bottom-line impact on the organization that can move these points even a littler higher!
So where does the remaining 37% of potential employee efficiency go?
When a company suffers from poor levels of engagement, there are a lot of associated costs, but many are liable to be overlooked:
As bad as all of this is, it gets even worse. Lack of employee engagement likely means lack of client engagement.
Dr. Gary Rhoads of Allegiance, a consulting firm specializing in employee loyalty and engagement, recently wrote a paper titled "The Spillover Effect," in which he identifies the correlation between employee and customer engagement as one of the most significant drivers to profitability. The more engaged a company's employees, the higher the likelihood of having engaged, rather than just satisfied, customers. Engagement is contagious. Not only does it spread from employee to employee, it spreads from employee to customer.
Research shows that when customers are engaged, they spend higher percentages of their discretionary dollars with the company with which they feel engaged and prove to be more profitable on each of those dollars spent than are the company's merely satisfied customers. Additionally, a synergy is created when a company has both engaged employees and engaged customers. In fact, they can expect to drive twice the financial results compared with organizations that are able to achieve active engagement from only one key group.
If an organization displays the following characteristics, they are in a good position to have high levels of employee engagement
Employer engagement—The company actively seeks to understand its employees and acts with the expectations and preferences of the employees in mind.
Perception of job importance—Employees have a clear understanding of the importance of their job and how it contributes to the organization's goals and objectives.
Clarity of job expectations—Success in each position is clearly defined, and the resources needed to meet that success are provided. As a result, the employee can focus on organizational success rather than being preoccupied with personal survival.
Career advancement—Each employee has a clear plan of personal development and a realistic path of advancement.
Opportunity to contribute—Employees have clear opportunities to contribute ideas and initiatives that will improve the organization.
Feedback—Employees always know precisely how well they are performing; they receive formal updates on a regular basis. A bonus check is nice, but it will be quickly forgotten (that's not to say it isn't important, but it isn't the complete answer). However, sincere and specific comments on what an employee did well may last forever.
Based on the list above, you probably have a good idea of how to improve employee engagement when it is poor. However, here are a few specific ideas.
Repeat, but not right away. After you have given yourself sufficient time (a year at a minimum) to implement your initiatives, ask the employees how they are making a difference. Fight the urge to start asking too soon. Cultural changes, including improving employee engagement, take time to take root. Asking for feedback too soon will result in inaccurate feedback.
Employee engagement isn't a project; it's part of the culture. It may take specific projects to improve it from time to time, but we have to work everyday to make sure it is maintained. As levels of engagement improve, you will find that the rewards most coveted by engaged employees tend to change. Make sure your reward system is in alignment with what employees value.
Salary isn't the only motivator. The higher the level of employee engagement, the lower down the list of desired rewards financial compensation moves. Engaged employees tend to value non-compensation types of rewards. They value personal development, a rewarding job environment, and an ability to make a difference, to name a few. Think about it—the things that engaged employees value are the very things that will result in even greater returns for the company.
While employee engagement may seem to be elusive and intangible at times, the impact it has on virtually every aspect of your organization (including customers and bottom-line profitability) makes it something that can't be ignored.
Perhaps the greatest thing about an engaged organization is the exponentially higher return you will receive for continued efforts. You can create an environment that will drive a greater return you receive on investments made through your employees (training, benefit programs, team building, etc.), or you can reinforce a culture that emphasizes wages as the primary reward and continue to just plug the meter with disengaged employees hoping that more money will result in more productivity. Of course, the former takes more of a planned strategy, but the results are well worth the effort.
So, who is AnyCo? Well, perhaps it should have been named EveryCo. There isn't a company out there, whether it's your agency or any of your agency's clients, that can't benefit from very consciously focusing on employee engagement.
As a broker, you're in a unique position; the strategies and experience you gain from working on your own internal employee engagement can easily become a service you take to your clients.
Originally published in Rough Notes magazine March 2011.
Photo by Yasser Alghofily.
Riddle me this...
When is a new account worth more than the revenue it generates?
There may be more than one answer to that question, but there is one in particular that is all too often overlooked.
The greatest value of a new account is when it is used as an investment to fund your future success.
This really isn’t unlike the investing for retirement you are hopefully doing. Of course, you could use that money right now and have a little fun with it or just make paying the bills a little easier. But you invest it, knowing that by being responsible, it will make your future easier. The same holds true with the revenue from a new account.
You could take that new account and the revenue it generates to improve your paycheck a little. Or, you could be responsible and make your sales future easier and even more profitable.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you bring in a “Top 5” account. If you want that account to provide even greater returns than the associated revenue, invest it by using it to replace a significant number of your smallest accounts that, in total, have the same revenue.
I have recently profiled the books of several producers. Without exception, a new account that has the annual revenue equal to the average revenue generated by the top 5% of their accounts (ex – if they have 200 clients, this would be the average revenue of their 10 largest accounts) would easily replace the revenue of dozens and dozens of their smallest accounts. I would tell you that in some cases it was well over 100 accounts, but that’s just too hard to believe (although it is entirely true).
Think of the additional return you would have if you invested the revenue from a new “Top 5” account by finding a way to pass on dozens and dozens of your smallest accounts. Even though any one may not generate a lot of work, the combined demand of these accounts on your time, your team’s time, and your resources is significantly more than you probably guess. That same time and allocation of resources could be freed up to go get several more “Top 5” accounts, providing an unbelievable return on investment. And you never stepped back in total revenue.
Preparing for your future sales success is just like preparing for success in retirement. Building your portfolio responsibly will provide exponentially greater returns.
Photo by wsssst.