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.
One of the most difficult hires for any agency to make is to hire a new producer that will produce on par with your most successful producers. While I’m not suggesting giving up on that effort, I would encourage to make sure you are reviewing your current production team and constantly rehiring the successful producers you already have.
Huh?! - Well, not necessarily in the literal sense.
Think of your most successful producer. When she first came on board all she had was time. Time to prospect, time to make sales presentations, time to close deals. Wasn’t that an exciting time for everyone?! Well, with that success has come other demands on her time. Now she is spending more and more time taking care of that book of business she has built and less and less time on prospecting, presentations, and closings. It is quite likely that she is now spending no more than 10% to 20% of her time on sales activities.
Obviously the agency needs to keep growing, so you go looking for someone else just like her. Someone who can prospect, present, and close on par with what she was doing a few years ago. The problem is, those people are hard to find. Success at that level is hard to replicate. So instead of hiring her “sales replacement”, hire her “service replacement”.
After all, it is the service issues that are taking time away from her ability to keep prospecting, presenting, and closing.
Take inventory of all of the demands on her time. Wherever you find demands that don’t have to do with prospecting, presenting, and closing (okay, throw in some renewal responsibilities, but only at a strategic, relationship level) package them together to create a job description for the person you want to hire.
This will still be a very high level hire, probably even a relatively expensive one. However, it is one that is much easier to do with predictable success and will free up a proven talent to go out and (you got it) prospect, present, and close deals. What she can do if you re-hire the 80% - 90% of her time that has been taken up with non-sales issues (even if you can only recapture 50% of that time) will be a huge return on the investment of “rehiring”!
Photo by Ben Tesch.
Don, a friend of mine, recently hit one of those mile marker ages. You know, one of those that require a trip to the doctor for a checkup.
Actually, he wasn’t all that concerned about it. After all, he takes decent care of himself, has always considered himself healthy, and other than some fatigue, felt really good. So in he goes to see his family doctor, Phil. Phil had been the family doctor long enough that they really were on a first name basis.
So Phil tells Don, “Overall, you’re in good shape. Sure you could lose a few pounds and a little more activity wouldn’t hurt. However, the results of your tests are just a little off. I really don’t think its anything, but I have a colleague who is a cardiac specialist I would like you to see. Really, I don’t think its anything at all. It would just make me feel better.”
Not overly concerned, off Don goes to see the specialist, Dr. Ting. Dr. Ting asks a whole bunch of questions (some that Don wasn’t able to answer in the way he would have liked; maybe he does have some warning signs), runs a whole bunch of tests, and is much more concerned about Don’s health than was Phil.
Dr. Ting, “Well, I’m sure this will come as a shock, but you came to see me just in the nick of time. We’re going to have to install a pacemaker. It wasn’t easy to detect, but you have an arrhythmia that we need to control.”
After getting over the initial shock and feeling a little anxious about the surgery and thought of a pacemaker, Don was still very relieved to have found out sooner than later.
Dr. Ting explained that, although there are several pacemaker manufacturers, there are only 2 or 3 that are likely to be the right device for him. Dr. Ting assured Don that he would meet with the manufacturer reps, explain Don’s circumstances, and pick the right one. After meeting with Joe, one of the manufacturer’s reps, Dr. Ting knew he had the right device.
Just a week later, Dr. Ting performed the surgery and it was a complete success. Just a few days later, Don realized that he felt better than he had in 20 years. Obviously, he hadn’t been as healthy as he had thought. Good thing he went in for that physical.
Okay, so you might be thinking that I’m writing this to encourage you to go get a physical. Even though that’s a great idea, that’s not my point. What I want you to consider is which of the three individuals who played a part in Don’s medical situation are most similar to your business model?
Are you Phil, a generalist who can provide a decent amount of help in many different areas, but no depth in any one?
Are you Joe, a vendor whose contribution was to provide the right product?
Or, are you Dr. Ting, a specialist who truly diagnosed the problem and then installed the right solution?
Of course, each of the three played a significant role, but their contributions definitely were not equal. While you’re thinking about your model, also think about:
Obviously, the answer to each question is the specialist. You can identify the problem and even the right solution, but if you don’t ensure that the solution is installed/implemented properly, nothing positive happens.
Photo by Erich Ferdinand.
Have you ever thought about how exhausting it is to be mediocre? That may seem like a crazy question at first. After all, almost by definition, doesn't mediocre mean that you are putting forth very little effort? And shouldn’t less of an effort require less energy to be exerted?
Well, I guess if you are talking about pure physical effort, then maybe mediocrity is easier. But, as I look at it, total effort is only about 20% physical and 80% mental. It’s the mental exhaustion that comes with mediocrity that is truly exhausting.
You become so worried about not making them upset in some way that you leave no opportunity to truly impress them. You become so afraid of losing the prospect that you cede control of the sales process to the prospect. Trying to direct a process without maintaining control is going to suck the energy right out of you, leaving you totally exhausted. Trying to control 5 prospects who are all wandering in different directions is significantly more exhausting than you controlling 20 whom you are directing down a single path – yours. I don’t mean identical solutions for each, but I do mean an identical process.
Mediocre service only means that you are capable of reacting to situations your clients throw at you. By the time they throw it your way, they are upset and expect something to be done immediately. And, even when you hit that expectation, you don’t really get any credit because doing so actually is their minimum expectation of you. How exhausting is it to have countless clients who may be throwing you something urgent at any moment knowing you have to catch every single one? Instead, take control.
On your terms, proactively deal with the issues that eventually result in client problems. They will be much more appreciative of you preventing problems than they are of you fixing them.
Remaining one step ahead may be fine for some of the tactical issues, but it’s insufficient for hitting strategic goals/objectives. Now, compare that to a leader who paints an extremely clear picture of where the team is going, where they will be 5 steps from now, how they will get there, and the contributions expected from each team member. When every step is perceived as the destination, you operate in constant panic mode and it feels like you run the race countless times over.
However, when the course is laid out in front of us, we can run the race with more confidence. A confidence that leads to a much more comfortable pace, one that is much less exhausting.
If you are a mediocre performer, the stress that comes with knowing you’re likely to be outperformed at any moment is exhausting. The stress that comes with knowing your mediocre performance leaves no margin for error is overwhelming. The stress that comes from not ever being able to take control will wear you out.
And, if you are on the receiving end, the frustration that comes with mediocrity is just as exhausting. After all, it will always require more effort on your part to work with someone who is simply adequate.
Just look around you at someone who is consistently excellent. I would just about guarantee that you will also find someone who consistently has more energy for what he/she does. Don’t fool yourself, its not the energy that creates the excellence, it’s the excellence that creates the energy.
Photo by Evil Erin.
Believe it or not, fourth quarter, and arguably the most important time of the year, is upon us. You’re probably nodding your head, having a little anxiety over all of the upcoming renewals and agreeing with the importance of dealing with them.
And that’s true. But what’s also true is that most of you have a team to help you get through those renewals. Let them handle the lion’s share of that responsibility. It’s time for you to focus on the real reason why this is the most important time of the year for you: your pipeline. Despite all of the distractions that come with this time of year, it is critical that prospecting remains a top priority.
While prospecting has always been challenging, in this era of differentiation it has become even more so. I assume by now most of you have modified your business model and are positioning yourself as somehow different in the marketplace. It’s exactly that repositioning of your model that requires a more focused approach to communicating with prospects.
Here are some problems I regularly see as I coach agencies and producers about delivering the right message during the prospecting/sales process:
Responses to overcome the problems
Differentiate yourself by defining your position. Your message has to be a reflection of your business model. It should demonstrate how you are different from the competition (your position), and how you bring value to your clients. Analyze your business model in order to develop your message.
As you work to define your position, answer the following questions, but be sure that you answer in a way that is unique (can’t be claimed by your competition – or at least by most of them) and compelling (allows your prospect to see what’s in it for them).
If you can’t honestly answer these questions in a manner that meets the unique and compelling standards, you need to re-evaluate and adjust your business model.
Overcome industry brand and inconsistencies by developing your own message - Now that you have defined your position in a unique and compelling manner, it’s time to develop your message. Start by developing the core message that will be consistent throughout all of your communications. It is through this messaging that you must start separating yourself from the stereotype of the industry brand.
To create an effective message, but sure it is:
- Simple – Don’t make your audience sort through a bunch of noise to find the core message. Make it obvious.
- Visible – Be sure it paints a picture of who you are.
- Rational & Emotional – Appeal to both sides of your audience as they are always present
An effective message will tell the audience:
- What you do
- How you do it
- Why they should want it
- Their call to action (e.g. asking for the appointment)
Plan to communicate - Once you have defined the message to be communicated, develop the plan as to how it will be executed.
Deliver on the new model/message with personal preparation – If you have committed to somehow being different in the marketplace, it likely means that you are going to need new skills and knowledge to do so. You will never be able to truly meet the promises that come with your defined position if you haven’t made an agency-wide commitment, requirement, and investment to acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to execute on the new model.
Look at the position you have defined and identify every skill set, talent and knowledge that is required to deliver it successfully. Compare that list with what is currently in place and create a plan to acquire what is missing.
Block time for consistent prospecting – As much as I would like to be able to offer one, there is no magic bullet when it comes to prospecting. (The closest there is to a magic bullet are the client referrals I talked about in my February article.) However, with the right messaging in place, scripts identified, appropriate knowledge and practice under your belt, you will be positioned to get better results.
However, those results won’t come without action. No matter what, it all comes down to blocking out time on your calendar every week for dedicated prospecting activities. The thing is, now that you are better prepared, I think you will find that it’s not the horrible task you have maybe allowed it to be up to this point.
When you think about having a consistently full pipeline, you just have to ask yourself, “How badly do I really want it?”
Photo by David J Laporte.