We hear agency stories every day, some in great depth and detail and some quick ideas shared through emails or conversations. One thing that remains frustratingly constant is short-sighted decision-making from the leadership team.
Here are four of the most common leadership mistakes we’re seeing right now that are holding agencies back from the growth they could be experiencing.
1. Approaching your “must-do” items in the wrong order
Marketing is the biggest offending item these days. Having largely been ignored, agencies are realizing that the life of their business depends on effectively marketing themselves, so they’re making it an urgent and important to-do item. In other words, it’s becoming a fire that must be put out.
In some ways I appreciate seeing marketing getting the attention that it rightfully needs. However, agencies almost always approach it in the wrong order. Agencies want to “do marketing” first and then fill in everything else when they find the budget for it, or find the time for it, or find the need for it.
The purpose of marketing for an agency is to generate enough interest in how you bring value to an employer’s business that they want to have a sales conversation with you. If you don’t know what your value proposition is, you don’t have a sales process for taking a client through that conversation to uncover their needs, and/or you don’t have a process for delivering on that value proposition, then what exactly are you going to be marketing?
How to fix this: Determine and document your Value Proposition, Sales Process, and Client Experience. Then create a marketing plan and write messaging that promotes your own ideas reflecting each of these areas.
2. Hiring producers to save your business
Agencies are so often stagnant in growth and then decide they need to grow in order to survive – this is good thinking. However, instead of developing an effective value proposition and sales process that will connect employers, the instinct is to hire a producer or two or three and set them lose to fix that nagging growth problem.
We hear of new producers being hired and tasked with arbitrary goals of doubling or tripling agency revenue in two or three years. Yet leadership doesn’t provide the foundation to make that growth a reality: No sales system for consistent messaging and process, no materials reflecting consistency and agency brand, and no coaching to help them achieve the goals.
How to fix this: Determine and document a sales process/system, develop branded materials and messaging for all producers to use with every prospective client, meet with every producer each week for coaching discussions around their progress.
3. Undervaluing the service team
One of the areas we always explore with agencies is the divide between sales and service. In the best agencies, there is a decent to excellent level of integration between the teams. In most agencies, there is a stark separation of sales and service and it’s not uncommon to see animosity between the two. Prospects and clients are not two different people; they are the same people at different stages of the relationship with your company and you need to help them smoothly transition from one stage of the relationship to the next. One is not more valuable than another; they are simply at different stages and require different skills from your team members.
How to fix this: Integrate your account management team into the planning and development of the business and the sales process. Bring account managers to later-stage sales conversations, have them participate in developing the final value proposal, and have them lead or fully manage renewal meetings.
4. Underestimating the importance of culture and leadership.
As so many agencies are started by producers who felt they could do better financially on their own, it leaves many agencies with sales people as leaders. Sales people can be pretty independent and carrying that same thinking over to the rest of the team just doesn’t work. Thinking that you can or should just let people do their work without “interference” gets you a culture of “winging it” and undedicated workers – not a team of people working together toward a similar goal. Selling and leading are very different skill sets. They can absolutely co-exist, but it takes an intentional and concentrated effort to do it and do it well.
How to fix it: Determine and document your agency Vision, Value Proposition, Sales Process, Client Experience, and Marketing Plan. And then communicate, communicate, communicate it to the team. Get everyone on the same page and excited about the same goals.
Notice a theme here? Slow down, define your business, communicate your plans and many of your problems will (almost) magically go away.
Photo by Bigapplestock
A version of this article was originally published in Employee Benefit Adviser.