Quick quiz – If your insurance agency wasn’t growing as fast as you wanted, what would be one of the first options you would consider to find that growth?
I’m guessing many of you said, “Hire a new producer.” I’m certain that would at least make the short list. And, that could potentially be a great response, but a majority of the time it’s an action that ends in disaster, or at least disappointment.
Let’s think for a moment about how dependent the agency is on the role of the producer. First of all, you go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars on this position in an effort to increase sales. And, then:
- You depend on them to bring in new revenue
- You even depend on them to help keep the revenue you already have
- You need them to create enough activity to satisfy the carriers
- And you count on them to build your reputation in the market
Sounds like a lot of responsibility, right? And you’d think with so much responsibility, there would be a VERY systematic process for bringing this new producer onto the team, educating them in the ways of the agency, ensuring they continue using your sales process in the same way you’ve established, and that they know the brand inside and out to represent you well.
But let's face it. Insurance agencies struggle with sales. We know because we hear it from agencies like yours every day. People tell us on the phone, in person, and send in confessional-style emails admitting to complete lack of processes around the sales team.
With so much depending on this role, how can it possibly be that you don’t have a sales process around which to train producers to ensure their success?!
You likely have processes for most everything else you do.
- You have processes for how you hire
- You have a process for how you onboard a new employee
- You have a process for how you get quotes
- You have a process for how you handle claims
How can you NOT have a process for the one thing that makes everything else possible: the way you bring on new business?!
How can you not have a process in place to protect this big investment?!
How can you not have a process in place to protect your brand?!
Describing your sales process
As we interview agencies for admission into our network, we always ask them to describe their sales process. Most of the time we hear a deafening silence from the other end. However, on occasion, we’ll get an answer.
Before I tell you about that occasional answer, think of how you would answer if I were asking you to describe the first step of your sales process.
(Writer waits patiently while reader ponders the question.)
Again, we mostly get silence to this question, but when we do get an answer it ALWAYS describes the first face-to-face interaction the agency has with a prospect.
Folks, at that point, it’s too late. In today’s online world, the studies tell us, buyers are somewhere between 60% and 90% of the way to a buying decision before they ever talk with you. If you want to win the race to new clients, you have to understand that the sales process starts WAY before that first face-to-face meeting.
So, where is the actual starting line and what are the critical handoffs of the sales baton?
Marketing is the first step in the sales process; it is the first conversation you have with a prospect. You may not be there to actively participate in the conversation, but make no mistake, you are talking (or not) to your prospects.
Successful agencies understand the marketing need to have processes to:
- Craft a message that makes it clear how the prospect would benefit from working with you
- Craft a message that compels the prospect to take a meeting with you
- Consistently create content around your message
- Ensure that content can be found by your target audience on your blog, in your social media activities, on your website, and through your intentional marketing campaigns
Make no mistake, marketing is tough work, but it’s not optional. In today’s online world, if you want to have any chance of influencing a majority of the buying decision, you will embrace marketing. And, more and more if you skip this step, you won’t get a chance for that face-to-face meeting. However, when done well, marketing will make the face-to-face time infinitely easier.
Filling the pipeline
An empty pipeline is one of the universal challenges of agencies and their producers. Creating quality opportunities doesn’t just happen; you must have a process to convert suspects to prospects.
To define those terms: a suspect is a company with whom you believe you want to do business, but they don’t know it yet. They don’t become a prospect until they are aware of your interest and they agree to participate in that conversation.
The most successful agencies leverage their marketing message and follow specific processes to put prospects in their pipeline by:
- Running cold call and email campaigns to convert the suspects
- Generating referrals from clients and other centers of influence
Once they have added a prospect to the pipeline, the most successful agencies pass the baton one more time in preparation for the home stretch of the face-to-face meeting.
Capturing THEIR story
During every sales opportunity, there are two stories to be told: yours and theirs. Sure, you need to be able to tell your story effectively (your story should be about how you work and not your history), but the importance of your story pales in comparison to the importance of learning their story.
The most successful agencies understand that the better they understand the story of the prospect, the healthier the conversation that will take place when they finally have that face-to-face meeting. And:
- When you have a healthier conversation with the prospect, you will uncover more of their needs
- When you uncover more needs, you will have the opportunity to filter through and identify those which are the most urgent
- With an understanding of their most urgent needs, you will be able to identify the most potent solutions for them
- When you bring an improvement plan built around the most potent solutions, you are going to win more
Think about the opportunities in your pipeline right now. What do you know about each of those opportunities in the following areas and do you have a process in place to ensure each is captured and documented?
- Industry – What are the trends, current events, and/or regulatory issues they likely struggle with simply because of the industry in which they compete?
- Company – What are their longer-term goals and objectives? How do they define their own success?
- Decision makers – In whose hands does your success/failure rest? What are their individual concerns? What questions do they need you to answer?
- Challenges – What is it about this prospect’s current situation that is likely holding them back?
If you don’t have unique insights in each of these areas, you aren’t giving yourself the opportunity you need to be successful. Getting new business opportunities are the most difficult part of sales; don’t squander them by not putting forth your best effort to really connect with your prospects in a meaningful way.
The most successful agencies understand that only after systematically (meaning in a process-driven approach) moving through the three phases discussed above are they truly prepared for an effective face-to-face meeting with a prospect. But, of course, the systematic, process-driven approach must continue.
However, your process cannot be about simply getting quotes and showing off your capabilities binder; it needs to focus on the following:
- You must take the time to gain clarity about what their goals/objectives are in terms of their HR/benefits/risk management program. How do they define success for that investment of time and money?
- You must be able to analyze their current situation to identify what is holding them back from achieving their goals/objectives.
- You must be the architect of a plan that gives them confidence in their ability, through you, to address their current shortcomings and get on a more predictable path to success.
Now, I hope when you read through everything I have shared here, you see it all as very logical and necessary. I hope you see that taking a systematic, process-driven approach is the clearest path to success.
However, many producers don’t see it that way. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard producers proclaim, “I don’t need no stinkin’ sales process, I’m MUCH better when I wing it.”
That is the most dangerous lie salespeople tell themselves. As Deming told us, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process, you don’t really know what you’re doing.”
Photo by © Siraanamwong.