Reward the right behaviors and refuse to tolerate the wrong behaviors.

The world of benefits has changed. It used to be that those with the most discipline simply had an advantage over everyone else. Now, what was once an advantage has become a necessity for survival.

Unfortunately, one of the almost universal frustrations I hear from agencies is their lack of a disciplined sales culture.

As I talk to these agencies, I see two realities playing out. I see many struggling with the reality of a changed industry: Their books of business are shrinking; they sense impending irrelevance; and they're scared.

And then there's the second reality. I see those who have found unprecedented opportunities as a result of the changing circumstances: they're bringing value to their clients in new and unexpected ways, and they've found themselves more in demand than ever before.

The difference between the two realities isn't resources, intelligence, some new product, work ethic, or even divine intervention. The difference between the two is one thing: discipline.

Those who are the most disciplined are winning and are on their way to industry domination. Let me share with you the seven disciplines that will be shared by tomorrow's successful benefits professionals so you can create it for yourself.

Those with the most disciplined sales culture . . .

1. Coach their team

Businesses with a disciplined sales culture understand that the most successful people in any profession have someone coaching them to improved performance, rookies along with veterans.

Not only is coaching necessary, your employees are looking for it. In fact, 65% of employees in a study cited on stated they wanted more coaching from their immediate supervisor. That same study found that coaching is more motivational than a cash bonus.

It doesn't take excessive amounts of time to provide the coaching your team wants and needs.

Five meaningful minutes per week with each direct report can dramatically change your agency.

Only 2% of employees who get no coaching are engaged in their job. Employees coached to their weaknesses are 20 times more likely to be engaged than those who get no feedback. And employees coached to their strengths are 30 times more likely to be engaged.

2. Know what matters and measure it

As Einstein said, not everything that can be measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured.

Companies with a disciplined sales culture know what to develop and track:

  • The results each role must deliver
  • The behaviors that drive those results
  • How to measure/quantify the behaviors
  • What discussions are necessary when measurements aren't possible
  • Teaching employees how to measure, report, and initiate discussions about their own performance.

3. Prepare and debrief

True professionals in any field spend more time preparing to compete and then analyzing their performance than they do in the competition itself.

Preparation is about completing a picture of prospects. The better you understand them (their industry, goals, strengths/weaknesses, decision makers, challenges), the more likely you are to improve their situation. If you are able to achieve the most meaningful improvements, you're going to win more of the competitions.

Win or lose, debriefing means understanding what happened.

Asking the new client, "Why did we win?" will reinforce the decision in their mind, and it will also help you identify what is most important to them and ensure you share it with other prospects.

As hard as it may be, asking that lost prospect, "Why did we lose?" will give you insight as to how to avoid the same result in the future. Maybe you need to qualify better, have better timing, or simply prepare more effectively.

Disciplined sales cultures:

  • Complete a Prospect Profile on every prospect
  • Find the courage to ask why they won or lost
  • Perform, or at least discuss, both of these exercises as a team

Never lose because the competition was better prepared, and never win or lose without knowing why.

4. Feed the tigers, tend the sheep, and shoot the dogs

In undisciplined companies, the 80/20 rule is alive and well. Managers spend 80% of their time with their worst performers. All the while, their best performers get ignored and as a result are twice as likely to be actively looking for a new job.

Despite the time spent with poor performers, undisciplined agencies struggle with firing those who need to be fired. This is especially true when it comes to producers. Agency owners will rationalize their lack of courage by saying, "Well, they don't hurt us because we only pay them commission based on what they produce." This is wrong for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the behaviors you tolerate may as well be the behaviors you promote.

If you tolerate poor performance from anyone, you may as well promote it for all. The cost to your agency is beyond measure; nothing will destroy a sales culture faster.

The most disciplined sales cultures shower their top performers with attention, coaching, opportunities, resources, and rewards. They also help the poorest performers improve, or help them out the door.

One of your greatest responsibilities as a leader is to reward the right behaviors and refuse to tolerate the wrong behaviors. If you don't, you put all of your credibility at risk.

5. Create a theme

Selling is hard, it's emotional, and it takes a commitment to something bigger than ourselves to go out every day and face rejection. Having a theme, an idea to rally around, provides the counterbalance to what can be an emotionally draining effort.

A theme is a reminder to everyone on the team of:

  • Why they are doing the hard work
  • Their confidence in their ability to succeed
  • The belief in the value they deliver
  • The commitment they made to their goals
  • Their determination to outperform those who are less disciplined

Give your team a theme, and you will give them a boost of adrenaline just when they need it most. It will breathe life into your goals and initiatives. Without a theme, chances are they will die a quick death.

6. Celebrate everything that matters

We're competitive people; we expect to win. Unfortunately, we don't celebrate nearly enough, and when we do it's usually only about a new sale.

In a sale, only the producer and owners win. Everybody else just gets more work and resents the celebration. Yes, it is important to celebrate sales, but we need to be celebrating everything that matters to the success of the organization.


  • New accounts
  • Renewed accounts
  • Compliments from clients
  • The achievement of a goal
  • EVERYTHING that really matters

We work too hard for our wins. Never take them for granted; never let them pass without a celebration.

7. Master a sales process

The most successful people in any profession are the ones who practice the most. It can't be just random practice; it has to be purposeful practice built around a process that can be taught, repeated, and coached.

We have processes for almost everything that happens in the agency. There are processes for how to hire, how to onboard, how to prepare an RFP, how to handle claims and issue certificates of insurance. Why isn't there a process for the one thing that makes everything else possible: the way we acquire and retain client relationships?

A sales process is as much about helping the buyer make better buying decisions as it is about helping the producer sell effectively.

It is the agency's responsibility to provide the tools and training necessary for success. Giving a producer a desk and a phone and saying, "Go get 'em, cowboy!" is a failure of leadership.

I hear too many undisciplined agency owners make excuses that it should be up to the producer as to how he or she sells. The client belongs to the agency, and the agency has the right to determine how expectations will be set and executed for those clients.

The sales process shouldn't be rigid, but it is the agency's responsibility to have a process and then train, coach, and insist it be followed. Producers who are allowed to sell in a random manner will generate random results and, worse, create ill-defined expectations for the clients.

Analyze your sales process (quoting insurance and delivering a spreadsheet isn't a sales process; it's part of the job we do once we're the broker). Agencies with a disciplined sales culture have a sales process that:

  • Differentiates—Allows them to stand out from the same tired sales process of their competition
  • Educates—Provides for continued improvement and development of current producers and the education of new producers
  • Scalable—Meets the needs of veteran as well as novice producers, and also meets the needs of sophisticated buyers as well as the mom-and-pop shops
  • Repeatable—Allows for consistent execution and results
  • Delivers value—Educates the prospect and allows him or her to make the most informed buying decision possible

As you read through these disciplines, I hope something jumps out at you. This isn't just about working harder at what you're currently doing. This is about changing your game, changing what you have to offer to clients, and doing so with great discipline. Is it going to be hard work? Of course it's going to be hard work, but finding the discipline to do what is hard is what makes successful agencies successful.


This article originally appeared in Rough Notes Magazine.

Photo by puhhha