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?”

Don’t manipulate the client’s problem to fit your solution, adjust your solutions to fit their need

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).

Question your success

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.

Make a strong first impression

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.

Never make a statement when you could be asking a question

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.

Take inventory

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?”


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