Remember flying kites as a little kid? And how when that kite struggled you'd pull the string tight and it would soar high once again? I wish more agency owners would think of their struggling producers as that kite.

Selling is hard, and it’s getting harder every day. Gone are the days when simply putting up enough activity would eventually result in writing new business. Gone are the days when simply being likeable would be enough for people to want to work with you. Gone are the days when “winging it” was enough to impress the prospect.

Also gone are the days when agency owners could take a hands-off approach to “leading” their sales team. Too bad more owners aren’t aware of this reality.

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t hear the muffled frustrations of an agency owner, head firmly planted in the sand, as they reflect on the (non) performance of their producer charges:

  • Yeah, I need them to sell more, but since I only pay them on commission, they are only hurting themselves.
  • Their pipeline really sucks, but I’m more concerned about what they SELL.
  • I’d really like them to follow a more consultative process, but it just isn’t my style to tell them how to do their job.
  • I’m really concerned if they are going to make it. We’ll see where they are this time next year and, if they don’t improve, I may have to sit down with them and see if I can’t get them to do better.

Are you freakin’ kidding me?! It’s no wonder the sales team isn’t doing their job. When the leader doesn’t do his/her job, how can anyone else be expected to do theirs?

More than anything else, the job of the leader is to ensure the organization performs at the level it needs to, which starts by ensuring every member of the team performs at the level he/she needs to.

Everyone gets hurt

If you think the fact that your sales people are paid on commission means they are the only ones with something on the line with their performance, you are dead wrong. They are THE lifeblood of revenue coming into your agency. Every opportunity that anyone else enjoys is the result of them doing their sales job. It’s why they get paid so well when they do it.

Beyond that, the behaviors you tolerate may as well be the behaviors you promote. Nothing will destroy your culture faster than not holding certain team members accountable. Tolerate anyone not doing their job and the signal to everyone else is that they don’t have to do their job either.

Yes, it’s hard to sell and it’s hard to be a leader. But it’s your job as the leader to set high expectations for everyone on the team and to then hold them accountable for producing those results.

The pipeline is your crystal ball

If you don’t insist on every producer maintaining a full pipeline of the right opportunities and keeping those opportunities moving forward, where do you think those sales will come from?!

Sure, there are those deals that fall in your lap, but that is a damn scary way to run a business.

And, where do you find the confidence to invest in that next technology solution, hire that next account manager, or give raises/bonuses if you can’t look at the collective pipelines and see the revenue that will be flowing in over the next sales cycle?

Yes, it’s hard to prospect and it’s hard to be a leader. But, it’s your job as the leader to provide (directly or with help) your sales team with the skills it takes to prospect effectively.

Yes, you can tell them how to work

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I hear an agency owner state that as long as his people sell, he/she doesn’t care how they get it done. Many (most) will say “It’s not my job/style/position to tell them how to sell.” Um, YES, IT IS!!

It doesn’t matter if the producer is producing results or not, this is a ridiculous position for leaders to assume.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a proponent of a rigid, cookie-cutter approach, but there does have to be a general sales process that every member of a sales team is expected to follow. It would be foolish to not allow their personal style to enhance that process, but there has to be a process and it has to be followed. And, it has to be followed for countless reasons:

  • It ensures the expectations of right client experience will be set from the beginning.
  • It ensures the complete picture of the buyer is properly addressed.
  • It ensures the rest of the team knows exactly what each client expects from them.
  • It ensures the brand of the agency remains intact.
  • And, it ensures that very sales person can more predictably drive new sales.

It’s hard to sell and it’s hard to be a leader. But, it is your job as a leader to make the job of selling as easy and predictable as possible. The era in which you found success “winging it” has passed. Buyers are more sophisticated and you need to create a sales process that allows your sales team to keep pace.

What are you waiting for?!

Most of the time, you and your new producer both know if they are going to make it in the first 90 days. Just because you put that new producer on a 3-year validation schedule doesn’t mean that you mark your calendar for a “3-year reminder” to check back in to see how they are doing.

Our most downloaded resource (BY FAR) is our Producer Annual Plan template. You know why? Way too few agencies have any planning process to guide the success and actions of their sales team.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of agencies that come no closer to planning for a producer’s success than setting an annual new business goal. And, most of the time, the process of setting that goal is suspect.

The amount of new business written in a year is a lagging indicator of success. If you are only measuring lagging indicators, you have ZERO chance of any producer ever hitting his/her potential.

I totally agree that a producer’s annual new business goal is extremely important. I also believe, most of the time, it should be much larger than the goal that is established.

I also believe that, as the leader, there are certain leading indicators (referrals requested, cold calls made, first meetings set, practicing their sales process, health of their pipeline, etc.) you should be reviewing with them on a regular basis (no less than monthly, but as frequent as weekly for newer or struggling producers).

It’s hard to sell and it’s hard to be a leader. But, kicking the accountability can down the road makes both selling and leading way more difficult than they need to be.

Be the leader they need you to be

I know you think you are doing your sales team a favor by letting them do it their way, but you’re really not. Yes, some of them need less oversight than others, but we ALL need to have high expectations set for us, we need to have accountability for meeting those expectations, but we also need to be reminded on a regular basis that there are others who are committed to our success and who are there to help us make it happen.

Just like that kite, we can only soar high as long as there is someone tethering us and reigning us in a bit when needed. If left to fly on their own, even the best salespeople will eventually crash to the ground.

The game has changed. Selling is harder than ever before; leading is harder than ever before. Don’t try to play today’s game with yesterday’s rules. If you do, you and your team will lose.

And, if you think I’m writing this post with you in mind, well, I probably am.

photo by zharth

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