#SitkinsIsTheSolution

Are You Done Yet? Interview with Agency Leader Dan Elliott

leadership podcast Feb 15, 2022
Agency Leader Daniel Elliott

Brent Kelly:

Welcome to the Agent Leader Podcast. My name is Brent Kelly, your host. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode and excited to share with you a very special guest. I'm not going to give away too much yet. I know he's ready to share his wisdom of agency experience and knowledge and going to help you, the listener. Before I get into that, I always want to tell the purpose, the mission of the Agent Leader Podcast. Our goal for you, the listener, is to help you gain clarity, build consistency, and make a commitment to become your best version possible. And Best Version Possible happens to be the title of our new book that just came out this month and we are getting these shipped out. If you have ordered the book and you're still waiting, hang in there, we had some delays in shipping, but they're coming, they're coming, they're coming, we promise.

Brent Kelly:

But if you go to sitkins.com and we'll have this in the show notes, sitkins.com/bvp, for Best Version Possible. So, sitkins.com/bvp you can order a book. Love to get your feedback. We're getting great responses so far and just happy to get that out to the agency world. And at the end of the day, it's about helping you and your agency become that best version possible. And my guest today is someone who I know is striving to become his best version possible to help the agency become their best version possible. I have Dan Elliott, leader of the world-famous, right Dan, Diebold Insurance Agency in Michigan. So, Dan, welcome to the show, and if you would, just give the listeners some idea who the heck are you, tell us about the agency. Just whatever you want to share to give some background on you and the agency.

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. Thanks, Brent. I appreciate that. So yeah, Dan Elliott, Diebold Insurance. I'm actually fourth generation in the family business. We've got three locations here in Michigan working on number four here hopefully in the near future. Out of college we kind of had this unwritten family rule, or expectation, that you go work for a carrier or somebody else for three to five years before you come back to the agency. So I did that out of college and then made my way back to the agency in 2014, where I just started as a commercial producer within the agency. As I grew my book of business, I really transitioned into that sales leadership role. Now I'm managing about nine different producers amongst the three locations. Our agency's really focused on growth. We've partnered with you guys at Sitkins to propel us in that direction. Within each producer, we each have our own niches that we focus on, but really our focus is on growth, and we've partnered with you guys to help us do that.

Brent Kelly:

Awesome. Well, a couple of things jump to mind. First of all, you didn't mention it. You're also, a bit recently, a new papa. Is that right, Dan?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah, that's keeping me busy. So, we're in this transition of the agency from my father to myself and my brother, and then I've got a two-year-old at home and then a two-month-old at home. So balancing the transition, the new business, and the new kid, yeah, it's got us busy, but everything's good. No complaints on my end.

Brent Kelly:

Well, obviously, congratulations. It's a huge blessing, but I know there's a lot of noise. The noise level of a home increases quite a bit with a two-year-old and two-month-old, I have to think.

Dan Elliott:

Yeah, it absolutely does, and I think you know that better than most. So, yeah, absolutely.

Brent Kelly:

I've been through it. I've been through it, but it's wonderful. Also, I was just going to say, I know being fourth generation, I mean, sometimes, Dan, it's like, you pass the next, the next, the next, and sometimes you... What is it? In the movie Multiplicity, you made a copy of a copy of a copy. And sometimes, I know it doesn't always turn out right, but all kidding aside you're in great hands. Your dad has been a phenomenal leader. I know you and your brother and your team are willing and able and committed, which is why I wanted to bring you on, because again, there's a great past that your agency has, but I think there's a bigger and better brighter future ahead.

Brent Kelly:

I want the Agency listeners just to get a sense of your story. And, one thing, too, about your agency is, you are in Michigan. Some people come and tell us, "Well, gosh, this doesn't work, some of the stuff that you guys talk about and do, because we're in whatever, some rural area or smaller state or whatever," but you guys are not, at least your main office, you're not in a metro, New York City or LA, is that right, Dan?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. We're in an incredibly small rural town in Northern Michigan about two hours north of Detroit, and I understand why people say that. It's a lot to take in. The Sitkins model, the basics that you guys teach, some people are going to say, "Listen, it doesn't work for me," but it does, but you got to ingrain it into your culture. You can't just take bits and pieces here and there. You got to really believe in the process. And we did. My dad was a big advocate for Sitkins when we came back to the agency. Myself, my brother and the rest of our team, Amy, Charlie, and all the producers, are really bought into the concepts. And if you do those basics and you do what Sitkins preaches, it does work, but you've got to ingrain it into your culture. That's how you make it work.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Dan, if you could share a little bit, just history. Like I mentioned, where your agency is located and I want to get to some of the challenges you're facing, because there's always a challenge, so I know you still got those and we've talked about some of those. But how has the agency grown? I mean, just give an idea for the audience of where you've been, where you are, and where you're going as far as agency growth?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. So, we're just about six-and-a-half million right now, that's before contingencies. We continue to be in that five to 10% range the last couple of years. COVID has obviously had a little bit of an impact on that, but at the end of the day, we are focused on, we really want that double-digit growth every year. We position ourselves for that. My dad started this agency. He bought it, three employees, a couple of hundred thousand dollars of commission income. And now we're 35 employees across four locations and growing fairly rapidly. We finally got the right people in the right seats of the bus. I really think we're positioned now to really excel and rapidly grow as quickly as possible.

Brent Kelly:

And just so we're sure, six-and-a-half is in revenue commission, right?

Dan Elliott:

That is commission revenue across the four offices. Correct.

Brent Kelly:

Well, I mean, I say that. I know you're laughing because you've heard it forever. We always say it, "The carriers eat the premium, the agencies eat the revenue." So it's phenomenal growth in what you guys have done. And again, it's because you're putting the work in and committed to it. And I think it's very clear on what you want. So I want to get into the maybe obstacle or obstacles you have, because regardless of how well things are going and we can always pat ourselves on the back, and you should, you've done great things, there are always challenges. What would you say right now, Dan, you and the agency, what's your biggest challenge right now and what are you doing to overcome it?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. I guess I'll talk about it a couple different ways. I think our biggest challenge that we have overcome in the last couple of years is getting that true division between sales and service. That's so crucial to the success of the model and how it all works, and there's a learning curve. I think, your guys' book speaks to it, too, the Best Version Possible. There speaks to that, the same goal in different roles, and I think that's incredibly important. That's the message that we've passed throughout our entire team because you don't want that stigma out there of, well, here's sales and here's service and you work for us. No, it's not like that at all. We're working together for a common goal, and there might be more flexibility in one job role versus the other.

Dan Elliott:

But at the end of the day, if we're all working towards that common goal, we're going to be much more successful. Our agency's going to make more money. Individual employees are going to make more money. There's going to be more flexibility, more bonuses, more structure, all of that that goes along with increased revenue. And I think that was one of our biggest challenge that we're finally getting to a good place where there truly is that, the vision of sales and service and there's a positive mentality about it. I think that was one of the biggest hurdles that we had originally, and it just took a lot of coaching and reinforcement as to why we need this division there.

Dan Elliott:

And you guys helped us through that obviously with how we teach that and why we do it. The biggest challenge I think we're having now is still dealing with a little bit of this pandemic in terms of having our producers out there 80% of their time in those money-making activities in that green zone that you guys talk about. It's easy to make excuses in today's world as to why I'm not producing, why I'm not making calls, why I'm not having those meetings on my calendar. So really focusing on getting out there and doing money-making activities 80% of the time. I think that's one of the biggest challenges, but I think there's ways we can get through it and we're working on that right now.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Appreciate that response. So just some things that come to mind. I mean, I think you said it first really about the beginning. We talk about having a division of sales and service. It doesn't mean a division of the fact, like you alluded to, one's better than the other. I mean the simple analogy I always use is football. I mean, it's like if you're not blocking for the quarterback, the quarterback gets killed, right? And we both need each other. I love that. I love that you reinforced that. We've got the same goal, which is to retain our top ideal clients. I mean, that's our same goal. We just have different roles and we have to understand and embrace those and do what we do best. And I think that sometimes is missed, and if we're not careful and I appreciate what you guys have done, Dan, at the agency is reinforce the culture, the why behind it.

Brent Kelly:

It's just as important as just, "Here's what we're going to do." Yeah, we've got to do this, but again, why are we doing it? And outside of the fact that it's much better for the client experience, we always say, "It's not just a service hand off. It's a service hand up," right? We want to increase the relationship and improve that and put the right people in the right places, but a big part of that, too, and you mentioned some of the challenges with COVID, is the producers, the high performance team, the service hand off, this division is all about getting the producers doing what they're supposed to do, which is produce. Sometimes that's missed. So anything you want to add to that? You pretty much hammered it home, Dan, but anything else jumps out at you?

Dan Elliott:

No, I mean those high performance teams are just so crucial. I mean, I'll give them a little shout out to my account manager, Shawn Nelson. I wouldn't be half the producer I am without her on my team, and the rest of the commercial lines team that I have at the agency. And I know the personal lines and the benefits producers at my agency feel the same way about their teams. They are incredibly beneficial to the success of the producers and the success of the sales team at the agency. So, you really need to have that division between sales and service, but you better take care of your team because you're not the same producer without them.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. I was thinking, this is a really bad analogy and you're probably going to be like, "I don't know what you're talking about, Brett, because I'm old and you're still young, Dan, and vibrant and all this stuff," but it reminds me. It's like a smart man. First of all, it's true that your team, obviously, get it, teamwork makes the dream work, every cliche you want to use. It's true. But do you remember the Isotoner Glove commercial with Dan Marino, but any chance?

Dan Elliott:

I sure don't, Brent. I sure don't.

Brent Kelly:

So, some of the audience is like, "What is he talking about?" But there was a commercial. So, Dan Marino, Hall of Fame quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, right? So you at least know who he is, but he had this commercial Isotoner Gloves where he gave all of his offensive linemen the Isotoner Gloves because, "You got to protect the ones that protect you." And so, what I was thinking, Dan, there, is I get a good shout out to your team because they are the ones that make it go. We do need each other and understand what we do best. And, well, I say, "Listen, the service team is certainly doing a lot of the reactive service and some of those important relationship conversations that need to be had. But the producers are accountable for the results," right?

Brent Kelly:

So we both have these important responsibilities. So, love that. So let's move from challenges a little bit to what you do well. I believe that success leaves clues. All of the agencies that I have the opportunity to work with and coach and talk with, yes, there's challenges, but they're also having successes. What would you say, Dan, is maybe the biggest success or greatest success that you guys are achieving right now?

Dan Elliott:

I would say that the greatest success is, no matter what anybody tells you, it's still a relationship business and the relationships we've been able to make with our clients, with our carriers and those COIs, those centers of influence, they've been so important to the success of our agency. We've really focused on it. We said, "Listen, you guys spend a lot of time with these clients, with these carriers, with the COIs, and really try to replicate those as many times as possible because at the end of the day, we're only as successful as what clients we bring to the table." I really feel that our clients are better in their business for partnering with us, that's why we do what we do.

Dan Elliott:

But building those relationships with the clients and carriers and COIs certainly seems to be our best success that we've had when we talk about revenue. Internally, we're not talking about just revenue generation, just how we've changed our communication within the agency. When we talk about communicating the culture of Sitkins, the culture of the way we run our agency, from the sales team to the service team to everybody within the organization, we just really focused on improving that in the last couple of years.

Brent Kelly:

Well, thanks for saying that. If I would ask any agency, "Are relationships important?" Or, "Are relationship's still important?" They would say yes, but there's a difference of just saying that than what you're actually doing proactively in deposits. One of the most simple things, and you may have experienced before, Dan, in our producer camp, and we started doing this a couple of years ago, almost just to see what happened for fun, but it's really taken a life of its own. Whereas we have the producers just pick up the phone and call one of their best clients or influencers for no particular reason, just reach out. And every single time we do this we get people coming back smiling and all these things. And, again, that's a small little point.

Brent Kelly:

The bigger point of it is, it's like the realization of, "Why am I not doing more of that? Why am I not being more of a human being?" That outside of just, you're my client, right, there's a bigger picture. There's a human experience around it, which guess what? Still matters. And if you don't think the last 18 months have demonstrated the importance of relationships, you're nuts. So I love the fact that, A, you're not just talking the talk. You're walking the walk. What other behaviors we're going to do? So, such great advice there, Dan. Thanks for sharing that.

Brent Kelly:

To be a little bit self-serving and maybe you've already answered this in different ways, and again, you've had a long relationship with Sitkins, and I always find this interesting because I don't always know the answer and I haven't asked you before this interview. But just from our relationship and some of the things that we've done in our training and our coaching, which part of that has been most impactful to you, Dan, and your agency?

Dan Elliott:

I really do believe that it's getting back to doing the basics and doing it better than anybody else. You guys have preached that from the beginning. It's easy to go to these and think, "Oh, you're going to come out with these three or four massive ideas that are some silver bullet that's going to take over and change the industry." It really comes down to just doing those basics and doing them perfectly. The results will speak for themselves when you do that. It'll ingrain in your culture.

Dan Elliott:

When you go to a Sitkins seminar, we'll walk out of there as a leadership team with 50 things. And the other advice I have is, is pick one to three of those key important things, really laser focus on those, wait till you get those implemented, and then go down the list for the next few. But, Roger, we started with him before you were even with the Sitkins organization of, let's really, really get to these basics, the blocking and tackling and just do them so well that your clients are going to be served as best as possible.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. As I've told you, we've spoken off air, so to speak, off podcast, just about my family, and I told you, my oldest daughter is a senior and she has her senior night coming up. So I have watched a lot of her basketball games over the many, oh, I don't know, 10 plus years, more than that. She started playing when she was like five or six. And it's interesting, whether you're watching a seven-year-old or an 18-year-old, it comes back to you, can you catch the ball? Can you pass the ball? Can you dribble the ball without staring at the ball? Can you rebound the ball? Right? I mean, and, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I know. I know. I know. But guess what? The teams that execute that, they find a way to win, and they're very stable.

Brent Kelly:

And so I appreciate you again, Dan, you mentioning that because so often it's like, "Well, the basics, the basics, the basics." And one of the things we talk about now at Sitkins, and it's true, is that you as agencies and for all my listeners, it's time to quit the gimmick of the month club. Like, "Oh, what's this next really cool thing that somebody said we should do and try it?" Okay, maybe it's good, maybe it's not. I don't know. But have you mastered the basics? And we did a podcast, Roger and I. It's been, I don't know, a few episodes ago now, it's been a little while, but be so good at the basics you become cutting edge. And I think that's what you and Diebold are doing and continue to do. And there's always more fine-tuning. Is that correct?

Dan Elliott:

That's correct. I mean, just the amount of repetition you do, it's going to get that normal habit, the day-to-day, but you're right, you got to tweak it. We always talk about direction and destination, and does your direction match your destination? And even with that, you got to tweak things. But as you get smaller and smaller and smaller, all the way to the basics, there's things ever every day where Amy, our COO, will say, "Well, we better do this different, or we better do this different." It's just those small processes and procedures that make sure we're doing things as effective and efficiently as possible.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. This could be a poor analogy, Dan, but I was thinking, I live in one of the flattest places in the country, okay? You can see I'm in the middle of Illinois. You can see a long way, right? I've had my back house goes out in a field, and that's the joke, I don't know if I've ever said this podcast. The joke, Dan, by the way, is that it's so flat here that you can watch your dog run away for three whole days, okay? That's... Oh, you kind of laughed. Thank you. Yeah, that was the joke. But the point of it is, is you got to start walking. And even where we live, you can see a long way in the horizon, but at some points you can't. And so you got to walk the walk, right, and take those steps. And sometimes the terrain may change a little bit. You got to make some slight shifts and adjustments because you don't always know what's out there.

Brent Kelly:

I mean, it's like, what's your 10-year business plan? I don't know. Like I have ideas, but that's crazy talk to a degree. You can have some vision, but you don't know. I mean, you can imagine people three years ago, "My three-year business plan is that we're going to have a pandemic." So you've got to stay true to the philosophies and the basics that work, but also be flexible and you got to make certain shifts when necessary and be honest with yourself, right? I think that's one of the things that I get a respect about you at Diebold is that even when you're doing things well, you still look at it and go, "We could do a little bit better." Is there an example of that in the agency that comes to mind, Dan?

Dan Elliott:

Yeah. You know what? There's a lot of things that come to mind when I talk about that. But I don't necessarily have a really glaring example of it, but I mean, it does happen daily of, "We're doing this claims process pretty good, but why don't we do this a little bit different, a little bit better?" And a lot of times you got to fail to succeed. You find out that something happens and you made a mistake here and you got to adjust going forward to make sure it doesn't happen again. And, yeah, that's a reactive approach, but we're proactive in how we're meeting and managing. You've got to have that kind of balance of proactive and reactive to make sure that you're delivering what you need to do with your team.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. I love that. And my favorite quote is that, reflection turns experience into insight. And part of that is just being honest with yourself and that's not always fun. It's easier to kind of kid yourself. "Ah, we're doing pretty good in this area. No, the truth of it is we've gotten away with some of the things that have made us successful. Maybe we should make some tweaks to get back to what we know works." So, I applaud you for that. All right, Dan, I have one more... Oh, go ahead, Dan. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Dan Elliott:

I was going to say, I'm pretty sure you and Roger have told me hundreds of times that it all starts with telling the truth.

Brent Kelly:

It does. And it's easy for us, at least in that aspect, to tell you to tell yourself the truth, but guess what? I live it every day, too, where I have to look in the mirror and go, "Am I being really honest? What is my best version?" Those are hard questions because it's a constant challenge. And because we're human we're going to fall short of those things. But the difference is, are you going to just accept and be okay? I go, "Okay, what can I do? What do I need to do to make sure that tomorrow is a step ahead of what today was, that I'm making progress." It's not about perfection. It's about progress. So, Dan, are you ready for one last question?

Dan Elliott:

Sure am.

Brent Kelly:

This is the doozy. This is the big one. I hope you're ready for this, all right? All right.

 

Brent Kelly:

Now, I mean, again, you're a young guy. You've got two young children, but you've been doing this for a little while now. And we do have so many agencies, and I hope we're seeing more and more. I want to see more and more young professionals in this industry, because it's a great industry. But if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Dan Elliott:

Well, that's a great question. I would say that that one piece of advice would just be really honest of, "Listen, you don't know everything. In fact, there's a lot you don't know and you really need to be a sponge. As you grow in whatever business you go into and whatever career you go into, there's so many resources, whether it's external or internal in your organization, that you can lean on to make you more successful."

Dan Elliott:

Even when I started, it was like, "All right, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to go write all this business and I'm going to do it my way, and I'm going to get it done." Come to find out, yeah, I probably could have done okay, but not to where I am today. And it's really because I sat back and I was a sponge. I took in as much of the Sitkins stuff as I could. I hopped in the car with my dad, which we had some interesting stories from those experiences.

Brent Kelly:

I'm sure.

Dan Elliott:

We'll leave that off your podcast today.

Brent Kelly:

All right. All right.

Dan Elliott:

But just being able to be around him and be around different carriers and different producers and people within our agency, you learn so much and you can be so much more successful with that idea we always talk about, the whole collective genius. You get there and you get information from other people and you absorb what they're doing and what works for them. And you really just ingrain it into your own style, your own behaviors. You're not going to do all of it, but you're going to pick and choose what works. And at the end of the day you're going to be more successful if you do that.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. I don't have anything to add to what you said, but I had a couple of just thoughts around and stories, examples of that, because it's so true and I see it all the time. Obviously in what I do, the privilege of seeing new producers or agency leaders, and people ask, "What's one of the main difference with some people that approach your process and just go out and kill it, or make that continual improvement? And those that maybe do okay, but maybe not as great as they should." I think the word that you... I don't know if you said the word, but what hit me is coachability. Like, are you coachable? And I was thinking, Dan, I don't know if this is you, and this isn't just ages, but what hit me, at least for me, it's like, in my 20s, I knew it all. You just ask me. Even though I did. I knew it all.

Brent Kelly:

My 30s, I don't know. In my 30s, I'm like, "I don't know if I know it all." And now here, I'm getting in my mid 40s, I definitely know that I don't know it all. And it's interesting, the more that you know, the more that you know that you don't know. And I think it's an approach. And so, hopefully, again, whether you're 25, 65, somewhere in the middle, I don't know, that you have that mindset of, "I want to surround myself with people, with mentors, with coaches, with peers, that are going to challenge me and encourage me. That I'm going to be open to learn something new every single day." Because it's always interesting, some people, not you, Dan, I'm preaching to the choir to you, right? But so many people out there, it's like they get to some stage in their life, maybe after college sometimes, or a few years in their industry, and they go, "Okay, I got it." And they're done.

Brent Kelly:

So my question to the leaders, hopefully, Dan, maybe this will be the... I don't know if this will come out as the title of the podcast, but my question to everybody out there is, are you done yet? Are you done yet? And hopefully no one has that feeling, or you don't have that feeling, but just to ask yourself and challenge yourself, who will you surround yourself with? So, Dan, thanks so much for coming on. Appreciate just seeing you and talking to you and getting so happy for you and your family and what's going on there personally, as well as professionally, your success. Any last words you want to share before we close shop here?

Dan Elliott:

Thanks for having me on, Brent. I appreciate it. Keep up the good work. If you have not got a chance to read Best Version Possible, I know there's some shipping delays. Definitely read it. There's some great advice in there from Roger and Brent on really from the basics to the different mentalities that you should have and how to implement those. It's incredibly valuable, and I definitely recommend that you take a read.

Brent Kelly:

So, Dan, I didn't tell you to say that, but you set it up well because I was going to mention the book again. So thank you for that, and I do know from our team and from the shipping house, and again, there was some stuff there, but we're good. If you go on to sitkins.com/bvp, stands for Best Version Possible, and you put your order in there, they are being shipped out in the next week here. So by the time this podcast is released, you put your order and your book's coming to you. All right? And we want to get you as many agencies and insurance professional hands as we can just to check it out. And we love your feedback as well. So, Dan, thanks again. Best of luck to you. To everybody listening, I wish you all the best in your success. Take care.

 

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