Building True Sales LeadershipMay 04, 2022
One of the most important yet underserved areas of agency performance is sales leadership. While sales leadership is so vital, it is often missed. It’s like having a football team with no one to call plays or be held accountable for the plays they run.
When we work with insurance agencies, one of the first questions we ask is whether they’re a sales or a service organization. We find that most agencies are service organizations that happen to sell insurance, and that the best agencies are sales organizations that provide exceptional service.
So what is the number one role of a sales leader? Most people assume it’s to grow sales, when really it’s the ability to develop and grow salespeople. This requires the right skills and attitude. It’s not enough to tell producers they need to make more sales any more than it’s enough for a coach to tell the team to score more touchdowns. The best coaches will call better plays and develop their quarterback, their receivers, etc. Similarly, agency sales leaders have to a focus on developing a specific plan—not just a vague idea—to make more sales.
Develop your people and you’ll achieve the desired results.
A common problem we see with agency sales leadership is the transfer of power. Often, sales leaders start out by selling insurance and then become one of their agency’s best producers. Ultimately, they take responsibility for the leadership of the sales department or the entire agency and have to tell their producers how to sell. This can be difficult for those who are more comfortable being the star than the star developer. Also, it doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all playbook, which leaves many de facto leaders unsure of how to get the most from their producers. This includes knowing how to:
- Equip. What tools do the agency’s producers need to succeed?
- Empower. What motivates each producer?
What happens if producers don’t meet expectations?
Typically, sales leaders do nothing when producers don’t hit their quarterly or annual sales goals. This is a mistake. Beyond simply acknowledging a failed goal, sales leaders must take action to keep it from happening again. In addition to holding producers accountable, true leaders will devise a strategy to change their counter-productive behaviors. The key is to get producers to understand and agree upon the Three C's: Clarity on goals/roles, Consistency on vital behaviors/actions, and Commitment to responsibilities/accountability.
Roger introduced these in our last “Winning Strategies” column and took a deep dive on the first one, clarity. I’m adding to that, and then exploring the other two—consistency and commitment.
Clarity breeds culture—the language and behaviors that are normal. What is the vision/mission? In other words, where are we going and why? Let’s say you exceed your ideal weight and you’d like to lose a few pounds. Although your brain gets it and you know it’s important to your health, you’ll find ways to justify the status quo. You’ll continue to eat what you want and not exercise until you understand the real reason you want to weigh less and get in shape.
Once you have a visual and a purpose for why you want to lose weight (e.g., “to be around for my children and grandchildren”), you’re much more apt to succeed. Success is even more likely if you have a coach holding your feet to the fire.
If your job is to produce and you’re not producing, you must determine why. Of all the things you could do, are you focused on doing what’s most important? What activities are critical to your success? Far too often, producers get distracted by trivial administrative tasks and service activities that keep them from selling. They’re busy all the time, but not because they’re doing the right things. The best leaders understand this. They recognize when producers are getting sidetracked, and they help them refocus on money-making activities.
It’s critical to know what the producers want and why it’s important to them. For example, “I want to make more money this year.” While most people constantly strive to make more money, their reasons for wanting it depend on what they value. Will the money be used for a vacation? A dream home? A charitable endeavor? A kidney transplant? A child’s college fund? Sales leaders need to understand producers’ motivation in order to hold them accountable.
On the road to success, avoiding distractions is arguably the greatest challenge for rookie and veteran producers alike. Sales leaders realize that consistency breeds focus. Accordingly, one of their key roles is to keep producers focused on what’s important, namely getting in The Green Zone. That’s the area in which producers make the green and compete at the highest level. In basketball, it’s where the player gets off the bench and into the game. If a basketball player is sitting on the bench wondering why he hasn’t scored, well, that’s why—he’s not in the game! Similarly, if a producer is not producing, it’s because they’re not in The Green Zone.
To stay in The Green Zone, 80% of a producer’s time each week should be spent doing things that make money. It’s a sales leader’s job to make sure that happens by keeping producers focused on the following Green Zone activities:
- Sales appointments. These may be in person, over the phone or via Zoom with clients, future ideal clients (FICs), and centers of influence.
- Pipeline development. Whether it involves talking to an influencer, speaking at an event or simply making a phone call, producers must ensure their pipelines are always under development. Although it may sound counterintuitive, success can actually hinder this process. Producers often stop building their pipelines when sales are up, and then wonder what happened when their sales start to shrivel. It’s because they stopped doing what matters and failed to recognize that pipeline development must be ongoing.
- Relationship management. This is about proactively making deposits in client accounts. Engaging with clients could be as simple as writing a note, treating them to lunch, or making any sort of thoughtful gesture. In our producer camp, we have participants call their best clients just to say hi, thank you, or that they appreciate them. Sometimes, this results in referrals! We strongly encourage producers to cultivate key client relationships on a regular basis.
It’s extremely important to transition from last-minute renewals to continuing relationships. To do so, you must be proactive throughout the year, not just 60 or 90 days before the x-date. Depending on the account, are you giving your clients risk advice periodically? Are you educating your clients about changes in market conditions and/or prices? During the year do you discuss their needs? Coverages? Exposures?
Another aspect of consistency is to have weekly sales improvement meetings. These are not your typical sales meetings in which number dumps and carrier complaints are the focus—where no one gets better; everyone just vents, and then, after the meeting adjourns, the team goes out and keeps doing what they’ve always done.
In contrast, weekly sales improvement meetings are intentional. They provide producers the opportunity to share their successes and debrief any significant losses. The goal is for the producer to leave the meeting a better producer than when they arrived. Otherwise, if they’re getting nothing from these meetings, why would they want to waste their time every week?
Sales leaders understand this and plan purposeful, constructive meetings. Useful activities may include role-playing and low-risk practice of key sales skills (presenting a 30-second commercial, asking for referrals and introductions, etc.). Producers may not like it, but it absolutely helps them improve.
Now we know where you want to go and what you must do to get there. But what happens if you don’t do it? Commitment breeds accountability (e.g., doing what you said you would do). It’s really that simple! Best of all, I’ve broken it down into three easy steps.
Define. Working together, the sales leader and the producer must define and agree upon specific actions, behaviors, and results. What does the agency/department expect? What strategies and behaviors will the producer employ to achieve the desired results? What exactly will both sides do to reach their agreed-upon goals? All of this must be defined prior to making a commitment.
Document. Documenting your commitment is absolutely critical because, if it’s not in writing, it never happened. This is not a contract, but an agreement. Having a piece of paper that both parties sign is tangible proof of that agreement. Not only does it allow the sales leader to have confidence in what they agreed upon, it also provides the opportunity to coach. Should a producer fall short of their commitment, the sales leader can always say, “I thought we agreed,” or, “Help me understand.” They could also question the producer: “What happened?” “What do you plan to do differently going forward?”
At the same time, sales leaders should notice when a producer meets or exceeds the terms of the agreement and commend them for going above and beyond.
Deliver. It behooves sales leaders to sit down with their producers for monthly performance reviews. This allows them to go over what the producer can do to continue succeeding, or whether they need to change their behavior and improve.
Keep in mind, this is not supposed to be a beat-down session, but a meeting to offer encouragement. The best coaches I ever had were those who truly cared about my success—they were rooting for me and wanted to help me win. But they also cared enough about me to tell me the truth. No one does a great job all the time; there’s always room for improvement. However, the best always want to get better.
The bottom line
A common mistake among sales leaders is to dwell exclusively on numbers. Sure, you need to know them, but sales leaders must understand they can only manage people, not numbers. If you as a sales leader are intentional and can inspire the people you’re leading, you’ll earn the respect of your producers and get the numbers you want.
Brent Kelly, president of Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please contact him at [email protected] or visit sitkins.com
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