Is Easy Good Enough for Your Agency?


Agency leaders, I have some good news, and I also have some not so good news, otherwise known as bad news. Here's the good news that if you do things that are easy, that are normal, that are comfortable in your agency, those things are easy, they're comfortable, and quite frankly, they're very normal for most agencies. But here, of course, is the bad news side of the equation, is that when you do these things over a period of time, they make your results, your growth, your profitability, the culture of your agency, and quite frankly, long-term relationships very, very difficult. Welcome to the Agent Leader podcast. My name is Brent Kelly, thanks so much for joining me. I'm going to bring some passion and fire to you on today's episode. This good news, bad news scenario of doing easy things, normal things that make your agency results harder, right?

Make your relationships harder, your culture harder, your growth harder. Long-term for your agency. And I'm going to share this from some experience I've had. This isn't just a heartfelt issue, although it does come from my heart. It certainly comes from tangible work with agencies across the country and just some conversations that we have all the time. And before I get into the content today, I'm going to remind you that we have a brand new resource, a tool. It's a free tool. This is the one thing that is super easy, that is also effective that I'll talk about today, and that is our Agency Transformation Scorecard. It's a very brief survey for your agency. You can take it from anywhere you have the internet connection, and you'll get some instant feedback from our team at Sitkins to see how you fare in key areas. So go to Sitkins.com/scorecard.

We'll make sure we have it in the show notes as well, wherever you're listening or watching from. So I want to get into the content today again, about this easy, normal, comfortable things that agencies do, things that I see agencies do, that our team see that agencies will often will do. And that these things that although they're easy, which by the way, when things are easy, they're easy, that's nice, right? Or comfortable. They're comfortable. They obviously can sabotage in many cases or hinder at best, your long-term growth, your long-term opportunities, your long-term results that you as an agency leader are seeking. And I want to first of all give some context to this. And again, there's variable stories that come from when I share these different areas that I'm going to touch on. And there's more than this, but I want to share some of the key areas that jump out in working with agencies, but also comes from a very recent event that I attended and I was able to participate in the AI Agency Intelligence Brainshare function. So shout out to all the Agency Intelligence members, Brainshare members. Jason Cass, thank you so much for leading a great event. Thank you so much for allowing me to come in and share more importantly, listen and learn a lot of, I told the group, I mean, when I come and do certainly two day workshops, a lot of mastermind events, which this one was, I learn much more than what I share. I try to share from my heart and share experiences

And share value, and the feedback was great, but what I take back is so valuable. And so one of the things that hit me from this event and reminded me that oftentimes is that to get better, to take the next step, if we talk about to become that best version possible, we often have to do things that are a bit uncomfortable or unconventional or against the norm, so to speak. And so many of these agencies we talked to, they realized that, man, I've got to start thinking a little bit different on some of these areas, and I have to be willing to get a bit uncomfortable. And that's why I started off talking about the fact that doing things that are comfortable and doing things that are easy and doing things quite frankly that are normal in the independent insurance agency marketplace, those things are easy and comfortable.

But what'll happen is, and we had some discussions in the room, is that if we continue to do these things, we find out that six months, one year, two years, three years, five years, whatever the time period is, is that many of the long-term goals that we're set out to achieve or want to set out to achieve, become much, much, much more difficult because we weren't able to get out of some of our comfort zones and do some of things harder upfront. And by the way, let me start off by saying this, and I've mentioned this maybe on previous podcast, I heard this from John Maxwell. He said this, "people don't resist change. People resist being changed." Now think about that for a second. People don't resist change. People resist being changed. Well, why is this so important? Well, if you think about it from an agency perspective, and I'm just going to keep things super simple here.

If you're looking to increase your organic growth, if you're looking to improve profitability, if you're looking to hire better people on your team, if you're looking to create better relationships both internally and externally, improve the culture of your agency, increase the agency valuation of your firm, all those things make a lot of sense. I think people would like that change. Do you want that change? Do you want to improve growth? Do you want to improve profitability? Do you want to improve your agency value? Yes, yes, yes, Brent, give me that change. But here's the thing. To have that change, you have to be changed. You have to change certain things, and not just yourself, certainly as an agency leader, but obviously change the behaviors and habits of some things with team members on your agency. And that's where there's friction, right? That's the rub. So you're going to kind of hear this in these different areas that I want to highlight today, is that the easy thing to do is just to avoid it, ignore it, don't do anything.

But what'll happen is the harder problems will occur down the road. In fact, and I've probably shared this before on the podcast at some point as well, but Roger Sitkins, our CEO, my mentor has said something that's so profound to me. He said, "A problem left unattended will eventually become a crisis." A problem left unattended will eventually become a crisis. So we'll just let it go, let it pass, and eventually it'll get better. Well, we all know that's not the case. So again, I'm going to hit on a few specific areas of easy, normal, comfortable things that I see agencies do. And by the way, if these are some things that you do, you're not alone. You're not, this isn't to pick on people individually or pick on agencies. We all deal with some of these things, but to me, if I can help you create some awareness in certain areas, what I've learned is that awareness and key areas provides much better action.

So often we try to take actions, but we haven't taken the time to have great awareness. So I'm hoping this will provide some awareness for you as I share some of these ideas. So let's start off with number one. The easy thing to do is to avoid accountability in your agency or at least a depth of accountability in your agency. We talk all the time at Sitkins about a culture and cadence of accountability, and we teach around it, and we help our leaders and our sales leaders and the producers and the service team members talk about what does accountability really mean when we say culture and cadence? Culture is the language and behaviors that are normal in your agency. What do people say? What do people do? The cadence is the frequency. And oftentimes, one or both of these things can be missing when it comes to accountability.

And accountability is very simple. It's simply, did I do what I said I was going to do? So we think about this, and the easy thing to do is, well, I know what people are saying and doing aren't exactly what we want or I want, but you know what? So what? They're human. It's normal. It's not a big deal. I don't want to cause friction. I don't want to upset people. I don't want to anger people. I don't want inconvenience people. You name it. And this could be by a team. It could be by an individual. And of course, the problem with this is that it is plenty. I mean, there's many, many problems that result around this. We get frustrated that we don't get the results we want. Sometimes we get frustrated alone, we're frustrated, they're not frustrated. We've never had these conversations. Maybe they don't even know what the roles and responsibilities really are to know that they're winning.

And by the way, your best performers in your agency, they desire accountability. You probably already know that you think about some of your best performers. They seek accountability. They like accountability. And it's not because they want to be micromanaged, which by the way is not what accountability is. It's that they know that they're human. They know that there's going to be flaws. We all have chinks in the armor. We all have flaws in our game, and we want to be called out or at least be aware of that when it happens. Say, "Hey, listen, we're off track a little bit. Hey, thanks for reminding me. Thanks for getting me back on track." To me, accountability. And Kari Glennon in our office says this all the time is not a four letter word, it shouldn't be. In fact, accountability should be thank you. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Thank you for helping me be more aware of certain areas so that I can perform better and do the things that I want to accomplish as part of this team, right? That's what any great coach does. So that to me is the big part of this is the culture. And then of course, cadence of accountability is the frequency. How often are we having these conversations? Are we having regular meetings? Now, I don't want to get into the tactics of this because it varies so much by department, by type of person, by where they're at in their experience. I get all that. But part of this is do we have some form of cadence that we as leaders are communicating with our team of some type of expectation? Not randomly, but we've got a plan of action around that. So to me, it's the easy thing to do and around accountability is to avoid it.

I mean, that's the simplest thing I can say is that there are going to be some difficult or challenging conversations. But I do want to say this, and this may hopefully reinforce what I mentioned earlier about that the good performers desire and seek accountability. Accountability to me, and this whole piece is an encouragement and a challenge to people in your team. And when we do this in the right way, if we truly believe, and I believe that the number one job of any agency leader above anything else, and there are a lot of responsibility, is to grow and develop your most important asset, which is your people, and to help grow and develop your most important asset. And I believe that every human being deepen their core, truly wants to grow. We may lie about it or make excuses about it, but deepen our core.

When we feel that we're not growing as a human being and as a professional on a team, it causes frustration. We can avoid it. We can make excuses around it, we can hide and run from it, but at their deep core, people want that. And as a leader, when you provide that opportunity to say, I want to encourage you and I want to challenge you, to help you become in our terms, become the best version possible, people will seek that. Now, by the way, if people simply don't, then that's a different issue. And by the way, it's probably a good time to start talking about different opportunities for this person, which probably isn't in your firm. And that goes back to this easy, easy thing. Avoid easy thing. Don't talk about easy thing, hope it goes away. The hard thing is, hey, listen, I want to be really upfront.

I want to be really clear. We're going to have a certain standard, and we're going to have a frequency of how we have these conversations because I owe it to you. And by the way, you owe it to yourself. And if we don't do that, the hard thing is we're talking about the same person again and again, the hard thing is that our culture is not thriving. Our culture is talking about scarcity, not abundance, right? We're obviously having some internal strife. In many cases, we have our best performers who wonder, well, why are they allowing the poor performers to exist? Because that's not what I do. And oftentimes our best people will leave. So I can go on and on about some of the problems with this. But bottom line is ask yourself as an agency leader, am I doing some things that are too easy, too normal, too comfortable around accountability that are easy today or easy this week that I know that in one month, three months, six months, one year and three years will cause me and our team more difficulties, more challenges make things harder?

So the first one is accountability. Secondly is productivity. So these certainly can cross over, but let's talk about productivity in particular. I think the easiest way to describe productivity, certainly in terms of this podcast comes to producer productivity. Because listen, maybe I'm not that smart, but I know this, that net new revenue doesn't fix all problems of your agency, but it fixes most of them. So part of this is getting our team productive in the game. And I've had Roger Sitkins on as a guest before, and he talks about the world's greatest recruitment program because it's hard to find great people. The world's greatest recruitment program is to get your current people to do what they should do, which is to produce. We're talking in terms of producers, and again, the easy thing to do in agencies is to allow our profitable producers to subsidize our unprofitable producers.

That's true. Now, if you're a larger agency, you're bringing in some new producers, there's a path of validation there. I understand that. But as an organization, we have to ask ourselves, are we allowing profitable producers to subsidize our unprofitable? Why is that easy? Well, we know we're going to have some hits. We're going to have some producers that they're producers, they're good, right? They're talented. They go out there and they bring in business. And then we've got some that quite frankly, I don't think we're ever going to make it or we don't feel good about or it's not happening, but we're going to let that go a little bit because we can allow our profitable producers to subsidize our unprofitable producers. And again, this ties back into accountability. There's no doubt there's overlap here, but a big part of this is, again, the easy thing to do is to let it go.

The easy thing to do is not challenge your producers to be in the game. And I've got many other podcasts about the green zone and producer productivity. We teach the perfect producer schedule in our programs, which is one of the most popular things that we talk about. But this part of it saying, listen, it's the easy thing is to not worry about it. The hard thing long-term is that why aren't my producers producing? Why aren't our pipelines full? Why aren't we getting the results we want? Why aren't we finding better producers? Why aren't we keeping some of the better producers, right? Again, this ties back into accountability, but this is a really important area when you think about your agency productivity. Are we doing the easy things in productivity that are making our long-term results harder down the road? Which leads into the next part I want to get into, and this really is overall agency profitability.

Now, I could go down a rabbit hole here, so I'll try to keep this concise, but just like I said, are we allowing profitable producers to subsidize unprofitable producers? Let's talk about our accounts in our agency. Are we allowing profitable accounts to subsidize our unprofitable accounts? Do we allow too many profitable accounts? Accounts that we know are great accounts we're proud to have in our agency? They produce great revenue. They probably have really good relationships built with yourself and your team. Are we allowing those accounts to subsidize our unprofitable accounts, which are typically smaller accounts, transaction based, not very good relationships. We're seen as a vendor or commodity in many of these relationships. So we can be super easily replaced and oftentimes are, but we just find more people to bring in, right? Again, the easy thing to do in this situation is go, well, it kind of is what it is.

We have accountants coming in the front door, they go out the back door and listen, we've been blessed in the last couple years. When I say blessed, it depends on how you view this. But from an agency operation and revenue perspective, been blessed with a harder market, meaning that you can do that. Some come in, some come out, and you're ahead because of rate, which we all know is not going to last forever. But this idea of easy is, well, every account's a good account. We're not going to have any minimum account size or standards. We're not going to try to uplevel our game with our type of clients. We're not going to create any type of select or small business unit. We're not going to trade any of our accounts down to newer producers or younger producers. Allow them to work on it, to free up our veteran producers to continue to grow and expand at higher levels.

We're just going to let things be right? And the thing that we often see on this in the term that I use in our trainings is called horizontal stagnation. We run into horizontal stagnation. That's the problem. It's easy not to address it. All agencies do this. It's not a big deal. We're fine. Our small accounts may be small, but hey, we have a lot of them, right? This kind of mentality, which by the way, leached the problem of that, we actually end up having too many accounts paying us too little money, the 2-2 syndrome. So this concept seems easy upfront, but it creates ongoing long-term frustration. Why can't we grow? Why are we stuck? Why are we plateaued? Why are we just burning? We're burning the candle, right? I mean, to the wicks end, and we're tired and we're frustrated and we're exhausted, and our sales team says they're busy, and our service team says they're so busy.

We are out of capacity. Why? Because we're allowing profitable accountants to subsidize all of our unprofitable accounts. So again, that's another area where maybe we're doing the easy things upfront that make things harder down the road for our agency, which I'm going to speak on one more. And again, there's more than these that I've mentioned, but I'm going to hit these because again, these are fresh in my mind, not only from all the experiences we have with agencies, but coming back from the Brainshare event that I mentioned. It's just such a great group of insurance leaders that we had there and some open discussions. And these are things that I'm thinking, man, there's so many areas that we just say, Hey, this is okay. It's good, it's easy. But when you think about, you talk about agency frustrations, where are you frustrated? Where are you tied down?

Where are you burnt out? Where do you lack freedom? These are the areas that I see and I go, it's typically because upfront we've allowed things to be too easy, normal, uncomfortable in the back end. Now we're frustrated, burnt out, tired, not growing. We'd like to. So let me hit one more of these, and this is pretty straightforward, and I have done other podcasts in relation to this, but it's not having a defined set offense or a defined selling system or a defined unique selling proposition. And we could use a number of terms for this, but I would say offensively, it's a way that we do business. We have a specific strategy, a unique model that sets us apart. And this is so, so common, and I've talked about this before, but I remember having a conversation with an agency leader on the East Coast several years back.

And he was joking, and this was in jest, but there's a lot of truth behind it. And I asked him, what has been his secret to success? And he said, well, I just look at what most agencies do, and I do the opposite. And we laughed. And I said, well, what do you mean by that? Well, every agency says the same stuff they do about the same stuff, right? It's great service, great people. We're the lowest prices. We're competitive prices. We work with all the insurance agency carriers. It means we're independent. All these things that they say that are very fluffy and don't really mean anything. And quite frankly, they're generic. And so it's really easy upfront to not have a set offense selling system, unique selling proposition or process. It's easy, right? I mean, the joke I always say is, you just look, copy, quote, and pray, and you'll do okay, right?

It's easy. It's easy. Well, this one, hey, this one we're a little more competitive on. So we want it, right? This one, I happen to have a little bit of different relationships. We want it right? This one we didn't. And it's just up and down and back and forth. And here's the problem. There's no consistency around that. You can't repeat or replicate any of those things, right? There isn't an agency way offensively that we do business. So it's just hit or miss. And back to what I said with the producers. You might have a really talented producer that's created their own type of system that's been successful, but it's never passed on or replicated. And we know there always needs to be flexibility. But bottom line is, as an agency, we need to have some type of core system that we work around, because when we don't, what happens?

What's the frustration? Well, we get easily replaced. We're always quoting based on, or we're always quoting. We're always proposing based on price, because everything is about a quote, I'll quote, I'll quote, I'll quote. So if you don't have anything, these things built up, if you don't truly know your points of differentiation, as I say, not just know them, but own them. And to be able to ask questions around them and to be able to validate them and to be able to improve upon them, and to be able to have discussions around them. You look and sound like everybody else, which again, is really easy. And because this business is so good, you're going to win enough counts to get by. You will, but you'll never get your full capacity, your potential, your best version possible if you don't begin to create something that distinctly separates you in the marketplace.

And by the way, and I told this to the group, it isn't often that it has to be this magical major thing because I think people overthink it. If you think about most agencies, how many agencies and their producers do a true risk or benefits analysis? I'm not talking about just some wing it thing, but a true thing where they talk about this idea that our job, my job, is to better understand how your company, your team, your family manages or views risk or how they manage or view their benefits package. These are things that we can go much deeper in. How many of them document those things that we actually have those things in writing? How many of those agencies actually have a proactive services timeline or calendar? Now, that term gets thrown around a lot, but truthfully, here's some things we're going to do.

And I know it depends on the size or sophistication of the account, but do we have that? How many agencies? Truly it's somewhere at the policy period, have some form of stewardship or promise report? Here's the things that you said. Here's the things that we agreed upon. Here's the things that we documented. Here's the things that we've done. And by the way, here's the things that we're now doing in the marketplace to ensure that we've got your back moving forward. These are things that quite frankly, any agency, any agency could do. I haven't even got into third party tools and resources or first party in terms of your own agency, things that you have to bring to the table. But at a basic level, these things can absolutely set you apart, and it gives you some form of a system or process that you follow.

And like everything I said, doing that is not necessarily easy upfront. It's easy not to do that. So some of the things of how are we going to do that? That's not always easy. But boy, what you see, your competitive advantage in the marketplace, the way that you differentiate the depth of your conversation, how you're viewed your agency's credibility becomes much easier long-term when you do some of these hard things upfront. So again, I want to share some of these things with you. If you're watching on YouTube, you've probably noticed that I have no script. I mean zero script on this episode. This is absolutely coming from my heart, but it's also coming from tangible experience. It's also coming from very recent experience and having some of these conversations. And again, I talk to agencies over and over about where are you getting frustrated? What are some of the roadblocks?

What are some of the challenges? And again, what I find time in and time out is there's an area or two or more that we've maybe taken for granted or allow things to become too easy upfront because they are comfortable. We know that it's going back to the very beginning of this podcast that people don't resist change. People resist being changed. And for you to do some of these things, and you might be doing some of these things already very well today, and I applaud you for that, right? And there's many more we could get into, but part of this is, it's one thing to say, I want that. It's another thing to say, am I dedicated to be consistent, to do that? And that is a game changer. And one of the things that we preach and teach at Sitkins, it doesn't have to be 75 things.

In fact, these four things I mentioned are our core four foundational things that we teach and preach at Sitkins with our agency members. Because we believe in agency transformation. It starts with what we think. It's our beliefs. Our beliefs drive our behaviors, and our behaviors drive our results. And too often people start with results. We're all about results, and I hope your agency gets in the seeking great results. Whatever that means for you. It's your results. But we have to go backwards. The results come from not just an idea. The results come from the behaviors that we do every single day, every single week. What are those behaviors and these things I talked about today? It's easy to do, the easy behaviors, it's harder to do the more challenging behaviors, but that gets you the results. And of course, the beginning is what do you believe?

What's your philosophy? Right? And by the way, I hope this doesn't come across as discredit agencies. It's not my goal, but I think there's a lot of fact to this is that if you're an agency that's happy and you're comfortable and you don't want any changes and you're good, then we are not a good place to talk to and work with. We're not, and God bless you. Like I said, go do your thing. But if you go, I know there's more. I know there's more within me as a leader and our agency, and I would hate to look back and three years, five years, 10 years, whatever time period is, and go, gosh, we could have been so much more if only. And by the way, it's not always about the money. Money's great. I'm all for it. I hope you all make a bunch of money.

It's what the money provides, right? It's what the time that we help agencies save, provide. It's what the better relationships allow that you have. That's what it's really all about. And of course, at the end of the day, it's about delivering value to other human beings. It's being able to transfer an idea or influence. It's being able to make a difference in someone's life. These are the things that really matter. So I know I'm going on a bit of a soapbox here, but I just want to share that with you from my heart, the agent leader, I do care about you. We care about you as agency leaders. We want you to thrive. We want you to go to a higher level. We want you to look at your life and your business and go, you know what? At the end of the day, I did everything I knew possible, and I'm proud.

I'm proud of what we've accomplished. So again, if you want to reach out to us, the great starting point is the scorecard that I mentioned, the Sitkins.com/scorecard, and I'll put that in the show notes. It's an agency transformation scorecard. You can take a look at some of the key areas. Also, if you want to reach out directly, just go to Sitkins.com. A number of resources there we have for you as agency leaders, whether it's our blog posts, the podcast like this, obviously, or some other tools that you can access and determine. Ultimately, if being a partner with someone like Sitkins, right, and the type of agencies that we're looking for is a right fit for you, we'd love to have a conversation, learn more about your agency, and help you take the next step for you. With that, I wish you all the best in your success. Thanks so much for listening. Take care.


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