If there were just one pearl of wisdom I could share with producers, it would be this: Your network equals your net worth. That’s not a Sitkins original idea; however, I truly believe it’s the number- one tip I could give any producer.
In today’s totally data driven world, I fear that too many producers believe they can “click their way to success.” They rely far too much on the Internet as a means to reach their business goals.
FYI, I strongly support the use of social media, digital marketing, and web-based, mobile and ondemand platforms—any sort of app designed to boost productivity.
No matter where you look—past, present or future—the best producers all have one thing in common: They were, are and will be great networkers.
If you’re wondering how you can constantly build your network, here are some ways that have worked for me, as well as the thousands of producers we’ve trained in our 100-plus Producer Training Camps. The following tools apply to both physical and electronic networks.
When we talk about networks, we’re talking about developing and managing relationships. This starts with doing a great job for your current clients. You must never take them for granted.
To accomplish as much, we had better know their expectations (remember, you can’t exceed them if you don’t know what they are), document their expectations (a letter or some sort of record reiterating what the client says he expects from you this year), and ultimately under-promise and over-deliver.
Unfortunately, people become so focused on transactions that they forget to create raving fans and agency advocates. In the process, they fail to recognize that raving fans are clients for life who refer friends and associates. As networks go, they don’t get much better than that!
There’s no denying that the better your relationship with your insurance company network, the better your net worth. But do you know how to cultivate outstanding relationships with your carriers? One of the best ways is to always provide top-of-thestack submissions (TOSS). The best carriers will tell you they make decisions based on the name of the agency and the quality of its submissions. Are you known as the agent or agency with TOSS? You’ve heard it before, but what are you doing about it?
In a recent speech, I asked how many people in the audience had a documented TOSS format that they used. A underwhelming way-less-than-10% raised their hands. So until you’ve done it, don’t tell me you’ve heard it a thousand times before.
Also, never fail to say thank you. Underwriters are always amazed when someone takes the time to thank them. I know that email is easy, but take the time to send a hand-written, follow-up thankyou note. At the very least, type your thank-you on executive letterhead or nice stationery.
Finally, be sure to manage and track relationships. You need to get to know your insurance carrier “friends” and keep tabs on them because people tend to move around. You may need their expertise in the future, so if they’re doing a good job for you, keep up with them.
Become a specialist within industry niches. All of the best producers I’ve ever worked with are specialists, period. I’m talking about producers with $1 million to $4 million in commission income, which is extremely rare among general practitioners.
Most validated producers already have developed a specialty without knowing it. The easiest way to know where your specialties lie is to do a book of business survey, looking for common classes or types of accounts. For example, if you write four restaurants, guess what? You have a specialty in restaurants. Similarly, if you write 10 property management firms or five roofing contractors, you have a specialty. This suggests that you understand the risks associated with a particular business type, that you know the best carriers for them, and that you have a network of businesses that can help you find others like them.
Once you have your specialties, get involved with them. Join their trade groups, find out who the leaders are and get on committees within the trade group. Give back to the industries that are supporting you.
Are you active in your local Chamber of Commerce? Do you really know your marketplace? If you’re not involved in the area where you live and work, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful resources available: your community network.
The Chamber of Commerce is one of the first groups I got involved in when I first started out in Michigan. I also joined a service organization, the Lions Club, and rapidly built a really big network. I’m convinced that was the catalyst for my political career in my hometown of Wyandotte, Michigan, where I was elected to the first of three terms on the city council when I was just 24. Although I grew up there and lots of people knew my family, I credit networking with much of my early success.
You may also want to consider getting involved in youth sports or any other activities in which your kids participate. Sometimes when I’m out with friends, they’ll remark that I know “everybody.” Well, I coached Little League for 10 years while my kids were growing up, so I got to know a whole lot of parents and made lots of contacts.
You really have to give back to get back. It ties into the idea of deposits and withdrawals. All too often, people expect to make relationship withdrawals without making deposits.
Don’t start networking for the wrong reasons. Make sure you have a passion for what you choose to pursue. We’ve all seen the people who get involved in networking simply to hand out business cards in an effort to drum up business. It’s obvious when someone is out to boost sales or make money. Commit to the causes that mean something to you; the things you care about.
Your next great new client wants to meet you through a referral or introduction. They don’t want you to cold call them or go through an online directory for someone who will give them a quote. Therefore, if you truly believe that your network equals your net worth, you must develop a mindset to earn and generate referrals and introductions from the people you meet.
An excellent way to achieve this is to say to your clients, “My goal is to have a long-term relationship, be a member of your trusted advisor team and do those things that will ultimately earn a referral to one of your friends or associates.” Let’s face it, a referral is the ultimate testament that you’ve done a great job.
As always, you have choices. You can smile and dial, follow up on “Click here for a free quote” suspects (they aren’t even prospects), sit in the office waiting for the roast duck to fly into your mouth, or you can commit to constantly building your network.
By far the best individual networker I have ever met had two different breakfast meetings four days a week. He’d meet his first appointment for a bagel and coffee at 6:00, followed by a full breakfast with another contact at 7:30. He’d also have lunch three days a week with clients and prospects. We all have to eat, so why not take that time to sit down and talk face-to-face with someone besides your co-workers?
The next time you look at your personal “net worth” statement—your personal financial balance sheet—if it’s not what you want it to be, I can guarantee that a big part of the problem is that you don’t have a network. It’s your choice.
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