The Silent Killer in Your Agency

Producer hiding behind being busy

This killer can’t always be seen or heard, but it’s always felt in an agency’s culture and demonstrated in its results and profitability. You can be floating along and feeling pretty good about your results, but then the killer appears. You start to stagnate and wonder what happened.

The problem can usually be traced back to the notorious growth killer: complacency. The challenge is to notice it before it gets to you.

Complacency, which Roger touched on in last month’s column, is the only thing that lives, grows and flourishes in the comfort zone, and that is how it is able to creep up on you. Here’s where we often see it manifest itself in many agencies:

  • Internal communication. There’s a lack of clarity and little or no coaching. Leaders stop communicating with salespeople and salespeople don’t talk to the service team, and vice versa. Everyone assumes that things are being done, when that may not be the case.
  • Producer productivity. Producers get semi-successful and aren’t as motivated as they once were. They grow a respectable amount of business and then start to plateau as they become more entrenched in the comfort zone. Good is good enough.
  • Typically, producers stop earning and generating referrals when they start taking their clients for granted and stop looking for others like them. They haven’t thought ahead to growing their book, and so they become reactive vs. proactive. They’re not intentional or deliberate. As a result, they let things happen rather than make things happen.
  • Generic message. What differentiates one agency from another? Not much if the agency has grown complacent about how it helps clients and about what makes it unique in the marketplace. Because its message is generic (“We have the best people/prices, etc.”) the complacent agency looks and sounds like everybody else.

In dealing with complacency, agency leaders have two choices: (1) Justify it and make excuses (e.g., “Other agencies aren’t doing any better,” or “It’s not that bad; we’ll look at it again next year.”); or (2) They can face the truth and commit to doing something about it.

Here’s a closer look at what agencies are really saying when they want to justify their behaviors vs. the truth they may be trying to ignore.

Internal communication

The justification: “If we get together and we’re talking about agency business, then we’re communicating. I mean, we do have meetings now and then, some of which we schedule and possibly plan with an agenda. But even if we don’t schedule our meetings and don’t really remember what we discussed, we communicated, right?”

However, think of the last time you held a scheduled sales meeting. What was the purpose, what did you talk about, and what was the action step? If you can’t answer those basic questions, you may not be communicating as much or as well as you think you are.

Here are some other ways to discover the truth about your internal communication:

  • Does your team have a common purpose, mission, vision? Is the team aligned with where they are and where they are going?
  • Do your sales and service teams meet proactively at the start of every week? Do they ask, “What do you need from me and what do you need me to do?” You either prepare or repair. Do they agree and prepare on key items for the week/month? Producers need to let service teams know who their new clients are and introduce them. That way, the clients feel supported and the service team feels in the loop.
  • Do you have sales meetings that focus on producer improvement/development? Many—not all—agencies have sales meetings. Unfortunately, most of them are a pointless waste of time. Do you practice role playing? Do you discuss lost sales and new sales? Or do you just complain about clients and carriers? Usually, unstructured meetings quickly turn into forums for venting frustration, which isn’t effective or helpful. The best meetings leave producers feeling and performing better than when they arrived.

Producer productivity

The justification: “I know I didn’t make any sales, but I was really busy!” Busy has become a badge of honor among producers. With this mindset, we celebrate busyness rather than focus on results. The least effective agencies talk about how busy they are while the best agencies talk about what they do to generate results.

The truth is:

  • Activities do not produce revenue. For the most part, these are service team responsibilities, not a producer’s responsibility. A producer’s job is to produce! Both jobs are equally important and have the same goals, but different roles. Mindless busywork is not an activity.
  • Producers like to hide behind activities and busywork. Those things make them look productive, but that’s usually just an excuse for their complacency. Maybe they’re intimidated or uncomfortable about being proactive or developing their pipeline; their justification is to cover it up in activities. The bottom line is, they’re not getting results.
  • Many salespeople are really part-time producers. At best, most of them are in the game half of the time. If you have a basketball team and their job is to score points but they’re spending half their time on the bench, that’s a problem. They can’t possibly score enough points to win the game. Keeping in mind that the typical work week is 40 hours, we challenge producers to spend half their week—just 20 hours—in true money-making activities, such as pipeline development and cultivating relationships. The reality is that most spend less than half that amount of time doing things that will help them make money. That’s not the hallmark of a full-time producer.


The justification: Arguably the most dreaded part of a producer’s job is earning and asking for referrals, and most will find endless ways to justify why they don’t do it. “My clients like what I do for them; I’m sure one of them will give me a referral.” “I hate to ask; I don’t want to seem pushy.” “From time to time we get a few referrals, which isn’t too bad.”

The truth is:

  • Your best clients want to help you. They’ll think more of you, not less of you, if you ask them for help. That’s why it’s important to keep them loving the job that you’re doing for them.
  • There is no systematic referral process in the agency. Is the culture sporadic or systematic? Referrals need to be part of the corporate culture. If you believe your clients are better off after working with you, shouldn’t referrals be part of the agency DNA?
  • Asking for referrals takes practice. If you ask most producers how they ask for referrals, they will probably hem and haw. It’s a skill that must be developed and built—it doesn’t just come naturally. If you don’t practice asking for referrals, you will feel silly in front of prospective clients and you won’t be good at it. You need to practice consistently and often—in front of a camera, in the office, or to a teammate. You’re going to look stupid someplace; wouldn’t you rather it be a low-risk environment?
  • You’re not convinced you’ve earned it. Do you believe you deserve an enthusiastic endorsement from your clients? If you have never defined, documented, or delivered upon agreed expectations with your client, you’ll lack the confidence you need to ask for referrals.

No agency sales process

The justification: “Everyone has their own style.” If you ask a group of producers in the same agency about their sales process, you’ll probably get all different answers. Some will say they don’t have a process while others will say their process varies with each presentation. Also, the fact that some are doing very well individually indicates that the agency can get along fine without a uniform way of selling.

The truth is:

  • You can’t replicate agency growth, because everyone has a different way of selling and your producers are “winging it.” Sure, some producers will be highly successful and others will struggle. It will all depend on whom they hang out with and learn from.
  • Your team can’t truly differentiate in the marketplace. If there’s no uniformity, you’re going to send mixed messages to the marketplace and blur into the background. Do you have a true unique selling proposition (USP)? It’s impossible to have a differentiated selling process if you don’t know how you’re different. The key is to establish what makes your agency unique and convey its unique advantages to your market.
  • You are still focused on quotes and transactions rather than risk advice and relationships. Again, that’s because you haven’t differentiated. You can’t give worthwhile risk advice and add value to the relationship if the relationship is based solely on price and transactions. It’s a race to the bottom. The faster you run (the more you quote), the faster you’ll get there. At the end of the day, you can be good enough and semi-successful with that approach, but you’ll run out of capacity and, ultimately, you’ll plateau and stagnate.

Complacency or growth?

Is your agency experiencing robust growth or is it operating in the comfort zone? Ask yourself, “In one or more of these areas, have I become complacent?” It will creep up on you if you allow it. If you want to be truly successful, you must push out of your comfort zone and change your mindset.

First, identify an area in which your agency has become complacent. Next, face it, own it, and challenge yourself and your team to stop settling. It’s not fair to you, your team or your future to not avoid it.

The author

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

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