Two Vital Questions for Sales Leaders


Welcome to the Agent Leader Podcast. My name is Brent Kelly. I am your host. I am so excited that you're with me today. And if you are a sales leader, if you are a leader of salespeople, producers, this podcast specifically is for you. Now, if you're a producer or an agency leader in a different role or a different capacity in the agency, don't turn this off, at least not yet. At some point, hey, if you want to turn it off, you have every right to do that. But I'll tell you that what I'm going to be talking about today, in particular for sales leaders, are the two vital questions that every sales leader should be able to ask, and of course, get answers to.

And if you are an agency leader, obviously this is important because sales culture in an agency is always important, and I think it's important for you to hear this message. If you are a producer, well, guess what? These are questions that you could be asking and should be asking yourself and having your own personal accountability in becoming a great sales professional, a great producer. So this really applies to many of the roles that are sales-focused in the agency, but I am going to be directing this particularly to the sales leader.

Now, one thing that, I've mentioned this before in the podcast, the role of a sales leader, whether that is your defined role, your main or only responsibility, I know there's some sales leaders that that's their main job in some larger agencies. We've got some agencies that are player coaches, meaning you've got your own book of business and you've built a nice book of business, and now you're doing sales leadership as well. We have some agencies that they don't even quite know who the sales leader is, but someone's sort of taken that role on because well, someone needed to. I think this will be very helpful for you.

So again, if you're a sales leader, this podcast is for you. And before I get into these two questions and some conversation around these two questions, I want to first of all thank you. If you're a listen to me now, thank you. I appreciate it. Whether you're a new listener, whether you're a longtime listener, this podcast and why we do this podcast is all about you. It's the Agent Leader Podcast, and the purpose is always to help you gain clarity, to build consistency, and to make a commitment to become that best version possible. That is our theme. That is our focus. What is the best version possible of you? What is the best version possible of your agency?

And if you are an agency leader, a leadership team, and you want to learn more about what we do at the Sitkins Network, how we work with private clients, how we structure our process, which is the best version possible experience, go to sitkins.com/experience, and would love to have an initial conversation, just a short phone call, to learn more about your agency and see if there's a fit for us to have future conversations moving forward.

Now, with that being said, let's get to the stuff. Let's get to the questions. Hopefully, you've got a pen and paper ready, unless you're driving, please don't do that. But these are questions that are so important for agency leaders, for sales leaders in particular. And something that I believe to my core being is that your number one focus and role as a sales leader, your number one goal is to develop your salespeople, to develop your producers. And whether you've got one producer, or again, if you're the producer, "How do I develop myself?" Whether you've got a team of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 producers.

I was just recently with a great private client member that we work with. I was down at their location. We had a sales summit, and about 40 or 50 of their producers there all in one room, and sales leaders as well. And just some of the conversations that we have and the importance of that can't be understated. And listen, you've got to be a sales culture. And part of this is just true belief in what it is you do, the impact that you have in your community, the impact that you have with your clients, the impact that you certainly have with your team, responsibility. We can't pay more money to anybody if we're not growing as an agency. And so, it's fun to get out there and have some of these important conversations.

And as I was thinking and preparing for this, and some of the teaching and training and coaching that we do around sales leadership is really based around these two vital questions. And the first question that I'm going to share with you today really can't be asked without some work upfront. And I want to make sure that's known, right? This is a question that you can ask this question, but more importantly than this question, I guess, and questions are always important, is some of the pre-work and conversations and diligence that agencies and sales leaders do prior to this question. Because you really can't ask this question with effectiveness, as you'll see in a second or hear in a second, if you haven't done some of the pre-work.

And here's the question, I'll start with this. The question is this. "I thought we agreed on blank, blank, blank. I thought we agreed that blank, blank, blank was important. I thought we agreed upon blank, blank, blank, this process." Right? And of course, blank, blank, blank means what that agreement was upfront. And one of the things, and why I want to share this, is that it's really hard for you as a sales leader to lead or manage air.

Let me say this again. This may be something you may want to write down. And if you're a sales leader, you could personalize this. It's really hard for me, as a sales leader, to manage air. Now, what do I mean by that? If nothing has been defined, if nothing has been documented upfront, and we don't understand what we are going to agree upon to deliver both internally and externally as a sales professional, how do you lead or manage that? Is it just, "I thought, I hoped, I think you said, in the past, this is what happened, in the past, this is what happened to me." Right? Obviously, there's no clarity. And I mentioned the purpose of this podcast: clarity, consistency, commitment. This is true in all phases that we work with agencies.

Clarity, what are the expectations. Consistency, what are the few things that we've agreed to you're going to do really, really well? Commitment, what do we do if we don't do it? Those are the central themes about everything that we teach and train around at Sitkins, and they're pretty basic, but I'll tell you, in many agencies, they're not clear, they're not understood, they're missed.

So this question is this, "Hey, I thought we agreed on blank, blank, blank." And so, let's go back to this because some of you are going, "Well, how do I ask that question if I don't have anything that's said before this?" Well, again, you can't. So the three things that I want to share with you, and I've used these words before in different podcasts, but the three words, and I said them earlier, maybe you caught them, maybe you didn't: define, document, deliver.

One of the things that we have as a resource and our private client members use, and this takes some time. This is a process. This is some work. There is no doubt. But as I say all the time, if you do some of the hard work upfront, it makes your life way easier long term. If you don't do any of the hard work, you do the easy stuff, everything's harder at the end. So there is some hard work in this, but really important, impactful work.

And one of the things that we train and teach around is a producer performance agreement. Does your agency, do you as a sales leader have some form of agreement? And this doesn't have to be a contractual agreement, right? This isn't part of an employee agreement. This is a producer performance agreement. "Hey, listen. What are some of the expectations that are important for us to be successful together?" Listen. A producer has a lot of personal freedom. We understand that, but they're Me, Inc. And if you're a producer listening, your Me, Inc, the company you own, which is your book of business so to speak, within the We, Inc., which is the agency, right? Me, Inc. is part of We, Inc. But you have to think and act like an entrepreneur. You have to think and act like a business owner, but that Me, Inc. is part of We, Inc.

So we're having these initial conversations. How do we know if Me, Inc. wins? How do we know if Me, Inc. is successful? What are the few things that Me, Inc. must do, the producer must do, to be successful, to earn results, to know that they're on the right path? And what are some of the things, what are the discussions we're going to have and next steps we're going to need to do if that doesn't happen?

So a producer performance agreement, and we have a template that we use with agencies to help them do this, first of all, talks about some of the annual planning and goals. That's where many sales leaders do a decent job, but that's where it stops, right? What are your goals? What are your numbers you want to hit next year? And we can talk about revenue or growth or retention or closing ratio, whatever numbers you want to use. It is important to have stretched but realistic goals. And we're not making up numbers, but based on past experience, based on current performance, based on some of the things that we're working through, what are those goals and objectives for the next year? Right? Or you could use whatever defined point of time that you want, but what are those? I think we do need to know what those numbers need to be.

But there's much more than that, right? The next part of this is, "Okay, what are some of the key strategies, behaviors, and habits that must take place for you to hit those metrics?" And by the way, a great producer performance agreement, however you design it, is done together. Now, you should have a template. Our agencies have templates and things you use. You want to lead that, right? And it's not like, "Well, yeah, whatever you think." I don't mean it that way. But I do believe there's some questions that we ask, because listen. If you say it to that person listening, to that producer, if you say, "Here's exactly all the things you're going to do, no matter what," it might register, it might be true for them.

But if you ask questions around it and you design it together, it is definitely true, because not only are you saying it, they are, too. So certainly, you can lead this conversation, right? There's certain expectations. There's certain non-optionals that you're going to have hopefully in your agency, and we talk about those. But we want the producer to truly buy in by asking questions, by having conversations. "How important do you think that's going to be?"

"Well, that's going to be really, really important. We agree. We've seen that with our producers. It's been very, very important. This is something that's going to be critical to your success, and our expectation is you do it." Because guess what? This isn't the micromanage the producer. It's not at all. It's to help them, set them up on a path of success that they can win, that they can make more money, that they can earn more revenue, they can have more freedom, right?

This conversation, yes, we want to help us as a sales leader, but as Zig Ziglar says, "If you help enough people get what they want, you can have everything that you want." So this is really designed with the conversation in mind of, "Hey, I really want to help you. My goal is to help develop you as a sales professional to achieve all the things you want to achieve, have the success you have. And part of that is defining the key things that we need to do and that you need to do every single week to hold you accountable to get those things you want to get done." And everybody's going to be looking at this differently, but you as a sales leader, need to drive that conversation and ask some great questions.

So that starts with having some form of agreement. Now, you can keep this really simple at the beginning. We've talked about some of the goals. We've talked about some of the key specific behaviors and habits that the producer needs to do. We give a number of ideas for agencies that they can look at, and they don't have to use them all. In fact, they shouldn't. But find the key areas.

And then, part of it becomes, "Well, what happens if you don't? These things are important to you, they're important to us. What are some of the next steps that would happen if you don't achieve this?" Now, by the way, you need to talk to your attorneys and your human resource people of all these kind of things. Every state is different and all the legalities, I get that. The point of it is there needs to be some discussion of consequence. And it doesn't mean, "Hey, if you don't do this, we're going to fire you." Right? What it means is, there's going to be some important conversations to be had, right? Or there's going to be some type of, I hate to use this word, but some type of probation or we're going to do a deeper review on things. But we're going to talk about this upfront. This isn't a surprise.

And by the way, if it's a brand new, young producer, it's going to look different than maybe someone who's been in the game for 10, 15, 20 years or whatever, right? There's going to be some differences. You've got to have some flexibility here. But the biggest thing that I want you to hear me say is right now, could you ask the question to your production team, your producer, or could you ask this to yourself as a producer, "Hey, I thought we agreed. I thought I agreed that I was going to do this." Have you defined and documented those particular expectations so that we know what the heck we're going to deliver upon? I've done podcasts, a very similar path, about client experience. It's the same thing with client experience. It's really hard to meet and impossible to exceed expectations that we've never defined or documented, because what happens is you end up managing air.

The same is true with managing your client expectations. How do you manage? I don't know. I don't really know what they are. "I think they might be. They could be." I found one, I sound like Harry Caray. If anybody are baseball fans out there, Harry Caray of the Cubs, "It might be. It could be. It is." Right? It's kind of, "I don't know. It might be. It could be." And then, we have frustration on both sides. You're frustrated as a sales leader. The producer could be very frustrated because, "Well, you never told me that. We never agreed to that. I don't know about that. That's not what I remember. That was a different conversation. I thought you said this." And if you've managed air before, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about.

So the first question, "I thought we agreed," and can you ask that question in good conscience? "I thought we agreed that this was important." Right? And by the way, now we're going to get to question two, which if you've done that, which can be a process, and they say, "I thought we agreed that you were going to do X, Y, and Z. It was really important to your success. And quite frankly, you haven't done it."

"Yeah, you're right. We did agree to that. And I've just fallen short, and this has happened and this has happened." Well, here's the second question, which is a great question. The second question is this, "Help me understand. Help me understand why you're not doing X. Help me understand why you're not doing the thing that we agreed that you were going to do." Whatever that may be, "Help me understand it."

And you can phrase that a bit differently, but I like this for a lot of reasons, because part of this is, the first thing that we want to do as a sales leader is not jump down someone's throat. That doesn't really solve anything. The walls go up, the shields go up, they get defensive, you get more angry, they get more angry. And all of a sudden, it turns from a conversation into a confrontation and nothing gets solved there.

So part of this is, "Okay. I thought we agreed you'd do this. You didn't do it. Hey, help me understand why you're not doing this." Now, could you get a number of excuses? Of course, you could. But your job as a sales leader is to dive deeper into the real thing. "Hey, help me understand." And by the way, if you ask that with true curiosity, which you should be, you ask that with a sense of empathy, which you should, you ask that with a sense that you really do want to understand what's going on, so that you as a sales leader with any power that you have, can help them get through this struggle, this issue, you'll get to the truth. "Hey, help me understand."

It could be anything, and I could just give a million examples here, right? It could be the fact that they've just gotten complacent. It could be the fact that maybe they're having health issues. It could be the fact that they're having some issues with their spouse at home. It could be the fact that they've gotten away from some of the basics, they've gotten distracted. It could be, could be, could be. It could be lots of stuff. But you as a sales leader now have the capacity by asking this question to better understand and to better help them.

See, one of the things that we look at in sales leadership is there's two circles in sales leadership that we teach our sales leaders. And they're overlapping, but the two circles are, one circle is monitoring and accountability, that we're going to monitor and we're going to hold producers accountable. The other one is mentoring and coaching. And I can tell you, in working with a number of sales leaders over the past many years, the one that most sales leaders really enjoy is to mentor and a coach, to be able to provide some expertise and value to the producer to say, "Listen, let me help you through this." Right?

Why? Well, because I think, as human beings, we do like to help people overcome difficulties and challenges and obstacles. It's fun to see people when you say, "You know what? I'm really glad you challenged me here, asked me this question, or gave me this tool or resource because it really was a difference in my life." And if you've been doing this for a while, there's not much better than that. Right. "You challenged me when I needed to. You encouraged me when I needed it most." Right?

So, "Help me understand," it lets you get to the bottom of some of this. And you may need to ask more questions. In fact, I wrote some things down here of, "Help me understand."

"Well, tell me more about that. Why is that happening? Tell me why you're struggling there. What do you think can be done around that? What are some solutions that you propose?" One of the things that I learned in doing coach development and training is the fact that there's always another question. The best coaches are just consistently asking questions to get that person to think and analyze in their own terms and world, so that they can come up with solutions..

Most people, if you ask enough questions, they have the answers and solutions. They just maybe haven't brought it out to the surface yet. Or maybe it's been hidden somewhere deep or they've been hiding it, "I don't know." But when you ask enough questions, "Tell me why you're struggling. Why has that happened? When you've seen it working, what's been going right? And when you see it's failing, what's been going wrong? What do you think can be done in your world?" Obviously, as a coach and as the agency, "What do you think I can do, or what can we do as an agency to help you?" And this doesn't mean that we're going to fix all the problems, but, "Hey, let's talk about it. What are some things maybe that I or we are falling short as an agency?" And there could be some valid reasons in there if we really listen.

Then we want to get to some of the action steps. Well, and again, part of this depends on the person, depends on the conversation. I just want to give you some higher level thinking here. But as you get through some solution ideas, "Hey, when do you think this could be resolved? When could I, when could we, as an agency, expect for some of this to be resolved and get back to the things we agreed upon?" It could be, "Hey, I'm going to start today. This is an important conversation." It could be, "I've got a few things to clean up over the next couple of weeks, and I'm glad we had this conversation. I feel better, to be honest with you. And I can tell you, over the next month or two, we're really going to be in some progress back in this. You have my word, you have my commitment." Whatever that is, right?

By the way, I signed this producer performance agreement, so here's my signature. I didn't mention that earlier, right? When something isn't signed, it isn't valid, right? It goes back to the documentation. "So when can I expect this to be resolved?"

And then, here's something that whatever the conversation leads to, every conversation is unique, but I think it's really important that we get clarity on "What happens?" Or "What should I do? What should we do if nothing changes or it isn't resolved?" You have this conversation, we've talked about some of the specifics that may be happening, whether it's lack of discipline or complacency, or whether there's something really serious going on, or maybe there's an issue internally with the team. Who knows, right? But we have some of those conversations around it and say, "Listen. Now that we've talked about this and we've come up with, revised our game plan and have a better understanding of this, if nothing changes in the next month, two months, three months," whatever time you want to put on the table, "what should I do? What should we do as an agency moving forward if nothing changes?"

Now, part of this is we're not trying to give them ropes, so to speak, to say, "Okay, now great. Now you're going to... The rope, eventually I'm going to be... You're going to catch me." Right? "You've got me." But we've had an authentic conversation with a producer and you say, "90 days from now, and we're having this conversation and nothing has changed in this, what should you expect me to do? What should we do?" Most people will say, at that point, "Maybe it's just not a good fit," or "You're going to have to change my role" or whatever it is. But allow them to own up to the fact that there is accountability and responsibility there. And ask them to think like a sales leader. "Hey, if you were me, what do you think I should do?"

Again, you've got to find your own approach. You've got to find your own style. So do what best fits you. But in talking to sales leaders and working with teams, the more buy-in that we can get upfront, throughout, and even at the end of the process, so to speak with this, the better off we'll be. Because it's really hard for someone to look you face-to-face, and you've had an authentic conversation and you do truly want to help them, that is your nature. That's what you want to do. "I want to help you succeed. I want to help you overcome some of these barriers and challenges. Whatever I can do. And part of that is equipping you where I can, empowering you where I can, but also helping you be accountable where we need to be accountable."

And I've seen many cases where a producer, finally, they go, "You're right. Enough is enough. I've been hiding too long. I've been doing whatever too long. This is real, and things are finally going to change." Now, does that guarantee they will? Of course not, right? You may have 90 days and nothing's changed. But if you've had that conversation and they say, "Well, if nothing changes, if this is never resolved, if I don't change any of my behaviors, habits, well, maybe it's time for me to find something else to do. Maybe this isn't a good fit. Maybe I need to find a role that's, I don't know, an account manager-based role, because that's where I'm better fit. I don't know."

"Okay. I appreciate you sharing that. It's something we need to consider." So these are the things, as a sales leader, I know these are hard, difficult conversations, but they're important conversations. And we say all the time at Sitkins when we're talking with our members, "A problem left unattended will eventually become a crisis. A problem left unattended will eventually become a crisis."

And I'll tell you, if you don't address this, if you don't have these conversations, if you have a struggling producer, if you have a producer who, "I don't know if they're going to make it," how long do you want to keep doing this? How long do you want to keep having conversations around the same producer or two? "It's been two years. We're still talking about Joe. But we think maybe eventually he'll get it. Well, what are we doing different? Well, I think this is going to be the year for Joe."

I have bad news for you. It's probably not, right? So we need to be very intentional with these conversations, because by the way, other people on your team can see it. "Well, if they're going to let Joe do whatever, I guess I don't have to do that much." That's a fact, right? That happens with agencies.

And I would say this, too. The last thing I'll say on this as a sales leader is that if you don't have this conversation, if someone isn't a fit, if there's real issues going on that maybe can never be solved within your agency, within that agreement in your agency, within their performance, how long do you want them to waste time in their life before they go find something to do which is more appropriate with their skillset or what their passion is or what they really want to do?

Now, you don't want to have someone on your team for years and years and they go, "I wish I would've done something different five years ago because this is not really what I'm meant to do." That's okay. It's okay. Just because you brought them in, I know there's, "I'll fix him, I'll fix him, I'll fix him." And we could do a whole different podcast, and we've talked about proper ways to try to find the right people. But guess what? You could do the most screening possible. You could have the most references. You could do all this stuff bringing people in, you're still not going to be batting a hundred percent. No one ever will.

At some point, you've got to say, "You know what? I want to free you up to go do what it is you're really meant to do in your life, and it just isn't this." And maybe initially, there's some hard feelings or some stuff, things that go on. But I will tell you, we've had sales leaders who have had these conversations, and they have told me, I've had conversations with them directly saying, "You know what? I let this person go last year, and it was a big challenge. It was someone I really liked, but they just weren't a good fit. And they came back to me this year and said, 'Thank you. Thank you for being upfront with me. Thank you for allowing me to go do some things that I really was meant to do. I respect you, and I respect the fact that that wasn't a good fit. And I respect the fact that you allowed me to go do something that I'm really designed to do that I'm really good at.'" Right?

So that, to me, that's sales leadership. And if you're listening here as a producer, all these questions that I asked are things you should be asking yourself if you don't have a sales leader, or maybe you don't have a good sales leader and you're producer, you should be in your own Me, Inc. having these accountability questions to yourself. You should define what you decide to do. You should have your own internal agreement. "Here are the things that I'm agreeing to myself to do."

Now, find accountability partners obviously, if you can if you don't have one in your agency. But this is such an important conversation, because sales leadership, and if you're in this role, you don't need me to say this to justify what you're doing, but sales leadership, I truly believe is the hardest position, the most difficult, most challenging position in an agency. There's a lot of responsibilities there, especially if you've got your own book of business, right? You have accountability from a sales leader to having your department produce. You may have accountability, certainly, to agency leadership or a board. There's financial obligations there. And you've got a number of producers who can be challenging to deal with, and you're trying to meet their needs. You've got all those things, carrier agreements, all those things going on, and you're trying to get through your week and do all these things.

So I understand. It's not easy. But I will tell you, one of the things that we see again and again, this is going to be a huge shock. It's not. It's not a shock, is the fact that the best agencies educate, equip, and empower their sales leaders at the highest level. And we stay at Sitkins, "We're not a substitute for sales management or leadership. We're not. We're not a substitute. All right? People want to follow people that are part of the agency culture. However, what we are, are an advocate and a resource for agencies and sales leaders to see things a bit different, to empower them to ask better questions, to be able to help them get greater buy-in with what they're trying to do, and ultimately, to help them get the results they really want to get." Right? And that's really what it's all about.

And so, listen, I applaud you as a sales leader. If we can help you in any way, I mentioned earlier, you want to have a conversation with what we do at Sitkins Group, at the Sitkins Network. And one of the things, by the way, that I love about our network is the fact that we allow, "we allow," sales leaders communicate across channels, right? We do sales leadership programs. They can discuss some real world things that are happening. We can reach out within our network and say, "Listen, how did you deal with this? What did you do? How did you accomplish that? What worked for you? What didn't work for you?"

Because one of the things that can happen if we're not careful in this industry, and you're in your own problems, your own world, is you go, "Oh, gosh, am I the only one dealing with this?" And you'll find out very quickly, you're not. There are other people that are going through similar frustrations and challenges. There are other people that have had results in areas that you're struggling with. There are people that you can help, that maybe problems you've solved that they're still working through.

So don't ever minimize the power of a network or the collective genius. We can help you. Again, contact us at sitkins.com/experience to learn more about our network. We'd love an opportunity to talk with you and your agency to learn more about some of the frustrations and challenges you may have, and share more about our unique experience, the best version possible experience. With that, I wish you all the best in your success. Thanks for listening.


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