Recently, an agency CEO asked a great question, and like most great questions, we couldn’t ignore it: Why do some agencies have three times the national average organic growth rate while others struggle to even come close to being average?
Our knee-jerk response was that they don’t have a unique sales approach that differentiates them from their competitors, and on top of that, they have empty pipelines and lack any sort of ongoing training and development program for their team members. The highest performing agencies have these as their way of doing business.
This prompts another question: Why does training fail in some agencies, while others embrace it and make ongoing team development part of their DNA?
The more we researched this and looked at training across almost all industries, we came to an alarming realization: Traditional sales, service, and leadership training models simply don’t work, so stop wasting your money on them!
Studies from numerous sources support this conclusion:
Nationwide, 90% of businesses invest in some form of sales training and spend approximately $7,000 per sales rep. That’s way more than the vast majority of independent insurance agencies that we know about. In our experience, only about 15% of independent agencies invest in any sort of sales training; and according to the latest Best Practices Study, the average agency spends only 0.4% of revenue on training, and that’s mainly on product knowledge or continuing education. And yet these agencies are supposed to be sales organizations!
But let’s assume you’re among the agencies that make ongoing, sizable investments in training and you still aren’t getting satisfactory results. It’s time to find out what’s causing this failure and what you can do about it. It’s time to find the root cause and devise a plan to address it.
At Sitkins, we have discovered that effective results-based training comes down to three critically important strategies.
Event-type training is the one-hour webinar or the one- or two-day program with no follow-up. You “drink from the firehose,” get excited about the newest bright, shiny tool or app, hear what others are doing, and think: “I should be doing that, too!”
But then you experience reality—a.k.a. the real world or what we like to call “airport amnesia.” Sure, there might be an immediate uptick in your performance for the short term. You might even go back and share it with your team. Of course, all too often their collective response will be, “That won’t work here,” or they’ll think, “Just give them some lip service; this too shall pass.”
Or you may keep doing what you’ve always done, but now you’re calling it something different. Before long, the soaking from the firehose dries up and you’re back to doing things the way you always have.
Unlike attending an event, an ongoing development process takes the lessons learned, gains team buy-in, develops the agency’s way of doing business, and constantly reinforces the basics. This process shrinks the firehose down to a garden hose, which produces smaller, more manageable droplets of information and strategy that are Simple, Memorable, and Actionable. Simple because they are easy to understand. Memorable because they are based on common sense. Actionable because they are easy to commit to and be held accountable for. These droplets become the foundation for excellence.
Because “event attenders” tend to have a shallow understanding of what’s been presented to them, they usually attempt to execute too many trivial ideas. Ultimately, nothing sticks and, subsequently, nothing really changes. A much better choice is to take an approach we describe as DEEP: Delivering Excellence in Every Process. This is driven by constant reinforcement and personal accountability, plus a sustained laser focus on a vital few strategies. For example: your unique sales approach, your continuation (not renewal) process, your relationship management process, future ideal client pipelines, and more.
Through continual and never-ending improvement (thank you, Tony Robbins), the garden hose becomes a timed sprinkler system that dependably delivers just enough “water” (ongoing training and reinforcement) to guarantee predictable and profitable growth.
Is your agency’s training and development plan simply a series of events with no long-term strategy? Or is it an ongoing team development process? The best never stop getting better!
Think back to the last training event you attended, either in person or online. Did you receive a firehose of information (the what-to-do) or were you transformed (the how-to-do it)?
As I mentioned earlier, information is short term and quickly forgotten. If you still have your doubts, consider this: When was the last time you took one lesson of any kind (golf, music, or dance, for instance) or watched a single video that transformed you? Or how about that one trip to the gym? Often, we are taught what to do, without going deep into how to do it, why it’s important, or the impact it will have. That’s why quick fixes tend to be forgettable.
One of the many reasons agents say our programs create long-term, meaningful change is that we focus on total agency transformation. The mindset of your team members is central to this, because so many people have self-limiting beliefs. An essential part of transformational change is acknowledging, identifying, and addressing our fears, and then developing the skills, processes, and attitudes needed to facilitate long-term growth.
You must challenge people to overcome what makes them uncomfortable. Otherwise, nothing will change, regard-less of how much great information is received from so-called experts. Unless everyone on the team can believe in and commit to doing what they’ve learned, they’ll go back to doing what they’ve always done.
Is your agency increasingly buried in information? Or is it truly being transformed into a results-based, high-performance team?
As I said, if the whole team doesn’t buy in, you’re unlikely to experience meaningful, long-term improvement in your results. Just sending one or two producers to a sales class won’t change anything. Unless your service team members are involved and aligned with your agency’s transformation plan, they’ll simply fight the change.
Have you ever wondered why sales and service don’t necessarily get along in your agency? Do you have High-Maintenance Teams or High-Performance Teams? The best teams work together and are totally focused on retaining and obtaining ideal clients only. By collaborating, they can create such an incredible client experience that you can expect a 99% effective retention rate. You can’t do that without ongoing training and development for the entire team.
Keep in mind that sporadic training that’s not reinforced and “owned” internally is not a substitute for management. It might give you a short-time performance boost, but never long-term great results. If your Chief Revenue Officer (or as we sometimes say, Chief Reminding Officer) doesn’t lead by example and become the role model for others, why should anyone else change? No more “Do as I say, not as I do” sporadic leadership. True leadership is about developing and implementing a common sales-based language. Without it, it’s impossible to have a central focus.
Again, training is not a substitute for management and leadership. In our past training programs, we’d ask producers about the leadership they were receiving back at their office and what sort of debriefing took place after the live sessions. We found that follow-up from agency leaders almost never happened. They mistakenly believed that their job was done once they sent their producers to us for training. That’s not how it works!
You can’t coach what you don’t know. If you don’t model what your team is learning, what will motivate them to develop their skills? Agencies that lack effective internal coaches, whether for the sales or service teams, typically lack a culture and cadence of accountability.
Is your agency training and developing only a few team members and only on a sporadic basis? Are you training only a few parts of your agency, but not the whole agency? Regardless of what information they’re given, if leadership isn’t modeling the proper behavior, training is not going to work.
The bottom line
Without question, leadership must be involved for training to yield positive results. Unfortunately, most average agencies send producers to programs and events that leave them feeling fired up and inspired for a few days, and then they wonder why the training didn’t create long-term results. While some may be content with their results or are satisfied that good is good enough, most simply don’t recognize the missing link in all of this: agency leadership that actually leads.
The only way to have a championship agency in 2021 and beyond is to have leadership that commits to an ongoing training and development process for the organization as a whole, not just certain parts. Agencies that excel have alignment (all team members growing in the same direction), culture (accepted behaviors and a common language), accountability, and trust.
The entire agency transforms when the entire agency is trained and gets on the same page. As always, it’s your choice.
Roger Sitkins is the CEO of Sitkins Group, Inc., and developer of The Sitkins Network and The Better Way Agency program. Roger began his career by working in his parents’ insurance agency in Wyandotte, Michigan, and after nearly 40 years has truly become an icon in the industry. He has trained and mentored thousands of insurance professionals. Producers, CEOs, and sales managers with diverse levels of experience have benefited tremendously from his training and leadership.
Recognized as the nation’s top insurance agency results coach and renowned leader for improvement, he believes that if you improve the life of one person, you improve the world. To learn more, visit www.sitkins.com.
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