ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Attitude Adjustment

WANNA MAKE MORE MONEY?

WANNA HAVE MORE FREE TIME?

WANNA BE HAPPIER?

THEN CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE!!

As many readers know, we visit insurance agencies every week. We also meet dozens of agents every time we speak to association, carrier meetings and other agents’ groups. And we OBSERVE. Our job is to find the country’s most successful agents and determine how they got that way. Our goal is to offer those methods to the other agents who would LIKE to be as successful and are willing to take the steps needed to change their business and personal lives.

Here are the realities of the insurance agency business today.

As an industry, we suffer from STINKIN’ THINKIN’. Like lemmings, we tend to say what everyone else says, do what everyone else does and react like everyone else to business and economic conditions.

The carriers continue to pressure agencies with demands for more business without the tools to help us get that business.

Our clients are in business decline and fear insolvency.

Our prospects can’t afford the insurance they have, let alone buying what they need from us.

Our employees are less than motivated – yet want (and expect) more money every year.

We have problems keeping our producers motivated. They seem satisfied to keep the clients they have even though our efforts to save the clients money also robs our agency revenue.

We even have problems keeping our owners motivated. Many are talking about early retirement (“Getting Out While the Getting is Good,” is how I’ve heard it described).

If we saw this consistent misery, business decline and losses in every agency we visit, we might have to agree that we are in trouble.

But we have a growing core of agencies with which we work every year and more agencies that we visit anew every month that disprove the “Sky Is Falling” syndrome.

The key to the successful agencies, even in this market, is a positive mental attitude that begins with the owners and is reinforced with a vengeance on every employee of the agency upon threat of job loss. No, this isn’t “group-think” from Orwell’s 1984. It is the application of the owners’ positive attitudes toward the business of insurance to the people who work in the agency.

Just as one rotten apple will spoil an entire barrel, it only takes one poor attitude to infect an entire staff. And that poor attitude radiates from the individual to those around him, to his clients and his carriers and even to his managers.

Here are the realities of our business economy as we learn it from our Success Models:

1. Whether in good times or bad, people and businesses find that having insurance is not only prudent, it is imperative to their survival. Imagine the ramifications of not having insurance to save a few thousand dollars after a major loss?

Our job as agents is to find the best solution to the asset protection needs of our clients and prospects.

2. The carriers seek two interconnected things, growth and profit. They will logically befriend and express loyalty to those agents who give them that combination. Carriers are made up of people. Those people have needs and feelings similar to our own. They seek financial security, job stability, and respect of their peers. If we provide for these needs for them, they will, in turn, provide for us our own similar needs. However, if we promise growth, but don’t show them our specific efforts to actually generate it, we threaten their financial security and job stability. If we pressure the carrier staff to accommodate us without our accommodating them, they view it as being used and that they get no respect for their efforts.

3. Our prospects can’t afford NOT to entertain us IF (and only if) we address helping them through this difficult market for THEM. This means that we may have to address their insurance needs within the scope of their entire business need and assist them with non-traditional methods of helping them survive to become and remain our clients.

4. Our employees are mirrors of our own attitudes. If we maintain a REAL positive attitude, we can accommodate business downturns while still remaining positive and doing those things necessary to correct our problems WITH, rather than hidden, from our employees. If we try to “fake” a positive attitude, most of us will fail. We are simply not good enough actors and our employees, who know us as well as our families know us, will see right through our fašade.

5. Producers will seek the ‘Path of Least Resistance’. Rejection is difficult at best and excruciating when faced consistently. When times prove too difficult to generate sales, producers will react by spending ever-increasing amounts of time in the office or with existing clients trying to keep out of the line of fire or trying to keep what they already have on the books. The rare producers seem immune to rejection and keep their sales activity up. It is our job to influence the more common producers to do the same. Even if the activity is not immediately productive, they gain a feeling of accomplishment by establishing an ever-increasing number of relationships.

6. The success-oriented agency owners are entrepreneurs. They are always seeking the next way to grow their businesses. Part of that is the effort to earn a good living, but many agents we encounter are far beyond that level of need. They already make a strong living and know that they will not starve regardless of the current economic marketplace. The primary emphasis of the entrepreneur is the “thrill of the kill”. Financial gain is simply a measuring stick of the success of their efforts.

Most agents have either never experienced the entrepreneurial spirit or it has left them. They are desperate to earn a living or are afraid of failure. These agents find it difficult to maintain a positive mental attitude because their feelings are tied to their most recent success or failure. And the repetition of failures over time can drain them of energy and the desire to continue in business. If a depressed agent runs an agency, he will eventually have only depressed, failure-oriented employees working for him. He should either work for someone else (if he has to continue working) or sell his agency and retire.

Here is what the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) agents are doing to turn the tide and keep their businesses positive and pleasant:

PMA agents pay a lot of attention to their clients and prospects to seek any way they can help them through both difficult, challenging, and strong economic times. Many agents are offering loss control, WC mod analysis, and non-traditional asset-risk assessment and solutions that may cost the agent time but doesn’t come with a tangible price tag to the client. The clients (and prospects) see their insurance agent helping them without an immediate sale potential. This gets new clients to trust the agent and keeps old clients from shopping price.

PMA agents partner with their carrier underwriters, marketers and managers to help those people accomplish their own needs. Nothing makes a more loyal friend that helping him keep his job and make his own goals. Find out what those goals are. Commit more than words to grow your volume toward those goals. Work with (not against) those carrier staffers to find out what must be done to accomplish their (and your own) growth goals.

Yes, many company people are “dead from the neck up”, but there are a few live wires in every company. Connect with the folks who are not so afraid of their own jobs that they are frozen in place trying to be invisible to their superiors. These company people will step up and take risks to help you help them to succeed.

Employees are the life-blood of every agency. But if you experience a cancerous growth and fail in your efforts to eradicate it through aggressive treatment, then you must excise it through radical surgery. If you are positive you must involve your employees in your situation sufficiently that they a) understand what you are going through, b) can help you solve your problems within their scope of work effort, and c) feel empowered as an associate, not just as an employee. This will enhance their daily attitude toward you, toward work, and toward their customers. However, if you take these actions and the employee cannot be resurrected and cured of his “Stinkin’ Thinkin”, you must prepare to replace the employee or risk having that same attitude spread through your entire organization. Your employees influence each other much more than you influence them.

Convert your producers to activity-based sales programs. Whether or not you already use our relationship selling model, the Asset Protection Model, we have found that most successful agencies keep their producers VERY BUSY with calls to people not yet insured by the agency. Get call reports from every producer on every call and spend more time with the producers than ever before. They need the attention and the respect that it shows them. Production is always a lonely job but the only way to keep producers’ spirits high is to appreciate them for their efforts.

And, as for your own attitude, reflect on what you HAVE accomplished and how well of you are instead of magnifying the prospective problems that could exist if your business were to “tank”. Are you living well? Have you raised a family without denying them the things that you had to do without as a child? Are you respected in your community? Are you successful relative to the folks with whom you grew up?

If your answer to some or all of the questions above are positive, then why are you worrying so much? Can you measure your success by how much you worry? I’m not suggesting that you take a valium and dream of better days. We are steeped in reality every day. But use a bigger measuring stick than the “Failure Stick” (how close am I to failure?). Most of us will realize how far we’ve come in our lives and that today’s problems are just that – today’s. Change is guaranteed and not all change is bad.

If, on the other hand, you cannot shake that cold feeling in the pit of your stomach, I assure you that you don’t deserve to live like that. Happiness is not amorphous. It is generated from family, friends and a feeling of self-worth. At our stage in life, we certainly deserve to be happy for what we have more than threatened by what we don’t have. If you cannot pierce the poor mental attitude that pervades your business, perhaps it is time to do something else.

If you feel that you can break through, or if you are one of the lucky ones who already have that positive mental attitude and are just seeking the next steps to your organizational happiness, call us and we would be happy to work with you toward the common goals of growth, profit --- and happiness.