ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

THE GOLD BENEATH YOUR FEET

Most agents don’t mind hard work. They love clients and prospects that come to the agency looking for information, advice and even quotes. They enjoy being busy. But most agents also draw the line when THEY, not the prospect, must do something proactively to promote sales in the agency. For the most part, agents have admitted that although they may know their products and carriers inside-out, they do not know how to attract customers nor are they comfortable in the “sales” role instead of in the “consulting” role.

The best salespeople in the world understand that selling is more about GAINING TRUST and MAKING FRIENDS than it is about what you know. Having a strong knowledge base makes you better and more valuable than your competitors, but it doesn’t get you in front of more prospects and it doesn’t convince them of your sincerity, honesty and trustworthiness. Those three traits, HONESTY, SINCERETY AND TRUSTWORTHINESS win you the “opportunity.” KNOWLEDGE converts the opportunities into clients.

I’m in the process of replacing the roof of the Agency Consulting Group building. I called several roofers, all referrals from others, I had trepidation because of the lousy reputation that contractors, in general, have in our area. Each of the roofers I invited to inspect the property was assumed to be knowledgeable, but one of the criteria of our interview was whether they seemed to know their business or were just blowing smoke. They all certainly seemed to know their job and products, but I’m always leery because I don’t know much about roofs. So my decision was based more on which one I trusted more.

Insurance agents are appropriately proud of their knowledge base and insurance expertise. It is certainly what separates some independent insurance from their competitors. But the insurance-buying public is less interested in our knowledge than in the package in which that knowledge is wrapped. And most of us have ‘lousy’ packages.

A sales personality can make friends, gain trust and influence people to use their services and products. The sales personality without the knowledge will sell product and services, but they do not do a very good job in protecting the client’s assets. These are the sales pros that seem to be more ‘fluff’ than substance. Yet, they sell a lot of insurance because of their personalities.

The insurance professional without a sales personality can do a wonderful job assessing risk, but will not often get the prospect to move because he doesn’t necessarily elicit confidence and trust.

The insurance agents in the world who have neither the sales personality nor the insurance professional skills are usually the ‘maintenance men’ of the industry. They don’t sell much and count their new business each year on two hands. Yet they are always busy ‘servicing’ their clients. They try to retain the customer base built by others and acquired through agency acquisitions, external perpetuation and internal succession plans.

Most of the roofers I encounter, like many agents, have a mix of sales personality and some knowledge about their trade. The ones that impress me enough for me to spend thousands of dollars on their services had both traits in abundance and instill a sense of trust that they will do as good a job as they claim. The roofers who are basically ‘hammer swingers’ know how to lay a roof. They neither have the in depth knowledge of their profession nor the personality to cause a trust relationship. They abound after a storm and can’t get customers in the off season times when they have to count on their personalities to win clients. We also have a lot of ‘hammer swingers’ in the insurance agency industry. They are the ones who start every conversation with, “Let me give you a quote. I can probably get it for you cheaper.”

When rates are escalating, it’s not hard to get insurance buyer’s attention. Whether or not you instill trust is secondary to potentially saving them thousands of dollars. However, without that relationship, your longevity with that client is limited. Facing a better sales personality when the agent does not pay attention to an existing client relationship will find that they lose the customer to another agent with a better personalities and can match or beat their pricing.

However, when rates are stable and pricing leverage doesn’t drive prospects to your agency, that flow of business doesn’t occur and agents either learn how to evolve relationships with prospects or they wither on the vine.

Unfortunately, for the industry, we are not replacing retiring insurance professionals with even the same knowledge base in their successors. Luckily for the insurance professionals still in the business and the younger insurance professionals who are being trained properly to assume control, lack of expertise will allow them to easily reach the client base that is smart enough to seek professional services instead of trying to buy insurance out of “the box” or from the gecko. However, unless our existing and arising insurance professionals also hone their sales personalities, they will not become the Insurance Sales Professional – the entire package – that will insure their success in the future of their agencies.

I selected my roofer today. He came highly recommended. He visited me and walked me through the needs, the products he would use, and the time it would take to do the roof. The next time we speak, you should ask me how the results measured up to the proposal! The price wasn’t even an issue until he was sure I understood 1) that he knew his business, 2) that I understood the products he would use, 3) that he was proud of his work, and 4) that he would make me a priority. Of course if he was way above (or way below) the other proposals, I may have had other questions. But he clearly told me how much the material would cost and how much the labor would cost – summing up the costs to a final price.

Similarly, the Sales Personality in the insurance agency industry immediately gets past the cost issue, telling the prospect that we wouldn’t make a change unless the pricing indicated that it would be the best course of action for the client. That permits the agent to probe and identify the real issues that are the ‘hot buttons’ for that prospect and responding to each of those issues in a way that makes it perfectly clear that the agent understands the client’s pain and can respond to it appropriately.

Finding the prospects to hone your sales personality is also not complicated. It is NOT an issue of cold calling or mass marketing. Your prospects are already in your files and systems. They are your clients with whom you should be establishing an on-going and lasting relationship. Once you build a strong client relationship, you will find they refer people to you or you can request their friends and families as referrals for them. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself and the close agent friends where they got their best and longest lasting accounts. Invariably, they will admit those customers were or became their FRIENDS and that they are also the source of their most valuable referrals. Word of mouth is the best type of referral.

We encourage you to call us or visit our website and investigate the Asset Protection Model of Relationship Selling that re-teaches us to build trust relationships in order to grow our customer base. We do these ourselves and have found that it works with insurance agents referring us to other insurance agents as well as it works for insurance clients referring YOU to other insurance clients. We can be reached at 856-779-2430 and our website is www.agencyconsulting.com. The Asset Protection Model can be accessed in the Archive Section of the PIPELINE. Simply search for Asset Protection and you’ll get dozens of papers covering all sections of this program. If you have concerns or would like to discuss the Asset Protection Model, give me or David a call.

(P.S. This week, subsequent to the new roof, it rained more in one day than it EVER rained in recorded history (8+ inches) and Agency Consulting Group, Inc. is D R Y!!)