Why Insurance Agents Should Embrace Social Media and 5 Quick Steps to Start

Ok, you are scared, and not sure of this digital unknown. You don’t know what to do. You think it’s over your head. You are afraid it will waste your time.

 

Photo credit: ~Aphrodite via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-NDBut, your leads are slowing down, your customer base is getting older, and you are tired of fighting the marketing budgets of the Insurance giants.

Enter Social Media.

Taking your business online may feel like walking into some unknown mystical cyber-world where sales and marketing magically happen, if you know how to push the right buttons.

Taking your business online may feel like walking into some unknown mystical cyber-world where sales and marketing magically happen, if you know how to push the right buttons.

Let me de-mystify the process for you.

Today, you tell me your business comes from referrals. I believe you. You’ve spent your career networking.

You joined the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Jaycees. You coached baseball, basketball, soccer. You developed relationships with home-builders, mortgage brokers, realtors.

People know you and love you. That’s why you are in sales.

You gave of yourself. You created value for people. You engaged with them. They learned to trust you.

Think about this question.

How many people could you connect with at a Rotary meeting? The baseball diamond? The Chamber? The soccer field? 10, 20, maybe 30. How much time did that take? One hour. Maybe two.

Get mathematical and put this into a formula.

Networking Connections = 20 people x 1 Hour

So if do one event every work day, you would have:

20 people x 5 hours = 100 Networking Connections

Digital Marketing is nothing more than Networking online, and you already have the skill-set. People like you and trust you, because you know how to engage with people.

The digital space just magnifies it.

Rather than being able to network with 20 per hour. You can potentially engage with hundreds and maybe even thousands per hour.

Plug in the numbers with the same networking time commitment as before.

500 contacts x 5 hours = 2500 Networking Connections

How do you start?

Find a committed person in your agency (this could be you). Age doesn’t matter here. Commitment and willingness is the key. If they are already connected online, they make a great candidate. Look around and see who has a smart phone. Find someone who knows how to network physically; it is the same skill-set.

Pick a Social Network. It doesn’t really matter which one: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn are all great choices.

Find models. You are not alone. There are already agents, agencies, and other small businesses networking successful online. Find them. Connect with them. Model what they do. This will give you a giant leap forward because you will learn from their successes and failures.

Find your customers, niches, and potential niches. Once who are online with a Network, begin building your connections by finding your current customers. Each network provides tools to do this. Then look for niches. If you already do a lot of construction business. Look for associations and prospects in those niches and reach out to them. Look for lead sources, for example in Personal Lines, you currently get a lot of leads for realtors and mortgage people. Find them and connect.

Engage & Be Useful. Once who find your people begin engaging with them. Notice what they are talking about and join the conversation. Share content that useful to your customers. Be a resource.

There are tools that can you automate and become more effective with the five steps above, but when first jumping into the social media pool don’t overcomplicate it with shiny gear, just learn to swim.

You can do this, and it will help you dominate your own local market even in the face of marketing giants.

Be Productive,

Theron

this was originally posted on the Grow Program site

 

Tales of An Insurance Startup

Have you ever thought of starting a scratch insurance agency? Maybe you are on the edge of doing something, but fearful of taking the leap. Maybe you are an established agency, but could be invigorated by new ideas.

Here’s the story of someone who did it.

Matthew Carroll, began working in the insurance industry 6 years ago as a producer inside an Independent Agency. During that time, he learned a lot about lead generation and structuring follow ups for sales success. After a couple years, a State Farm agency reached out to him to become a producer inside an agency. He jumped at the chance, because it came with the hope of actually owning his own agency one day.

His tenure there was successful, but did not lead him to ownership as quickly as he imagined. So after 3 years of grinding away at production, Matthew took the leap and opened his own shop.

Granted this was no overnight leap in the dark. In fact, we spoke at least 6months before he pulled the trigger. He gathered all the necessary information he needed to make good decisions. He put together one of the best business plans that I had ever seen. Production targets were in place, as well as the marketing activities needed to get there. Then in Jan of 2017, he launched Kentucky Bred Insurance.

www.kybredinsurance.com

Matt came storming out of the gate, and was writing business and following his marketing plan from day one.

After 9 months, his growth has been steady and impressive. However, like any venture it has not been perfect and there have been a couple bumps along the way.

Recently, I sat down with him, and asked him about his first 9 months. Here’s what Matt has learned.

What things about starting and running the agency have been harder than you expected?

MC: The tension between looking at my goals to stay motivated, and remembering to do the day to day activities that will hit the goal. As things get hard, I have to look at the end goal to keep going, but it is really easy for me to fall into daydreaming about success, and forgetting to make my sales calls and marketing contacts. Yet, if I didn’t have those dreams the daily activities would grind on me.

Related to this is sticking to the activities I had set up in my business plan. There are times when the busy working of the agency takes over, and I don’t make time for the activities that will keep my pipeline full of leads.

Also, riding the wave of work/life balance. I’ve gone overboard in both directions.

Knowing where to spend marketing dollars had been really hard. Running quick calculations for return on investment isn’t difficult, but many of the activities I might do won’t have immediate returns. So how do I calculate for that? For example, say I run multiple Facebook ads, and I drives leads to me. That’s easy to calculate, but then 3-6 months later, a couple more leads trickle in from the campaign. I don’t mind spending money on activities that generate business, but because of the slow-acting nature of some marketing, it is really hard to make those decisions.

As I think about the future, and I realize that I need to start making hires. Planning for this has been harder than expected. Knowing which activities, I need someone to do, plus find them is becoming a challenge as I start looking.

What was much easier than you expected?

MC: Generating referrals has been much easier. In my other jobs as a producer, I would talk with family and friends and some would give me a shot at their business, but most wouldn’t. I don’t know what flipped when I started my own business, but I am getting more “yes’s” when I ask. Also I have had more people I know reach out to me to help them. I am not sure if it because they know I am the owner, and this isn’t some short-term job. Maybe my approach has changed because I have more confidence and urgency to sell as an owner.

A big surprise has been the amount of support I have gotten from other independent agents. There are several across the country that I talk with regularly, and they have been incredibly encouraging as well as very open about strategies and tactics inside the agency. My previous experience as a producer inside an agency was that everyone kept things close to the vest, and afraid of giving away their trade secrets.

What would you have done different?

MC: I would have been more aggressive at developing more and deeper relationships with influencers that are sources of business. At this point, I am doing more of that, but I relied so much on the low-hanging fruit of friends and family in the beginning, I didn’t work as hard on getting those lead sources in place.

What didn’t you know that you wish you had?

MC: I had no idea about the power of social media, especially Facebook, and its ability to generate business. Also how important content creation to drive business has surprised me. I am working on changing that and looking to outsource some of those activities.

Last question, what do you wish your companies would have done for you early on?

MC: In the captive world, companies do a much better job launching an agency. In my State Farm experience, there is a lot of marketing money given up front. Sometimes up to 50k, with other dollars trickling in to do marketing. Anything from a marketing side would have been nice. It could have been tents or banners for networking events, or even small amounts to help with lead generation.

Overall, I am happy about my decision, but not there is still a lot to do because I start realizing those daydreams.

Thanks, Matt!  To contact Matt go to his agency site, FB page, or LinkedIn account.

If you’ve done an insurance startup, do you have any advice for Matt? Leave your comments below:

Don’t Trust the Black Box

Don’t Trust the Black box!

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You know what I mean.  The secret sauce insurance companies cook up to rate and price their products.  The secret tiers, the magic variables, the rating alchemy.  No one but the initiated traveling the path of Ivy League MBAs and Actuarial Secret Societies have gazed upon these models.
In the early 2000s, these pricing models, especially in auto, came into vogue.  No one was more successful at developing these sophisticated systems than Progressive.  And they worked.  Profits rolled in, and the rest of the industry was quick to follow.
Multivariate pricing was the name of the game.  Identify as many variables that could reliably be used to identify a customer, and price on each of these factors.  None of these would have been possible before the advent of sophisticated desktop computer power.  It could never have happened in the days of manual rating.  I remember back in my Progressive days when these models were first being launched, one particular DOI (I think VA) questioned the accuracy of the rating.  They actually asked someone from the company to come to the DOI and demonstrate the ability to manually rate several policies.  Because the rating was done through computer algorithms, and not real people, the company had to find someone with a math degree to demonstrate the problem to the DOI.  In my mind’s eye, I imagine a disheveled college professor spending hours calculating on a giant blackboard, filling it with numbers, square roots, squiggles, and Greek letters.
photo credit: nhighberg via photopin (license)
Credit was the backbone of this type of rating.  This upset and confused many agents and regulators.  Customers were mystified.  But as time went on, it proved itself a predictor of loss and behavior.
 It’s probably been 15+ years since the industry has been unprofitable in auto. Several years ago, I caught myself saying, “Auto profitability is reliable.  The only thing we really have to worry about anymore is property, and that is only because of weather.”  Then 2016 hit.  No one made money.  The big dog of insurance, State Farm, lost $30 Million in auto.
What happened?
Industry experts tell us it is multiple things: cost of repair, increased cars on the roads, distracted driving.
I’d put my money on distracted driving. Credit underwriting and multivariate pricing models struggle to identify this risk.
Unfortunately, this is not only impacting company profitable and increasing pricing for your customers, it is impacting your ability to generate profit-sharing and contingency dollars.  If it continues, it could even jeopardize contracts inside your agency.
What to do?
1.  Trust but Verify.  You remember Ronald Reagan, and his relationship with the Soviets.  In his negotations, he often said he trusted them, but verified their statements on the back end, just to be sure.  This has to be an agent’s attitude toward the pricing black box.  Trust it but verify it.  Carriers claim they can price for everything and have a price for every risk. Use it but don’t rely on it.  Don’t rely on them to DNR customers that become serial claimants.  You need to step in and ask for that non-renewal.  Resources are thinner at companies than they used to be, and humans aren’t monitoring individual accounts.  I’ve done this exercise with agents and have found examples of a customer with multiple claims (11) continuing to renew year after year, and continuing to cost everyone money.  Review your books of business with your carriers and take action.

2.  Oldschool Underwrite.  You know how to do this, but if you have staff that has come into your agency since 2005, they may not.  Even if a company advertises, “Price for every risk” or “Let the system do the underwriting”, don’t!  Have everyone ask 2 questions for every new customer:

“Will this customer make our agency and companies money long-term?” and “Will this customer attract good or bad business?”  

You might have to sit down and actually explain what good business looks like to some staff.  We’ve all become so reliant on the rating system to determine profitable customers. The mantra has become “If it takes it, we write it.”

Unprofitable books don’t help anyone, and the industry loses in the process.
It’s time to go back to basics.  Trust the tools, but don’t rely on the black box to make you money.

Why You Don’t Want Treat All Customers Equally

After weeks of studying customer service studies and talking with agents about their best practices, I stumbled upon an article in Sales & Marketing Management titled “Delighting Customers Doesn’t Pay”.  The basic premise is that customer satisfaction doesn’t always correlate with customer loyalty, and as business people we can give the concept of delighting customer an inordinate amount of energy.  

This seems to be slightly disturbing.bad customer service

Anyone who has spent time in the sales and service business often live by the phrase the customer is always right, but is he?  Is there a time you want to nix customer service? Is something else more important that trying to delight every person that comes in contact with your business.

It pays to know your customer and know yourself.

Think about Wal-Mart vs. Nordstrom.  Stories abound about Nordstrom going above and beyond in the pursuit of delighting their customers.  On the other hand, you have Wal-Mart, and rarely do you feel delight when leaving their stores.  Yet both are extremely successful around what they do.

The difference is that they know their customer and know themselves.  Wal-Mart’s goal is to bring products to consumers at the cheapest possible prices or in their words: “Saving people money so they can live better”.  Having a good experience in their stores is defined by paying less than you would at other businesses.

Nordstorm’s goal is to bring high quality products to customers creating an experience of luxury and excellence.

The key to both these businesses is knowing who they are, and part of the way you know that is by defining your target market.  We have discussed this before.  This can be difficult to determine but it becomes part of what defines you as a business and a brand in your community.

Have you done this?  Do you know what your ideal customer looks like?

If you are having trouble defining who that customer is, go negative.

Make a list of people you don’t like doing business with or who you don’t want to do business with.  You will soon find that you are narrowing the scope of your customer really quickly, but will often find that there are people in that list that are making it into your business and frustrating you and your staff.  It is time to put some stop signs in place against those you define as customer vampires draining the life from your agency.

Here’s a tool that I picked up from Michael Hyatt’s site:

customer service

This chart will begin to help you refine who your ideal customers are, allowing you to create action steps around each type, so that you can provide appropriate levels of delight and service.

Let’s take each one from the lowest priority to the highest.

Priority 4:  Low Profit/High Maintenance.  These are your dogs.  In our world of insurance, these are the people who generate the least amount of revenue for you, but create an awful lot of work.  They are never happy.  They call with billing questions constantly.  They are forever making changes to their policies, and in return offer very little back.  In the trade for value, you give way more value than they do.

Priority 3:   High Profit/High Maintenance.  These may really be the vampires inside your business.  They generate a higher amount of revenue for you, but they are hard to deal with, and drive your staff crazy. You secretly think about dumping them as a client, but the benefits they bring keep you holding on, suffering whatever abuse they continue to inflict upon you.  You remember the friend with the bad girlfriend (or boyfriend) they kept around for the status and benefits, but everyone was screaming: “Dump them!”

This one is very hard, but it is worth making a list of these folks and the value they bring to your business.  You may not let them all go, but force yourself to determine whether the abuse they offer is really worth the value you receive from them.

Priority 2:  Low Profit/Low Maintenance.  This customer doesn’t generate a lot of value for the agency, but they are so easy to work with and create very little friction in the office that you are willing to write this type of customer all day long.  Even though they don’t pay much, a lot of them become valuable because they create so little work for you.

Priority 1:  High Profit/Low Maintenance.  This customer has a high return on investment.  They generate a greater than average revenue per customer, are happy, pleasant, and create very little work with your staff.  They send referrals and never get petty or bog the office down with weird policy or billing questions.

How Do Implement This in Your Business?

  • Evaluate Current Book:  You have already been doing this.  As you have been reading through the list of priority customers, I guarantee that certain people have been coming to mind, and several you may have thought about dumping.  I bet your staff could do the same thing very quickly.

Determine what your average revenue per customer is.  Don’t get to complicated here.  Your management system can tell you average premium per customer, just use that rather than trying to parse out the individual commission rates per client.  If you can do that great, but it won’t dramatically impact your end list.

Who is below average and who is above it?  Who is in the top quarter?  Who is in the bottom?

Now you know the high and low profit customers.  Go through each one and determine who are the high and low maintenance customers.  This may be a job for your staff.  They interact with them the most, and if there is abuse, they probably take it.  

  • Create a Customer profile:  You will soon notice patterns and qualities.  Start listing out the characteristics that fits those buckets in your agency.  What does a Priority 1, 2, 3, & 4 look like in your agency.
  • Create Pre-Qualifying Strategies:  Now that you know what to look for, craft a list of pre-qualifying markers and questions to help you determine what bucket a customer fits into.  If during your initial interview with the customer, you see they are 3’s or 4’s, you begin to pass and send them down the road.
  • Align Your Sales & Marketing:  Ultimately, this will help with sales and marketing.  You have become really clear on the customers you want.  Now you can target your marketing to them.  You can learn what they like and don’t and where they are then intentionally begin building your agency with customers that fit you and your goals.

Songwriter Ed Sheeran said, “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

Or simply, like your mama said, “You can’t please everybody all the time.”, BUT you can choose who you want to please and build your agency around that.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

photo credit: libraryman via photopin cc

Can You Measure Customer Service?

measure customer serviceYou have defined what good service is for your agency. You spent the time cranking out a service statement that all your people understand. The owners know it, the sales people know it, the service staff knows it, even the bookkeeper knows it. You plastered it on everyone’s desk, the break room, and the bathroom stalls. It is your mantra.

Weeks go by and you are beginning to wonder if anyone remembers your service pep rally. Are the slogans and statements shadows in people’s memory? Everyone signed onto your ideas, the staff helped you craft the philosophy, but how do you keep everyone on track with it?

You don’t want your service philosophy to become background static in everyone’s work lives.

Is there anything you can do to track your service activity and whether it is effective and reaching the goals you have set for your agency?

I think you can. In fact, I have seen it done.  Here’s three simple ways to measure customer service.

1. Metrics.   Are there numbers you can look at to see what is happening in the service department? Yes. There are two specific metrics your management systems should be able to tell you.

Retention. If retention is dropping, something is happening from the service side of the house. Yes, there could be other reasons such as company pricing or new stringent underwriting guidelines, but if you see this drop then it should be an indicator that something is going and customers are not happy.

Make sure you track this on a rolling twelve month basis, and track policies not written premium. Written premium can be deceptive because of rate activity, but you can not hide behind lost policies. If grabbing retention data is hard, the next best thing is to track cancelled policies. This one is simple and can be done monthly.

Referrals. If people are sending you customers, then something in your office is working. Now granted you may have great pricing, but I bet your people skills have more to do with it. You have a created a great experience for someone and they want to share it with a friend. Finding someway to begin tracking customer referrals. Most management systems have a “source” field that you can track where business is coming from.

[warning: for numbers geeks] Here’s a metric, I learned years ago that really helps with trend. Line graphing helps, but this one is tricky and can be revealing. It’s called the 3 vs. 12. Take the last rolling 3 months and compare to the last rolling 12 months. The percentage of change will eliminate anomaly months, and levels things out so you don’t start panicking if you have a bad month. [Analytic talk complete]

2. Mystery Shopping. You may bristle a little when you hear this. You may even worry that this will turn you into some crazed micro-manager with an office full of people whispering “service nazi” behind your back. Don’t worry. This doesn’t have to be crazy, but I promise it works.

Contact friends or customers and ask them to call in requesting a potential change to their policy. School them on questions and what to look for. For example, mystery customer #1 calls because they are looking at a new Honda Odyssey and wants to know what it will do to rate, and do they really need rental and what is that loan/lease gap coverage the car dealer mentioned. Mystery Customer #2 calls because they are considering an umbrella, but doesn’t really know what it is and how it works. These are simple things to do. Let your people know that you are doing them.

3. Surveys. Over the years, how many surveys have you mailed out to customers? How many did you get back? Probably not many, and if you got anything back it was only from the angry customers. This makes it look like you have big problems, because you don’t hear from the good ones.

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you like surveys? Be honest, don’t you just look at the 1-10 scale and check 8’s or 9’s on everything, if you do it all.

Use email surveys. You can create free surveys online at surveymonkey.com. If you search in Google you can find other options as well. Limit the survey to 3 questions. Make sure at least one question is open-ended and doesn’t generate a one word answer. Try to make them creative and occasionally ask about other places they get good service, so you get a sense of what they expect and what they like. This will let you tweak your own processes to exceed customer expectations.

Here are some sample questions: Would you refer your friends to us? Are answers to your questions clear and helpful? What drives you crazy about dealing with service people?

So what do you think? If you are serious about taking your service to the next level, measuring it is really the only way you can enforce and improve your standards.

Measuring service activity will keep your service standards from becoming a nice platitude. It will make it real and tangible in your office.

Are there other ways, you have measured your service performance?

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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How Do You Create Customer Service Goals?

medium_4929302647One big secret to creating your own brand of great customer service is to give it a goal.

It needs a target, a finish line, an image of perfection to strive toward.

Without some tangible goal, it just flounders around like some amorphous amoeba.  You can’t pick it up and look at it because it slides through your fingers. You can’t describe because it’s always shifting and changing and only broad adjectives will work.

If you give it a goal, if there are real images of the perfect customer interaction, then you have done something truly different. You have separated yourself from most businesses. You have branded yourself and you are on the path to create a different experience for your clients.

So where do you start. Let’s start with the experience you want to create for your customers

* Customer Experience: Spend some time thinking through great customer experiences you have had. They are probably few and far between. Get your staff involved, but don’t call a meeting. Give everyone a couple of days to turn in examples of great experiences they had with various businesses and what made them great. If people are struggling then have them write out the bad ones and what made those miserable. Sometimes it is just easier to know what to avoid than what to do and add.

Recently I had a great experience with a local body shop.

Unfortunately we had a handful of minor dings that needed repaired. Of course, I asked around to find someone good and fair. First this place was beautiful as body shops go. Everything was clean, and all the employees were in perfect uniforms. They didn’t talk down to me or treat me like I was stupid (because I am, knowing nothing about cars). They gave me options on fixing the damage. They gave me a time frame for completion and an estimate on price.

So the day came to take the car into the shop, and by day’s end the phone was ringing letting me know it was complete. We drove over to the shop, and there it was, no scratches, clean and shiny. Surprisingly they completely cleaned out the interior of the vehicle as well (impressive). I walked in the office to settle up, expecting the price to be a good 10% higher than they said. Of course, I thought, they found something wrong or ran into some roadblock that cost a little more money. No, no, no, it was actually less than quoted. Only by a dollar, but it was still less. We drove away happy.

On the other hand, I battled it out with a phone company recently, receiving nothing but poor service at every turn. I will spare the gory details, but I decided to change phone companies to lower some of my bills. I called and got everything setup to start. They told me it would be a week before they could make the changes, which didn’t bother me. I hung up the phone, and crossed my fingers. A day later, I had questions and thought I would ask about my order. I called back, and it took several folks before they could find it. Then I began getting different answers about whether my number would be changed. One said no, the other said yes. One did some magic button pressing and placed me on hold. Someone transferred me to the division that would get it straight, yet they couldn’t. Eventually I cancelled the order, willing to pay more with my current carrier, just because of the hassle and incompetence.

I guarantee you have had similar good and bad experiences. Spend some time collecting stores and deciding what made them good and bad and how you could apply them in forms of do’s and dont’s within your own agency.

* Agency Behaviors: After you begin to collate your experiences into a workable list, turn them into true agency behaviors that everyone can accomplish:

smiles while on the phone, don’t let the phone ring more than twice, call backs in less than 12 hours, birthday cards for all customers, proposals emailed to customers within 2 hours, etc.

Make sure they match the things that you and your people value in your own experiences. During this exercise, you can even ask every customer about their own good and bad experiences. You and your staff may value different behaviors than your customers, and ultimately it is about them.

* Service Outcomes: List out real outcomes of the service experience you want to create. What does a satisfied customer look like. Define their experience after talking with you.

Then determine what impact will this have on the agency: increase in policy counts, increase referrals, improved retention, etc.

Make things as tangible as possible so they can be evaluated for effectiveness.

After you finish this exercise you should have a clear picture of what “great customer service” means, and you have created a target for your office.

It is tangible and something everyone can grab and hold. Communicate it to the agency and even your customers. Review periodically. Don’t be afraid to be creative and even a little weird. Throw in some random surprises that you would like to do for people.

Establishing customer service goals creates a tangible brand that your people and customers can embrace with delight.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

photo credit: Rick Bolin (IntelGuy) via photopin cc

Does Customer Service Really Matter In Your Business?

Customer Service Everyone says they have it and it’s the key that sets them apart.  Ask an insurance agent or any small business what makes them different from another business, and you know what they will say: “Great customer service”.  I don’t think I work with one agency that doesn’t claim to have great customer service, and I agree, most do.  But is that really a differentiator, does it really set you apart, if everyone else claims to have it.

Maybe.

Let’s talk about what really “great customer service” means, because I believe this may not be what we think.

Why is it important to your agency?  This may sound like a stupid question, but it’s worth considering, because service can easily become a mundane part of the agency.  It’s easy to let this part run on auto pilot, while you worry about where to find accounts, pay the bills, deal with HR issues, worry about the building, etc.

Consider this:  your service people are the face of your agency.  Very few people in your office talk with your customers as much as the service people do.  While the salespeople may be out hunting, the service people are creating impressions by the hundreds of every week with current customers, vendors, and company people.

Whether people continue to do business with you or not is often based on the relationship they establish with your service staff.

If there is stress in your office, if your people are negative and grumpy, if working conditions are miserable that will be communicated to your customers.

We all know this is true.  Think about the times you have to call your cable or phone company.  The monotone, robotic, depressing sounds that come from the receiver tell you those people are miserable, and if you can escape from doing business with them you will.

How about visits to the DMV?  Depressing!  It’s not the customers that drive the misery.  It’s the people behind the counter.  They are bored or discontented and their attitude produces a fog of depression in every corner of the office.

Not only are your service people the face of the agency, but they have the power to create and shape the culture of the office.  The sales people are usually gone, but the service people are always there and how they interact and shapes the atmosphere in the office.

One of the quickest ways to begin to change the culture of the agency is to affect attitudes of the people talking with your customers.

I see this all the time.  My regular trips to ABC Insurance are tense and unhappy.  There are whispers and gossiping, then one day I walk in the door and attitudes are dramatically changed.  There is energy.  People are smiling.  No complaints.  What has happened?  The customers are the same, the owners are the same, the office hasn’t been redecorated.  After putting on my detective hat and asking a few questions, I discover “Suzie Q” left last week for another job.

One sour soul poisoned the agency culture, but once she left, the attitudes turned on a dime.

So great service is important.  No one would argue the point, and having great service people not only impacts customers, but infects your whole operation.

Is it enough?  I don’t think so.  It’s has become so understood, especially for the local business, that good service is the baseline.

It is necessary, but to become really great there is more.  Figuring out ways to create customer loyalty and enhancing their experience with you will really set you apart.  Very few shops don’t neglect phone timeliness and are educated enough to generate sufficient answers, but do the customers have a unique experience?

Be Productive,

 

Theron Mathis

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How To Improve the #1 Reason People Buy From You

improve likable

What’s the number #1 reason that customers give for purchasing from someone? 

It’s not price or convenience. 

It’s likability.

Think about your own purchases.  Have you ever seen a car you liked, interacted with a sales person, but couldn’t pull the trigger?  Something about the salesperson was distasteful.  You couldn’t put your finger on it, but you didn’t like him.

Or remember the trip to your local electronic store to buy a new computer or TV.  Some young smarmy guy saunters beside you, spilling product knowledge all over you, but never listening, kind of creeping you out.  You couldn’t do it.  You walked.

I’ve written on creating marketing strategies to drive people into your business, but all the marketing savvy is worthless if your personality turns off the customer when he arrives at your door.

Can you become more likable?

Yes.

And it doesn’t matter where you are on the likability scale, this is one area where we can constantly improve.  In fact, start this exercise by asking people you trust to be honest where you rank on the likable scale from 1 to 10.  Then you know where to go, and how to improve.

Here are some tips:

1.  Them Not You. Focus on the other person.  Don’t spill out your expertise or knowledge on to them.  Ask questions about them (and not with the intention of them asking the same thing back).  Act interested, and followup with more questions.

2.  Build Rapport.  Rapport is not always easy, but the quickest way to build rapport is to look for commonality.  When you meet someone or go into their home or office, begin looking or asking for areas of commonality.  Look for those pictures of kids, sports team logos, hints about hobbies, anything that you can grab onto.  Maybe you are not interested in some of those things.  They don’t know that, and remember it’s not about you, it’s about them.

3.  Humor.  Laughing with a person creates likability almost instantly.  Sometimes the best thing to laugh at is yourself.  Especially if you find yourself nervous in a social interaction.  If you forget something or misspeak, you can laugh about it, and make the other person laugh as well.  Collecting funny stories or remembering humorous experiences from your life to pepper conversation is one way to improve.

Years ago I walked into an insurance agent’s office, and could tell he was on a difficult call with a customer.  I didn’t know the man well, and was a little nervous about the conversation. He hung up the phone in frustration, and before jumping into my spiel, I asked about the call.  He related the story of a customer misunderstanding something that should have been simple.

I laughed and told him a similar story from my own experience with a funny ending: a customer calling to remove his car from his policy—the blue one (oh, with a gold stripe).

Then we both laughed and the interaction opened up into a positive outcome.

4.  Smile.  This works even on the phone, and has become trite advice these days.  I have even seen mirrors propped next to people’s phone saying “They can hear your smile.”

But it’s true.

The crazy thing about smiling is that it makes you happier, in turn, becoming infectious to the people you encounter.

Many days, I drag myself out of bed, into the shower, into my car, sitting, waiting to walk into my first appointment, forcing myself into a couple goofy smiles in my car rearview mirror, and instantly I feel a little happier and more energetic.

5. Make Them Comfortable.  Sometimes you may notice, that it is not you that is nervous and unsure, but the customer.  Do what you can to make them comfortable.  Give them a cup of coffee, but them in a comfortable seat.  Walk around with them.  Anything.  Give assurances and set expectations, because they may be scared or worried about something.

6.  Know Their Style.  This one takes practice, but it can help immensely.  Have you come to the place in life that you realize not everyone is like you?  Sad, isn’t it.  The world would be such a better place, but probably incredibly boring if that was true.

There are multiple resources out there on social styles, and most group everyone into one of four quadrants such as Drivers, Amiables, Analytics, or Expressives.  Every resource may use different terms but they are similar.

This doesn’t mean everyone can be so easily pigeon-holed, but we all have dominant traits and these labels help understand how we interact with the world.  Knowing these and then trying to match your style to what you determine is another’s can create a deep sense of likability.

Good news:  We are all likable or we wouldn’t have customers, but becoming more likable can help all your interactions and will help you improve every sales encounter.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

Have you done anything over your career to become more likeable?  Do you have any humorous stories about unlikable sales-people?

 
photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

How to Create Loyalty with Customers Before You Sell Anything

medium_4638947724Do you know how the best salespeople develop loyalty from the start, before the sale is even closed? 

They find the customer’s pain. 

The customer may not even be consciously aware of it, but in a skillful way, the salesperson digs it out, placing it before their eyes so they need a solution.

We have talked about it as critical to the sales process.  But do you have the investigative skills needed to find it?  Read on for tips from sales experts.

Just in case you are not convinced of the power of customer pain, here are several benefits that make the time digging worth it.

  1.  Overcome objections. Before the bulk of the sales process begins, objections become minimized because the customer realizes they have a problem (beyond price) that needs to be solved, and creating that pain gives an urgency to having it fixed. 
  2. Creates relationship wedge.  Their previous sales person hasn’t found the pain, or they wouldn’t be talking with you.  Immediately you get your foot in the door, and begin questioning the relationship they have with their current sales guy.
  3. Establishes credibility.  You know something others don’t.  You become credible.  You have found something others haven’t.
  4. Expert status.  Before your product is shared, and details are talked about, you begin to be viewed as an expert, just because you know where their current product has failed them.

So how do you find a person’s pain?

Questions. 

Sound’s simple, but we love to talk or we wouldn’t be in sales or customer service.  Yet, the best sales and service people I see everyday listen more than they talk.  They ask questions, and let the customer do the work.

It’s not just any question that gets to the heart of a problem.  Three types are needed the most.

1.  Stay Open.  Don’t ask “yes” and “no” questions, or questions with one word responses.  Ask open-ended questions.

“How long have you been with your current agent?  Why are considering leaving?  What kind of experience have you had with your agent?” 

You may have to ask a one word question, but always follow-up with an open ended?

“Have you had any claims experience?”    “How was it?”  “Can your current agent not help? Why not?”

2.   Tell Me About It.  While not technically a question, nothing gets people talking than this one statement.

Agent: “What’s your relationship with your current agent?”  Customer:  “Good”  Agent: “Tell me about it.”

Before they realize it they expressed a frustration or disappointment, and this is where the gold is.

 3.  Dig with the Why.  This may be the best question you can ask.  Nothing fancy is needed.  Just as why?  Why are shopping?  Why is that important?  Why don’t you like…?  Last question should be “anything else?”.   A great book I picked up on this topic is The Power of Why.

 So, you’ve mined the customer’s problems and frustration, what’s next.

  1. Support it.  If you have found problems and frustrations, and convinced you can solve it, support it with examples in your shop, then start your sales process.
  2. Reject it.  Perhaps, you found someone that you know you can’t satisfy.  He is unreasonable, and you can’t make him any happier than his current situation.  It may be time to walk away.  This is hard, but even if you make a sale, the maintenance of this customer may be greater than you can fulfill.

Spend some time alone thinking through these strategies.  Craft out sample questions, bring them to your next sales meeting.  Get all your sales and service people involved.

 

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

photo credit: drewleavy via photopin cc

Why Preparation Is The Real Key To Sales Success

iceberg sales preparationThe quickest way to get new salespeople up to speed is continual training on product and sales processes, but for those who have been selling more than 5 years, we often get lazy and rely on habits and abilities acquired early in our career.

One secret of great salespeople is that they never stop practicing.

They never stop preparing for their calls, and that act of preparation propels them to be better than all their competition.

The sales process is like an iceberg.

You’ve heard this before.  As you lazily float through Alaskan waters on your cruise ship, you occasionally see an iceberg or two.  They can be small or massive, but what you see on top of the water is only 10% of the whole, 90% of it floats beneath the surface of the water.

The sale interview and interaction with the customer is that 10% everyone sees, but the strength and power of the process comes from the 90% that no one sees.  And to constantly improve, our focus must be on that act of preparation.

Here are elements I’ve picked up from great sales people on what makes up the best preparation

1.  Customer Knowledge.

Nothing is worse than spending months talking to a person trying to sell your product, and realize you don’t have the decision maker.  The person you have been pouring every ounce of energy into for months has no power or influence to effect change and make a decision.

Not only does knowing your customer help determine the correct person, but gaining knowledge of your potential customer, shows you care about him.

With the internet, knowing your customer is easier than ever.  You can understand their business, get information online about their company and what is important to them.

This doesn’t just stop once customer contact is made.  Every morsel of information discovered can be gold to the great salespeople.  I’ve known people, who keep files on their prospects containing birthdays, kids names, list of hobbies, etc.  Those prospects begin to believe that this person is not looking for a one shot sale, but a lifetime relationship, and the process moves forward.

2.  Customer Questions.

Spend some time by yourself generating a list of common questions that customers have about your product, ask your staff to do this exercise as well, then compile the list.  From that starting point, craft concise answers, with analogies and stories, that get to the heart of the customer’s questions.

Then practice the answers to these questions, so you will be prepared when they come.  As new people come into your organization, having a file of common questions and answers to customer’s questions and concerns is invaluable training.

3.  Objections.

There aren’t that many objections within the sales process.  They usually revolve around money, time, or need.  You know they are coming eventually.  Script out great responses to the objections, and practice them.  You don’t want to be stumbling around your words and act surprised when you hear something you should have expected.

4.  Closings. 

As mentioned in a previous post, closings are huge.  Not because a crafty close will help seal the deal.  No, it’s because no one does them.

You don’t have to be slick or high pressure to make these work.  Just doing something will set you apart.  Create a list of potential closes and practice, so they become second nature and you won’t forget to ask for the business.

5  Sales Questions.

This element is huge and can be hard for all of us.  We love to tell more than ask.  We love our product, we know all the bells and whistles, and want the customer to know them.

You know what.  They probably don’t care about all the bells and whistles.  You won’t know that unless you ask questions about their motivations and pain points.

What problems have they had in the past?  What is their experience with their current agent?

Not long ago, I did some car shopping.  I am not a car guy.  The sales person can pop the hood and ramble about cylinders and liters and horsepower, and it goes straight over my head.  My wife is the car expert in the family.  In fact, on this day, we were looking for a car for her.

She was with me, but the sales guy wouldn’t talk to her.  I even threw him a hint or two like: “I am not going to drive this, she is.”

He wanted to talk about interior colors he was enamored with, along with the power the car had.

bad sales preparation

 

It was a minivan, and all my wife cared about was gas mileage, the dvd player, and roominess.  He never asked, he just kept talking, and then was surprised when my wife wanted to leave.

Don’t be that guy.

We all know we have.  Practice asking questions.  Become an investigator or therapist looking for issue that you can solve.

We all need help with this.  A modern resource for this is Spin Selling, and if you are looking for something a little more old school, but is really a must-read find Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling.

6.  Role Playing

Do those words strike dread in your heart.  Announce them at your next sales meetings, and watch faces grow pale as groans issue from the depths of your staff’s soul.

None but the sadistic among us enjoy role-playing.

In a previous job, our company loved role-playing.  It was part of the ongoing training, and even promotions were based on running the gauntlet of role-playing scenarios.  My boss found increasing joy in springing role-playing sessions on us.  I hated it.  In fact, I still dread them today.  But they work.

Any skill set I have in interacting with people was shaped by role-playing exercises.  It’s painful and embarrassing, but effective.

It is much better than reviewing a conversation in your head.  Role-playing creates stress, and the stress is usually worse than anything you might experience in a live scenario, but this is why it works.

Take all the above prep-work and practice in live role-playing scenarios.  Don’t be easy on yourself and others.  Be the worst, most difficult customer.  Try on different personalities and style, and see how you do against each one.

Integrate role-playing in your sales meetings.  Your people will hate you, but everyone’s bottom-line will thank you later.

Every professional at the top of their game never stops preparing.  They never stop practicing.  Think of the pro athlete.  No matter how proficient they become, they continue to prepare, practice and improve.  We are no different.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

P.S.  What do you do to prepare for sales encounters?  Do you have a routine?  What do you do with your team to help them improve?