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

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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

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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?

 
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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 realizse 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

 
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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?

 

Should You Have Different Strategies for Marketing and Sales?

The best agencies I work with understand something others don’t.  They know the difference between marketing and sales, approaching both very differently, which creates a huge impact to growth and revenue. 

What is that difference?

strategies for marketing and sales

Marketing is what your agency does to get customers to call you.  Sales is what you do once they call.

Marketing is Social Media, Networking, Content Marketing, Referral Generation, Beating the Bushes, Attending Clubs and Chambers, Setting up a booth at a local festival.

Marketing is the bull horn. Sales is the whisper.

Marketing is the lure.  Sales is the hook.

Why do these distinctions matter?

Listen to these example.  I have worked with agencies that have incredible sales people.  I have seen them sell.  When a customer is in front of them or on the phone, it is like magic.

They are likeable; they ask the right questions; they put the customer in a place of comfort and acceptance.  They demonstrate value and ask for the sale. The customer feels like the agent is buying the policy for them.  It’s amazing.

But they can’t get the phone to ring.  They don’t have enough leads.  Their close rates are really high, but can’t seem to talk to enough people.  The pipeline is always sparse.

On the other hand, I have seen some shops with incredible marketing.  Their internet presence is amazing.  Google loves them.  They have great storefront exposure.  The phone is always ringing, but their sales are not great.  They are not all warm and fuzzy, likeability is limited, closing a sale is awkward and difficult.

Both are separate skill sets, and both must be attended to with equal force.

So, what changes can you make to mimic the best agencies approach to marketing and sales?

1.  Create separate strategies & goals. 

Marketing:  Ask: Who is my ideal customer?  What can I do to  reach that person? Then begin molding your current marketing around that target.

Identify what marketing activities you are doing today, then match to your customer target.  For example: Social Media:  Is it hitting that target?  Content marketing: Are you answering the questions your target customer has?  Networking events:  Are you going place where you will find your customer?  Lead Generation: Are the leads you are buying bringing you your target?  Referral Marketing:  Are your referral sources sending you your target customer?

Sales:  Evaluate and Improve.  These examples should help you prime the pump.  What is my close rate?  Have someone evaluate your salespeople.  Work on areas that are weak.  Do role-playing.  If you are a sales manager, have friends do mystery shopping on your people.  Have your best producers, model good sales behavior.  Let customers evaluate you.  What did you do right and wrong in the sales process.

2.  Assign Marketing to a Specific Person.  One secret of larger businesses is that they will separate out these functions to different departments, because the skill set is different.  You can do the same in your agency.

Most agencies have sales people and service people, but very few have at least one marketing person.  The ones I know that do, write a lot more business.

This person is responsible for driving leads, developing referral relationships, social media, customer contests, outside events, etc. 

It works.

3.  Measure.  This is the only way you will know it is working.  This could be a complex spreadsheet of close rates, contacts, marketing projects.  Or it could be a whiteboard with a number of weekly sales and marketing efforts.  You must measure so you know where to improve and possibly where to spend money.

No matter what approach you take, see these two tasks as separate with differing strategies. It will allow you to create separate successful systems, and you will see constant improvement in your bottom line.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

Questions:  Does your business have different strategies for marketing and sales?  What are ways your approach differently that has helped drive growth?

photo credit: moriza via photopin cc

My Biggest Sales Mistakes I Want You To Avoid

sales mistakes to avoidI have been in sales most of my adult life, and have made every rookie mistake.  Unfortunately, I still find myself falling into bad patterns, and often have to slap myself back to reality. 

The great thing about recognizing mistakes is that once you see them, you can avoid them, and work to correct them.

Here is a list of frequent mistakes all salespeople, newbies and seasoned vets, make.

Now this list isn’t comprehensive, just my big bugaboos, tripping me up especially when I started, and hopefully these admissions of failure can help you along the sales journey.

  1. Not asking for the sale

This one is just tragic.  You spend money and time generating leads.  You spend hours cold-calling and finally find someone who will talk with you.  You do all the right things, building rapport, asking questions, finding solutions, having a competitive price, but you never ask to buy.

I’ve done it.  I guess fear causes it.  It seems silly to go through all that work and never ask the person to purchase.  They gave you their time, they answered your questions, they listened to your pitch, but you never asked them to do anything.  You just through up a number, and hoped something would happen.

Don’t feel bad, everyone does it.  In fact, if you master this one element of sales, you are better than 90% of you competition.

Here’s how I know, let me tell you a story.

At one time, in my career, I worked for Progressive.  If you have any experience with them, they are intensely data driven, measuring everything that moves.  In order to get a better handle on agency impressions of the company, and develop better sales training, we initiated mystery shopping.  We would call out to agencies all over the country and ask for a quote, all the while holding a checklist in our hands, looking for sales elements.

This was a big effort, and we called everyone, all 30,000 agencies, from large professional shops, mom & pop agencies, and your non-standard specialists.

Over and over again, we found one consistent feature, no one asked for the sale.  Only 10% asked.  We weren’t looking for a hard sale either.  Just a “when do you want to do this”, or “how does that sound to you”.

This is a big one, so listen to yourself, make a list of potential closes, practice them, put notes on your computer, your phone, the back of your hand, just don’t let yourself forget it, and you will be better than most.

2.  Making it all about price.

Okay, we know insurance has become a commodity right.  If the price is not there, then forget it.  When I talk and listen to friends in sales in other industries, they all say the same.  Their product has become a commodity, price wins.  No industry escapes this.

It would be foolish to believe price is not an option, but it can also be a hurdle.  Not for the customer, but for us.

I remember walking through the sales interview with a lady, entering all the information about her tI could gather, generating the quote, and almost choking when I saw the final price.

“No one would buy this!” I thought.  That is ridiculously expensive.

But because I was new and needed sales, I reasoned what the heck, let’s throw this price out there and see what happens.

Bucking up, and putting on my most enthusiastic voice, I announced the price, secretly waiting for a “Are you crazy?”, the rejecting sound of a click, or a polite, “I am sorry”, but to my surprise, she said it was good.  I scheduled a time to finish the sale, and did a secret little jig of excitement at my desk.

What did I learn?  What is a good deal to one person, may be entirely different to another.  Think about everything you purchase, do always buy the cheapest?  Even when you buy close to the bottom of price ranges, do you always have the best deal, couldn’t you spend a couple more weeks researching to find a better price?  You don’t.  Once the price hits the range you want, and the other benefits are there, you buy.

Price is important, but don’t let it sabotage you.

3.  Not knowing the game

Depending on your industry, every sales process has a game attached to it.  You just need to know it.  Usually it revolves around the customer pitting you against your competition to get a better price.

Here’s how I fell into this trap.  I was prospecting commercial customers, and got pretty excited, because unlike personal lines, I found most people were willing to give me an ear.  Most readily gave up their dec pages and xdates, hoping I had something better.

And many times, I did, but I didn’t make the sale.  I offered a product that had better coverages, and many times equal to lower price, but nothing happened.  No sale was made.  The customer wouldn’t even call me back.  I couldn’t get them on the phone anymore.

What happened?

They used me.

They took my proposal back to their current agent, and used me to get a better product and price.

This happens in every industry, but once you know the game, it is easier to combat.  It will change your approach on the front end.  You start thinking about your competition differently.  You ask better questions.  You frame your proposals better.

Knowing the game, lead me to correct this last mistake.

4.  Not developing relationships and prequalifying properly

The sales process is a lot of work.  Even in personal lines, when you have a comparative rater, and you have learned to fly through the quoting process, you still don’t want to grind out quote after to quote never to close.

That’s like the old prison torture story.  Today the guards make you dig a hole on this side of the yard.  Tomorrow you fill it in.  The next day you move to the other side to dig, then the following you fill it in.  That’s enough to drive a person mad.

Nothing is worse than useless work serving no purpose than to keep you busy.

Change your approach.  Don’t sale, don’t quote, don’t spend time on a customer, until you spend some time evaluating the situation.

Is their incumbent agent their brother or mother?  Forget it.  You aren’t going to win.  Is the customer a fraternity brother with their current agency’s owner?  Chances are bad for you.  But you won’t know this until you ask questions.

Ask as many questions as you need about their relationship with their current agent.  Look for strengths and weaknesses and find a wedge where you can create a relationship.  Perhaps, you can teach them something they never knew about their business or risk situation.  Maybe you have common friends or interests.  Listen to them, and if there is any crack in their current agent relationship, find ways you can offer value the other can not.

This is my list, and I hope it helps you avoid my traps.

Look at your process, look at what your staff does, and see if you can find each of these elements.  Then work toward eliminating these common mistakes.

Are there other sales sins you have committed? 

 
Be Productive,

Theron Mathis
 

photo credit: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser via photopin cc

Why You Need Google Plus and How to Get Started Today

medium_6714960287Why do you need a Google+ page?  I get asked by agents on a regular basis about where to start online marketing.  To be honest, I am biased toward Facebook and Content Marketing through blogging.  I really believe if you have someone in your office that can be committed to curate and create content, and your current website allows you to post content (if not, please change) do it.  Content marketing has the ability to let you compete against big marketing insurance budgets.  You can dominate search in your geography and become an expert in whichever insurance niches you write.

I love Facebook because I know it.  It was my first social network, and I have helped agents setup pages, find content, create contests, etc.  Even if your agency is not on Facebook, I guarantee the majority of the people in your office are on FB, and everyone has a basic familiarity with it.  The learning curve is small because someone you know, if not yourself, knows and understands Facebook.  All you need to do is to learn the marketing side and adapt to your business.

Over the last couple months, I have seen the power of Google Plus.  It is incredibly versatile, feels more professional, and engagement is easy.  I found creating active engagement on G+ is much easier than it is on Facebook.  

So why should you have a G+ page?

1.  It is Google.  You can’t fight city hall.  If you spend any time in online social media circles, you are bound to find people announcing and celebrating the demise of Google+, however, these voices are dying out.  

Google will not let this network die.  It continues to grow.  They have integrated a Skype-like feature called Google Hangouts that allow group video chat.  Functionality continues to increase.

Admit it, when you search on the web.  You probably go to Google, and if you don’t you call web-searching “googling”.  They own search, and being part of their system will only help you.

2.  SEO, SEO, SEO.  If you don’t know this term yet, it stands for Search Engine Optimization.  Basiclly it the practice of doing things online that will help your customer find you.  When people search for you, what you sell, and where you sell, can they find you online.

Sadly, many of agents I work with can’t even be found online even if their name is entered into the search bar.  Google+ can change that and change it quickly.

Google places G+ activity into their search results, and probably gives greater weight to this network versus posts created in other networks.

3.  Your activity will have wings, and won’t die quickly.  If you post on Facebook, you must post frequently, primarily because your post only has a shelf-life of about a day.  After that people will no longer see it.  It won’t show in their news feed anymore.

With Google+, your posts become part of search, and live longer on the web.

I have seen this for myself.  Weeks after I have posted on Google+, I can still get traffic from that post.

 How do you start?

Ok, now that you are convinced that it is worth jumping into this network, how difficult is it to setup a page.  It’s incredibly easy.  I just set one up for one of my agent’s in about five minutes.

  1.  Go to Google+ for business.  

google plu

2.  If you don’t have a Google account then you need to create one.  Basically, you are just setting up a Gmail account.  This is not hard, and the system will prompt you how to do it.

3.  Add a profile photo if you have one, but this is not necessary for the page.  

4.  Choose your category.

Google plus create a category

 5.  Add Info.  Post basic information about your business including office hours, and you are finished.  

 Google gives you the ability to share your page with contacts, and this could help jump-start your network.  

If you don’t have G+, run, don’t walk to your favorite browser and set it up!

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

P.S. Bonus Content:  Having the G+ page will help, but ultimately if you decide to make this part of your ongoing social media marketing, you need to post.  Here are a couple extra tips:

1.  Multiply your work.  If you are using a social network today, like Twitter or Facebook, replicate those same posts on G+.

2.  Streamline your posts.  Use a scheduler to get your posts from one spot, to multiple networks.  I use and love buffer.  Buffer let’s you post something once, and then it schedules the posts for you on various networks.  With Buffer, you can use Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+.

3.  Suggested Resources.  There’s a lot more you can do with G+ to create engagement and increase your brand presence.  The quickest way to pick up these skills is to check out Social Media expert and fellow insurance professional, Ryan Hanley.  He has written extensively about G+.

 

 

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc