How well is your agency managed? Is it being managed to generate maximum top-line revenue and maximum bottom-line profit?

I've been discussing a four-part 21st century agency transformation process - to retool your selling style, portfolio, marketing and prospecting, and management - repositioning your agency for prosperity this year, into 2014, and beyond.

This month, I want to give you step-by-step guidance on transforming your management - both sales and overall agency management - to reposition your agency to prosper post-reform.

 

The new watchword

As margins tighten, agency operations must become less of a drag on the bottom line. "Productivity" is the new watchword.

Your operation must become leaner and more productive. Raising expectations of staff and systems can be a powerful first step.

What looks like an impressive operation isn't always what it seems.

The principal of a benefits agency in California attended a seminar presented by a highly successful agency owner who was sharing the management strategies behind his benefits practice that was generating $36 million in annual premiums.

The California broker was less than impressed after learning that the $36 million in billings was supported by 25 staff employees.

This agency principal had been generating $18 million in annual premiums with just five staff members before he launched an automation/efficiency drive that allowed him to reduce his staff to only two, using systems and processes to maintain a high level of quality service.

He now was taking a much higher percentage of his top-line revenue to his bottom line without sacrificing his client service.

Only by looking to automate, delegate and outsource for maximum productivity can you expect your agency to become the highly efficient and effective operation necessary for success in the new environment.

The 21st century agency will manage its operations to drive maximum revenue to the bottom line.

 

Sales management

The leads that are generated, the prospects that are called on, the meetings that are held must convert at a much higher rate than ever before. Maximum results from producers will be key and what distinguishes the winners from the losers.

For the 21st century agency, results - and success post-reform - depend on successful sales management.

Let me offer some proven sales management concepts, many from my friend and fellow EBA columnist Jack Kwicien, a 30-year insurance veteran who learned sales management at the old Prudential.

First, Kwicien reminds us, only 5% of the population is capable of managing itself. The rest require management if they are to be successful.

 

If you don't manage it, it's not important

Accountability is not a bad word. If sales activity is not managed, producers will not believe that their activity has any real importance. The only way to emphasize the importance of effective sales activity is by managing it carefully.

Clearly monitor and track monthly objectives vs. sales/revenues and metrics by salesperson. This way you can create the right formulas to measure the effectiveness of marketing, sales and sales activities. The goal is not only to track numbers, but also to work with the individual producers on improving their results by improving their prospecting activity.

 

Activities, not results

Manage activities. You cannot manage results. Measure results but manage activity. Make sure that you and your producers understand that only activity counts . . . good results will follow good, consistent activity. "Plan your work, work your plan."

Cliché as it may be, this is a key axiom in sales management. Once producers decide on a course of action for the week, manage them to work that plan.

 

Manage the important, not the urgent

Don't let "management by crisis" distract you from the importance of managing the fundamentals, the daily blocking and tackling of sales that results in prospects contacted, appointments set, follow-up done, prospects converted, sales written. This is where the sales are made.

 

Follow up

Be sure to help your producers develop a specific follow-up system to keep in touch with the prospect and keep the prospect in play.

An effective follow-up campaign should include multiple types of contacts, including email, direct mail (thank you note, greeting card, post card, etc.), your monthly client newsletter (emailed at least, paper mailed is best), and phone calls.

Spread out contacts so as not to seem overly aggressive, but keep up the contacts until the prospect buys or says, "stop."

This is essentially about creating an effective sales funnel that moves prospects ever closer to becoming a client. Moreover, per the earlier lessons of automation and delegation, this funnel should be as automated as possible to free up producers to be prospecting or closing. Fortunately, there are highly efficient automated systems to reduce the work in getting most of these tasks completed.

 

Monday goal setting

Meet briefly with each producer on Monday morning to establish the activities and activity goals for the week. This meeting doesn't need to be any longer than five minutes. Encourage and mentor when necessary. Set the tone for the week and ensure that each producer has a plan and knows he or she will be held accountable for following his plan.

 

Friday review

Meet again with each producer on Friday to review and discuss their week's activities. Discover why goals weren't met or activities accomplished.

One great idea Kwicien suggests is to meet with producers in descending order of production for that week, after which they are free to leave for the day. In other words, top producers are the first to have their weekly review meeting and the first to leave - in time for that afternoon round of golf, perhaps.

Meet with producers at the bottom of the production chart at the end of the day, ensuring they put in a full day's work.

 

A word of warning

Rigidly applying an effective sales management process never made a manager popular with his sales team. Producers can be overly optimistic and some can even be desperate. Either way, they don't like sales managers raining on their parade.

But that should be an extremely secondary issue. It's much more important to know the facts, be able to intervene to increase the chances of winning an account, and be able to create accurate sales forecasts.

One critical mistake I see agencies make with cross-selling initiatives for voluntary benefits is failing to compensate producers on the voluntary sale at the same level as the core products.

Since the voluntary benefits selling process is completely different than the health and ancillary sale, it's critical to provide meaningful incentives to encourage producers to step out of their comfort zone and attempt the voluntary sale.

Not only is strong comp essential for a successful voluntary cross-selling program, but recognition of cross-selling success will also motivate producers to cross-sell.

Reach Griswold of Bottom Line Solutions at nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com.

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