“Don’t fear the work. Don’t commit halfway either, hold yourself accountable.” This is Gabe Markley's advice to advisers about tracking daily work activity. He admits he wouldn't be anywhere in business without plain old organization. The 28-year-old agent at New York Life in Wichita, Kan., says he owes all his successes to some simple tracking techniques that allow him to monitor his daily workload, analyze the data for trends and make course corrections to ensure future success.
All this sounds basic, but not all advisers are doing it and could learn a thing or two from this young go-getter. He says the bottom line is that it allows him to stay focused on the prize at all times: making the sale.
Every minute of Markley's workday is logged via calendar. This calendar, along with the Excel spreadsheet he keeps with all of his potential and current clients' information down to their birthdays and anniversaries, is what keeps him efficient.
This sort of self-monitoring and recording is engrained into the New York Life way of operating. Markley and his talent development manager Rob Hendrickson, also in Wichita, believes that agents and advisers at smaller companies can adapt their tactics for big results.
"It starts with a grid that you label in the most simple sense with the number of names you get, number of phone calls you make, number of appointments kept, how many of those closes turn into applications, and so on," Hendrickson explains. "It's going from controllable to less controllable as you track that via Excel spreadsheet and you start seeing your averages every week. Like, how many phone calls did you make?"
Hendrickson, who was previously an agent himself but found passion in developing and nurturing the skills of new producers, is the first to admit that this concept is nothing new.
"Go to any large company and they're going to give you a set of ranges. The numbers are always different, because there are different products, but it's always the law of large numbers," he says.
Markley meets one-on-one with Hendrickson on occasion for training. He receives most of his mentoring from his manager, or partner as New York Life calls them, Robbi Pierce.
"We talk to our partners every week to talk about what's going on with the practice ... [and] they'll always pull up numbers," Markley says about his relationship with Pierce. "It can be good and bad, but it'll show up in the numbers. You can't always control if you make a sale, but if nothing happens at all they'll know. Maybe they'll see you're calling at the wrong time, so that can be a quick change. Or if you're going [to sales calls] with nothing on your plate, you'll talk about new approaches to talk on the phone or something."
Opening new doors
Markley's meticulous tracking has paid off. In entering his second year with New York Life he completed the first group client sale for the company in the entire state of Kansas. His mission now is to use his mastery of data and tracking his work to take the group client market in the area by storm.
"Data will play a large part so we can keep focused on [each person in the group]," Markley says about getting to meet with each of the employees who enrolled in the benefit at the offices of the new group client, a Wichita-based aviation company.
Hendrickson explains that data is going to be the key to more group sales for Markley and other agents like him who want to break into the group market from individual-based practices. Markley will be able to look through his existing client list and find patterns, mostly of people who are employed by the same company.
"It can be pretty powerful to go to the human resources department and have an employee ask them to entertain a meeting with their agent," Hendrickson says. And it will all be thanks to tracking.
Hendrickson made a breakthrough in his own career as an agent when he realized he made $39 for each person he called who had kids at home - but made $1,400 for anyone who was single.
"And that's a whole new way of tracking," he says, adding that the biggest mistake is that business owners work too hard "in their business and not on their business."
Taking the time to input data can lead to countless such realizations.
Not all advisers and producers in the business track the same way, or at all. Bob Corrigan is the owner of Carlisle-Corrigan Benefits, LLC in Corpus Christi, Texas - his way?
"I keep a legal pad with all my prospects I'm working on and I review that at least once a week," Corrigan says. He explains that keeping an Excel spreadsheet of all his clients is something he did in the past and says that he "probably needs to go back to it," but his business model is a bit different from most advisers.
Corrigan first got into the business in 1971 and hasn't stopped since. With all of his years of experience under his belt and status as a known name in the community, he says 90% of his current business is from referrals.
"I really only call on new prospects two or three times a month," he explains. And with the plethora of existing business, he says he has a mission for the next 12-14 months: "To navigate through ACA and nurture existing accounts."
It's in 2015 that Corrigan, who is the only producer at the company at this point in time, plans to add more producers and grow the business with new clients. And when that hits, he's going to be ready with more than just a legal pad. He says he's working to get an agency management system in place that will track sales calls and help him analyze the data.
"Chaos creates opportunity," Corrigan says. "We are doing a lot of outsourcing to bring more value to our clients."
Down to ACA
Corrigan monitors his business by having his three account managers submit weekly reports where he can check for trends in his existing clients' business and make changes as necessary. His advice to advisers on tracking their activity is to keep it all focused on the Affordable Care Act.
"Every producer needs to become a real expert in ACA and also find a system to track all the law's changes," he says. "Track it all in Excel and manage deadlines so you can remind clients when they need to deal with certain ACA issues. The key is tracking the client by how they're impacted and what services you can bring to clients."
Mark Gaunya, an EBA Advisory Board member, is principal at Borislow Insurance out of the Boston area and says health reform is the exact time that advisers should be evaluating their clientele data and thinking about what positive changes they can make for their business.
"One of the advantages of being in Massachusetts is we went through the market adjustments in 1996 with guarantee issue, community ratings and no pre-existing condition limitations," he says and of course, then came "Romneycare."
When the state's health care law came out seven years ago he said he knew it was time for a change.
He looked back and "our average case size was 50 [employees] ... we chose to focus on serving larger employers with 100 employees and that decision turned out to be a very good one ... now our average case size is well over 120."
He says having a grasp on the business and knowing his clients' data helped him and his partner craft this "intentional strategy."
Gaunya's motto is, "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it." There are some helpful guidelines that advisers should use if they're thinking about getting on the tracking bandwagon:
* Have one administrative/account staff member for every $200,000-$250,000 in revenue to "provide your clients with the service support they require."
* Look at retention rates. Ask former clients for the real reason you lost their business; if you can't ask, use data to understand.
* Look at your top and bottom line rates of growth and "obviously ... make sure your top line is always growing faster than bottom."
* Take "average account size in terms of revenue to ensure you are working with and writing the revenue you target," he concludes, saying there are more but these tips will help keep you monitoring the operations of your business for good "financial health."
Looking for ways to stand out
One way to track clients, from Gaunya's perspective, is more sophisticated than an Excel spreadsheet, it's the whole set up of his business.
"The way our model works is our client is in the center and then the client consulting team, including a strategic person who sets up the account, financial modeling and a service person, those three people work with other parts of our business," he explains.
"They work with risk management, compliance, health and wellness, communication and education, individual insurance and investments and HR consulting."
This sort of departmental model works, he says, because you can select which teams are going to make the most impact on each client.
Gaunya also says that you need to track the intellectual capital that leaks through your organization.
He is very passionate and "disciplined" about this concept which helps combat the oft-occurring issue of an adviser meeting with a company and giving his analysis and recommended solution - only to have the company turn around and give that plan to a broker friend or family member.
"As it relates to new business, we say we're not going to prepare any proposals ... or do any work that we're not paid for," he adds.
"At times, prospective clients will then furrow their brow and say, 'Well, no one else does this.' But when you ask your accountant to do your tax return, you don't ask them to do all the work and then not pay them. It's the same with lawyers. And that person's a licensed professional just like me."
This is liberating for Gaunya, not just because he knows where his proprietary information is going, but also because "I know when I'm doing work on something; it's proactive and productive."
He says a lot of advisers are giving away their value and wasting their time when it could be much more efficiently managed.
Mike Rankin is the principal at e3 Financial in Newport Beach, Calif., and says his strategy for tracking his and his company's productivity lies in having fewer clients than most advising practices his size.
"The clients are more profitable because the relationships are deep and we're selective on the front end about the industry, culture and value set. If we're involved in a potential opportunity that doesn't appear to fit then we'll walk away," he says.
Rankin adds that his fairly large producer to client ratio, 3:16, is also an "anomaly." He views this support as an investment in the business because they're able to track and analyze successes and failures in a much more productive way than if they had a smaller producer-to-client ratio.
He says it's the simple things like adding staff and being selective that keep an adviser on the efficient and lucrative path.
Back to the basics
New York Life's Markley can tell when there are people in his office who aren't keeping track of their sales numbers.
"I think everyone has a story about when they didn't go in and lock it down," he says, adding that most turn themselves around, having learned the lesson. He knows that while New York Life has a very solid system in place for making sure agents do this, anyone who's at a smaller business can do this themselves.
"Someone who's been established for 30 years might have hundreds of clients. But as soon as you implement it, it's going to work," he says. "Don't fear the short-term for the long-term."
Hendrickson says advisers need to find simple tricks to start organize themselves. "On Friday night, maybe you need to focus on getting 24 appointments on the calendar for the next week before you go home at night. Start keeping score and the score will go up," he says.
Rankin says he's only been tracking his activities with potential and current clients as an adviser for the last five years.
"We really only started right when the downturn began," Rankin says. "We had lots of clients tied to real estate and we were looking at a fairly precipitous drop in revenue, but we sold our way out of the recession."
He owes it all to what he says was "laser-focus" on their selling activities and "our e3 revenue did not drop because our treadmill was on high."
From there, he says he can never go back to not tracking his work. "It's one of those things that now that it's engrained, not having the information would be troublesome," Rankin says.
Rankin's process is also a simple Excel tracking process like Markley and others. He labels his meetings with clients as follows:
* IM: Introductory meeting
* FF: Fact finder
* CL: Closing meeting
He is religious about his calendar, like Markley, and puts those codes into his calendar as well so he's always sure about the purpose of his meetings and time spent there. Another simple thing with the calendar, Rankin says, is having a dedicated employee to manage both his and his partner's calendars for them. "Obviously it's an investment, but the time it saves is incredible with the booking and re-booking," he says. Rankin is also training a new producer in his practice now, which takes away from his goal of spending 60% of his time on new business, but it's worth it.
Working with and coaching a new producer takes a lot of data entry as well. Just as New York Life's Hendrickson and Pierce meet with Markley to go over numbers on a weekly basis, Rankin does the same thing in his small business.
"A new producer tends to spend too much time on strategic alliances as opposed to decision-maker appointments," Rankin says.
In other words, new advisers are spending too much time with HR consultants, attorneys, CPAs, etc. who have the potential to refer clientele. Rankin saw this with his new adviser pretty quickly, thanks to data.
"We track the referrals, strategic alliance meetings, prospect meetings and over a three or four month period you get a pattern that evolves and you can have a discussion [with that producer]," he says.
Rankin brought on an additional salesperson because he foresees the need with more ACA implementation around the corner.
"I don't think it's the environment where you can be complacent and babysit your block of business," he says. "It starts with the mindset of growing the business and being more productive on the new business development side."
Hendrickson agrees and goes a step further, reminding agencies that are adding new producers that "you're going to take a pay cut in the time that you're developing a new agent, but the time spent one on one goes far."
A lasting impression
As everyone in the industry is thinking about how to reinvent or change their business in 2014 and beyond with the tidal wave of ACA, making changes in the way data is tracked and analyzed in your business could make all the difference.
Hendrickson compares the benefit adviser to a doctor or dentist who has spent all of his life getting educated and then goes out in private practice and knows nothing about running a business.
"Many financial representatives are sometimes just as guilty because we're not taking the steps to be productive in our own practice," he says.
The math is simple, he adds. The companies that have these operating systems, or makeshift operating systems via Excel spreadsheets, simply do better and keep people in their jobs longer. That's what comes when a producer feels like they have one-on-one attention and guidance from management.
And it's going to become increasingly important, says Markley. "The world just gets more and more technologically advanced every day. If you look at my generation it's all they use and so [advisers] are going to need to keep track of large amounts of data," he says.
"This is too good of a career to lose people who, with a little more focus on activity tracking, could see success," Hendrickson says. "I'd expect that small businesses [that implement this] would increase their efficiency so much that they'd be able to train new agents without affecting their own business."
And he says to not forget about the analysis. "It's quite another thing to take action on recommendations and build accountability into a solution," he says. "You may only be making eight appointments a week and you need to be making 10. It's the constant touch and investment in agents that really distinguishes activity tracking."
RELAXING WITH GABE
It’s not all data tracing, all the time. Here’s how our cover agent calms down after a busy day selling the tracing those sales.
As a busy young agent, Gabe Markley knows that unwinding is just as important as organization. This up-and-coming group agent with New York life shares how he takes a load off.
1 Two words: Kansas State: "We love our Kansas State season football tickets. It's where my wife and I met and I just love all college football so any Sunday in the fall we're there," Markley says. One of the more memorable games for the couple was when Kansas State beat No. 1-ranked Texas in 2006. "We were debating if we should charge the field and before I knew it my wife just jumped over the field first. There were maybe 8,000 students on the field celebrating by the end of it."
2 Puppy time: A 2-year-old German Shepard named Charlie takes up a lot of Markley's time. "We actually found him abandoned on the side of the street because he'd been hit by a car and so he had a busted hip," he explains. "My father-in-law and my wife took him into the vet and he ended up having a tag. The old owner wanted to put him to sleep so we said we'd take him in."
3 All about the movies: "There's a dollar rental store right by our house and that's what we do to relax on weeknights," Markley says while acknowledging the rarity that is a brick-and-mortar video store in this day and age. "If we don't go there for a week they call us again and give us half price rentals," he laughs. "My favorite movie is the Batman trilogy, right now."
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