TO SALES MEETINGS
While most producers loathe them, it’s critical
to have consistent, intentional meetings
By Brent Kelly
The problem with sales meetings is that most agencies have them and, generally, most producers loathe them. Why? First and foremost, producers tend to view them as a waste of time. To them, meetings disrupt what they really want to do, which is work on sales rather than listen to someone talk about issues they don’t see as relevant.
Other reasons producers dislike meetings:
- Lack of focus. If there’s no real purpose, what’s the point?
- Meetings don’t help them write more business or earn more money.
- Leaders appear to be more concerned with what they have to say, rather than what the producers need or want to hear.
Another reason salespeople dislike sales meetings is that most are based around sharing numbers and data, with lengthy discussions about “good” numbers and “bad” numbers. The problem is that you can’t manage numbers! You can know the numbers, but you can only manage behaviors. That’s why the best sales meetings aren’t meetings about sales figures. They are sales improvement meetings. There is a big difference, and unlike the average sales manager who focuses on topics that could be shared in an email, the best sales leaders focus on the skills, the processes, and the attitudes that help producers become better at their craft.
Why have meetings?
If you ask most sales leaders what their number-one job is, they’ll usually say things like “improve sales,” “increase revenue,” or “grow the agency.” While that makes perfect sense, those are the results of a job well done, not the job itself. Do your producers leave meetings better than when they arrived? If not, it may be time you examined your effectiveness as a leader.
Your role as a sales leader is to improve your salespeople in order for them to improve their numbers. A worthwhile sales meeting will give producers something extra to put into practice on the street. With each meeting, they should be better equipped and more empowered to make sales.
A worthwhile sales meeting will give producers something extra to put into practice … .
With each meeting, they should be better equipped and more empowered to make sales.
Sales meetings also show a commitment to a sales culture. So many agencies say they have great service, which may mean they’re primarily a service organization that happens to do sales. The best agencies have a dynamic sales culture that also provides great service.
Structuring your meetings
When scheduling sales meetings, it’s critical to be consistent or intentional. This conveys the message that they’re important. Naturally, things will come up from time to time to derail your meeting schedule, such as holidays and other circumstances beyond your control. If it’s not a frequent occurrence, an occasional missed meeting isn’t going to cause irreparable harm to your sales department. However, when meetings become infrequent or inconsistent, it’s easy for them to fall by the wayside until they’re non-existent. This sends the wrong message about your sales organization. It also suggests indifference toward helping your producers improve.
Keep in mind the following when scheduling your sales meetings:
- Weekly meetings are recommended. You’ll notice that’s spelled “weekly,” not “weakly.” It’s not an obligatory get-together to muddle through. The goal is to learn and improve in a supportive environment.
- Meetings should have a purpose and an agenda that outlines topics of discussion. Knowing why you’re meeting and what you want to say saves time and helps eliminate distractions.
- One hour should be sufficient, assuming it is spent purposefully. That’s one-half of one percent of your 168-hour week to make you better at your craft. Remember, the point of a meeting is not to fill time, but to make the most of it.
- Day. The best day of the week for sales meetings is Monday. If you follow Sitkins’ Producers Perfect Schedule, Monday is a “get ready to play” day, when you and your team get mentally organized and psyched for the big game. It’s the ideal time to prepare for your week’s sales appointments and meet with your service professionals. Also, since many businesses typically have Monday meetings, your business clients will be occupied at the same time. This alignment allows you to be out in the marketplace selling when your clients are available.
As I mentioned earlier, you must have an agenda. Without it, group con-versations tend to meander into random talk and may devolve into frustrating, time-consuming gripe sessions. Before you know it, the point of the meeting is lost, and the time set aside for it has evaporated. An agenda helps everyone stay focused and on the same page.
If the basis of a sales improvement meeting is to improve, the best way to improve is through low-risk practice. No one likes to practice, but no one excels without it. For example, if you’re on a football team, you practice by running plays—you don’t stand around and just talk about the playbook, hoping that everything works out on game day. Instead, you practice the plays at the risk of looking stupid in front of your peers so that you won’t look stupid on game day when the stakes are much higher. Wouldn’t you rather fumble the ball at practice than fumble it during the fourth quarter when you’re going for a touchdown?
The same is true of low-risk practice during a sales meeting. This is the kind of practice you do where no one gets hurt, except maybe your feelings. Would you rather be embarrassed among your peers or lose your best account? You need to practice continually on the things you’d like to do better. A top-100 agency I currently coach devotes the first 15 minutes of every sales meeting to practicing their skills in a specific area, such as how to overcome objections. It’s had a significantly positive impact on their sales volume.
Although most salespeople will agree that good communication is vital to their success, few actually practice speaking in front of others. To improve their communication skills, they must continually practice and refine the following skills:
- 30-second commercial. If someone came up to your producers and asked them what they do, what would they say? Would they be specific? Would they say something articulate and compelling? Or would they say they sell insurance for XYZ Company?
- Points of differentiation. Can your salespeople clarify what makes your agency different from other independent insurance agencies?
- When meeting with future ideal clients (FICs), are they prepared to ask powerful, risk-based questions that make their prospects stop and think? Or do they show up, throw up and blow up? It takes practice to ask questions that change the conversation and move it away from being transactional.
- Asking for referrals. We know that referrals have the highest closing ratio and produce loyal, ideal clients, and yet most people don’t feel com-for table asking for them. It takes practice! To keep from sounding needy, you have to work on it. What’s more, referrals must be earned. What sorts of deposits have you made in the relationship? Don’t expect them to be a risk partner if you speak to them only at continuation.
Other key agenda items include a debrief of both successes and lost sales and a review of market conditions and coverage issues.
To keep from making the same mistakes repeatedly, it’s extremely important that we learn from our losses. That’s why we debrief. You can’t learn from experience until you reflect on why you won and more important, why you lost. The insight you gain will enable you to improve and succeed in the future.
For instance, let’s say you didn’t write an account that you felt confident about. Instead of immediately moving on to the next opportunity, take the time to evaluate what you did well and where you need to improve. You might want to ask:
- How soon did I go into the appointment?
- Did I establish the rules of the game?
- Did I connect with the right decision makers?
- Did I ask relevant questions and follow up on them?
- In other words, what did you learn from this experience and how can you apply it?
The best sales meetings include a debriefing session to share information, learn from others, and utilize the collective genius of the room. It’s important to frame this as an open exchange of ideas vs. an excuse to shame or judge individuals. People are eager to talk about their wins, and usually, someone has a great experience to share that would benefit others. Conversely, people who think they’ll be humiliated when they lose or make a mistake won’t want to discuss it, and no one will learn from their experience. The best sales leaders understand this and create a supportive environment that encourages team members to learn from one another. As a result, everyone wins!
It’s also important to review market conditions and coverage issues. Do you keep up with what’s hot and what’s not in the marketplace? Your sales team needs to know what’s happening with pricing and carriers as trends and market conditions are always evolving. For most sales leaders, meetings are the perfect place to share this information. For example, let’s say a producer hears that one of the carriers plans to stop writing a specific type of industry in the coming months. By mentioning it to the team, someone else may know of other carriers that will write those policies. Problem solved.
Regrettably, meetings frequently get hijacked by complaints and venting vs. discussing solutions and next steps. While it’s okay to be angry about an underwriting issue, anger is not going to solve your problem. You need to come up with a plan of action, such as talking to the carrier or finding a different one. People can only control the controllables. You can’t control a carrier ‘s decision any more than you can control the weather. You can only control how you react and what you do about it as a team. The key is to focus on the solution, not the problem.
The bottom line
Your best version possible agency starts with the improvement of your people because when you improve the people, you improve sales. Consistency is the key. In fact, it’s been said that nothing is more powerful than compounding consistency, and I agree.
What would compounding consistency mean for producers’ pipelines, positioning, and overall performance in one month, six months, or one year? I believe you’ll find that even modest improvements can reap huge rewards.
Brent Kelly, president of Sitkins Group, Inc., is a motivating influencer, coach and speaker who has a passion for helping insurance agencies maximize their performance. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry as a successful commercial lines producer and was named one of the top 12 young agents in the country in 2012. To help your agency gain clarity, build confidence, and improve culture, please contact him at email@example.com or visit sitkins.com