Agency Financial Management
By Rick Dennen
POWERING YOUR BUSINESS FOR GROWTH AND PROFITABILITY
Go beyond “service” to delight your clients and prospects
While many articles on increasing your business’s growth and profits cover topics like referrals, acquisitions and targeting new markets and locales—all great strategies for growth—I would like to take a look at some more nuanced methods that can also fuel growth: branding to differentiate, enhancing the client experience, and employee preparedness, awareness and accountability.
Branding to differentiate
If your agency isn’t meeting growth projections and you can’t quite put your finger on why, consider taking a closer look at the branding of your business. As the number of agencies continues to increase and/or merge, a strong brand can help set you apart from the crowd.
It is important to keep in mind that branding is not simply marketing or advertising but rather what images or emotions come to mind when you, your staff and others think of your business, see your logo or interact with one another. For example, what images or emotions come to mind when you think of the Amazon shopping experience as compared to your experience when shopping at Nordstrom? Each of these shopping experiences has a distinctly different brand and brand experience.
To define your brand, you will want to assess how your business is currently being seen. You can do this by asking three sources: your management team, your other employees and your clients. Once you’ve gathered and organized all the input, you should begin to see a picture of how your business is currently being viewed. If that view is positive, it may contain the foundation for your brand. If it’s negative, you may want to focus more on the answers to questions about where your agency falls short in identifying important issues. Also, take time to research other agencies’ brands. Attempt to get a sense of how their clients perceive them.
You can work on your brand, target new markets, and ask for referrals, but if your team is not prepared … growth may remain a fleeting prospect.
Armed with this information, it’s time to develop a statement that describes your brand, defines your target audience and explains how your brand differentiates your business from the competition. Keep in mind that differentiation is vital to the success of your brand. Once you have completed the statement, it is wise to create written guidelines that describe your brand and explain how it should be presented. For a brand to be successful it needs to be consistent in all communications, as well as for the client experience.
But don’t stop there. Your brand cannot be something you create and forget about. It must become central to your business and guide the actions of everyone on your team. If you and your employees genuinely believe your brand is authentic, your clients and prospects will believe it too.
Branding is an often monumental task. It can take time away from the work at hand, so you may want to consider bringing in an outside expert to develop your brand identity. Oak Street is currently working with an outside firm to refresh the execution of our brand. Part of this rebranding will entail enhancing the emotional connection with our prospective clients based on our shared values. We want to be certain our clients understand why they want to do business with us versus our competition.
Enhancing the client experience
Another way to fuel growth and drive profits is to enhance the client experience. Providing a great client experience is more than just great service. It is taking the time to understand who your clients are and to create an emotional connection with them. It is also setting a clear vision for your team of what is entailed in enhancing the client experience—or, better stated, delighting the client.
Here’s an example. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you received outstanding customer service? Maybe upon arrival after booking a rental car or a hotel room, you find that you have been upgraded to a convertible or a suite with an oceanfront view. I have been in these situations and was delighted by the experience. I will do business with these companies again.
What are some ways to delight yourclients? Consider expressing your gratitude and/or rewarding your clients for their business. Maybe provide tickets to a game or a gift basket of assorted coffees to acknowledge your appreciation of their loyalty. But here’s the catch. It needs to be meaningful toyour client and requires you to under-stand who your clients are by creatingemotional connections. Travel upgrades are pretty easy. Everyone wants them. But it takes relationship building to discover what will make a specific client’s day.
Along with rewarding your clients for their business, a host of other activities can create an exceptional client experience:
- Responding instantly to inquiries
- Always following up
- Doing what you say you will do when or before you said you would do it
- Offering more than what is expected
- Capturing client feedback in real time and responding immediately if warranted
As you create a framework for delighting clients, you will need to determine where to start. All clients deserve the services outlined above. At least when starting out, however, you may want to apply the 80/20 Rule— focusing on the top 20%—to identify those clients you reward.
Preparedness, awareness and accountability
You can work on your brand, target new markets, and ask for referrals, but if your team is not prepared to do their job of serving your clients and prospects, are not aware of the impact their actions have on themselves and others, and are not being held accountable for what they do every day, growth may remain a fleeting prospect.
It is important to prepare your team with ongoing training and opportunities for development. This should go beyond sales training for producers and customer service training for CSRs. You may want to consider emotional intelligence training that will help your employees connect with your clients and prospects. This kind of training will help employees recognize their own emotions and how they affect not only themselves but also other employees and clients and prospects.
Efficiency can affect growth and profitability. Time management training is valuable because employees can waste their time and the time of others if they are constantly being pulled in different directions and responding to requests on the fly. Much like emotional intelligence training, time management training will help your employees recognize how their actions affect not only their productivity but also the productivity of others and the business as a whole.
Job shadowing can be a valuable tool to help employees better understand what coworkers in different departments do and how their roles affect others, as well as how the roles of others affect what they do.
Accountability is another a key factor in growth. Accurate metrics—making sure that you are measuring what affects the achievement of sales goals—are essential to fueling growth and success. Good metrics should inspire action and should be detailed enough to follow the ebbs and flows of your business cycle. Accountability also means that employees are where they are supposed to be and doing what they are supposed to be doing to meet the goals that agency management has set.
Rick Dennen is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Oak Street Funding, a specialty lending company that provides commission-based lending for insurance businesses. Since he founded Oak Street in 2003, the business has experienced exponential growth and has a portfolio that exceeds $1 billion. Dennen is a licensed agent for life, accident & health products in Indiana and holds one or more of these licenses in 45 other states. In addition, he holds an MBA in finance and is an instructor of venture capital and entrepreneurial finance at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.