By Carolyn Smith, APR, TRA, ASA
PUTTING THE CLIENT FIRST IN A REMOTE-FIRST WORLD
Advice for shifting your model of selling in the “new normal”
No one could have predicted the massive changes we faced in 2020. Agents and brokers had to adapt quickly and make a sudden, big shift from face-to-face selling to remote virtual selling. With almost no warning, in-person client visits, dinners and entertainment, conferences, and networking events disappeared. Prospects began reevaluating their budgets and their own businesses. These unprecedented events created many disruptions and increased the expectations placed on agents and brokers.
The shift in selling was the subject of almost every major research organization in America—and their findings are consistent.
Putting the client first is not a one-time action—it’s about the mindset and approach you use with every single prospect and client.
According to an October 2020 HubSpot survey, more than 40% of sales leaders missed revenue targets. Why? The research found that these sales leaders usually made an efficient sales organization for themselves, thinking of revenue first. Sales compensation was, especially, internally focused: “If you hit this revenue target, we’ll pay you. If you exceed quota, you’ll get even more.”
Yet, also in 2020, HubSpot discovered that 17.9% significantly outperformed their revenue goals and thrived. How did they do it? They put the client first.
In October 2020, LinkedIn released its Buyer First: A New Era in Selling report, which found that decision makers strongly prefer working with agents whom they perceive as:
- Well-informed about their industry (91%)
- Trusted advisors (88%)
- Essential partners (66%)
A 2020 Bain & Company study also showed that agents must take a client-first approach and act with integrity, empathy, and competence to navigate relationships during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, virtual selling will continue even when in-person meetings are an option. The study showed that agents can strengthen current relationships and build new ones if they:
- Use digital capabilities to put their clients first
- Address their clients’ priorities, rather than their own
Bottom line, this shift to a “new normal” demands a different model of selling—one that equips agents and brokers to be trusted advisors. One where decision makers and trusted advisors work together to identify solutions using a risk management process. One where you put yourself in your clients’ shoes to understand their evolving needs. One where you develop a partnership based on trust, far beyond the transaction. One that puts clients first.
What is a client-first mindset?
The concept of “client first” means that the entire agency is focused on delivering value to the client. It is a mindset that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the client or prospect journey.
Specifically, it means that when your firm makes a decision, your entire team begins thinking of how that decision might affect your clients. It starts when you make your clients the centerpiece of the puzzle rather than considering them a separate or external entity.
When you put the client first, everything you do is for the good of the client. When this happens, client loyalty and satisfaction increase.
Using active listening to put clients first
How do you put the client first? According to LinkedIn, 42% of business owners are seeking agents who actively listen, and 38% want agents who can problem solve.
These business owners are facing unprecedented challenges, and they want someone to listen to their unique situation. They want a trusted advisor—someone with experience and expertise—to listen first, then guide them down the uncertain road ahead.
Effective listening is the foundation of building key relationships with others. Without strong active listening skills, you cannot gain the respect and trust of your most important relationships—prospects, clients, underwriters, or centers of influence.
Best practices for using active listening include:
- Set up virtual and in-person meetings for success by always sending out an agenda in advance of your meeting. This shows that you respect the other party’s time. Have a goal for what you want to get from the meeting. Ask them, “What topics would you like to cover? What is your agenda?” Then ask yourself, “What does my prospect/client want to walk away with?” When you start the meeting, validate what the prospect really wants to take away from the meeting.
- Approach every conversation with a goal of learning something from your prospect or client. What can they teach you about their business, their role, what’s happening in the industry, or how they are dealing with new challenges in 2021?
- Reframe questions to get to the deeper meaning of your conversation and to be certain you are both on the same page. Tell them, “We’ve done a lot of speaking here. [Name], I’m really interested in hearing your perspective on what we’ve just discussed.”
How does this affect prospecting?
Everyone, including prospects, likes being put first, because it saves time in their decision-making journey. It can also reduce their need to get bids from multiple agents because of your focus on solutions specific to them and their needs.
However, the world of prospecting in 2021 has a few new rules of engagement. Based on LinkedIn research, the five steps of putting the client first are:
- Use the risk management method (see diagram) to discover the risks your prospect or client is facing, and start with Step 1—always! 56% of decision makers will consider replacing the incumbent if the agent understands their business needs.
- Openly share information about their industry. When you share trends, insights, and information specific to the prospect’s industry, you will show that you’re an expert who is committed to adding value. 44% of business owners will consider switching agents when you share content applicable to their decision-making role.
- Actively listen to the prospect’s specific pains, issues, and challenges, then offer solutions that help them achieve their goals. This creates an immediate impact and lasting partnership. 88% of business owners prefer working with agents whom they perceive as trusted advisors.
- Deliver value. Stay actively engaged with your prospects and clients. Ensure that they are happy with how your solution to their problems is working. Follow up at least quarterly with updates relevant to their business. 29% of decision makers crave more value from their agent.
- Earn trust. Share your thought leadership, engage with the business owner and management team, and make introductions to underwriters, safety, or loss teams to form new relationships. You’ll build trust and true partnerships that will span your career. 35% of decision makers rank trust as the top contributor in selecting a new agent—above ROI or price.
To top performers, “client first” is more than a philosophy or approach; it’s their everyday practice. Let’s look at a few examples that you can use to put clients and prospects first:
- Invite your client to lunch. Then have a meal delivered to each of you and enjoy it together over Zoom.
- Have coffee together. Buy a cup of your client’s favorite coffee, then call and ask, “Can we go for a socially distanced walk in the park and talk about your coverage?”
- Give restaurant gift cards with delivery options to your WFH (work from home) clients to enjoy a meal while supporting local restaurants.
- Deliver hot cinnamon rolls to your clients’ front doors at 8 a.m. Leave the breakfast goodies with a note saying, “This is how we roll at X agency.”
- Similarly, deliver a container of mixed nuts to your clients with a note saying, “We’re nuts about you!”
- Participate in online community fundraisers and announce them on social media. Invite your clients or prospects to join the fundraiser and provide a link to sign up. This enhances your standing in the community and connects people in meaningful ways.
- Invite clients, prospects, and carrier representatives to a Zoom dance party. Hire a local band and ask all the invited guests to submit their favorite drink recipes. This innovative event will lighten everyone’s moods and show that you are always putting the client first by providing entertainment and networking opportunities, even during socially distanced times.
- After your prospects or clients place any business with you, send a handwritten thank-you note to their home address. They will be more likely to open it and think of you as a trusted advisor.
When the pandemic is over, clients and prospects will remember the amazing service and the creative ways you put them first. Make sure to incorporate these innovations into your ongoing stakeholder intimacy program. Always try to find unique ways to “wow” your clients … especially during moments when your competitors are busy conducting business as usual.
Summing it up
Putting the client first is not a one-time action—it’s about the mindset and approach you use with every single prospect and client. And it will have extremely positive effects that will make your effort worthwhile.
After all, how you treat your clients in 2021 affects how much your book of business grows and how well your firm does. So, why not put your clients first and become first yourself?
Carolyn Smith serves as chief training officer at Beyond Insurance and leads strategy and execution for new program development. Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. To learn more, visit beyondinsurance.com or contact email@example.com.