Sales guru follows his own advice and "trades down"
by offering his programs to an elite 100 agencies

By Phil Zinkewicz


We've all heard the old adage about the cobbler who was so busy making shoes for his customers that he and his family had no shoes. There's a certain amount of truth in that old saying. Too often, we find ourselves providing sage wisdom for others, while forgetting to apply the same wisdom to our own activities.

Roger Sitkins, president of the Fort Myers, Florida-based Sitkins Group, a business that instructs independent insurance agents on how to perform more efficiently and achieve what he calls "vertical growth," recently found himself in a similar situation.

At a recent Dare to Soar seminar, Sitkins advised his agent audience: "You cannot allow profitable accounts to subsidize unprofitable accounts." How and where producers can best spend time and the agency's resources was the focus of the seminar. At that event, he offered his "Ten Great Plays," which comprise a game plan for helping an agency achieve the "vertical growth experience," something he defines as 15% to 25% per year gains in the agency's closing ratio, revenue per relationship, revenue per producer, revenue per employee and operating profit. (See December 2000 Rough Notes.)

Play #2 in that game plan refers to agencies' needs to "trade down." It reads: "Use the power of the 80/20 rule--80% of an agency's revenue comes from 20% of its clients. If you don't let go, you will plateau. You can't stop trading down. Set a schedule to trade down accounts that cost more to service than your time is worth. Take a leap of faith and trade down 80% of your accounts on day one. Take a small leap of faith and trade down 40% now and 40% in 12 months." In other words, concentrate on the vital few accounts that bring in or promise to bring in the most revenues to the agency and achieve vertical growth.

At some point Sitkins realized that he wasn't listening to himself. "For years, my best clients have kidded me about their not giving me any referrals," says Sitkins. "They always said they didn't want their competition to know what I taught them. They have also semi-seriously asked me for territorial exclusivity, suggesting that I don't offer my Forcing Vertical Growth Experience programs to their competitors."

Sitkins says that, at first, he dismissed the prospect. Then, one Sunday between speaking engagements first in South Carolina on a Saturday and then in California on the following Monday, he had time to give the matter a little more thought. "I had a 'dead day' on Sunday and used this for reflection time," he says. "As I sat on a bench overlooking Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach, I started thinking more about the fact that my best clients and friends preferred I didn't offer my programs to their competitors. The idea of offering total exclusivity to a select group of key clients started rolling around in my head. I love to ask 'What if?' questions, so I asked myself, 'What if I had an exclusive arrangement where I became the Agency Performance Coach to only 100 agencies?'

"If I worked with 100 agencies that had territorial exclusivity, I wouldn't have to worry about a potential conflict of interest with competing agencies in our programs. Too often," Sitkins says, "I've actually felt guilty when I've had a competitor of one of my best clients and friends in one of our sessions."

But then Sitkins had to think hard in terms of what he could offer to those select 100 agencies. "I could create a 100% focus on innovation and wisdom generation. Based upon the results achieved by my best clients, I'm pretty good at developing and discovering the 'next level.' A greatly reduced client base would allow me to accelerate everyone's learning curve. We could really help them focus on and actually implement the 'Ten Great Plays'--Service Hand Off, Trade Downs, Minimum Account Size, Relationship Management, Value-Added Services, Continuation Process, Solutions Oriented Selling, Referral Only Production Explosion, Business Development Center, and Trusted Advisor Marketing--that make up The Vertical Growth Experience."

These "Pebble Beach" reflections led Sitkins to construct a letter, which he sent to his best clients. He pointed out how this approach could help his "100" agency members. "We could help them tremendously in all the areas of "The Agency Vertical Growth Experience."

The response Sitkins received was extremely positive. Effective November 1, 2000, The Vertical Growth Experience became available only to members of his client group known as The Sitkins 100. They focus on the continual improvement of their agency operations. Currently there are 72 agencies as members.

"So basically, what I decided to do was take my own advice and focus all our coaching efforts on a select number of agencies. These agencies will be geographically spread across the United States in a fashion that will not allow competing agencies to become a member," says Sitkins. "The main focus of the group will be the ongoing development of the strategies which force vertical growth in an agency's results. Member agencies will have exclusive access to the Sitkins Vertical Growth training programs in the areas of sales, sales management, CEO, account manager and business development coordinators. These programs will be presented both live and online over the Internet.

"In addition to the training programs, which set the foundation for the agencies' growth," continues Sitkins, "we will hold semi-annual 'extreme networking' sessions. These will be focused on the sharing of strategies that actually work in real world everyday situations. Members of the group will also have a quarterly analysis completed on their agency's results in the 'critical indicators' which force the vertical growth."

"Over the years, we have benefited greatly from the Sitkins approach," says Lynne Wallace, a principal in the Santa Rosa, California-based Matsen Insurance Brokers. "We believe the Sitkins 100 is an incredible concept because it allows those who are committed to 'take it to the next level' to make the financial investment and get focused attention. We have attended various programs in the past and got benefits from those. Now with the focused attention, we believe we will benefit that much more."

So the die is cast. Sitkins' final open-to-the-general-public Producer Training Camp was held last October. Now, the only agencies who can gain access to any of Sitkins programs will be members of The Sitkins 100.

"We are very excited about this refocusing as it allows us to invest more time and energy on innovation and wisdom generation for our clients and less time chasing agencies that simply don't want or need our services," Sitkins says.

In short, the cobbler has decided to make himself a new pair of shoes. *