THE SALES LEADER: EIGHT TACTICS FOR SUCCESS
Use these approaches to boost sales and create accountability
Sales leadership involves creating a vision and direction that define the business development culture in your organization. It includes setting goals, objectives, and top priorities for your firm and empowering those who have sales responsibilities to achieve success.
The creation of a sales culture is ultimately the most important thing a firm can do for all its stakeholders. Yet most agencies cannot definitively answer the question of who leads the firm’s recruiting and development efforts. The all-too-common “we’re all responsible” approach is a perfect recipe for getting nothing meaningful done, as no one is ultimately responsible or accountable for the strategy’s success in any practical sense.
The ability to create visions and set goals is essential to the personal and professional growth of your business development team.
A gifted sales leader delivers a sales playbook that defines the vision, strategy, capabilities, processes, behaviors, tactics, resources, services, target markets, and performance indicators to enable his or her team to win consistently. Sales leaders come in many forms. He or she may be an agency principal, practice group leader, part-time producer, or a person who is solely dedicated to producer development. The sales leader coaches, mentors, and empowers, in contrast to a sales manager who directs, influences, and controls.
Leading sales organizations
In 2012, Reagan Consulting conducted a study of sales leadership in independent agencies titled Leading Sales Organizations. You may find these findings of interest:
- Only 17% of the agencies surveyed employ a full-time sales manager. Interestingly, (in terms of revenue) they grew 2.2% less than the agencies without one.
- At the majority of firms (51.5%), one or more members of the agency’s executive team is responsible for sales management.
- The investment in a new producer is a significant expense, especially because the attrition rate hovers around 45% after three years. It is not uncommon to see an investment of $200,000 to $300,000 or more over the first three years of a producer’s development. This investment does not contemplate the significant time and resource allocation required.
- Many agencies do not have an “intentional approach” to producer training and development, often letting producers sink or swim on their own. The survey revealed that almost half of the producers have no mentoring system. Yet research confirms that mentoring is especially effective in boosting success rates among producers.
- Sales leadership has three key elements: (1) equipping producers for success, (2) creating a culture of accountability, and (3) recruiting and developing new producers. Someone has to own sales leadership. This person must be fully empowered to take responsibility for addressing each of the three elements.
- Agencies that have developed resources for their sales teams for client acquisition and retention are growing faster than firms that choose not to invest in value-added services and solutions. What’s more, these resources enhance the agency’s ability to attract and retain talent.
- The development of a defined “sales process” is in the DNA of top-performing organizations. The sales process encompasses how to identify a prospect all the way through the delivery of services and stewardship once the agency has secured the business. The sales process is a key ingredient in the new producer’s training platform. It is also significant that these agencies have achieved institutional buy-in to the process.
- High-performing agencies measure what they want to manage, and they manage what they measure using a level of detail that creates a culture of accountability. This includes prospect pipeline maturity, new business hit ratio, key accounts under competition, customer engagement, retention, and cross-sell results.
- When producers are not meeting expectations, leading sales organizations take steps to find out why, and then customize support strategies. For some, this involves deeper training and education. For others, it may be a change in their target market. Still others need coaching in areas ranging from active listening to priority management to the art of closing the deal.
- The traditional lead generation approach of dialing for dollars and blindly calling for expiration dates does not exist in the cultures of high-performing agencies. It has been replaced by more sophisticated initiatives that are focused on targeted industries or geographic segments.
The sales playbook
The sales playbook is a collection of tactics that characterize the roles and responsibilities of the sales leader as well as his or her business development team. The playbook lays out clear objectives, identifies metrics for measurement, and provides a common framework for and approach to client acquisition and expansion.
Beyond Insurance has the privilege of developing sales playbooks for agencies in the Beyond Insurance Global Network (BIGN). The following eight tactics serve as a sampling of recommended strategies that drive success:
Start with WHY. WHY is one’s cause, purpose, or belief. It is the essence of a person’s professional existence. It is the reason you got out of bed this morning. Today’s consumers want and need to know WHY. Why you? Why your producers? Why your organization? An effective sales leader knows WHY and instills it in his or her sales force.
Unique Abilities Assessment. A gifted sales leader also understands the unique abilities of each sales professional. One’s unique ability is best characterized as: (1) a superior attribute that other people notice and value; (2) loves doing an activity and wants to do it as much as possible;(3) energizes the producer and others around him or her; and (4) the producer keeps getting better, never running outof possibilities for further improvement.
Skill Development Plan. As a football coach evaluates and develops the skills of his players, so does a sales leader. After development needs have been identified, a skill development plan is put in motion. Skill development encompasses creating positive first impressions, active listening, value proposition development, relationship management, reading body language, the art of negotiation, personal branding, emotional intelligence, work/life balance, handling objections, and more.
Goal Setting. The ability to create visions and set goals is essential to the personal and professional growth of your business development team. Visions allow them to see themselves at some point in the future, and goals offer a roadmap to reach these visions. The sales leader is keenly aware that nothing is more rewarding than serving as a mentor and enabling each producer to set goals to reach these visions and to focus as the visions become reality. An astute sales leader empowers each member of the team to set SMART goals: S-specific, M-measurable, A-achievable, R-realistic, T-time-bound.
Prospecting Strategy Map. A strategic prospecting system starts by enhancing the sales professional’s ability to have a clear picture of his or her ideal prospect. The sales leader is also aware of the importance of arming producers with a potent value proposition, pipeline management plan, and phone and first interview scripts.
The most telling attribute of a top-notch producer is his or her ability to consistently fill the prospect pipeline with qualified opportunities. It is here that the sales leader shows his or her value by establishing a plan through which producers develop their networks, research industries, get involved in trade associations, contribute to their community, and master social media strategies.
Tools, Tactics, and Processes. Leading Sales Organizations revealed that the first element of sales leadership is equipping producers for success. Although the tactics and methods outlined in the five items above are foundational to producer success, it is equally important that the sales leader equip producers with tools, tactics, and processes to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. A tactic is a method, procedure, or strategy. A process is a sequence of interdependent and linked procedures—a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. The acquisition of new business as well as the cross-selling of existing business requires discipline and strategy supported by tools, tactics, and processes.
Prospect Qualification Filter (PQF). It is also the role of the sales leader to require producers to show discipline in ascertaining the degree to which prospective clients meet predetermined criteria. The PQF protects the time, confidence, reputation, and money of everyone in the agency. The savvy sales leader requires that producers (1) understand the depth of the prospect’s relationship with the incumbent agent, (2) gain access to the management team or head of household, and (3) ascertain the prospect’s enthusiasm for the firm’s unique processes before committing time and resources.
Accountability. The Reagan study evidenced that few agencies actually possess a true culture of accountability with respect to producer development. Accountability starts with putting someone in charge with defined tools and responsibilities.
Accountability encompasses producer recruiting, skill development, goal setting, prospect pipeline plans, the use of a prospect qualification filter, and the design and execution of tools, tactics, and processes for client acquisition and cross-selling. The sales leader also must measure what is to be managed and confirm that the agency’s compensation system is directly tied to agreed-upon success indicators, including activity, skill development, and goal actualization.
Scott Addis is CEO of Beyond Insurance and an industry leader. His agency was recognized by Rough Notes magazine as a Marketing Agency of the Month, he was a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, and he was selected as one of the “25 Most Innovative Agents in America.” 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. Since 2007, the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed agencies as measured by enhanced organic growth, productivity, profitability, and value in the marketplace.
To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.