Roger Sitkins launches a new agency network
Everywhere you look in the independent agency system, you see networks. From automation users to high-net-worth producers, from clusters to marketing groups, every agent seems to belong to at least one network and often more.
Given this crowded landscape, can there really be room for yet another network?
If the power behind that network is agency results coach Roger Sitkins, the answer is a resounding, yes. This month marks the launch of The Sitkins Network, and its growing membership rolls underline just how much admiration and respect Sitkins commands among independent agents.
“My research shows there are some really scary trends that agents aren’t dealing with, and I want to provide guidance and direction for those of them who understand that it’s no longer business as usual.”
The Sitkins Network
In deciding to create The Sitkins Network, Sitkins tapped into a sense of anxiety among agents that the old strategies no longer were producing the desired results, and that a fresh approach was needed.
“The reason I did it is the same reason I started the original Sitkins 100: I see so many issues that agents aren’t dealing with,” says Sitkins. “In fact, my November column for Rough Notes asked readers: ‘Are you happy or frustrated?’ Remember the opening line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ To a great degree I think that’s where a lot of agents find themselves. I think there are some really scary trends that agents aren’t dealing with, and I want to provide guidance and direction for those of them who understand that it’s no longer business as usual.”
In 2014, Sitkins sold the core intellectual capital of his organization, The Vertical Growth Experience, to a group of his consultants. During the three years of a non-compete agreement Sitkins launched an online “do-it-yourself” program, The Better Way Agency (see “Finding the Better Way” in the October 2015 issue of Rough Notes).
“However, I kept getting phone calls about producer training because that’s probably what we’re best known for,” Sitkins says. “As the saying goes: ‘At the end of the day, net new revenue doesn’t solve all of your problems—just most of them.’ So we opened a producer training camp, and at the first session we had 35 producers in attendance. They were getting results, so people were calling and saying, ‘We want more!’
“What we were hearing was that agents didn’t want just training events,” Sitkins continues. “The reality is that most people put way too much emphasis on events versus a process. An event is a one-time thing. Agents get excited and motivated, but for most, as soon as they leave an event they develop ‘airport amnesia’ and forget about what they learned and had intended to take back to their agency,” he observes.
“The biggest question we were hearing was: ‘How do we achieve organic growth?’” Sitkins says. “You need producers who are selling a unique process, not just doing the old ‘Look, Copy, Quote, and Pray’ routine. Agents need to offer something that differentiates them in the marketplace.
“While we were getting all these calls, I read a book by Joe Calloway called Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison. In our planning process, we became determined that we’d assist our members to become the Category of One in their marketplace, where it literally will transcend commoditization and become the point of comparison,” Sitkins asserts.
“The message from agents was clear: ‘We don’t want an event; we want an overall process to improve our business, and we want someone to work with on a regular basis. That’s why we established The Sitkins Network.”
“As I noted before, we think there is a series of scary trends out there that agencies need to deal with,” Sitkins says. “These trends include low organic growth rates, anemic or empty prospect pipelines, and a lack of process—there’s no ‘agency way of doing things.’ So many agencies have moved away from the basics. I’ve been criticized for emphasizing the importance of the basics, and my response is: ‘As soon as you’ve mastered the basics, let me know,’” Sitkins says with a chuckle.
“We see a tremendous problem in attracting and retaining the best talent,” he adds. “Client retention is becoming a challenge because independent agents can easily be replaced today. They get replaced by GEICO and Progressive and by digital disruption. Insurance company demands are another serious issue.”
On the subject of digital disruption, Sitkins says, “When you look at what’s happening in technology, what jumps out is that the best and maybe only line of defense agents have is their ability to provide advice. We all know the old cliché about ‘raising the bar.’ I’ve been known to coin an acronym or two in my time, and I created one using the letters in the word RAISE. The agency of the future is the enterprise that’s really going to raise the bar. RAISE stands for Risk Advisory and Insurance Solutions Enterprise. That’s the goal of our programs and coaching for network members.
“Given the trends I’ve outlined,” Sitkins observes, “agencies’ bottom lines are not where they should be. I see frustration among agents because all these scary trends keep them up at night. Most agents are caught in a net of what I call HAWG: Hysterical Activity on the Way to the Grave. I think the agencies that are trying to grow are working harder than they’ve ever worked. There’s a real loss of personal freedom for agency owners. For most of them, it’s not as much fun as it used to be, and it’s not as easy.”
The Sitkins Network, Sitkins explains, was created to help agents deal with these scary trends and to offer an ongoing program to help them become a Category of One. “It’s a territorially exclusive network of high-performing and noncompeting agencies. When we have meetings, we don’t want our members to wind up sitting next to their biggest competitors. We want members to share openly about what’s working for them.
“Two main strategies drive the network,” he continues. “The first is the Risk Concierge™ program, which is a trademarked selling system, and the second one is the ProFit Experience, which stands for Professional Fitness. How do we constantly develop and improve professional fitness in terms of the agency’s results?
“For members of our network, having exclusive use of the Risk Concierge program means that when they talk with a prospect, the prospect will say: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ When the agency is consistently working on its business through the ProFit Experience is when it becomes that Category of One in its market and transcends commoditization and defies comparison,” Sitkins explains.
“Once an agency becomes a member,” Sitkins says, “we need to help the principals answer three questions, which become the basics of their strategic business plan: Where is my agency today? What’s my vision for the future? How can my team get us there?
“The first question starts with a conversation with one of our executive coaches, where we talk about the dangers, opportunities, and strengths within the agency today. The dangers need to be eliminated, because a problem left unattended becomes a crisis. Next, what are the opportunities that the agency hasn’t seized yet, and what are the strengths it needs to maximize?
“Once we have a good feel for those issues, we go into the ProFit evaluation, which is a deep dive into the key areas of the agency where we’re looking at behaviors and strategies,” Sitkins says. “The agency gets a rating in each area and ends up with a score from zero to 100. That initial ProFit score is the baseline against which the agency’s progress will be measured, and every year we’ll redo that evaluation to find where the agency has made the greatest progress and identify what areas we need to work on next.
“Now we look at the agency’s Key Performance Indicators and put together three-year plans,” he adds. “What we’re doing in The Sitkins Network is designing the future of the agency.”
Now the agency knows where it is and where it wants to go. “The next question is: ‘How will the team get there?’” Sitkins explains. “Using the ProFit evaluation, we’ll help the agency drill down to the most important strategies that will have the greatest impact on it in the first year and address them with a laser focus.
“From a behavioral and strategic standpoint, these are the things we’re going to focus on. How do we get these done? First we have to achieve staff buy-in and train the staff. That is one of the biggest issues, because according to the Best Practices study, the average independent agency spends as a line item 0.4% of its revenue on training and education. Studies of professional services firms like CPAs and attorneys show that the most profitable ones spend 2% of their revenue on training and development.”
The Sitkins Network, Sitkins explains, offers a Talent Improvement Plan. “The Talent Improvement programs are a series of live and online events that appropriate people from the agency attend. On top of that, we have an extensive video library on a wide range of topics that the members can view.”
Event vs. process
“One of the major challenges we help agents address is the performance gap,” Sitkins says. “The performance gap is the gap between knowing what to do and doing it. This gets back to the difference between an event and an overall process. Brent Kelly, one of our coaches, says that an event encourages decisions, whereas a process encourages development. An event is a calendar issue, whereas a process is a culture issue. An event challenges people; a process changes people. An event is easy to attend, whereas a process is difficult to implement.
“An event can build competence, but having an overall process maximizes performance for an agency,” he adds. “We all know there is no quick fix or magic pill. The key is to provide agencies world-class resources and then hold them accountable so that they achieve the results they desire.
“To drive results, we need to know how to create and convey a differentiated message,” Sitkins remarks. “That’s achieved through our Risk Concierge program. The program starts with the idea that you have to define and fill your future ideal client pipeline. Everyone talks about prospect pipelines, but in reality they’re at best suspect pipelines.”
He adds, “If all you’re pursuing are suspects or prospects, you’re in trouble. You need to identify the future ideal clients you want to pursue, and you need to know exactly who they are. Then you need to start a specific, strategic campaign to get in the door and tell your story.
“What is your story going to be? Lionel McCray, another one of our executive coaches, previously was the sales manager at an agency on the west coast that was a Sitkins 100 member. By collaborating with Sitkins and developing its unique story and selling system, the agency went from $11.5 million in revenue to $17 million in three years. McCrary tells people that, prior to working with us, his agency ‘had no system. Every new opportunity we had was an opportunity to wing it.’
“The problem with agencies that wing it is that winging it isn’t replicable,” Sitkins comments. “You can’t go to a young producer and say: ‘Wing it.’ We have to change the conversation from only selling insurance to becoming Risk Advisors. That’s what agents learn in the Risk Concierge program.” Sitkins offers versions for high-net-worth personal lines producers, small to mid-sized commercial, and large commercial.
“A tool that we always encourage our members to use is the Rough Notes Risk Survey,” he says. “The producer uses the survey to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, then uses the information to design a risk management program for the client that helps him or her control total cost of risk. We know from experience what underwriters want in a submission, and we teach producers to take an underwriter’s view of the account.”
Sitkins adds, “The producer in turn can confidently tell the prospect what the underwriter is looking for and promise that the submission will meet or exceed those criteria. Our producers can differentiate themselves by telling the prospect: ‘Most agents represent the marketplace to you. We represent you to the marketplace.’
“In my monthly column in Rough Notes I share ideas for strategies and behaviors that can help agencies transform themselves from average to outstanding, and I end each column by saying: ‘As always, it’s your choice,’” Sitkins says. “However, in The Sitkins Network we teach agency owners and producers how to implement that transformative process and continually coach them on the actual implementation to put the principles into practice.
“Agents who choose to remain average will continue to experience anxiety about the scary trends I’ve described. Those who choose to be great will have a blueprint for defying those trends and succeeding beyond their most optimistic expectations,” he concludes.
For more information:
The Sitkins Network
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU