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Are Your Sales and Marketing Staff On An Island?

Last week I was talking to a restoration contractor’s saleswoman about her frustration at not having spoken to her boss in more than three weeks. When I asked why, she said he’s busy and there is a lot of work going on and he’s especially occupied managing all the projects. She had left voice messages and sent him emails and texts but got no response! So I called him to see if the sales person was correct. Sure enough he said to me “I’m just been too busy for the past three months to meet with her.” He also confirmed that her sales numbers were way down! Hmmm.

First: let me say that you should NEVER be too busy to meet with your sales/marketing staff. Second: at a bare minimum, you should be meeting weekly for an hour, or every other week for a couple hours. Third: it’s not that one department is more important than the other. You need a TEAM working in concert, supporting each other, building on the others successes, helping fix issues and problems if you want a highly successful and profitable company.

YOU are the owner (or General Manager). You need to be giving direction. You need to let them know you are paying attention so they stay on track and fully focused. You need to be holding them accountable to their daily activities! You need to be making sure they are generating measurable income for the business.

Over the many years I have been coaching and consulting, I’ve noticed a significant trend: Owners and GM’s that are actively involved in their sales department have better growth, better sales and better profit. Rarely available or “absentee” owners (MIA from the sales department) often find their businesses struggling to survive. I hear all the excuses: production staff need direction, it’s hard to find good technicians, so I have to step in and help, I try to hire really good sales people that should be able to do well without my hand-holding, and many other variations. Even those owners requiring a “certain number of visits in a day,” don’t evaluate the QUALITY of those sales / marketing visits. It goes back to my gripe about “Stop, Drop and Roll” marketing, which is usually similar to a blind squirrel finding an occasional nut.

By comparison, I have a client that meets every other week with their entire sales and marketing staff (including sales estimators) and each person gives a report of their successes and challenges for the previous two weeks. They are each held accountable to hard numbers with specific sales goals and they don’t provide a litany of “busy work” activity. Simply visiting 25 insurance agents every day does not qualify as acceptable and productive activity.

Your sales staff needs to know: when they will meet, what they will report, why they are reporting it, the format for presentation (how), where the meeting will take place, and who they will answer to! Just don’t go overboard like one of my clients that spent all day every Monday in a full-blown meeting with lunch catered in and seven key people buried up to their necks in a wasted day. That had to be demoralizing for almost all attendees.

Your sales and marketing staff is equally as critical to your survival, success, and growth as any production member, don’t let them operate as if they are on island with no connection to your world!

Do You Know the Difference Between Sales and Marketing?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was at a barbeque at a friend’s house (on one of those few days in Melbourne when it was actually summer) when the topic, inevitably shifted to what we all do for a living.

You know the story, right? A couple of people whom I had never met before were excited to hear that I was in business for myself. I still enjoy that feeling, so when I told them I had a marketing business, I knew precisely what the next question was -which is…

“So, (pause), what is Marketing?”

I should have a stock standard elevator pitch rehearsed so I can simply press play in my memory to respond to this very common question. Even if I did, I don’t think that would work. Anyway, for the readers of this column, who perhaps would also like to ask me the same question, keep reading.

A definition of Marketing. Sounds simple?

The truth is, this is where it starts to get interesting. There are so many definitions of Marketing and just a quick look at Wikipedia will demonstrate this to you. In the definition sphere, there tend to be definitions that are very theoretical and others that are more corporate sounding or those that provide focus for a particular niche audience. Exhausting. So I am glad that Mark Crowe from the Australian Marketing Institute (AMI) concurs.

Marks says that “some definitions cover activity but not strategy, others describe it as a management process but not its value creating output. On the other hand, a number of all embracing short definitions often become too simple and meaningless -therefore lacking in distinctiveness.” A minefield for anyone wanting a simple answer.

For the record, this is the AMI’s definition of Marketing -

Marketing creates value -for customers, shareholders and society as a whole. It does this by creating an alignment between what consumers value and what organisations offer. It offers techniques that help firms better understand the needs, preferences and perceptions of their customers (a prerequisite to adding value to them), and ways of using that understanding to focus the value-creating and communicating activities of the firm into areas where they will be most effective. (Roberts & Styles 2000)

So what is Marketing?

In my line of work, and perhaps for the Business Owner readers of this column, I like to describe Marketing as a journey, a process that can be constantly reviewed and refined. An ongoing commitment to adding value and growing sales, so I tend to explain it in the following way.

Marketing is -

1. Identifying a gap in the market;

2. Creating a brand;

3. Building a brand personality;

4. Defining an ideal (and loyal) customer/client base;

5. Having something unique to say and offer;

6. Becoming known to the ideal client/customer base (creating awareness); and

7. Being on the ideal client/customer shopping list when they are ready to purchase.

Definitions aside, I do think that in the main, people tend to get mixed up (especially in BBQ situations) because they think that sales and marketing are the same things. Whilst the Sales and Marketing functions work together and complement one another, they are not the same.

In summary, and for the record, it’s the marketing activity that (generally speaking) happens before the sales stuff. Whilst it is first, it then keeps on occurring during the sales process and after the sales transaction as well. It’s a continuous process. Something that most business owners would acknowledge is that marketing is a constant and ongoing process in your business.

Sales and Marketing Discipline For Insurance Agencies

Every great company has a key defining concept. Something that is woven into the fabric of people, products and culture. For example, 3M strives to use innovative technology and imagination to improve the daily lives of people. This concept becomes obvious when reviewing their history and how the company operates each day. The immense challenge for businesses, or in this case insurance agents, who want to achieve tremendous success like 3M, is to define that key concept – and then to make all decisions in alignment with that concept.

Successful insurance agency sales and marketing cultures should be built the same way. A truly honest assessment of how your insurance agent sales time is spent, and the associated results, can be a very enlightening exercise for both agent and agency alike. What is your agency’s defining concept, and how is this conveyed to your agents? Who is your best client or customer? How did you find them? How much of your time are you spending trying to repeat that same process? How much time are you wasting with less productive initiatives or people who are less likely to buy?

Here are a few steps to help you complete this exercise:

  1. Define your Ideal Insurance Agency Sales Prospect – Use your best customer as an example. Who are they? How big are they? What does their industry and client base look like?
  2. Determine your Most Effective Marketing Tools – What marketing initiatives provide the best results? Where do your closes come from? What is producing the right kind of prospects?
  3. Refine your Marketing Plan- Once the above two items are clearly and honestly defined, make sure your marketing plan is directed at repeating the process. Refine the plan so that it is accurately aligned with your findings.
  4. Stop doing Everything Else – This is a hard one. But to achieve the 3M type of success mentioned earlier, it is required. Throw away everything else that does not fit, and only spend time pursuing your best prospects and executing your most effective marketing campaigns.

It sounds simple, but if it was easy everyone would already be doing it – maintain focus on your best prospects and best marketing channels. As your agency discipline increases, your results will improve dramatically. Your insurance agents will focus on ideal prospect profiles and carry your defining message to these prospects. This discipline will result in an improved agency pipeline, with better insurance agency leads and prospects.