by Mike O'Reilly

Mike specializes in helping highly-driven, type A business owners and professionals (who usually describe themselves as ADHD). Together, they clarify the growth strategy and outline what's necessary to achieve their objectives in the quickest way possible. As a successful business owner in his own right, he continues to help other business owners and professionals make sense of the challenges in their world. He understands that competing priorities, short deadlines, customer demands, and the need to meet a payroll will all come together at once. Most of his privately-held clients are interested in one of three things; implementing sales and business development strategies that will double their business, strengthening their internal systems and controls so that accountability is increased and more things can happen without them needing to be involved, or being recognized as a professionally run firm so that they get easier access to capital and can grow the top line. Most of his publicly-held and multinational clients are interested in growing the skills of the middle management team and leadership competency of the supervisory level staff or are focused on getting increases in sales and revenues.

and Eileen Nonemaker

Eileenís long, successful career in sales and sales management makes her an easy choice for those leaders and managers who are responsible for generating revenue and achieving corporate goals and have no time to waste getting there. Clients appreciate her ability to help them quickly select, assess, train and develop their sales teams whether they are selling products or services. New teams get brought up to speed quickly and experienced teams develop what is necessary to perform at the next level. Through goal setting, skill refinement and the development of accurate forecasting skills, she has helped both individuals and teams develop strong success strategies. Utilizing her formal training as a business coach and consultant to supplement her natural ability to connect with people, Eileen gains the trust and respect needed to interact with both leadership and team members. When coaching individual clients, Eileen becomes a 'lady on a mission' to help them succeed. Eileen is able to help them stay focused on their objectives and establish goals that take them to that next level in their personal and/or business lives. Her coaching typically involves teaching people how to set measurable goals, how to look at goals objectively and how to re-evaluate them periodically to stay on track. Eileenís goal as a coach is to help her clients find the right balance between career and family so they have the best of both worlds.

"Just get me in front of the right person, a qualified decision-maker and I will be certain to get the business." As sales directors, specifically in the insurance industry, we deal with this challenge on a daily basis. The good news is that for our top performers, this is often true.

Our objective: Getting your people in front of their best clients consistently and building business through referrals.

Think of the major changes that have impacted your sales process in just the last five years alone - consolidation from mergers and acquisitions. Five years ago, if your client base included Catholic Medical Centers in New York, you could be working with three out of 13 hospitals and devising a strategy to sign up three more. Now you have one decision-maker for 13 hospitals, increased competition, more choices, and a longer selling cycle involving more decision makers. There's also government intervention, and clients have more access to information to guide buying decisions.

Getting in front of the right people is more urgent than ever before.

The first question we must ask ourselves is, "Who is my best or ideal prospect? The obvious answer is anyone who has a need, can write a check, and make a decision. However, if your objective is to spend more time with your best prospects and less time with simply "suspects," consider the following:

Since most of us have a pretty good idea of what a Realtor¬ģ does for a living, let's use that occupation as the example for our discussion.

If you ask a successful realtor, "Who are your best clients?" or "Who do you want to spend time with?" you would expect to hear them answer, "Someone renting, who may be looking to buy or a homeowner looking to sell."

Makes sense doesn't it? Let's dig a little further. Remember that our objective is get in front of our best prospects, not just any prospect.

If you are a realtor, where is the primary source of your income? From listings. A realtor's best prospect is someone who wants to sell a home. This is where the money ultimately comes from to pay commissions.

If you're a realtor, maybe the fundamental question you should be asking yourself is, "Who is most likely to sell their home?"

Every time we pose this question to our residential real estate clients, what would you suppose the answer is? After careful thought, consideration and some research, the people most likely to be selling their homes in the metro New York region are:

  • Households who no longer have children in the school system. Therefore, they no longer wish to pay exorbitant property taxes associated with large single- family homes.
  • Households impacted by the consolidations and layoffs in the banking, finance, and advertising industries. Many have decided they no longer need or can afford the proximity to Manhattan.
  • Homeowners employed by international companies where employees are transferred every few years. In some circumstances they are responsible for buying or selling their own home.

If you were a realtor, wouldn't it make sense to devise a selling strategy that focuses on reaching these three specific market segments consistently instead of reaching out to everyone who may or may not move in the next two years?

How does this example apply to the insurance industry?

As an insurance agent, you should ask yourself, "Who is most likely to buy our products and services in the next two years?" and "When do we buy life insurance?"

The answer - that defining moment when we see our first little urchin pop into the world. They look like us, then they look at us, and it brings tears of joy to our eyes. Our first thought is, "I will be there for you."

The next question is, "How do we capitalize on this opportunity to help our clients be more secure and achieve their goals and objectives?"

Here are several strategies that could be considered going forward regardless of what insurance you specialize in:

1. Define who your best prospect really is: Review your prior sales records and activity logs. Compile a list of why your customers/clients have purchased from you in the past and what prompted them to take action. Then confirm these are in fact the reasons they decided to work with you. Of course, the most effective way to confirm this information is to talk with your customers or clients.

May we suggest the following agenda for your call or visit? Essentially we want to confirm:

  • What was the major benefit you received by working with our organization?
  • Why did you decide to work with us as opposed to our competition?
  • What advice do you have for us as a firm?
  • What should we be doing more of? What should we be doing less of? What should we be doing differently?

Let's review these questions briefly. The first two questions remind both you and your clients about your strengths and capabilities and reaffirm all the things you do well. It's much easier to reach your best prospects when you are clear about what distinguishes you from your competition. The third question is designed to keep you close to your customer. Not only will you uncover future needs, but this presents an opportunity to become a trusted advisor. More often than not, this is whom the best prospects in your market will buy from.
Our purpose in asking these questions is we are looking for ways to increase client satisfaction. Utilize this opportunity to grow your business through referrals.

How do you ask for referrals? All too often sales people fall into the Yes or No trap. For example - recently my P&C agent went above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, Jim has consistently provided us outstanding service for seven years. When we last spoke, Jim said, " If you think of anyone who needs help with insurance please let me know…" To Jim's credit, he did what many sales people fail to do. He asked for a referral. The problem is that unless someone approached me in the last week and said, "Mike, who do you know who can help me with insurance?" I wouldn't have a qualified lead for Jim.

The following is an exercise designed to help you obtain qualified referrals: Picture someone. Someone just like you, who recognizes the value of outstanding service. And, like you, they also own their own company.

Who comes to mind? (Take a few quiet moments to think). Your goal should be for every 10 clients you interview utilizing this process you should get a minimum of eight well qualified referrals.

2. Activity, Activity, Activity: Ask any successful business owner why so many sales people have failed. They'll often tell you the primary reason is lack of activity and/or focus.

If you are in sales or manage a sales function, consider answering the following questions.

  • Do I have an appropriately long list of decision-makers I can contact each day?

    What would be the value of having a prepared list of 10 calls to make each day in the event a meeting cancels or you have one hour a day in between meetings? Ten planned calls or follow-up calls should result in at least one more meeting or qualified referrals per week.

  • Do I see at least one key decision-maker each day? When we are not in front of people, we are unemployed. If you are in front of one more qualified prospect each week multiplied by 50 weeks, and your closing rate is one out of three, 16 new customers is how much additional revenue? If I'm consistently seeing one person per day, why not two?

  • Do I have an agenda prepared for each decision-maker?

    Have you ever been in a situation where you met with a client, had a great meeting, and they asked you to get them a proposal, yet nothing has happened since? Be sure your proposal included organizational goals and objectives, measurable rewards, action plans and solutions, and testimonies.

    Ask yourself:

    • Do I have a clear picture of how my product or service could benefit my future client?
    • Do I have goals in place for each of my customers?
    • Do I have a follow up system in place?

    3. Goals, Goals, Goals: High levels of activity are great, but focused activity is best. The importance of SMARTY goals to the sales process is unquestionable. In any sales role - either staff or management, there is a need for daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term goals.

    SMARTY stands for:

    • S- Specific, not vague
    • M- Measurable, defined
    • A- Attainable, not too far out of reach
    • R- Realistically high, not too easily reached
    • T- Target, specific time frame
    • Y- Yours, important to you, not just to others

    Too many times we say we will do "better" (what does that mean?), or set our expectations so high that we set ourselves up to fail. Well thought out game plans, with target dates, help focus our activities on a daily and weekly basis, keeping us on track.

    Picture the marathon runner who watches his time at each mile marker. He or she knows very quickly whether or not they are achieving the pace that will get them across the line in the desired time limit.

    We cannot know when we don't have enough prospects if we haven't predetermined and tracked our activity.

    4. Persistence: While tracking our own results, we've discovered that our clients don't work with us due to our good looks, best jokes, or our tee times. Surprisingly enough, it's our follow-up. It is being there when they need us.

    During a discussion with Lew Hoff, Founder and CEO of Bartizan Data Systems, Lew mentioned he got his first client in 1970. Now, 35 years later, this same client is still doing business with him. Through the years, he has provided Bartizan in excess of $1.5 million in revenue.

    After all these years, Lew finally asked his client, "Why did you choose us over the four more experienced providers?" The client's response, "You were the only one who followed-up." Persistence does pay.