In this tight economy, many are exploring sophisticated ideas about what will increase productivity and accelerate growth for agents and brokers. While the options may have merit, the real key to success lies in the basic notion that teamwork and collaboration lead to better outcomes in our businesses.
Assuming that is true, one might wonder why we don't see more collaboration to boost sales and lift productivity for agents and brokers. One reason may be that while a team beats the "Lone Ranger" any day, it's sometimes hard to know what everyone on the team is doing at any particular time--a necessary situation for teamwork to be successful. If we want teamwork to drive organic growth, we need to know how we can get the team communicating and how we can get them to work together.
A useful model is provided by professional sports teams. In preparation for competition, the team's managers and coaches videotape and study their own past games. They look closely at what has worked and what hasn't, and they invent ways to improve and duplicate winning strategies. Next, they take that information and disseminate it to the whole team to make everyone better and increase the team's chances of winning.
Of course, sports teams tend to have clearly defined goals (winning games and championships), but in a sales organization the goals will often be more individual than collective. Thus, team members are focused on winning personal recognition and rewards rather than being focused on a common objective. As a result, attempting to get them all on the same page as a team is a bit like trying to herd cats.
Multiply this challenge and confusion by 100 and you have the real world of commercial insurance.
A client depends on their broker to help them navigate the complexity of the risk management process and secure the right insurance coverage at the best value. It is critical for the broker to deliver optimum performance since any one mistake could cause the client to potentially lose its business.
With so many lines of coverage, critical industry-specific information and so many people geographically dispersed, it is hard enough for a broker to do the job they are tasked with, let alone be in a position to help other team members.
Fortunately, social media and sales collaboration technology are providing some answers to this dilemma by solving the disconnect between team members and allowing everyone to capture critical information and collaborate at the initial point of an opportunity--where it matters most. How can this be accomplished?
o Overcome the "Lone Ranger" syndrome:
Because of our norms in commercial insurance of rewarding individual accomplishment instead of encouraging teamwork, the "Lone Ranger" syndrome is a hard one to overcome. We all know that teamwork wins, but how do you get people to operate as a team when sales people are generally rewarded for hitting their numbers rather than helping each other? They are conditioned to ask, "What's in it for me?"
It's certainly true that in most sales organizations there is no accountability in terms of helping the team. If a competing sales associate asks you to share your knowledge or a presentation that you have worked on for 50 hours, there really is no motivation to do so.
On the other hand, if we use technology to make collaboration simple and transparent while also tracking it, team members feel more accountable and can be recognized and rewarded for their contributions. As a result, team members are more inclined to collaborate and cooperate. Once the message gets out that contribution and cooperation will be rewarded, the players will start to resemble a team.
Collaboration combined with recognition and reward also enables insurance sales organizations to unlock their collective brain power and experiences, ultimately enhancing the team.
Additionally, bringing corporate resources, intelligence and sales experiences together at the point of opportunity ensures consistent and accurate tracking of the contributions individuals make for the benefit of the team, such as sharing their knowledge or key relationships.
o Leverage relationships to short-circuit the sales cycle:
Relationships are a company's greatest asset. Taking advantage of important personal and business relationships that team members have developed outside the agency or brokerage is another key to success. The ability to find and leverage the right relationships can mean rapidly establishing credibility with decision-makers instead of cold calling (sometimes for years) in hopes of an appointment.
By connecting and communicating through collaboration technology, brokers have instant access to the wealth of relationships of the entire broker network, offering the opportunity to dramatically shorten every sales cycle.
Much like agents and brokers connecting and collaborating, achieving that level of streamlined communication with carrier partners is just as important. With the carrier's dependence on the agent and broker sales channel for new or renewal business, they are highly motivated to be easy to do business with and provide the best information when and where needed.
The current method of ad-hoc information dissemination is inconsistent and ineffective, frustrating both the insurance carrier and broker. Collaborative technology allows brokers to find, connect to, and collaborate with targeted underwriters who best match an opportunity.
Through effective collaboration, brokers no longer have to cull through each carrier's Web site hoping to find the latest information. Now carriers can push the most current and relevant, just-in-time information directly to the sales channel, improving overall success ratios.
o Debrief to learn from wins and losses:
The best teams debrief after each important event to discuss what worked and what didn't. With technology that enables collaboration, agents, brokers and carriers can strengthen their partnerships and learn, just as sports teams do by reviewing "game tapes." The broker or agent can "rate" resources and strategies as a basis for feedback, prioritization for future use, and sales process and strategy refinement.
With this kind of open collaboration, enabled by technology, an agency or brokerage executive can see "there is something in it for me. Just a few clicks can help me access a lot of brainpower and experience." Collaboration and teamwork lead to success for the individual, the team and, most importantly, the client, enabling every team member to bring their A-game every time.
Todd L. Young is the president, CEO and co-founder of ProspX in Austin, Texas, a provider of collaborative software platforms for the insurance industry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.