Change is an inevitable part of any business. The economy takes an unexpected turn. A large client merges, disappears or moves their business. Pricing becomes irrational. Quality nosedives. Service levels fall. In every industry there’s a host of events and circumstances that require sales professionals to adapt to new, often unwelcome, circumstances. However, these are ordinary kinds of change. They’re just a part of doing business.
Insurance producers are facing a particularly disruptive period. Over the next few years the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will change virtually every aspect of health insurance brokers’ business: the products they sell; their competitors; their compensation; the number of potential prospects; and the cost of their policies. Consider just one element of the new health care reform law has resulted in brokers selling medical coverage to those purchasing coverage on their own (as opposed of obtaining coverage through an employer) seeing their commissions cut by 35-to-45 percent — and in some cases much more. This is what we would call extraordinary change.
Successful producers, what we call High-Growth Producers in the Trailblazed Sales Project Study, have proven themselves adept at managing ordinary change. The good news is the same techniques and behaviors they use to grow their business in spite of setbacks are the same techniques and behaviors that will help them overcome extraordinary change. The reason is these successful sales professionals respond differently to challenges than their less successful competitors do. They plan their response better. They track sales results more virorously. They have more tools at hand. And they view change differently.
Put another way, the Trailblazed Sales Project Study identified practices, processes and perspectives shared by High-Growth Producers — the paths to sales success. These paths not only lead to sales success, but they explain how successful sales professionals confront and overcome change. Five of the drivers to success described in the study are especially potent in managing change.
First, High-Growth Producers anchor their business with a plan. By knowing where they are and where they want to go they’re better able to handle the uncertainty change creates. As I put it in a column I wrote for Benefits Selling magazine, imagine captains sailing through dangerous seas. In a hurricane. With skeleton crews counting on their captain to see them through this crisis. Both captains carefully watch the wind and waves. One, having laid out a course beforehand, knows exactly where she wants to go – a cove offering shelter from the storm. As she’s managing the challenge posed by each oncoming wave, she’s also making her way to that sanctuary. The other captain has no map and no destination in mind. He’s simply responding to each breaker as it comes with no plan other than to “make it through somehow.” Which crew would you rather be in? Which captain would you rather be like?
Second, High-Growth Producers tend to track their resultsmore rigorously than others. They develop dashboards to monitor what metrics drive their sales results. Because they have a business plan they know what needs to happen. And because they track results they know if it is. This helps them own their results, which in turn empowers them to take action. If something is helpful they can put more resources behind that activity. If an initiative is disappointing they know to tweak or abandon the effort. The key is, they know what’s happening, which gives them a better chance at controlling what’s happening.
Third, successful sales professionals leverage technology. This attribute helps them remain cost effective (an important status at all times but especially when things are in turmoil). They don’t hide behind their monitors and gadgets. They deploy them as tools of the trade, to extend their reach, to keep in better contact with their clients, to track results. This doesn’t mean adopting a technology just because it’s there (do your clients really want to receive a tweet of what you had for lunch today?). But they don’t hesitate to adopt a tool that will help them move forward, either.
Fourth, High-Growth Producers deserve their client’s trust. They recognize their clients can buy the products they sell through other channels. As professionals, however, they work to be worthy of client’s trust and reliance on their abilities and expertise. The loyalty that results from focusing on the needs of their clients is indispensable during times of change.
Fifth, successful producers maintain a realistic perspective. Giving up is easy in the best of times. It can seem like the only choice in the worst of times. Yet despair — or anger, for that matter — are rarely productive emotions. Natural, yes. Understandable, yes. Productive, not so much. High-Growth Producers take a hard and clear look at the situation they face. They accept change as inevitable. They also look at that change objectively. There are always options and while their despairing competitors are wringing their hands, High-Growth Producers are considering their options — and there’s always options.
Whether the change is ordinary or extraoridnary, sales professionals are prepared to deal with the situation. Their preparation doesn’t make the change go away, but it does make it easier to survive.