Customer retention

As a sales manager, dealing with the unexpected is expected. Change is a certainty. No matter how well your producers get along with their customers, there are no guarantees they’ll renew each year. This is especially true when an old contact leaves the company and a new contact arrives. While a new regime doesn’t automat-ically herald a change in all business relationships, making too many assumptions could lose the customer for good. As you coach your sales team, here’s some advice to help them avoid common mistakes.

1. Take a New-Customer Inventory

New players create new dynamics. You and your producer may have worked with this company for years, but that’s not the same as working with a particular individual for years. That means rebuilding trust and credibility from the ground up, which is going to take time and a willingness to learn the likes, dislikes, preferences, and goals of the new contact.

On the bright side, this mission is more than doable. Ask the customer what he or she values in a producer. Inquire about any past experiences that may have influenced her perception of your agency. Reveal what you know about the company’s pain points and how your risk management strategy has helped to eliminate them, and invite feedback. Sales is about relationships, after all.

2. Assume Nothing

This warning is particularly crucial when it comes to the new contact’s level of expertise. It could be that the previous decision maker knew almost nothing about insurance and was happy to keep it that way by relying exclusively on the producer’s knowledge, but this new decision maker could be cut from a different cloth. He could know quite a lot and even begin to dislike questions and statements that seem to imply otherwise.

On the other hand, the new decision maker could consider insurance talk less than scintillating and become annoyed by efforts to engage in the details that the predecessor relished.

However the wind blows, avoid finding out the hard way with a little research.

3. Follow the Chain of Command

Every leader has a distinct style of delegation, and that’ll be important as you get to know your new contact.

For example, you may have worked directly with your previous contact, but this new decision maker prefers you to interact with the head of HR. Don’t resist, or you’ll have two people annoyed with you who now have good reason to wonder whether you’re the best producer for them. Sure, every salesperson wants to get as close to the key decision makers as possible, but respectfully engaging with every member of the company will earn the kind of longevity that usurping the chain never could.

4. Complacency Is Your Enemy

Just as we can take our personal relationships for granted, we can sometimes take our work relationships for granted, making it easy for our competitors to lure our customers away. Defend your turf by keeping your rela-tionship fresh. Stay in touch with monthly e-blasts or short e-newsletters. Be available to answer questions and solve problems. Know your products inside and out to quickly point out benefits your customers may be una-ware of. Develop and offer related services. Be thorough and diligent; these qualities are precious in the com-plex, small-print world of insurance.

5. Deliver What You Promise

This seems obvious, but many fail to do it. Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than to request a specific policy with certain features, be told he can get it, and then be presented, without explanation, with something that doesn’t fit the bill. At best, the customer will conclude you’re a poor listener. At worst, she may determine you’re arrogant and careless. It goes without saying that neither of these characterizations is desirable.

A reasonable customer is open to hearing why something isn’t possible and will respect you for taking the time to explain it.

6. Know Your Sales Style

Self-awareness is often the difference between success and failure. When we have insight into our own sales style, it helps us connect better with others, including the new contact. Are you verbose or straightforward? Fast paced or methodical? Thorough or light on the details? Knowing who you are as a salesperson is the best tool for effectively modifying your approach to meet the demands of your audience. A behavioral assessment geared specifically to sales in a nonthreatening, helpful format is a great way to build self-awareness in a sales team and even improve the sales manager’s ability to coach to each individual producer.

7. It’s Always Personal: Customer Service and the “Emotional Bank Account”

Steven Covey popularized the concept of an emotional bank account in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Just like a financial institution, our emotional banks are subject to deposits and withdrawals. Acts that increase trust (telling the truth, apologizing for errors, and keeping promises) are deposits into the emotional bank; acts that decrease trust (failing to keep commitments and showing unkindness) are withdrawals. Too many with-drawals and not enough deposits makes for damaged relationships.

Closing the deal feels great, but maintaining the business feels better. Follow these tips, and your customers’ personnel changes don’t have to mean big changes for your agency and producers.

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Carletta Clyatt

Carletta Clyatt, a popular seminar speaker, is the SVP at The Omnia Group. She offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses and behaviors. For more information about employee behavioral assessments, call Carletta at 813-280-3026 or email: Carletta@omniagroup.com

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