Will Your Agency Survive or Thrive This Year?
The world changed in the last year and continues to cause frustration and discomfort in many areas. But for some agencies, there is a silver lining: They needed to change! And despite the hardships and challenges of the last year, agencies that have learned from the experience may ultimately emerge better and stronger when the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Although I’ve often observed that there are two distinctly different types of agencies, the last year has really made the difference a lot more noticeable. In general, I’ve found that an agency’s response to obstacles and challenges indicates whether they will thrive or simply survive when the chips are down and they are faced with adversity. It all comes down to attitude and perspective.
Abundance-Minded Agencies. These are the thrivers — the agencies that think and act beyond their current situation. It’s not that they avoid reality, it’s that they embrace new ways to make it work for them. They’re focused on what they can learn from adversity and come out ahead of their competitors.
Scarcity-Minded Agencies. These are the survivors. As such, they think and act according to what’s presented. When faced with uncertainty, they’re more likely to do what they can to stay afloat, rather than look for new ways to move ahead.
I realize this is hardly a novel idea. These two types of agencies have always existed. But the pandemic seems to have exposed the vulnerabilities — and exacerbated the problems — in some agencies, while it’s brought out the strengths in others. How would you describe your agency’s approach to operating the business during the pandemic? Can you identify your agency type? In case you’re not sure, I’ve outlined some of the things that distinguish one from the other.
Scarcity-Minded Agencies: The Survivors
The Mindset: How can we hang on to what we have? Until things get better and return to normal, we’ll keep trying to do what we’ve always done. Here’s how we operate:
Reactive service. When clients contact us, we’ll respond as needed; no more, no less. They’re welcome to call, send an email or text us, and we will get back to them. Just don’t expect us to take the initiative and reach out to them first.
Stagnation. Let’s try to hold on to what we have. Sure, we might have been complacent about expanding our book of business before the pandemic/recession/other problem, but we managed to stay in business when others couldn’t. Why should we worry about training and development, or try to improve our operation when we have enough business as it is?
Transactions vs. Relationships. Our agency focuses on giving quotes because we believe that more quotes leads to more transactions. Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen an increase in the competition, as other quoters and floaters are flooding the marketplace. Like us, they’re price-only and don’t worry about things like adding value to their business relationships. What would be the point when it’s all about transactions?
Culture and Communication. Before COVID-19, we’d see each other sporadically, whether at meetings, the occasional sales seminar or retreat, or at gatherings like holiday parties and awards ceremonies. Now that we’re working remotely, we rarely see or talk with one another. Zoom meetings are okay, but it’s not the same. Since we’re never together, we can’t really share ideas or work as a team. Without that ongoing communication, it’s easy to get discouraged and even anxious. But that’s how it’s going to be until we’re working together again.
Use of Time. Without some of the travel, meetings and commuting of our pre-COVID-19 days, there’s a lot more unstructured time at our disposal. As a result, there’s more time to be counterproductive — to procrastinate, complain or worry about things that might happen. It’s also much easier to be distracted by the pings, dings and rings that can quickly consume the workday. There’s no sense of urgency or accountability, which makes it tempting to do less.
Abundance-Minded Agencies: The Thrivers
The Mindset: How can we use these challenges to make us better and come out even stronger? What opportunities does this present?
Proactive Communication. What are our clients and future ideal clients thinking and how can we best assist them? What might they be thinking? What does their business need that we can provide? It really comes down to being empathetic and communicating proactively. This can be as simple as calling your best clients to ask how they’re doing and how their business is faring. The same goes for reaching out to some of your top prospects to let them know you’re thinking about them (something their current agents probably aren’t doing).
Innovation. What do we need to learn? This is an ideal time to become more proficient and efficient through continuing education, maximizing the use of technology, expanding skills and trying new approaches to conducting business virtually (as in Zoom meetings). For instance, when the pandemic took hold last March, we at Sitkins Group restructured all of our programs, training and communications to be digital. Naturally, we’d rather have continued hosting our training programs at the beach, but since that wasn’t an option, we identified new ways to enhance the client experience. This did more than keep us in business, it actually resulted in more opportunities than ever! We’ve seen that from an agency perspective, as well.
Abundance-minded agencies will always look for new ways to engage, entertain and inform. For example, rather than physically visit clients four times a year, many agencies are opting instead for two in-person meetings and two Zoom meetings. Besides saving time and money, this hybrid approach also helps differentiate agencies from their competitors, many of whom continue to resist innovation. Sadly, by waiting for things to return to “normal,” they’re missing out on the many opportunities right in front of them.
Risk Advice. Abundance-minded agencies are always looking for ways to go deeper with their clients. They’re using the time once spent commuting or traveling to develop themselves as risk advisors. They do their homework and research the client’s needs. What are the questions you’re not asking? What products or services can you offer clients to further reduce their risk? Professional risk advisors willingly invest the necessary time to understand their clients’ needs. Amateurs don’t bother.
Culture and Communication. While most average agencies spent the last year wondering, “How will we go through this?” abundance-minded agencies were asking, “How do we grow through this?” Typically, these agencies have become stronger and more successful thanks largely to consistent and intentional team communication. Without it, there’s no clarity about what the team is trying to accomplish and how they will accomplish it. Leadership figures prominently into establishing and communicating team goals and maintaining their corporate culture.
Use of Time. Being mindful of how the workday is spent is a cornerstone of abundance-minded agencies. In fact, they regard time as an invaluable currency to be invested, not just spent. Accordingly, they leverage their “extra” time to learn and develop skills, conduct research and communicate proactively. They exemplify the idea that there’s no time to waste, reflecting the adage that time is the only diminishing asset — use it wisely.
Will You Choose to Thrive?
In working with some of our private client members, we’ve seen the benefits of having the skillset and mindset of abundance-focused agencies. Because they were open-minded and innovative, they overcame COVID-19’s challenges by adapting their approach to doing business. For example, besides immediately recognizing the need to “up their game” in using technology, they embraced it intentionally and wholeheartedly. Also, their forward-thinking leadership found opportunity in adversity, thereby enhancing their ability to succeed.
Typically, scarcity-minded agencies continue to yearn for the “good old days” and view technology as an intrusion, while abundance-minded agencies welcome novel concepts that allow them to be more efficient and productive. They invest in quality video, sound and lighting equipment, and are thoroughly trained on how to use it. Furthermore, they practice continually to ensure professional, if not flawless, virtual presentations.
Despite COVID-19, abundance-minded agencies remain committed to cultivating personal relationships. Because they proactively contact their top clients and future ideal clients, many of these agencies report revenues exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the scarcity-minded agencies are sitting on the sidelines, losing ground as they wait for the pandemic to end.
Although agencies will always encounter the risks and rewards of a changing marketplace, the lessons learned from the pandemic promise to have a lasting impact on the way they do business — for better or for worse. Either way, the greatest long-term challenge we face isn’t what’s coming at us, but how we respond to it.
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