"Don't just think better: Think different!" – Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible
The continued growth and success of any agency depends on closing new business. Certainly, every agent entrepreneur must constantly focus on generating additional business through increased productivity and product sales within their existing accounts. However, the acquisition of new accounts through referrals, prospecting and making cold calls is the key to expanding your dealer base and increasing your agency's bottom line.
Without the continued acquisition of new business, your dealer base and product sales volumes will eventually erode, along with your commissions.
As a professional general agent, there are five qualities and attributes you must develop to separate yourself from the competition, and ensure the continued growth of your agency.
1. Become Valuable To Your Dealers!
The key to success in any endeavor is to become valuable: the more valuable you become, the more money you make. Your ability to get dealers (and F&I managers!) to sell your products, and ultimately increase your income, is tied directly to your value to that dealer, the F&I department, the sales department, the service department, and more importantly, the dealer’s customers!
The question is, how do you become valuable? Certainly, you become valuable if you help that dealer make more money. However, dealers today need their F&I sales process to add value to the customer experience, not aggravation.
As an agent, you can greatly increase your value when you help implement an F&I sales process that also improves customer satisfaction, not just product sales and profits.
You also increase your value when you help protect the dealership by ensuring everyone is familiar with the laws and regulations regarding obtaining and using customer credit information, quoting payments and interest rates.
As an agent, not only must you be familiar with these laws and regulations, you increase your value to your dealers by continually training dealership personnel to protect the dealership from potential litigation.
Valuable agents also look at every situation from the dealer’s point of view. They are involved in helping their dealers find solutions, and they only promise what they can deliver.
Valuable agents use their influence with their product providers to solve problems and meet their clients’ needs, because they understand the privilege of doing business with any dealer must be continuously earned … never assumed.
2. Positive Attitude
Separating yourself from the competition is also dependent on a positive attitude. I have worked with scores of professional agents over the years, and those who think they will close new business, do close new business!
Agents who think they won’t close an account, don’t close the account. It’s never, "We don’t have that dealer's business," but rather "we don't have his business ... yet!"
A positive attitude is contagious. Your pride in the companies and products you represent, and the knowledge that your agency really does contribute to the success and profitability of every dealership you work with, must be evident in every interaction with dealership personnel. You have to be viewed as a positive force, not a negative influence, every time you set foot in a dealership. That means you never denigrate other products, or bad-mouth the competition.
A positive attitude in the face of adversity, and the ability to maintain that positive attitude despite repeated rejection, is what will separate you from the competition.
A professional keeps rejection in perspective, and never takes it personally. No matter what you’re selling, no matter how good the product or service, you will probably get more "no's" than "yes's". A positive attitude is often the difference between closing an account and not closing an account. You must have a fervent belief that every dealer will benefit from doing business with you and your agency. If you don’t believe it, there is no way they will!
Enthusiasm sells; enthusiasm for our industry, enthusiasm for the products you offer, enthusiasm about the opportunity to help the dealer improve their performance and profits, and the confidence that you can do it. Your enthusiasm must be obvious and come through in your presentation. To be enthusiastic, you must first act enthusiastic!
3. Product Knowledge
Product knowledge is the foundation on which you build the sale of any product. To separate yourself from the competition, you must know the unique features of your products, your programs, their applications, and more importantly, how they differ from your competition.
Every other agency and product provider has strengths that you will need to overcome, and weaknesses that you can capitalize on to close the sale. To be successful, you must not only know your products and why they are unique, but also what the competition has to offer.
Keep in mind, your agency and the companies your represent also have strengths and weaknesses. Your ability to capitalize on your strengths, and overcome any weakness that your competition has found, is what will enable you to separate yourself from your competition.
Every sale or close is really comprised of a series of steps designed to move a dealer from uncertainty to positive action. A thorough understanding of what you have to offer, and how it will benefit that particular dealer, is the first step on the road to the sale.
4. Communication Skills
Separating yourself from the competition also requires that you become adept in the art of communication. The most important part of communication is listening! Your ability to listen and ask the right questions that uncover a dealer’s needs and hot-buttons is what will build his receptivity and allow you to review the benefits of your products and programs with him.
Selling anything to anybody requires discovering what a prospect is interested in and concerned about, and then talking in terms of his interests and concerns.
Until a dealer feels a need to make a change and wants to do business with you, he will not change from his existing provider(s).
Communication is a two way street. When you’re the one doing all the talking, you’re not communicating, you’re making a sales pitch! A dealer must "want" to hear what you have to say, because he "needs" what you have to sell!
Your willingness to listen must be established early in every conversation. From the outset, your approach must be an exchange of information, ideas and attitudes. The dealer must be urged and encouraged to talk. Unless the dealer is actively involved in the discussion, he is not going to be receptive to hearing what you have to say. Only after a dealer begins to ask questions, begins to express his concerns and reservations, and begins to elaborate on what is being discussed, will he be receptive to hearing what you have to offer.
Separating yourself from the competition requires that you become proficient at asking good questions, and listening! Anytime you interrupt another person’s comments or train of thought, you are conveying to them that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. Asking a dealer open-ended questions and listening will help you avoid “jumping ahead” because you think you know where they are going.
As an independent agent entrepreneur, hard work and perseverance is the primary way you can separate yourself from the competition. And realistically, it's also the only way you can expect to close new business. If you expect to grow your agency, you have to call on new accounts every month, not just the same ones month after month.
Perseverance requires that you continue to ask for an account’s business even after a "No," or several "No's," and always have a reason to be there. Reasons to be there can include sharing an article you think might be helpful, providing product training, expediting a claim or passing along a new idea or sales technique that may prove beneficial.
Dealers have to know that you really want their business, and that you will not be here today, and gone tomorrow. They need to know you’re in it for the long haul.
Just as dogged perseverance is often required just to get in front of a dealer, it is always required to demonstrate your commitment to improving his F&I department’s performance and profitability. If you expect to earn his business and retain him as a client, a dealer has to see your perseverance, so he knows you will work harder on his behalf than any of the other agents or product providers that call on him every day.
Becoming valuable to your dealers, always having a positive attitude, knowledge of your products and your competition, honing your communication skills and continued perseverance is what will separate you, and your agency, from your competition.