- Photo via iStock

Photo via iStock

No matter how big or small your agency is, we all have two things in common that directly affect the level of success of our business. 

First, our people. Unless you are a one-man or -woman show, you have employees. Many times, these individuals are the ones who create the first impression of our company in the prospect dealer’s mind. They are the ones who interact with our clients and their employees once the business is acquired. They then go on to form, influence, and sustain the dealer relationship by keeping the promises we made to win the business. 

After our people, the second thing that will determine the level of our success is how we serve the dealer. And I’m sure we all agree the results we deliver for the dealer through development is key. 

Sustainable Performance

When considering these two components of success — people and service — two things come to mind. First, your business will only be as successful as the quality of talent of your people. 

Second, the health of your dealer relationships will only be as good as the processes and procedures you deploy to serve and deliver results for that dealer. 

As a trainer, coach, and teacher, I advocate investing in our people through professional development and training. I believe that, when it comes to individual performance, people will only perform to the level of their training. 

Sure, there are times when an individual may outperform their training, but that burst of performance is usually short-lived and is difficult if not impossible to sustain. If you accept that our people and the training they receive determines performance and success, then it would make sense to hire the best people we can find. 

The only way to quantify “the best” is to determine the competencies you want in the candidates you are interviewing. Then compare those competencies to the level of competency of the candidate. This sounds straightforward, but you may find it more challenging than you think. 

The Perfect Candidate

I outlined what I think are the competencies needed to be an effective and top-performing field operative in my presentation at the recent Agent Summit. Many of the competencies outlined can translate to other positions within your organization. However, for my presentation, I was focused on the singular role of a field operative. 

Going through this exercise really clarified what we wanted in the perfect candidate. And as it turned out, it also clarified for me that the perfect candidate most likely doesn’t exist. 

It does, however, give us the ability to assess the competencies of candidates with more objectivity. And that is a good thing, because being more objective during the interview process reduces the risks and pitfalls that come from making a bad hire. 

The process of defining competencies and employing them in hiring also helps to clarify expectations. You have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate post interview, and if hired, you know what competencies will need to be developed through the candidate’s training. The candidate will have a clearer understanding of level of competency that is expected for the position and most importantly, they know, that you know, what they need to work on. 

With a new field operative, clarity of process, expectations, accountability, and frequent communication contribute to lasting success. The best way to address these components of success is through frequent one-on-ones. 

One-on-ones should be centered around the two main responsibilities of the field operative: servicing and developing current business and new dealer acquisition.

Servicing Existing Business

Is the territory or market defined? If so, that means that all existing accounts have been mapped and are classified by production, frequency of interaction, instore activities, CRM reporting compliance and so on. Count your A, B, C, and D dealers. “A” dealers are usually those accounts where we have all the business, “Bs” are almost all the business, and so on. 

In the one-on-one, we are discussing performance of the account to forecast. Primarily, we are asking questions to determine what has been done in the dealership to develop the people, grow the business, and whether we are meeting the dealer’s expectations. Based on the one-on-one, we can determine the state of the relationship and whether the account is performing to plan.

A growth plan along with defined instore activities for the account gives us the basis for our discussion. A growth plan should take into consideration the dealer’s goals and your development goals for stakeholder performance. All key business indicators measurable and defined. 

If you know what the objectives are for a dealership, it then comes down to accountability, reporting, measuring the results, and adjusting activities and resource allocation based on variance. 

The goal is to monitor progress. Keeping the “A” accounts producing at a high level and enhancing the relationship. With “B” accounts, the activities needed to move them to “A” status, with Cs to Bs and so on. 

The one-on-one portion centered around account development helps the field operative to organize and prioritize their activities. It will also help you stay connected and have a clear understanding of the health of the relationship, what training and development resources are needed to grow the various accounts, dealership stakeholders and the business. 

Understanding the time needed to develop the current relationships helps us to determine the time available for new dealer acquisition.

New Dealer Acquisition 

New dealer acquisition is where most new field operatives struggle. In my experience, when a field operative fails, it is usually due to a combination of the following four reasons: lack of process, unclear expectations, competency gaps, and little or no training and development to address those competency gaps.

A sales process is like a map that new field operatives can follow to keep them from getting lost. The sales process is also the basis for accountability, expectations and performance. Accountability and communication through frequent one on ones uncovers competency gaps which then determines what training and development is required. This leads to field operative retention and success.

Understanding the market is fundamental to new dealer acquisition. This begins with territory mapping of all prospects within the market area and determining where the relationships stand with their current provider and who on the map is underserved. Once the underserved are identified, we determine the plan of action and go to work.

To better identify the underserved the following are four categories which can aid in determining the relationship between the provider and the dealer.

  • Trusted partner: Your input is valued and sought out by the dealer. You are aligned with the dealer’s needs and support business goals. 
  • Valued partner: You bring value by understanding the dealer’s specific business needs and goals. You are the go-to in training and development. You are relied upon.
  • Friendly supplier: You have a relationship, but it is not as strong or growing as planned.
  • Vendor: The relationship isn’t strong. You are reacting to the dealer more than engaging the dealer.

Once classified, focus on the “friendly supplier” dealers first. They usually have the highest potential to become a valued or trusted partner. 

These classifications can also be useful in self-evaluation of your existing accounts to determine relationship health and which of your accounts may be at risk.

Interaction during the one-on-one focuses on the status of each prospect in the sales process, what the objectives are, and the resources needed to move the prospect further along in the sales process. This accountability drives productivity and better operative task prioritization.

New dealer acquisition is key to the health and growth of any market or territory. Investing your time in a new operative is an investment that has high ROI potential. Teaching them and showing them how to gain access and what to do once you are in front of the dealer, builds confidence and trust in your sales process and the leadership of your company. 

You may be asking yourself if you can afford to spend the time and resources needed to ensure the success of your field operatives. If you think about what it costs when they fail, can you really afford not to?