Tough Questions for Agencies

As John F. Kennedy said, "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”

It was the ARM Partners Conference in New Orleans on April 18, 2012. I was to speak on change. The attendees, many with bloodshot eyes, were slowly filling the room. The program was the first of the morning. Slow and bloodshot are part of the culture of early a.m. in The Big Easy. I placed a trash can in front of the group and a bottle of baby aspirins on the podium. I explained that “my intention today is to create chest pains, because chest pains change behavior. If the chest pains get too serious, take a baby aspirin and place it under your tongue. If I upset your already queasy stomach, you can throw up in the garbage can.” Nervous laughter followed. An early slide included two quotes. The first: “Fat, dumb, and happy, commercial banks are being quickly replaced as financial intermediaries.” (Time magazine, June 28, 1993, Bernard Baurnohl). Agencies, not just bankers, needed that warning. The second quote was from Peter Drucker: “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they send 40 years of success.” That one was because recurring revenue from renewals makes many agents too comfortable. As John F. Kennedy said, "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” See also: Are You a Manager or a Leader?   How would your agency look if your marketing and sales were audited to see how well you were taking advantage of your opportunities? Is your organization about performance, sales, marketing, customer intimacy OR the daily transactions and the comfort of your staff and yourself? Auditors are tough: One with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said, “When the war is over, the auditor steps onto the battlefield and bayonets the survivors.” Is your agency and your team bruised and bloodied from battles of yesterday or up and running forward into the future? Will the marketplace, the ultimate arbiter of success, bayonet you or reward you? Are you the past or the future? Max DePree says, “The first role of the leader is to define reality.” The following questions may help you begin to define your starting point for tomorrow:
  1. Do you and your team share understanding of and commit to the vision, values, mission and objectives established for your future? Will each of you and all of you be accountable for your performance and results? Are these your X commandments or X suggestions? Are these right for the world as it is and as it will be?
  2. Is the marketplace you serve or hope to serve in decline, level or in ascendancy? If your answer is in decline or “flat lining,” can you find new products to offer your existing clients? Can you offer your existing products to new clients or, even better, can you offer new products (services) to new clients?
  3. Is your team compatible with the market niches you serve? If you are blessed with some really experienced and wise baby boomers, will they be right for the Gen X and Gen Y that is your tomorrow? Will your English-speaking producers be right for a Laotian population? Will your clients shop producers based on their knowledge or their cultural/gender compatibility?
  4. How will you sell in a non-verbal world? Is your delivery process (sales and service) of choice the preference of your clients and prospective clients? Are they comfortable with what and how you do business? Are you comfortable with what and how they want the relationship to be? CAN YOU ADAPT TO THEIR FUTURE?
  5. What products, important today, might not be available tomorrow for you to sell? Is the National Flood Insurance Program sustainable, for instance, or will its vulnerability to adverse selection ultimately cause it to collapse? Will auto liability coverage be needed with self-driving cars? Will Gen Ys prefer private ownership of cars or Uber or public transportation? Will they have the appetite for home ownership that we had? Will your community survive? Will coastal properties be readily available, or will global warming have moved them all off of the coast?
  6. What new opportunities might be available to you that are not in your "briefcase" today?
  7. Will the advances in technology allow you to do more with your clients and prospects more efficiently/effectively? In a virtual world, might 7.5% commission be adequate where today you are blessed with 12%? Who will dictate commission levels in the future – you or your clients? Will carriers determine your commissions on what you need or what the market is willing to pay? Could you sell effectively with full disclosure of commission or quotes net of commission?
  8. What will the world of retail - malls and Main Street -- be like tomorrow? Will all the action be on the banks of the Amazon?
  9. Will the government finally move to a single payer healthcare system? Will your local doctors now satisfy their needs through their network versus as individual business owners? Will they be entrepreneurs or employees? Will they be in the business of business and the business of medicine, or will they specialize in only medicine?
  10. In the future must you be “too big to fail,” or will you be too small to succeed?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t even know the questions that are appropriate for tomorrow. Your future doesn't depend on me. It depends on you. What do you know? What should you know? What will you do? Can you be profitable regardless of what the market is willing to pay? See also: 5 Transformational Changes for Clients   About 20 years ago, I was speaking to an agency conference and talked with one of the attendees. He was over 75, very traditional, successful, conservative and very comfortable in his ways. I asked if his exit from his agency by death or retirement would increase or decrease the value of his agency. His response was immediate, “Boy, you done gone from preaching to meddling.” I now offer you the same question – are you and the agency you own or work with ready, willing and able to move from yesterday and today into tomorrow? REALLY??? It’s your future.

Mike Manes

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Mike Manes

Mike Manes was branded by Jack Burke as a “Cajun Philosopher.” He self-defines as a storyteller – “a guy with some brain tissue and much more scar tissue.” His organizational and life mantra is Carpe Mañana.


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