By Ken Keller
Dear Ken Keller,
I own a company that markets employee benefits, property and casualty insurance and also services the personal needs of business clients with car, life insurance and homeowner policies.
We pride ourselves on service and in going out of our way to make sure clients get everything they need from us, when they need it.
Recently I scheduled an appointment with a long term client, the owner of a manufacturing company.
When I arrived, I was told the owner was not available and that I was going to be speaking with the owner’s son.
After a few pleasantries, the son told me, “We have outgrown you.”
I did not know what to say in response because this has never happened to me before.
Our meeting ended quickly and as I drove away I asked myself, “What just happened?”
My company is now being phased out. The client is interviewing other insurance brokers, my competitors, to handle their needs going forward.
Do you have any thoughts on preventing this from happening again?
This is a good news / bad news situation.
The good news is that the owner’s son told you specifically and directly why they were seeking to do business with another business partner.
The bad news is that somewhere along the way, you (and perhaps others in your company) missed the road signs (clues) that had been put up telling you that something you weren’t going to like was going to happen.
Let me suggest that when a client says “we have outgrown you” it means that you (and / or your company) hasn’t evolved, hasn’t kept abreast of what is happening in the market and perhaps has no idea what is taking place within the client’s organization.
The fact that you only met with the son suggests you are not a genuine Trusted Advisor to the owner.
Perhaps you were at one time a Trusted Advisor but something happened for you to lose that status and since that happened, you were simply seen as being another vendor of services.
Based on what you wrote, the son is now making major decisions in the business and this came as a surprise to you.
Let me share why I think this is.
It is not uncommon in the insurance and other professional services for a great deal of attention to be paid to the client in the beginning of the relationship.
But once the prospect becomes a client, the professional provider turns over day to day interaction to support team members and the connection between decision makers loses its stickiness (glue).
For many reasons, all of them probably good ones, you have drifted away from the relationship you worked so hard initially to gain.
Your client might be fine with the day to day service your company provides but in my opinion, is seeking more strategic help and that is where it has become apparent that you have gone AWOL (absent without leave).
Back to the good news; this event should serve as a wake-up call for you as the owner to take stock of the current state of all of your clients to avoid being surprised with another dismissal.
I recommend sorting your clients using criteria including longevity, total annual premiums, and future business potential highlighted by the last time you personally visited the top decision-maker.
Then, rank and group your clients into categories (A, B, C) and set up a cycle of face to face visits (monthly, quarterly and semi-annually). Calendar these meetings and stick with them. In business, absence does not make the heart grow fonder.
Once you have started having these meetings and providing the counsel and support your clients need from you, it will be time for you to teach everyone else in your company how you want them to take care of your company’s clients.
Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.