Seth Preus – Founder of Mivation
What would it mean to your agency if everyone on your team got to the next level? Our host, Michael Jans, speaks with Seth Preus, agency owner and creator of Leaderboard Legends software. In this episode, he reveals surprising strategies to help agents make that happen:
- Common mistakes agency owners make when they try to build a high-performance culture (and the huge mistakes they often make when they don’t even try)!
- How to tap into those magical and powerful intrinsic motivators to help your team members achieve results that exceed even their own expectations—plus a shocking analysis on how extrinsic motivators can backfire when wrongly applied!
- Three high-leverage but low-cost habits you can install in your agency for an almost-instant and reliable boost to agency-wide performance.
From producers to CSRs, if you are looking for an easy but important uptick in team performance, do not miss this conversation with Seth—one of the industry’s top thought leaders and practitioners of outstanding performance.
Listen today and get ideas you’ll put into practice tomorrow!
What are other agents & brokers doing to thrive? What are the biggest trends affecting the retail insurance agent & broker? What are the most important strategies and tactics you need to grow faster? Find out here in the Connected Insurance Podcast, where our hosts discuss the biggest issues affecting the independent insurance agent & broker with the industry’s leading figures.
Michael: Seth, how are you?
Seth Preus: I’m doing fantastic. How are you, Michael?
Michael: I’m doing great. Thank you very much. Excited about this topic. In part, as you know, we have a little bit of history with it with some of our own technology or technologies that one of my companies developed some years ago and it was fun, but before we dive into the principles and the forces of gamification, what people are saying about it, and how you think that it could positively affect production in an insurance agency, tell us a little bit about yourself and your story and how you got here.
Seth: Sure. I started my sales career, actually, at about the age of 19 selling vacuum cleaners door to door.
Michael: I knew that about you from your bio and I wanted to say congratulations. [laughs] Honestly, I think there’s no better training for sales and marketing than being that young person and knocking on doors. I sold dry cleaning certificates.
Seth: Wow. [crosstalk]
Michael: It was good. I was good. I’ve often discovered that over the years when I hired salespeople and they had that or even anybody to work on the team and they had those early days of knocking on doors, there was some magic there. If they could survive that, it was pretty amazing and I think that you learn really, really quickly because the level of rejection is really high and the feedback is so instantaneous. You could modify your script from one door to the next. You get a lot of practice.
Seth: It’s so fundamental. It’s the very basics of sales. Much of what I learned, frankly, at 19 has served me well through the rest of my career.
Michael: Seth, can you see any time where gamification is misused or where it’s a risk in a business setting?
Seth: Absolutely. In fact, this is one of my passions is that I see this misused so often and it can be downright counterproductive. I can say that if you’re conducting gamification or running competitions, et cetera, on the same metrics, with the same group of people, you’re going to get the same results. It’s like me running a race against Usain Bolt. How many times do I have to run before I don’t try anymore?
Michael: The damage is that in those situations, the persistent losers lose motivation.
Seth: Absolutely, and it’s like a proactive loss of motivation.
Michael: Yes, because there is some power behind all the principles that you just talked about in gamification.
Michael: If it’s misused– Got it.
Seth: When they’re put into a competition with somebody that they know is superior to them in performance, they become totally demotivated. They can already foresee the results of the competition and they don’t want to participate. If you don’t handle it carefully, you can actually risk disengaging a significant portion of the people that you’re trying to motivate.
Michael: How do you do that if somebody uses let’s say your tool and it’s the same team day in and day out? How do you keep it from being demotivating to the people who probably need the most motivation?
Seth: There are several ways that you could do that. One is that we break competitions. You can have a competition based on several metrics at one time. You could, for instance, say that you’re having a competition for P&C production, but it’s not just premium, it’s both premiums and policies. So, if you have somebody who is able to write larger premium policies for whatever reason, they’re suddenly put at a disadvantage against those that write smaller premiums, but greater policy production.
The other thing that we can do is that we can include leading indicator activities so that if you’ve got new reps that maybe don’t have the closing ratios as the experienced reps, they can still gain notoriety while building their skills if we build a competition that’s based upon setting appointments or conducting appointments or running quotes.
My favorite way is that you can create teams. There are several ways you can do this. One is you take all your A players and you have them compete against other A players for the best prizes. Then you have your B players versus your B players, et cetera, because even when you get to your C players, and they all know who they are, but they know who the other C players are as well. When they’re put in a competition together, they know that they can beat other C players. The objective is to try to get everybody in the organization to do just a little bit better, not just your top producers.
Another great way of using this is that you can take experienced reps and pair them with a brand new rep on a team. Often time, your experienced reps aren’t particularly interested in sharing their secrets with the new guys. By aligning their interests on a team, you can create mentoring relationships, encourage information sharing, et cetera. Those are a couple of ways that you can protect yourself from the drawbacks of running the same things over and over.
Michael: I need to ask a question that I think is timely for the modern age that we’re in in that more and more of probably the people who would be part of this system, that would participate in this, are not all the baby boomer generation. We’re seeing two or three generations in one agency performing similar tasks. Is there anything that we need to be aware of in regard to gamification vis-à-vis different generations?
Seth: Yes. I definitely think so. I think that, in general, you’re probably going to have an extremely enthusiastic response to gamification by younger people, especially millennials.
Michael: Is that because they’re younger or because they’ve been playing so many games? Gamification is an industry, right? Gaming is an industry and I know enough about it to know that a lot of the principles that you’ve talked about – measurable improvement, team participation – those are built into the most successful games.
Seth: That’s absolutely right. That certainly plays a very big role because it’s familiar territory to them.
Michael: The world becomes my big video game?
Seth: Yes, exactly.
Michael: Have you seen that? Millennials, are they particularly responsive to–
Seth: Yes, they are, but I think it’s for an even more fundamental reason. That is that I don’t buy into the idea that the millennials are fundamentally that much different than any generation before. I think that they’re a product of the times that they were raised in which was heavily influenced by technology, especially social media. They are accustomed to getting feedback, instantaneous feedback, all day. They crave that feedback. It doesn’t even need to necessarily be positive. They just always want to know.
When you have a gamification platform that’s giving regular updates on where people stand, they relate very well to that. That’s what they crave is that real-time information on how am I doing right now. It works particularly well for that reason for your millennials. I’ll be completely honest, there’s going to be a certain group that is not going to relate well to it. If you have reps that have established a way to run their business, for instance, without doing a lot of work-
Seth:They’re not always super thrilled. I’m not going to dance around that. There’s realities here, but one of the biggest things to think about, I think it’s millennials will be the largest portion of the workforce within just the next few years. On balance, you’re going to have a pretty substantial number that will respond well to it and, if we want to attract young people to the insurance industry, this is the sort of thing that will help quite a bit with that effort.
Michael: Attractive technology does make a difference there. Let’s say you have a team with enough people to have your clearly delineated A players, B players, and C players. You’ve got your top performers, your middle performers, and your bottom [unintelligible 00:09:05] performers. Do you have data that indicates which group this has the most impact on?
Seth: That’s an excellent question. I don’t. I have hunches about it, but I do not have actual data so I won’t pretend to… [crosstalk]
Michael: I’m not even going to ask your hunch. Got it.
Seth: I’m curious. What would you think?
Michael: There’s an axiom in sales management of feed the eagles and starve the turkeys. I do think there is a tendency to think, “This group is doing so well they don’t need my mentoring, my coaching, my attention,” which is usually completely wrong. They tend to respond quite well to it. We often tend to over-invest in those areas where we get the least return. That’s was my curiosity but look, it’s an axiom, it’s not a law. It’s not always that way. Sometimes, the lower performers they just need some insight or some discipline that they didn’t have before. We’re often looking at that middle-level wondering is this a B who’s moving up or is this a B who’s stuck.
Seth: Exactly. Yes. I often break sales organizations into four tiers and I think this is pretty accurate. There’s your top tier and the percentages will vary between companies, but your top tier, you’ve got your stars. These are the people that are just hitting it out of the park. They’re not complaining about the market. They’re getting it done no matter what and often need little supervision in terms of their motivation.
Underneath them, you have your strivers and these are people who are wanting to become stars. They’re doing everything that they can, they’re paying attention to the business, developing their skills. Underneath them, you have your strugglers and oftentimes, strugglers we’re formerly stars or strivers but have fallen on hard times and are definitely headed in the wrong direction.
Michael: Those are the Bs that are moving down?
Seth: Down, exactly. Then at the bottom, you’ve got your slugs and I don’t mean that to be disparaging, but these are people that are at that point in their career have decided that they don’t care. They’ve checked out and they have no interest in doing anything differently. That bottom group, you can’t help. There’s no point in trying it, it’s beyond hope.
Michael: If I can just pause for a moment and then we’ll circle back. Do we often discover that through the use of good gamification, like your platform, that we’re going to discover those slugs down at the bottom, they’re never hidden the basic activity numbers?
Seth: Yes, that’s true. It’s interesting because you would think that people just know who’s doing what but we often find when people use our tools, both the gamification and or regular productivity tool, that they’re shocked at the little activity that is performed by certain people in the office [crosstalk].
Michael: All of us who’ve managed sales teams have had that response or that reaction. What you’re calling your level four slug, they’re probably on their way out.
Seth: They’re on their way out.
Michael: Your strugglers and your strivers, we’re moving them up?
Seth: Yes. You can work with them. It’s very interesting because I’m very open-minded on the question that you just asked about where you’re going to get your biggest lift because I think it could depend upon the culture of your organization. Right now, we’re engaged with two very, very different companies in two different industries. One of them, they have the problem where they just eat praise and recognition and rewards on their top performers and ignore everyone else. If you’re not in the top 20%, you get no attention whatsoever and there’s a great deal of bitterness among the reps that are not in that top 20%.
I have another company, different industry where it’s exactly the opposite, where you have the top performers who are completely ignored and are never given any appreciation or recognition or perks whatsoever for higher performance. I am more accustomed to the first of those paradigms, but I’ve realized that the other exists as well and I think it comes down to a matter of the culture of the organization.
Michael: Well, I guess the theory in those organizations is those guys don’t need me.
Seth: Yes, exactly.
Michael: My job is to go train more eagles and let them go fly.
Seth: The nice thing about gamification though is regardless of what your circumstances are on which paradigm you’re operating under, I mean if you’re top are not being appreciated enough, they’re definitely going to get that recognition through a gamification platform in the same way that if implemented properly, you’re going to get your strivers and your strugglers engaged.
I’ll give you an example. We’re running a pilot right now with a very large company in the financial services industry where they had a particular rep who averaged about 50 outbound calls per day. Once they started using our platform, that climbed to 250 calls per day. When asked about it, she responded by saying, “I like to have my name in lights.” It’s interesting how it can work. The great thing is, if you implement it properly, you put it out there and you just watch the magic happen.
Michael: Now, presumably, you’ve got some data on results. What are you discovering? What data proves the value of gamification in a sales or service environment?
Seth: We just got results from a pilot that we’re running currently with a fairly significant number of users and they’re running competitions solely based on activity generation, so they’re not even looking at sales. Their goal was a 5% increase in activity production, to date, they are at 22%.
Seth: It’s quite significant.
Michael: Yes. Those are numbers that must put a smile on your face.
Seth: Yes. Absolutely.
Michael: All right. Seth, you’ve been in the insurance industry for 16 years, you’ve got your own agency, you’ve been in the sales industry for well over 20 years, including vacuum cleaners and at the same time, you’re a CEO of an InsureTech and you’ve got a technology background. When you look at the industry now and you see a variety of changes, a number of which we’ve talked about here, the rise of the millennial generation and the influx of new technologies and so on and so forth, if you are going to deliver a message, a noncommercial message that ideally would stick in in an agent’s heart or mind, what message do you want to deliver to the agent community?
Seth: I spend a lot of time thinking about this issue. I was contacted recently by a nonprofit that was aiming to get more young people into the insurance industry. This has been a problem because insurance industry is a wonderful industry, but for some reason, this message isn’t getting out to young people. I believe that a big part of that problem, this is going to sound kind of squishy but I think it’s applicable is that your young people today are very concerned about feeling like they have a sense of purpose in the work that they do. If there was ever an industry that should be able to show people that we have a wonderful purpose, it’s the insurance industry.
We’re able to protect people from financial ruin at some of the lowest points of their life. I don’t know that this is being communicated well enough to young people today because we tend to talk far too much about policies and premiums. Imagine what you tell your mother if you were to brag about your work. Would you rather tell her that you generated $40,000 in your P&C commissions that month? Or would you be more proud to say that you protected $15 million in assets so families can rest at night?
Michael: Or that’s somebody whose home burned down and you help them rebuild the next one.
Seth: Exactly. This is very worthwhile work that we do. It has an extreme purpose, but that is not being communicated to young people. I also think too, that as you pointed out earlier, very astutely, young people are attracted to technology and the insurance industry is not known for being on the cutting edge of technology. They tend to be risk-averse and that risk aversion carries over to every aspect of running the business and they definitely need to take that to heart when you’re trying to attract to the younger generation.
Michael: Yes. Though, Seth, you’d probably agree that this industry’s appetite for technology is 10x of what it was a decade ago.
Michael: The principals need to embrace technologies. I want to ask you one almost final question and this is one that I frequently ask my InsureTech guests when they’re- the agent-friendly InsureTech guests who care about the insurance agent today. I’m trying to help people navigate through a difficult time and a difficult decision and the challenge or the problem is that there are a lot of emerging technologies. I could interview InsureTech CEOs Monday through Friday and still not get done. There are a lot of new technologies and to some extent, it’s baffling and bewildering to an agency principal to know which ones and how do I know, et cetera. Is it because they have the most aggressive sales rep or what is it that that properly motivates a purchasing decision?
My question for you is what criteria would you suggest or what buying process would you suggest? Two ways to approach that question, to an agency principal who wants to be intelligent and mature about the “embrace technology” theme and message but wants to do it rationally, doesn’t want to make trial and error, expensive and stupid decisions about technologies which they can be. You can install a technology that nobody uses and it actually can be quite disruptive and you can lose months of time. What criteria do you think they should consider or what process should they use to help make technology decisions?
Seth: That’s an excellent question. One of the things that I think is very important is that you don’t want to have a situation where you have only top executives who are removed from the day to day making technology decisions about software that will be used by people on the front lines. If you’re buying software it will be used by the agency force or sup-producers within the agency force, make sure that you are incorporating them in that buying process.
Michael: Makes sense.
Seth: With them in the buying process then you should also be able to hear the technology provider speak your language. They should have a very good understanding of the challenges that you face each and every day. When you have especially with the insurance industry there’s a tendency for– Because our industry is so large, it’s an attractive market for tech companies from outside the industry to try to enter and they often don’t have an accurate idea of what our industry actually entails, that’s when it comes to the independent side of the equation, and so you want to be careful that they’re speaking your language and can genuinely demonstrate expertise for our industry.
Michael: Got it. Anything else?
Seth: No, I think that’s–
Michael: All right. If our listeners and I’m sure some will want to learn more about your platforms and in particular, we’re really talking about leaderboard here but you’ve got more than one. If they want to reach out to, they want to find out more, they want to learn more, how do they do that?
Seth: The easiest way for them would be to visit our website which is www.mivation.com.
Michael: Let’s spell that.
Seth: Yes, it’s M-I, V as in Victor, A, T as in Tom, I-O, N as in Nancy.
Michael: Got it. All right. Visit your website is the best way for them to learn more or gain more knowledge. I know that you speak within the industry so not unlikely I think you’re speaking in an ACT event with Ron Berg shortly.
Seth: That’s right.
Michael: Not unlikely that somebody is going to run into you in the field but-
Seth: Yes, that’s true.
Michael: – but they can find you 24 hours a day online, how about that?
Michael: Well, this has been a pleasure. I do appreciate spending time with you, I appreciate you sharing your insights. On behalf of our listeners, thank you so much for sharing today.
Seth: Thank you very much for having me, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.
Michael: You bet.
One More Thing! What do you think? How will you and your peers use this to grow your agency or brokerage? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, subscribe to get updates delivered to you and *please share this if you found it informative.