Applied Net 2020 Session Recap: Advanced Sales Pipeline and Opportunity Reporting
Technology | Connections Editor | Jan 20 2021
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Applied Net 2020 conference occurred virtually this past fall. Regardless of the inability to convene in person, the event offered countless top-tier education sessions. In this session recap, we speak with John Gage of Knight Insurance Group, who provides highlights from his session, “Advanced Sales Pipeline and Opportunity Reporting”.
Connections: What was the primary driver of speaking to reports customization at Applied Net 2020?
John: It's really twofold. I've been in the industry for 25 years and Applied Client Network (ACN) has been a helpful resource. I was happy to share what I know with the next generation of agents and brokers working hard to run their agency/brokerage. That part is just me trying to give back to a community that has been so good to me. Going a little deeper, ACN has a robust catalogue of what I would consider beginner and intermediate content. If there's anywhere where it struggles a bit, it's with more advanced content. Those who have been to Applied Net multiple times may find it difficult to find new content aside from sessions on the latest versions of various products. Some agents are looking for more advanced content to supplement what they have already learned.
[Applied] Epic reports are incredibly flexible. But, with that flexibility comes a complexity that some agencies/brokerages struggle with. When our agency migrated to Epic, we had some key members who didn’t immediately appreciate the flexibility and viewed the Report Writer as incomplete and even broken. The tool is there for you to build what you need. In my sessions I try to communicate that the canned reports are a great place to start, but [users] should embrace the flexibility to make the output exactly what an agency/brokerage needs.
At the beginning of the session, I was honest when I said, “Hey, this is going to be tricky.” Just absorb it and decide if the final report produced would be helpful for your agency/brokerage. I don't expect users to leave the class knowing exactly how to do everything I discuss, but I also provide detailed written documentation that will get them the rest of the way, and they can go back to their offices and start to implement what they saw in the session.
Connections: How did your team come upon the opportunity to customize reports in Applied Epic?
John: It really was out of necessity. I ran the initial reports, saw what was possible, and realized it fell short of what we needed. I knew I could go to a third-party solution, but I didn't want that complexity or expense. It really was just digging into it and saying, “Okay, I need the output to show this specific data or statistic, is it possible? What can I possibly do in order to get it?” The goal became to design a solution for the small to medium agency/brokerage that doesn't have a robust IT budget for third-party tools. As much as possible, leveraging the investment in Epic to deliver automated reports containing everything a producer and sales manager needs. Honestly, these reports were a great way for us to really push ourselves to learn how to use the Report Writer.
Connections: What were some common reporting issues users were experiencing before finding a workaround?
John: The default canned reports didn't fully communicate what was happening with each producer. It was, “here's how much new business you have sold and your annual goal". My fear — and what I've experienced prior to Epic — is that when I show a producer that their annual goal is $100,000, and it's the middle of February, they know they're not supposed to be at $100,000 yet; so, whatever their sales "to date" is, nobody gets too worried. But, when I can take an Epic report and show a year-to-date goal of $12,000, but you're sitting at $2,000 sold, that has some veracity to it. When I can show your annual goal of 48 proposals, your year-to-date goal of 8 proposals and only 2 proposals have been completed, we know what we need to work on.
It's sharing of data in an easy to consume format. I want the producer to quickly know where they stand versus their goals. These reports are also very powerful for sales management. At a glance, a sales manager can see how the entire team is performing. They can understand who may be falling short of expectations and is in need of help. The data then acts as a start to a conversation where difficulties can be identified and resolved. At the end of the day, producers all want to be successful, sometimes they just need some guidance.
Connections: Can you talk about the importance of being able to report on producer progress and producer goals for a variety of different metrics?
John: One of the big struggles with the canned Epic reports is that it focuses almost entirely on tracking the producers’ new revenue. What we've found is that we need to track more activity and goals than simply new revenue. Revenue is the bottom line, but when goals are not reached we need to understand why. A producer knows that to reach a new revenue goal they need to do so many proposals, because you're not going to sell to every prospect you propose. And, not every appointment that you run is going to result in a proposal. So, we want to be able to store many goals and report on progress towards those goals.
We also want to be able to communicate to the producer year-to-date goals and on-pace progress so that, whichever goal we're talking about, they can very quickly see how they’re doing. If you [the producer] do that with all our metrics, we have faith that, at the end of the year, the new revenue will be there. If you're falling short anywhere along the line, you're making it hard on yourself to hit the revenue goal. So again, the idea is to identify the important milestones within the sales process, and track how your agency/brokerage is doing on goals for those milestones. If someone is having trouble closing deals, my team will look at the “Unsuccessful Reason”. We look for trends such as carriers not having an appetite for our submissions, prospects declining over price, or not being able to match existing coverages. These trends help identify weaknesses that can be improved in an effort to improve success ratios.
Again, all the data is in the database. Reports should make it easier for sales management, and for producers, to piece together why an agency/brokerage is successful or why it's not. My goal with reports is to put information teams need at their fingertips, and they'll take it from there.
Connections: Can you sum up the customization process for those who may have missed the session?
John: The idea is to leverage the data that you have in your database to help the entire sales staff, whether it's producers or management. The way we do that [at Knight] is really threefold. First, I show how to store goals in Epic other than new revenue. If team members want to store any goal other than revenue there is not an obvious way to do it, but it is possible. It is a little labor intensive, but it just needs to be done once a year.
Second, we talk at length about how to display any goal that a team member has decided they want to track. How do they display it as the annual goal or the year-to-date goal? Or, if they want, we walk through how to display an on-pace statistic, so they can see what is possible by year-end if current efforts continue. The arithmetic is rather simple, once we learn how to store the goal in the first place. We then take those reports and schedule them. So that there is nothing to do every week, Epic does all the work behind the scenes. In the case of our agency, we deliver reports every Sunday night, so everybody has what they need for a Monday morning meeting. For the person who builds these reports it’s a once-a-year process, the rest of the year they run automatically.
And, lastly, we talk about how to track the frequency of each stage of your sales process. In most cases, we build a success ratio for each stage. How often do we sell what we propose? How often do we propose when we run an appointment? You start looking at those metrics and you should be able to identify where your strengths and weaknesses are in your sales staff. If every time they propose they close, all you have to do is get them in front of more prospects and they will be successful. But, if they're struggling to get to the proposal stage, and they run many appointments, perhaps the lead-qualification process needs to be improved.
Connections: Any additional advice for teams preparing to integrate this customization process through Epic into their day-to-day operations?
John: I think something to keep in mind is that some of the setup has nothing to do with the reporting, per se. For example, you have to understand what your current sales process is: What steps of your sales process will appear in Epic as milestones you want to track? You may have a seven-step sales process but only need to report on five of those steps. Does it make sense to reduce the sales process within Epic to only those five steps? Perhaps.
Then, you have to make sure that you have integrity in your data. What can be challenging here is some agencies/brokerages let the producers enter this data. Producers are known for a lot of things, and data integrity is typically not one of them. You're going to have bad reports if you have bad data. So, how are you going to handle that before you even start designing reports? How are you going to make sure the data is updated so it doesn't become stale? How do you handle the eternal optimist who will never close anything unsuccessful because the order to bind is coming soon. If the agency/brokerage is able to take the data entry responsibility away from the producer, that is something to seriously consider. Communication between the producer and the person responsible for maintaining the opportunity data is a challenge, too. Pick your challenge and solve it before you’ve spent too much time on building reports.
One of the tips I suggest is to always enter your sales process stage names in past tense. A producer may say, “I scheduled an appointment for next Friday”. They may consider the “Run Appointment” stage as completed since they have it scheduled. Unfortunately, too often appointments get pushed back or cancelled altogether. In our agency, my stage name is “Appointment Completed”. If you didn't actually run the appointment, I don’t want the Epic data to show that you did. By using the past tense, I’m trying to make it very clear what has to have happened in order to consider the stage as completed. This elementary tip has helped eliminate confusion and maintains the accuracy of our data.
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Tags: Technology , Applied Net , Sales , Applied Epic , Reporting , Marketing