HOW TO THINK LIKE BILLY WILLIAMS – EPISODE 097
On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Billy Williams, Founder of Inspire A Nation Business Mentoring. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How Billy Williams went from Army recruiter who knew nothing about insurance to one of the most sought-after thought leaders in the insurance industry.
- Which experiences have shaped the way Williams thinks about insurance, business, and life in general.
- How these experiences became heuristics, principles, and rules of thumb that Williams uses to grow his business and help insurance agencies become more efficient.
If you’ve been around insurance for the past year and a half, you have probably seen or heard about Billy Williams. The man is everywhere. He’s all over conferences and podcasts such as this one. He is quoted often in the press and on social media. The term “thought leader” gets thrown around a lot, but it seems to apply to Billy Williams: people are eager to know more about how he thinks once they learn about how he has invested in other agencies and retooled them to be more efficient.
Williams rejects the flattery. “I’m not smart,” he tells Ryan Deeds. “I can just figure stuff out.” He attributes this to his extensive background in the military—Williams was an Army recruiter for many years before getting into insurance. “The military teaches you to think differently,” Williams explains. “You look at the world in a who, what, when, where, and why format. There is an acronym for almost anything, and you can use it to overview a situation very quickly.”
In military operations, S.A.L.U.T.E. is a way to report on enemy information by focusing on Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, and Equipment. Williams isn’t launching an attack on enemy agencies, but when he needs to evaluate an agency before doing business with it, he finds the rigorous criteria of S.A.L.U.T.E. useful.
“What’s the size of this agency? What activity do they live on, every single day? What’s their location, and not just physically—are they on the web? Even their uniform is important, what they’re wearing. Many agencies can’t write big business because they’re not dressed for it. I’ve walked into agencies where they wear wrinkled shirts, and you want to talk to someone about a $10 million annuity? It’s not going to happen.”
Transform processes into habits.
People perform habitual routines faster than they perform processes they need to look up every time. Brushing your teeth is one example. “When you wake up in the morning, you don’t need to take a class over it. It’s just a habit by now. But if you tried to teach a group of children how to brush their teeth and maintain good oral hygiene, it might turn into a three-hour class.”
Processes inside an agency—claims, renewals, onboarding, etc.—shouldn’t be a three-hour class, Williams says, “but some agencies make it into one every time. That’s why I’m all about developing habits. My goal is to transform our processes into habits so that our staff doesn’t have to think of it as a class every time.”
Separate a person’s calling from a person’s expertise.
Sometimes, an agent looks so capable of doing something that it doesn’t look like they should do anything else. But anybody can become good at almost anything with enough practice and experience. It doesn’t mean that’s what they should be doing.
People are more valuable when they do what they are meant to do. “We all have things we’re experts at, and we all have things we have a natural calling for. Those two are different, and I try to identify the difference whenever I can. A lot of times, I’ll walk into an agency and see an agent selling P&C, when they really should be doing benefits. Or, another agent might be trapped in retention and doing very badly at it, because their calling is in sales.”
“Half the time, when I walk into an agency, I don’t actually do as much as people think I do. I’m simply moving people around based on what they should be doing.”
Favor process over products.
We tend to buy a lot of products that promise to do wonders for our operations, and after so big an investment, it is natural to want the products to work, and to work in concert with one another. But this cannot jeopardize the process and the process’s objectives.
For example, text messaging can be a big driver of business when a mobile number can be associated to a customer account. But this is harder to do than it sounds, so a lot of agencies hold off on text messaging altogether until they can get all the technology to work together perfectly. Williams would tell them that they’re wasting their time.
“Perfection is the enemy of success,” he reminds us. Agencies would be better off figuring out some way to associate a mobile number to a customer account, even if it doesn’t integrate perfectly with the rest of the tech stack. “My training is tech-agnostic: I literally don’t care what tools you use. When I walk into an agency, I’m just looking for the efficiencies of the process.”
Put success ahead of buy-in.
It is noble when an agency tries to solicit buy-in from each employee, but imagine a military operation being run this way, with every subordinate having power to override an order.
This is where Williams’s military attitude is perhaps most evident. “I don’t need my staff to buy into crap,” he says. “I just need them to do what I asked them to do, whether or not they ‘believe’ in it. Don’t believe in sending that email? Fine. Send it anyway.”
This can seem a little brutal, but as Williams explains, success is usually a precursor to buy-in, not the other way around. “The buy-in will come from the results or the failure. If we do something for a month and it doesn’t work, the buy-in is really the buyout: at that point, employees have a good reason not to do it. But if we do something for a month, and it works, then people are going to buy into it, because people always buy into success.”
Bottom line? “Get your people to do the activity they’re supposed to do; track that activity; and then let the success be the buy-in. Don’t try to give them the buy-in first.”
This is only a small peek into the mind of Billy Williams. Demand for the rest of it continues to be high. People fly from all over the country to see Williams take center stage at conferences, seminars, and workshops. For a self-described “behind-the-scenes” guy, this is unusual. But “once people figured out what I do, and they realized I was part of some of the biggest agencies in the country, they started to pay attention. They started to think ‘this guy might know a little something.’”
What do you think? Which of Williams’s ideas do you find most interesting? Do you have any stories of your own to share? Tell us about them in the Digital Broker LinkedIn group, where we post updates about episodes and take questions from our listeners. Join us and let’s chat.