Leaders Set The Tone — You can hire the best people in the world, but the culture of a company comes from the top-down. If I’m not responding to emails, showing up for meetings late, or disregarding my employee’s time, few people are going to call me out on it until it gets egregious. Yet, the people around me will be noting it all. They will be subconsciously taking cues from what I do. I can’t expect people to give me their best efforts if I’m not doing the same.
As a part of my series called “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business ”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Vitale.
Michigan-based Peter Vitale is an innovative entrepreneur, thought leader, and consultant, specializing in the realm of insurance. The owner of Bloomfield Insurance Group has received several awards and recognitions for his success in improving profitability, focusing on customer satisfaction, and spearheading thriving businesses. Peter Vitale champions business growth and development, and shepherds success for fledgling and failing insurance businesses through his proven tactics, innovative strategies, and management style.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2012, I began working in the insurance industry as an Executive Account Manager for Allstate. Immediately, I was drawn to the customer service elements of the role, as well as the autonomous drive to succeed. Both of these factors reigned supreme in my day-to-day thinking, and I remained motivated to excel, grow, and perfect the skills needed to become a leader in the field.
In 2014, I found myself at a proverbial crossroads, with a growing entrepreneurial spirit that I could not simply ignore. I yearned to pursue an independent venture, to truly test the leadership skills that I felt I had perfected. I decided to take a chance on myself, and opened my own agency. Swiftly, this paid off, and the agency began receiving recognition for its’ swift growth, positive community reputation, and overall productivity. The corporate culture we were building was conducive to continued growth, the infrastructure we put in place was supportive of expansion, and the business was moving forward at a swift pace.
This is where the consulting piece came into play. Approached by various other businesses in the insurance industry, I began offering consulting services to help fledgling and failing businesses thrive. Essentially, this involves a wholesome and comprehensive approach, where I overhaul procedures, operations, culture, marketing, and all other needed aspects of the business to foster a healthy growth.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
As someone who delves deeply into auto insurance for a living, I can comfortably say that I am well-versed in the in’s and out’s of various policies. However, I know that most people just aren’t as enthusiastic as I am about insurance. I don’t expect them to be! That’s why proactive consumer education is so important to our team members. When individuals shop for auto insurance coverage, understanding their coverage, and being able to actively imagine the benefits of various coverage options in “real-life scenarios” is very helpful in crafting the most appropriate policies.
While we know that we are helping individuals to stay safe, protected, and insured on the road, that messaging really hits home every time that a customer speaks with us about an incident that occurred, and the results of that incident. I’m always so grateful and humbled when a customer recounts switching to a comprehensive auto insurance policy, and needing to use that policy shortly thereafter. Obviously, no one wants to be involved in any sort of auto disturbance or event. However, they do happen, and every safe, happy, and protected outcome is always incredibly meaningful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I started working at Allstate, there were several people who were always more than willing to answer questions, and who welcomed me into the fold. Rather than recognizing a singular team member, I think it’s important to note an overall inclusive, thoughtful, and supportive corporate culture. This type of a working environment has profound effects on professionals, and is often an incubator for success, growth, and idea creation. I’m incredibly thankful for the ability to learn the proverbial “tools of the trade” from my colleagues, and for the overall atmosphere that was presented within my early professional trajectory. In fact, I model this type of corporate culture creation within my own agency, and as an insurance consultant for other businesses.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Get the right people on the bus.” Straightforward advice, and applicable to just about any facet of life. This is a quote from one of my favorite authors, Jim Collins. As an entrepreneur, building a business from the ground up, I have come to recognize that surrounding yourself with dedicated, motivated, and committed team members is quite possibly the most important factor for success.
Business development requires a myriad of moving parts. Thus, you’re never going to be able to create, implement, and oversee all of these facets independently. You’re going to need to lean on a team of trusted, capable, and committed individuals to not only “follow your lead”, but to consistently search for ways to optimize their roles for the betterment of the total outcome.
With a powerhouse team, entrepreneurs can achieve growth, sustain growth, and successfully implement changes that trickle down from the proverbial top. This is a crucial element to success, more important than garnering a large client or customer base. After all, how can you deliver a positive experience for a growing client base without the operational capacity to handle this growth?
In life in general, surrounding yourself with individuals who will foster your success, growth, and dreams will lead to a better outcome. “Getting the right people on the bus” can involve having the support of your family and loved ones to pursue your dreams. By believing in you, championing you, and jumping along for the ride, loved ones can be a part of the experience of entrepreneurship.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the main point that your company is helping to address?
From the insurance perspective for customers, we want to offer streamlined, personalized, and effective insurance solutions that meet modernized lifestyles. We aim to limit as much of the cumbersome processes that have made insurance a traditionally somewhat antiquated service.
On the consulting end, my main goal is to always bring long-term value and success for the company. While I certainly tackle immediate and short-term needs, my focus lies in building the long-term infrastructure that will allow for long-term growth, prosperity, and continued development. Putting these parameters into practice allows the businesses to scale accordingly.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I approach every consulting task with a comprehensive and wholesome approach. Instead of focusing only on immediate concerns and in-your-face problems, I try to discover why those problems arose in the first place, what types of systems allowed such issues to grow, and how to best move forward to ensure a different outcome on a long-term basis.
I also believe in engaging with a smaller number of clients, and ensuring that those clients receive unprecedented attention, access, and support. For many consultants, it’s a numbers game. They believe that the more clients they work with, the more successful they will become. What makes my business so unique is the all-inclusive focus. When I sign on to work with a business, I dedicate my full and undivided attention to that business, considering strategies, contemplating moves, and really diving into the entire structure of the business in question. This ensures that my clients feel confident in the solutions that I am providing, and thus, they trust my direction. Without that implicit trust, it would be much more difficult for them to implement vast changes, which could potentially stunt the overall success of the partnership.
Recently, when working with a client in the insurance business realm, I crafted an extensive outline of my propositions. The outline included immediate resolutions for pressing matters, as well as long-term infrastructure changes to harness growth. I dedicated several days to creating this outline presentation, and spent a great deal of time physically present at the client’s headquarters. The business was grateful for the depths of my digging, and for the extent to which I went in order to really figure out what makes their particular business tick. This made me realize that “going the extra mile”, in terms of attention, really does make a huge difference.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I felt the “entrepreneurial itch” prior to starting my own business. I rapidly gained practical experience in the realm of insurance, and realized that I was good at my job. Not only that, but I was genuinely interested in it, and fulfilled by it. I didn’t need to explore hobbies during weekends, as I was busy reading about business development strategies and insurance. I had firsthand confirmation that my business development strategies worked, as my own insurance business was thriving. Thus, I knew I was onto something. I was driven by the desire to help educate people about insurance, provide unprecedented experiences in the industry, and utilize my mastered leadership skills to help other business owners experience the same level of success that I was experiencing. I wanted to “share the wealth”. I believe in collaboration between entrepreneurs and business owners, and was excited about the prospect of having something to lend to the industry.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
I’m still driven by the same initial desires to see others in the industry succeed. I want to champion other business owners and entrepreneurs. As I continue down this path, I am fulfilled by seeing businesses turn their trajectory around, and experience positive growth. It’s personally gratifying to know that I played a role in those positive changes.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The global COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the insurance industry. While it has certainly disrupted the status quo, it has also encouraged a lot of growth and implementation of technology within the industry. With more people looking to access services virtually, the insurance realm was forced to enact changes to allow for a shift that was coming anyway. Thus, I’ve been focused on pivoting customer service techniques to account for the changes that the pandemic has brought forth. I’ve been focused on being able to be there for customers, to answer their questions, and to put them at ease during such a disruptive time.
Thus far, the digital shift has been successful for our teams, clients, and everyone involved. Communication has played a vital role in that, and even when things “go back to normal”, we will maintain an expanded focus on digital and “from home” experiences that will allow insurance consumers to access professionals at their own leisure.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We do have a wonderfully dedicated, knowledgeable, and committed sales and customer service team, as do my consulting clients. The key to creating high performance sales teams lies in the corporate culture. By creating a corporate culture that supports growth, opportunities, and collaboration, company leaders can harness a workspace where sales individuals want to excel. Training is an integral part of creating knowledge and confidence for sales teams. Without the right support, access to information, and ongoing training, sales professionals cannot bestow their expertise to clients in an authentic manner. Additionally, regular access to these resources allows sales team members to recognize the importance of their respective roles, and to feel supported within the company. Thus, this is a critical facet for any sales team.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
As an insurance consultant, I’ve discovered that finding and attracting insurance businesses to seek my help is a matter of putting myself out there, proactively discussing their particular desires, and actively listening to what their needs may be. These factors all start with a simple email or phone call. Building relationships with businesses as members of the same industry, instead of just “soliciting”, is a great way to build trust amongst industry professionals. Even if a business may not seek my help today, that doesn’t mean they won’t need a consultant when undertaking a growth phase in the future.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
The best user and customer experiences are heralded by the concept of attention and care. In today’s fast-paced world, where everything seemingly relies on shortcuts, it’s easy to feel as though you’re left out on your own to do research, choose a product, purchase a product or service, and then be stuck with that decision. Thus, it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed without support and guidance from an expert. That’s why it’s so important to talk to people, to understand their needs, and to answer their questions. Sure, customers can now receive an auto insurance policy online in a matter of seconds. That may suffice. They may be happy. However, they may also not truly recognize the difference between basic and comprehensive coverage. As an industry professional, it is our job to maximize the customer experience by lending this information in a cohesive, easy to understand, and convenient fashion.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business”. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Leaders Set The Tone — You can hire the best people in the world, but the culture of a company comes from the top-down. If I’m not responding to emails, showing up for meetings late, or disregarding my employee’s time, few people are going to call me out on it until it gets egregious. Yet, the people around me will be noting it all. They will be subconsciously taking cues from what I do. I can’t expect people to give me their best efforts if I’m not doing the same.
2. You’re Going To Need To Proactively Attack — Don’t get me wrong, I knew going into my career that you need to view a problem from multiple sides to truly understand it. This would turn out to be such a key factor for my success that I can’t stress it enough to you. If I take on a client, it’s because they’re going through issues. As a Consultant, I’m not seeing them at their best, but when they’ve hit some serious snags with their bottom lines. It’s a precarious place to be, one that can dredge up a lot of emotions on both sides of the equation.
If I’m going to figure out what’s going on, I have to look at everything, from the sales team to the operations and marketing slogans. This can be tricky for some people to understand. How am I, an outsider, going to understand the organization as a whole? My career is based on having a different perspective so I can see the bigger picture.
3. You Have To Be Ready — You can go your whole career without seeing a disaster. 50 or 60 years could pass you by and you might never live through an adverse event. Ultimately, though, you can’t count on this. When a life-changing disaster strikes, you need to think on your feet. You also need to have some kind of contingency plan in place. In my industry, I’m already starting to see insurance carriers look at how they can integrate epidemic insurance policies into their product base.
4. Customer Service Is Not Dead — In the age of automation, it’s easy to think that the public values convenience over customer service. I would come to find that there’s never been a better time to put trust and care for the customer above all else. While it might be easy to cold-call someone and start boasting about new rates and services in the insurance industry, it’s far smarter to reach out to people to talk about how a policy can be a life raft during a time of crisis. Of course, nothing is better than calling customers just to check in on how they’re doing during times of uncertainty.
While this might sound like advice that’s specific to the insurance industry, it can be applied to any business that relies on other people to function.
5. Take Time For You — Meditation and self-reflection aren’t for some people — it’s for everyone. Sometimes, it’s as simple as going for a walk. Turn off all those alerts and let yourself “just be” for a while. Start with 5 or 10 minutes and then work your way up. If you happen to get an idea during this time, then so much the better!
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As a person of any influence, I would love to influence people to be their authentic selves, and to pursue ventures that speak to them. Too often, people try to be what they think others want them to be. They engage in things that they don’t feel passion toward. They waste time concerned with what they think they should do, based on societal norms, expectations, and self-perceived ideals. Instead, what if we all collectively explored what we actually enjoy? What if we pursued things (professionally and otherwise) that really motivated us? For me, being an entrepreneur and leader in the insurance industry inherently feels right. For that reason, I thoroughly love going to work every single day, I cherish the ability to harvest positive change in the industry, and I look forward to each opportunity to do so. I wish the same professional experience for everyone else as well, because it can be so motivating and inspiring to be able to do something that you love every day.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to speak with Warren Buffett, but not necessarily about finances. Rather, about taking the time to reflect and ponder on the day’s goals, and how taking the time to do so has helped him become a more effective leader. Years ago, I read an article that delved into his daily practice of quiet exploration. I found this to be incredibly inspiring.
I’ve personally adopted a similar practice. Each day, I dedicate about an hour to quiet introspection. I close the door, turn out the lights, and turn off all electronics. I sit still, and think about the day ahead, about long-term goals, and about finding purpose in all of my actions. This has helped me to focus on tasks at hand, and to lead with purpose. I’d love to chat with Mr. Buffett about this!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!