For well over 20 years, Steve Ziemke has been a well-known figure in the oil and gas investments space. But as much as a senior vice president of Gulf Coast Western is passionate about oil and gas, his true zeal has always been for sales. “Professionally, my roots are in sales,” Ziemke shares.
In fact, Ziemke worked in insurance sales for two decades before changing direction. He explains how he transitioned from insurance to oil and gas investments, as well as the lessons he learned along the way.
Steve Ziemke’s Two Decades-Long Career in Insurance
Ziemke earned his Bachelor of Science in Forest Management from Michigan Technological University and his MBA in Business Management from Boise State University. After graduating, he took a position in the property and casualty industry at California Casualty. He started out as a sales representative but eventually grew through the ranks to become an Assistant Vice President.
Ziemke acknowledges that his time in insurance was far from easy. In addition to hitting ambitious sales targets, he found his leadership skills grew to the point where he was promoted to Idaho and Utah State Sales and Customers Service Manager. He was then promoted to Customer Service Operations for the majority of the company. “I always believed in the policyholders’ best interest to provide the best auto and home insurance products to meet their needs,” he explains.
By focusing his energy on positive thinking and growth, he was determined to be stronger than ever. “I have always been a positive person and believe the glass is half full. The more positive I am, the more positivity I attract,” Ziemke shares.
He committed to honing his communication and management skills to become an even better leader. After his time at California Casualty, Ziemke worked at a subsidiary of Ohio Casualty, and then American Horizon where he brought operations in-house to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Steve Ziemke’s Jump From Insurance to Investments
While Ziemke built a successful career in insurance, he recognized that he didn’t see his future there. “I was promoted through management in the insurance business and got up pretty high. But there were some changes in the industry and it forced me to step back and realize my roots are in sales,” he says.
He soon discovered that oil and gas investments were the right fit for his background. However, jumping from insurance to fossil fuels proved to be a challenge. “For me, coming from insurance, I had no idea what I was getting into. There was a lot of apprehension. In the beginning, I wasn’t selling and it took a few months to get it. But I always hung in there and continued to develop my skills and increase activity. I made sure I was on the phone enough and worked hard to make it happen,” he explains.
Invest in Constant Improvement
Some business executives breathe a sigh of relief once they reach the top of the corporate ladder, but Steve Ziemke took a different approach. While he always tries to think positively, the sales leader accepts that change is a constant and that he needs to hone his skills to stay relevant.
Ziemke credits his success to his need for constant improvement, which he believes is necessary for anyone in sales. “In oil and gas sales, you have to develop relationships with clients and prospective clients. and I have worked diligently from the beginning to give myself the opportunity to succeed,” he says. “Going the extra mile is what has helped me learn the necessary skills to gain a foothold and develop my career.”
Sales is always changing, which is why Ziemke constantly seeks coaching on his sales and communication skills. He records himself speaking and plays it back to find opportunities to improve his messaging. “Once I have it the way I want, I will adjust to that strategy in a real-life situation and see how I did and how the prospect reacted to it,” he explains.
Recognize Time as a Resource, Not a Limitation
Instead of seeing time as a limited resource, Steve Ziemke believes in becoming more efficient with how he spends his hours. He carefully structures his time to tackle most of his to-dos as a busy SVP.
Ziemke begins by separating calls into different categories. “I make calls to get my energy going and my head in the right mindset, followed by morning appointments,” he says. In the afternoon, he follows up on prior appointments and calls existing clients for referrals or reinvestments. Ziemke ends the day by making calls in earlier time zones so he has a chance to speak with as many individuals as possible.
The SVP is on the phone most of the day, so he has to optimize the time he spends away from it. When it comes to productivity, Ziemke takes an “eat the frog” approach where he takes on the most arduous task of the day first thing in the morning.
“The one habit that I have always believed helps me be more productive by tackling first a project or a task that is least desirable and is one that I really do not want to deal with,” Ziemke explains. “Once I have that finished, I can go throughout the day without that hanging over my head and can focus on the rest of my schedule to be more effective.”
Learn From Trial and Error
Although mistakes feel unacceptable at the leadership level, we all learn through trial and error. Ziemke believes that the only way to know if a sales technique works is to implement it and see how it goes. “A new idea must be vetted through trial and error. While trial and error can be uncomfortable, it is the step by step process to success ,” he says.
For Ziemke, this isn’t just about putting in the work, but becoming more efficient at how he works. “If I hadn’t developed my sales skills by becoming more effective in bringing new clients on board and developing existing clients while getting rid of bad habits or ineffective techniques, I would not be where I am today,” he states.
But learning doesn’t need to happen in a vacuum. Ziemke gathers feedback from his co-workers to identify opportunities for improvement. “I will also involve an experienced co-worker or my manager to evaluate my skills,” he adds.
Being a leader in sales with California Casualty which led to many promotions, and a leader in sales at Gulf Coast Western involves the same concepts. Work hard and smart, and always put yourself in the shoes of the client to best understand their needs and what is important to them.