There are always ideas that rise to the top, and over the course of the year, here are some key ideas that really resonated within the industry. As you evaluate the current situation of your agency, do a check against these important ideas that will ultimately influence the life of your business. How are you addressing these circumstances facing the industry and individual agencies?
If you read through here and see your agency falling prey to the negative behaviors and consequences that are driving you to plateau or shrink, then give us a call. We may be a good fit to help you fix those things currently going in the wrong direction.
Selling + Process
In talking with agencies and brokerages about the integral role marketing now plays in the sales process, I watch people go through a series of reactions, starting usually with denial. Owners and sales people alike are in disbelief that their way of selling – the way they've always done it with cold calling and face-to-face contact – is being absolutely threatened.
But see, what's happening is that access to information has completely changed the way that nearly everyone is making buying decisions now. It used to be that the sales person was influential throughout the entire sales process, doling out information about the industry, the agency, the products, and the carriers. Now, most of that information can be found online and the buyers are finding it on their own. Read more -->
There is an old saying, "fake it til' you make it." I fully believe in the spirit of this idea. In other words, decide what you want/need to be and start behaving as if that's what you already are and soon you will be. Decide you are "the feared competitor" in your market, start behaving the way a feared agency would behave, and pretty soon you will be the feared competitor.
The problem with this approach is when the declaration is made and communicated, but the behaviors never follow.
Part of our interview process for new members is to perform an Assessment of their agency operations. We understand that before we can create a plan for them to become the feared competitor in their market, we have to have a clear picture of who they are today. And, when I say "we", it is all too often the prospective member finding clarity as much as it is us.
That may sound odd, but quite often, until someone really questions and evaluates thoroughly how they operate and behave, they fool themselves into believing they are something they're not. In other words, they are stopping at the faking part. Read more -->
I recently saw and shared some sales statistics I came across on LinkedIn. I'm not taking credit for the information or even vouching for its accuracy. However, I have to believe in the general message the statistics convey and, based on many conversations with producers, believe they are at least pretty close to reality. And, based on the amount of "Likes" and comments they generated, I have to believe the statistics strike a chord of familiarity with a lot of sales people. Read more -->
I had the opportunity recently to visit with a handful of agency owners from around the country. I had been asked to speak at their conference and then spend some one-on-one time with each.
During my presentation, I made a reference to a young producer and his $800,000 book of business that had plateaued for the last four years. My emphasis was on the plateauing of the book, not the size.
However, it was the size of the book that "Bill" brought up when we sat down. He was skeptical that many producers are capable of producing that size book. I explained to him that in a mid-size market (such as Bill's) this should be seen as a modest book, and with the resources being provided, a producer should be writing at least $100,000 of new business a year. Read more -->
Marketing + Branding
Insurance agencies and brokerages have traditionally thought of marketing as purely used for brand recognition to support their cold calling efforts and hopefully to gain a few referrals along the way.
But that is no longer good enough. Any type of marketing you do will gain you the benefit of brand recognition, but that itself shouldn't be the primary reason to undergo a strong marketing effort.
Now, marketing activities need to be thought of first and foremost as buyer education. I say this because buyers are telling us with their actions and with their direct feedback that it's what they want. Read more -->
If you want the right clients to buy from you, you have to give them a reason why.
I am a big fan of TED Talks. If you aren't familiar with TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), it is devoted to sharing "Ideas Worth Spreading." On its web site you'll find short videos of live presentations on some powerful ideas and perspectives.
I recently watched one of their featured presentations titled "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" by Simon Sinek. There were several great takeaways from this 18-minute video, but one idea in particular really resonated:
People don't buy what you sell; they buy why you sell it.
To help explain, Sinek identifies the three critical elements of a complete sales message: the Why, How, and What. Read more -->
For those of you on the benefits side of the business, "unintended consequences" may bring to mind the endless list resulting from a 15,000 page piece of legislation that (paraphrasing), "couldn't be understood until it was passed".
But, I'm not talking about the unintended consequences of ACA, I'm talking about the unintended consequences of how too many brokers are still working and running their businesses on traditional or legacy models. Let me give you a few examples. Read more -->
Up until now, there hasn't been much difference in the value propositions offered by benefits producers. Whether they work for a large national brokerage or a small independent agency, benefits producers have used the same basic approach and value proposition.
See if this sounds familiar:
A producer shows up at a prospect's office and starts telling his story. He brags about the number of years the agency has been in business, the "super premium" status it has with carriers, the great service his team will provide, and how they will be an extension of the prospect's HR department.
From there, the producer all but begs for the opportunity to work for free by asking for a chance to provide a quote with the hope and promise of trying to save the client a little money. And knowing that the eventual spreadsheets will all look the same, the producer recites his list of free stuff (some call it value-added services) in the hope that it will seal the deal.
Okay, maybe I'm overplaying it a bit, but this is probably closer to reality than most would like to admit. Read more -->
We are watching a lot of very unfortunate and disturbing behavior play out in insurance agencies, and we're seeing a lot of people get hurt as a result. So much of the bad behavior and results we see can be turned around with the recognition that businesses are different now. That people have different expectations from their employers and their business partners.
However, it might not be possible to make the necessary changes with the current old-guard leadership. I'm not referring to an age group here, but it certainly displays that way on a frequent basis. It's really a mind-set, and one that has been around for way too long and needs to change. This same mind-set can perpetuate through generations, and we're seeing it in some fairly young people. Read more -->
How are you building your business (or book of business)? There are really only two ways to do so.
Selling a product or service
The first way to build a business is to go out and find or create a product or service in which you believe there is great value. You then go out to the market and look for as many people as possible to buy that product or service.
Relying on a product/service to serve your needs is by far the most common way businesses get built. And, it works, at least for a while. It works until a better product/service comes along, until a cheaper product/service comes along, or until the product/service is taken away. Once any of these three things happen, you then have to go looking for another product/service to sell. Read more -->
Photo by Sean MacEntee.