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.

What buyers want from your sales people

Let's start first with the selling piece because it's what the insurance industry is intimately familiar with. According to extensive research conducted by CEB (Corporate Executive Board), buyers are looking to work with sales people who teach them new things to help in running their business. In fact, client loyalty to the supplier is determined largely by their interactions with the salesperson. Buyers say they want to work with a sales person who:

  • Offers unique and valuable perspectives on the market.
  • Helps me navigate alternatives.
  • Provides ongoing advice or consultation.
  • Helps me avoid potential land mines.
  • Educates me on new issues and outcomes.

Notice that everything on this list of buyer preferences is about the sales person advising and teaching and helping the buyer be more successful as a business. It's not about your products, the features, or the benefits.

What buyers want from your marketing

It should come as no surprise, those same buyers are looking for the same type of insights and education in the marketing process as they expect in the sales process. Those who start teaching during the marketing phase are significantly more likely to get the opportunity for that face-to-face sales meeting, where they are then able to continue the teaching process.

DemandGen Report has studied this pre-sale research phase and made some amazing findings:

  • 78% of B2B buyers are turning to online channels for their research, and they are heavily influenced by what they find.
  • 55% of B2B buyers who find quality content are interested in downloading it.
  • 50% are telling us they're influenced by what they find in social channels (user-generated content).
  • Only about 30% note the sales person as being influential to their buying decision.

And according to additional studies by CEB, this time about the pre-sale research phase, they, too, find that buyers do extensive research on their own. In fact, those buyers are actually 57% of the way toward a final buying decision before they ever make contact with a sales person. By this time, they've already worked out the criteria they're planning to use for their final decision, and they've selected the vendors they want to talk with about their purchase.

Shifting influence

For an industry that counted on the sales person to influence the entirety of the sales process, this has shifted the balance of power. Sales people who aren't communicating with, and educating, the buyer until the decision is 57% complete, have no effective influence on the buying decision; all they can do is react.

The influence must now take place during the buyer research phase – the 57% time.

And the influence must take place in the form of your marketing activities, which should be the content you create for buyers to find and your participation in social channels.

Buyers want to always be learning. They expect to learn something new during the research phase and they expect that learning to continue when talking to a sales person. All of this leads us to one conclusion: marketing and sales efforts need to be built on a foundation of educating the buyer.

And the education you choose to provide needs to be a direct result of your value proposition. In other words, educate your clients and prospects as to why the promises you make to them are important to their success.

Having a deep understanding of your value proposition and how it influences client businesses is the biggest recognition you need to make about your own business. It influences everything you do in your company – marketing, selling, client experience, people you hire, and the way you organize your team. In the next of this series, we'll talk about exploring and defining your value proposition and how you use that definition to create the type of content that will attract the attention of your buyers.

Defining Your Business Brand