I recently had a very interesting conversation with Shane Tatum, the President & CEO of Integra Insurance Services, an organization in Texas which provides agency network affiliation for qualified agents and agencies.
While Shane was explaining the Integra prospecting approaches and overall philosophy for determining the quality and experience of agents and agencies that his organization seeks as possible members, he said something that I had not heard before. He stated that they carefully “underwrite” each prospective member before considering them for inclusion into one the two key Integra membership programs.
Action words like ‘vetting’, ‘analyzing’, ‘evaluating’, etc. are most frequently heard in conversations of this nature. However, after hearing Shane describe the Integra “underwriting” approach, I do believe it is most descriptive of the actual process that needs to take place in order for an agency network organization to make the best educated decision as to who should be a member of a network group.
It is well known that traditional insurance underwriting requires knowledge of as much about the proposed insured as possible and the risks to which they may become exposed. This information is needed to make an informed decision as to whether the company wants to provide insurance coverage. Similarly, an agency network should want to know as much as possible about each prospective member. Most do but some are more about quantity than quality. Those that underwrite their prospects are models for the others. As an agent or agency seeking an agency network group to join, look for the groups that make you feel as though you are being subjected to an underwriting process. It will be to your advantage, in the long-run.
A written marketing that is well-developed will prepare you to be effectively underwritten.
Too often when I am helping an agent update an existing marketing plan, prepared by someone else, I frequently find that they contain a lot of what I refer to as “non-marketing fluff”. Simply put it is filler that is often used to make the plan look more impressive. The opposite effect is usually the result.
It is easy to fall blindly in love with statistics, charts and and demographics when preparing a marketing plan. The most important guide-point to help avoid overuse of such data is to always remember the following two major purposes of a marketing plan. They are equally important.
For one, an marketing plan is developed to provide direction for an agency’s operations, especially as relates to revenue enhancement and profitable growth. It is the agency’s map to guide them through the processes that will most probably ensure success.
Secondly, and just as important, a marketing plan is developed to show both your existing carriers and prospective carriers how you are going to attract and write the profitable business that they want from their agency partners.
No one wants to have to swim through a lot of “marketing fluff” to get to the real-life activities that will get you to achievement of your objectives.
Within your agency’s marketing plan under the ‘strategies’ section, you need to answer the following questions:
In what ways will you be attracting business? Through direct sales approaches – Internet Marketing – Referrals – Cross-selling to existing clients – Mail solicitation, etc.?
Who will conduct which of these activities? You – Designated staff members – In-house – Third-parties – a Consultant, etc.? –
Exactly what will be your promoted specialties? What markets, lines of business or special products?
How are you going to assess progress and measure it? How often will you check on progress?
What training will be needed? Who will conduct it? What forms of delivery might it take?
Consider these questions when you are developing your strategies. The time to take the efforts to think them through very clearly can pay big dividends for you. You do not want to operate without these strategies defined within your marketing plan.
The management of many insurance agencies develop their written marketing plans, share them with a few prospective carriers and ‘shelve’ them. Operations change, of course and should be reflected in an agency’s marketing plan. So, it is important to update plans to reflect a current ‘picture’ of the agency’s plans, particularly those for acquiring new business, retaining existing clients and cross-selling to them.
Depending on the format of the plan, it is usually not difficult to include new items, strategies, team members, etc. Check with the developer of your marketing plan, to see if the service for which you paid includes updates.
My marketing plan development services include free, unlimited updates for two years – maybe longer, if you provide a referral for me!
When planning to write a marketing plan for your Agency, do not get caught up in thinking that it will be a daunting task. While you need to take your time and think through the specifics of your plan, you should start by answering these basic questions first:
Who are you and what differentiates your Agency?
What do you do and where do you do it?
Who are you ideal clients?
What are your strategies to get your ideal clients to buy from you and bond with you, to stay with you?
If you start by answering these basic questions first, you will have established a strong foundation for a useful and effective marketing plan.
Last week, in a discussion with a new client independent insurance agent, I asked, as I always do…if there was a written marketing plan for the agency. I always explain to agents that if they do not have a current, written marketing, they need to prepare one. Last week the agent asked me “Why?”.
My answer was that there are several good reasons, as a solid marketing plan serves multiple purposes. There are both internal benefits and external ones.
One of the most important internal reasons is that it provides a ‘road-map’ for the activities and goals that will be needed for the agency to be successful. You have to know where your are going and you have to plan the best route or routes to get there. Instead of preparing a marketing plan and storing it on a shelf, it should be referred to regularly, to ascertain progress and direction.
Additionally, as one of the external purposes, it lends a level of professionalism to the agency, especially in the eyes of the carriers’ representatives. An agency with a well thought-out and developed plan will stand-out over other agencies that have no plan to display to the carriers.
Another very practical external purpose for a good written marketing plan is to provide a clear picture of the agency’s production plans for current carriers and those that the agency might be attempting to take-on. It is not generally important to include detailed financials – that is for the business plan – of which the marketing plan is a critical piece. The carrier Reps are not usually interested in the financials of an agency. They are more concerned with production issues. With that in mind, I always tell agents that one of the most important things with regard to a marketing plan is that it tells the carrier “how” the agency plans to acquire and write the quality business that the respective carriers are wanting from the agency. Show them your road-map!