One of my friends mentioned the following last week, when we were meeting with another fellow insurance agent:
“Too many people are learning more and more about less and less today, that will actually be useful tomorrow.”
He was directing it at the other agent, not to criticize her but to just to try to give her some ideas to help her break some old, staid habits and to ‘push the envelope’ a little. She knows she needs to branch-out into some possibly uncomfortable and unfamiliar territories, to market herself more effectively. We all need to do it, including myself and my agent friends but she is caught-up with trying to comprehend complicated processes to help her market herself more effectively. She is really trying but expending a lot of valuable time and effort to form a social media marketing plan, that includes everything out there! However, she is not willing to break things down into their simplest terms and move forward – one step at a time. So, she is trying to learn everything before she makes even the first move. By the time she compiles and organizes her many lists, a lot of the concepts will be ‘out of style’.
No one will mistake me for an ‘expert’ in utilizing social media marketing. However I have learned some basic things – by trial & error – that might help others break through their reluctance to try to market their businesses in this manner.
The hardest part for me was trying to decide what platform was best for my needs. In the beginning most people want to know how to start but are confused with all the information that is being directed to them. It often “turns them off” and they procrastinate with getting started – time after time.
If this sounds like you, first try one platform only. Sit down with your staff and ask them this question: “Where do you think our customers ‘hang-out’? That is, at which social network are our current clients and prospects most likely to frequent? This is where you want to start your social media marketing efforts. Do not pay for placing ads on the network chosen. Just let people know what you believe you do best. Look for some local groups with which to affiliate and contribute by commenting on various of their items. Then grow from there. Simplify the initial process. After you and your staff get more familiar with regular activities, you may want to expand or just focus more intently on what makes you most comfortable, as you explore social media marketing.
There is so much there. Make it as simple as you can. it is certainly better than doing nothing at all – forever.
A P&C Agent and I were talking today and discussing his options with regard to the agency network group that might be best for him to consider, based on his particular circumstances. He asked for my opinion.
I explained that I do not normally recommend one group over another as I want the agents to make their choices based on their own evaluations. I supply some of the tools and related advice to help them make the most informed decisions but they decide on the final choice.
To help them in the decision-making process, one question that I like to ask is: “What do you really want to do?”
It sounds simple enough but the agent needs to decide if he or she wants to be inside an office, fielding calls, processing business, supervising other production people, etc. or does the agent want to be free to produce outside the office and not be involved with the day-to-day activities of running an agency. Of course, there can be a lot of room in the middle of these two scenarios but the answer to the question: “What do you really want to do?” is often not asked of agents. The answer is really very helpful in the process as many agency network groups offer variations to their main program models, to accommodate different agents’ needs.
It is too easy to assume that all agents want the same thing in terms of their involvement in the insurance business. My image is often not their image.
A very successful commercial insurance producer told me this recently. He said that when he is on a sales call, particularly a business luncheon, instead of the usual amount of small talk before starting to get down to business, after exchanging a few general pleasantries, he asks his prospects and clients to help him solve a business problem or issue that is current for him.
“Unrelated to our business today, let me take a minute to run this by you. I’m wrestling with this, to develop a workable solution. What are your thoughts?”
He said that getting their opinions demonstrates to them that you value their thinking on a matter that you have been considering. Nothing too deep or serious of course – you certainly don’t want to destroy your main purpose for the meeting – but he said it has really helped him connect with his prospects and clients. He added that as a valuable side-benefit, he has heard some great ideas that helped him solve some of his outstanding issues.
Especially for people in insurance sales and management roles, there is no doubt that playing golf offers many networking opportunities, especially with existing and potential clients. In fact, that is why some people play golf – It is their sole reason. However, I have always viewed golf as another form of problem-solving and many business people I know enjoy it for that reason in addition to the networking and friendship that inevitably results.
With regard to problem solving, many of those described are used to overcoming obstacles to make the best day-to-day business decisions. Golf is just an extension of their work in a more open environment.
How am I going to hit the ball over that tree? What club do i need? Should I try to go over the lake or avoid it by going around it or playing short of it? To make sure I don’t hit my ball into that huge bunker, should I play to the opposite side of the green even it will put me very far from the hole?
These are examples of questions that golfers ask themselves throughout a round of golf. The golf shots they propose and attempt are aimed at solving the problems at-hand.
It is the same type of decision-making environment that business managers face everyday. However, the consequences of making a wrong decision in business is hardly ever more serious that a bad business decision on a golf course…unless, of course, you bet too much with your friends and lost!
From noted creative thinking coach, Michael Gelb: “Life is a continuous exercise of problem solving.”
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.
Can it be done? I recently read an article in which the author stated that, as an insurance Agency Principal, he feels that he can teach any employee to do almost any task. He added that the real issue is to teach people to care.
Maybe he was in a low mood when he stated this but his point is well-taken, as least as “food for thought”. It might have more to do with creating an atmosphere where “caring” is a key aspect of the workplace culture.
I am not at all sure that “caring” can be taught.
This week I had an agent tell me that he felt like he was deceived when he tried to leave the agency that had employed him as a producer, for more than five years. He announced to the employing agency principal that he was leaving to go out on his own, as he had a deal to buy a small, existing agency, His next question to the employer was how he could transfer the business he had produced for them, for five-plus years. The agency principal pulled out the agreement that the producer had signed when he was first employed in the agency. It stated that the first full year of the producer’s employment did not count toward fulfillment of his five year qualification requirement. It was considered to be “orientation and training”, although the actual training period seemed to last only a few months, before the producer was turned loose to produce.
So, instead of having satisfied the full five years of vesting, the producer still had a year to go to be able to extract the business for his own purposes. The producer told me that he remembered something about that clause in his agreement but didn’t fully understand the wording and didn’t ask for clarification, before signing the agreement when he was first hired.
He had obviously made a big mistake. The damage was done and now his plan for his own agency is in real jeopardy. He said that he might file a law suit to dispute the validity of the terms but he cannot afford to do so at this time.
The “moral of the story” is of course to make sure you not only read your agreements thoroughly but be sure to get a clear understanding of all the terms. Get a clarifying letter, if you are not sure of any aspect of any agreement. Better yet, ask for some review and clarification help from a third party. You cannot afford to make mistakes like this.
Tip: Some of the State Agent organizations provide contract reviews for their Members.
In my discussions and dealings with agents who are looking to start their own agencies or acquire additional markets and useful services for their existing agencies, I often hear them tell me that their web-designer either does not understand their needs or reacts slowly to their required updates.
I am not saying that all non-insurance web-design entities fail in this area. However I know that one insurance agent almost always best understands the needs of another in this area. Agents understand one another’s needs.
Toward that end, at the Florida Insurance Agents (FAIA) Annual Convention in Orlando, I recently met an insurance agent who provides web design and upgrade services to other insurance agents, along with social media marketing services.
If you are interested in exploring her services, She is Amberlee Easterwood and can be reached at : www.simplysocial.com email@example.com
I also discovered that Amber has an Insurance Blog specifically focused on educating consumers about the importance of understanding the need to have adequate coverage. If you need free content of this nature for your social media accounts, feel free to share her blog posts with your clients and prospects!
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.