ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

PROSPECTING - THE GREAT DILEMMA

Here’s the scenario. We each worked hard on all the folks we knew early in our career. We were relatively friendly and knowledgeable so our friends referred us to others – and so on, and so on and so on...

After some time we became so busy that we couldn’t do all of our own service for our clients and we hired administrative assistants or service representatives. The business kept on growing.

Eventually we became an “agency” instead of just an insurance agent with help. When times were good we continued to network to our friends and clients and gained more clients that way. When some of them sent others to us, we felt on top of the world --- and we started to relax a little.

We spent less time out of the office with our clients and more time “handling” problems that our employees wouldn’t or couldn’t do without our involvement. Soon, we were “managers” and only saw our clients casually, socially or at renewal time. After all, that’s the important visit, isn’t it?

We forgot that what made our clients comfortable with us were the relationships they had and the comfort they felt with us handling their insurance – not our once-a-year visit bringing them news of their premium changes for next year.

An alternate track to our current prospecting dilemma was the son of the agent who came into a fully developed business. He saw a building full of employees and a practice full of clients. Either dad wasn’t working as many hours as he used to and was spending his working hours in the office or with company people instead of devoted to clients, or he was working the hours and “Sonny” was really needed to control the automation, the staff and the management of the agency. Sonny never learned the relationship building skills that his father (or grandfather) learned in order to simply survive. Sonny works hard, but thinks the business of the agency is processing and controlling personnel and workflow. If he has become a people-person, it was through managing underwriters and company personnel to desired results in support of the agency’s future.

What each track of agency owner above forgot is the “relationship” side of prospecting and of client management. Yes, it is certainly important to process client transactions properly and quickly. And, yes, you must be the manager for your employees. But they don’t pay your way – the customers do!

Prospecting is best done proactively, by the agent, not by a telemarketer or staffer sending letters or cards, consistently over time and with the end-in-mind of building friendships and relationships.

Only the rare agent feels comfortable speaking to people he doesn’t know about the subject of insurance. Isn’t it funny that we can easily strike up a conversation about golf, the local high school or a college sports team or even the state of the economy, but we feel uncomfortable discussing insurance with strangers. Why?

Because insurance is like death, inevitable, but not sought out. It is a cost, not a benefit of business and is the only thing we buy that most of us don’t want to USE. We don’t like spending our money for something we don’t use, but the alternative is even less attractive in stress, time and money lost.

So what’s the solution? Like good doctors, we must be friendly, form relationships and, while everyone knows that what we do and that we are very competent and successful doing it, we don’t flaunt or “sell” insurance ---- EVER!!!

I met a car dealer at my barber shop recently. He was in the next chair and we talked sports. His profession only came up when my barber thanked him for his help selecting a car. Then the conversation turned back to sports. I found myself asking him questions and “using” his knowledge because of his competence and his complete lack of selling process. He responded in a friendly manner and offered help even though my issue was not with a car that he sold. I was impressed, took his card and gave it to my associate who had an issue with a vehicle.

The end result was a vehicle transaction for him a few months later and my thanks and further referrals because of his treatment of my friend.

That’s how we must be! However, we must make sure that everyone knows what we do and also that we are successful doing it. Who wants to deal with someone who isn’t successful in a role he’s had for many years? Most ‘laid-back’ agents forget this second point. Friendliness isn’t just being nice. It’s being nice in the context of our profession.

We have a client who has been socially and civically active for over 15 years. But besides knowing that he’s an agent, the subject of his helping his associates with free advice about their insurance needs never arose – on purpose. Our client thought it would be an imposition for him to offer his help – that it in some way demean the relationship. However, he always dealt with clients in their own profession. He realized its only good business practice to use clients’ businesses for his own business needs.

Our client’s misplaced sense of pride and gentleness actually worked against him in his business. His social and civic relationships bought plenty of insurance and had the problems that are normally associated with our complex discipline. They just never thought of coming to HIM for help because his professional status never arose in their conversations.

It is a sensitive balance between relationship building and the offer of your services as an agent – with one notable exception.

It is perfectly correct during your regular visits to clients reviewing their insurance program to request referrals to other business owners or individuals that your clients may know need insurance assistance. The wisest and most successful agents learn and teach every relationship manager in their agencies to ask every client once each year if there are others that the client knows who could use the services of a professional agent like him. It is not “begging” or “hat-in-hand”. It is reminding the clients that they found you through their peers and friends and that you enjoy similar relationships through continued referrals.

The two things that you need to bring away from this article is 1) that “selling” is the domain of the high pressure salesman, not of the insurance professional, and 2) that growth comes from referrals from existing clients much more than from marketing programs and advertising. But if you don’t ask, they never think of you in that light. Some will refer to you as a favor to a friend. Others will refer to you as a favor to you. But fully half of the clients you ask regularly WILL end up referring clients to you. That’s how you can grow throughout your career.