ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

REFERRALS AND RIFLED TARGETED MARKETING - THE FUTURE OF INSURANCE AGENCY SALES

For a hundred years, insurance agents were the doctors of the insurance industry. When individuals or businesses had insurance ‘pains’ they sought out their local doctor, the insurance agent, to resolve their problem and make them safe again. For years the primary method of identifying the good agents, like the good doctors, was through personal referrals. If your neighbors or business associates had a good agent and you needed one, they would refer you to their agent. Referrals continue to be an honor if ill-used mechanism for gaining clients in an agency.

Beyond referrals, agents hung a “shingle” outside their agencies and were prominent in the new-fangled commercial telephone book, the Yellow Pages. The larger the sign or advertisement, the more attention was achieved. People needing help would seek out an agent.

How many clients do you get from telephone books today? Besides the awed attitude similar to Motherhood and Apple Pie, how many referrals to you actually get anymore?

These methods that worked well in the past when little marketing was being done in either insurance or in medicine. Do you remember when NO doctor or medical group advertised or marketed for patients? It simply wans’t done – it wasn’t dignified – it wasn’t professional.

Long gone are those days. With the conversion from individual private practices to medical groups and hospital associated practices there seems to be as many large, corporate medical practices cropping up as there are banks. And, as the medical practices multiply, so do their marketing efforts to gain clients. It takes a lot of clients to warrant a 25,000 square foot facility. And in the insurance industry the on-going consolidation of retail agencies and the progression of captive and independent direct writing agencies and bank-associated agencies is causing the same proliferation of advertising and marketing in traditional ways and through the internet and social networking.

How have you responded to the changes in advertising and marketing to retain existing clients and gain new clients in Personal Lines, Commercial Lines and in Life and Health?

Having participated in hundreds of agencies annually for over 35 years my guess is that you are still boasting that you get most of your new clients from referrals and you may even still be paying for telephone book advertising (because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”).

Motherhood (mom does everything for us) and home-made Apple Pie are time honored institutions and traditions in our country. However, some mothers aren’t the saints we see them portrayed in media and a diet of mom’s apple pie will make you obese. We can still honor and remember these traditions and have modified them to help mom instead of relying on her and replacing that pie with healthier alternatives that still taste as good.

Similarly, we should be proud of our clients referring others to us and we should definitely be advertising and marketing our brand of professionalism. But as the number of insurance options and choices have multiplied and blossomed, the number of passive referrals have diminished. This isn’t because we are less professional or helpful – it’s because less people can’t find ready choices (good or bad) for their insurance needs and need the help and advice of their friends. so if you want referrals from your clients (who are your greatest fans) you must ask them for referrals.

Similarly, if you actually count the number of clients you gain from the phone book or from other traditional sources of general advertising (i.e. newspaper) you will note that these numbers have diminished radically from previous decades and will continue to diminish. Many phone books have completely disappeared (from lack of use) and our recent elections will speed the death of traditional newspapers as they convert from reporting the news of the day to being shills for a political party. But the cultural changes that diminish previously effective advertising and marketing doesn’t mean that you should stop marketing – it means that you should convert to the use of marketing that is geared for 21st Century individuals and businesses instead of those of the 20th Century.

ACTIVE REFERRALS

Every client you have could be a conduit for five or ten other clients. But you must ask them some very sensitive questions and react to their answers accordingly.

“Are We Doing A Good Job For You?” – Isn’t that a critical issue that defines whether you or anyone else would refer a friend to a trusted professional?

If your agency simply processes policies and tells the client to call the carrier if he has a claim, why would you expect him to refer you to friends who have insurance problems or to friends for whom he would like to favor them with your services?

What if your agency actually analyzed your clients’ needs and provided them with advice (beyond the delivery of standard insurance policies) that would help protect their assets (human and financial)? What if you stood behind your client to assure them that any claim or difficulty was properly addressed by the carrier that you chose to place the client’s risks? What if you actually formed and continued a personal relationship with your clients based on trust and on-going efforts?

Would these conditions cause your clients to actually refer you or to give you the names of their friends for whom they would be credited with your providing services similar to the services you provide your clients?

Either you have nothing special about your agency that should cause clients to be positive about referring their friends or you are one of those professionals that are treasured by your clients as a helpful asset. If you don’t do any more or less than any other insurance provider, don’t bother to ask for referrals unless you are willing to change your operation to stand out as a different kind of agency. If so, call us (856-779- 2430) and we’d be happy to help you find the points of differentiation that will allow you to achieve a growing number of referrals each year (the true marker of differentiation).

RIFLED TARGET MARKETING

We’ve all heard about the “shotgun” approach to marketing. Billboards and newspaper ads telling viewers and readers to buy insurance from us. Billboards are not just on roadsides – they are also the myriad of websites that basically say the same thing – trust us – we’re professionals!

When people and businesses had few choices of insurance providers these forms of familiarization worked. The prospect would recognize your name (if they saw it often enough) and when they encountered you they already had some familiarity that you were not a ‘fly-by-night’ and had been around for a while.

But the time for touting the obvious is long gone. Since no one claims that they are not trustworthy and not professional, how effective is it for you and everyone else to claim the same strengths? Your prospects already infer that anyone who has to say that they are trustworthy and professional, may or may not be either.

Yet you must familiarize prospects with your agency and the real points of differentiation between you and everyone else. As the insurance industry crawls out from standard insurance for property, casualty, excess, life and health coverages for personal and commercial lines customers and becomes focused on programs for affinity groups the face of marketing is changing with the industry.

56% of all insurance is sold through program business. Carriers have created favored programs for targeted markets (affinity groups) of all sizes. It’s time for agencies to convert their marketing to the way people are buying their insurance – specialized coverages through affinity groups in programs and in general insurance favoring carriers who become specialists at insuring specific target markets.

This means that you identify the target markets that are prevalent in your marketing territory and seek the preferred coverage through standard markets available to you through your carriers or through brand new, cutting edge mediums like www.mondaymorningmarkets.com that puts over 700 programs in your hands to market and write through Program Managers.

In the standard markets the question you should ask is in what specialties does your agency and your carriers have competency. This means you understand the specialty market sufficiently to successfully market to those prospects and you have products through your carriers that are both comprehensive and priced competitively.

In specialty insurance like Monday Morning Markets, the marketing company will provide you with the specialty lines and the program managers who have developed specific coverages that will provide more protection, focused on the need of that business, at prices that are more competitive because the policies don’t contain general coverages that are not needed by the specialty client. Not only will Monday Morning Markets provide you the programs but they will also find you all the prospects in the area for the specialty lines and will actively market the specialty products to the prospects on behalf of your agency. It is a turnkey operation to expand your client base through specialty lines. You can join Monday Morning Markets at no cost to get access to the specialty markets. Adding the active marketing comes at a cost but if you don’t have the staff or expertise to do your own consistent marketing as we have recommended you do for your standard markets (above), here is a way of getting prospect referrals. You still have to meet with and sell the coverage to the prospect – that continues to be your role as an agency.