What Makes A Great Agency?
We, along with the rest of the industry, have participated in, identified and implemented Best Practices to help all agencies define what the “best” agencies are doing in the hope that the other agencies will follow suit and implement the same systems and procedures. And, along with the rest of the industry, we are concerned and bothered when, in spite of knowing the Best Practices, the rest of the industry simply chooses to pursue their existing course and fails to become BP agencies themselves.
As many readers already know, we at Agency Consulting Group, Inc. are direct consultants to insurance agencies. We have been with agencies every week for twenty-six years, long enough to observe thousands of agencies, large and small, successful and unsuccessful, those still striving and those who have pretty much given up hope. When we cleared out detailed systems and procedures, planning and implementation, active sales programs and incentive compensation programs, we found a simple way of identifying those agencies who are (or will be) successful from the thousands of agencies who read treatises, attend seminars, (and hire consultants) but will never achieve the success for which they strive.
The simple answer to whether your agency (or any that you see) is or will be successful is found in two words: ATTITUDE and ACTION.
There are thousands of agents in the U.S. whose owners feel that the world (def. the clients, the competitors, the carriers, the regulators, and, sometimes God through the weather) are colluding against the best interest of the agent. They think that good years are flukes and has nothing to do with their business practices. They think that good years are a brief respite between disasters. They wryly shake their heads when carriers change compensation schedules or underwriting and say, “I knew it was only a matter of time before this happened.” They are perfect examples of ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’.’ These agents are surprised when they do well and expect the uphill battle every year.
On the other hand, there are a group of agency owners who actually believe that they are already successful, whether their business results reflect it yet, or not. They know the right things to do and pursue them diligently. They face every challenge and roadblock for what they really are, obstructions in the road to success, to be negotiated and removed in the most proficient manner possible in order to regain the path to certain success. Some of those roadblocks are transitory and just require immediate action in a different direction to remove them. Others are long-term and more difficult (usually relating to personnel issues) that must still be resolved before true success can be achieved.
These agents have accomplished the most difficult and challenging issue facing business owners, regardless of industry, learning what must be done to succeed and adopting the success ATTITUDE that live with them throughout their entire careers.
We encounter agencies growing at double-digit rates with double-digit profitability and owners in their 50’s, 60’s and older who have this attitude. Their attitudes radiate down their organizations and they tend to raise generations of younger owners who grow up with the same attitude. When we arrive in their agencies to implement advanced marketing, sales, compensation or organizational recommendations, they already know that they will work and will continue their success trail. All it requires is their education, understanding and implementation. We also encounter agencies with younger owners with the winning attitude but organizations that they have purchased or inherited whose operation and personnel are far from the positive attitude of the owner. These organizations must be changed from the inside-out, over years, in order to achieve the overall agency attitude that matches those of the owners.
We also visit many agencies who have the right attitude, but can’t seem to break through to the growth and profit expected from its owners. Whether the owners, themselves, can’t implement the recommendations that will move the agency forward or the staff has not yet absorbed the positive attitude that is required to make substantive changes in agency operations, these agencies flounder for years, trying one program after another, before breaking through the success barrier and achieving the potential that we noted at the outset of our relationship.
Then there are the young agents who doggedly pursue the success strategies that they know will make them the kind of organizations that they fully expect to become. Their key to success is the definitive communication to their staff that the changes that are being implemented are real and serious, that they are not temporary tests that can be discarded if the results don’t match expectations. The owners assure the staff that change is necessary and permanent – they will never go back to the ways that hadn’t worked in the past. If the staff can’t support the changes, the agent will assist them in relocating their careers in order to avoid any harm to the employee – but the course of the agency will be set by the owner, not by reluctant employees comfortable in the ways they have always done business.
These are the agencies that consultants strive to reach. We already know the success formulas for insurance agencies –they are not mysterious and secret. All it takes is the right attitude and action supporting the attitude to make any agency operated exactly the way the owners would like them to operate. The clients love a professional, pro-active agency. The carriers enjoy relationships with aggressive, growth-oriented, profitable agencies. The employees of these agencies find fulfilling careers and internally perpetuate their agencies for generations.
A chicken and a pig walked down a street one sunny morning. As they passed a restaurant, the chicken noted the sign in the window, “Ham and Eggs $2.99”. He suggested to the pig that they go in and have breakfast. The pig declined in the most stringent terms. “I’m not going in there,” he exclaimed, “To you, it’s a contribution. To me it’s a total commitment.”
We’re not looking for agents who have the funding to “contribute” to changes to their agencies without the “commitment” to pursue the actions necessary to make the changes happen. Spending money doesn’t make change happen. Commitment by owners make things happen. Hopefully, this article will reach many agents who have the attitude and simply haven’t “committed” to the actions needed to bring their agencies into the 21st Century.