ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

Programming Your Marketing Efforts

We have all heard the buzz words -- Target Marketing, Niche Marketing and Telemarketing. Everyone is cajoled to take part in one or more of these miraculous answers to flagging sales.

Unfortunately, we are assured by a higher authority that miracles are reserved for needs greater than lagging sales efforts. The now infamous quote, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" certainly applies here as well. From what we've heard from our clients, throwing money at a marketing consultant or a telemarketing firm in the expectation of a steady flow of leads (all qualified, of course) will only bolster the sales revenues of the consultants and telemarketing firms.

So is there an answer to the nearly invisible sales programs in most independent agencies? Yes, there is. And that answer is the re-application of basic, common sense sales principles that made the independent agency system work in the first place.

1. Your best source of leads resides in your own file cabinets.

2. Sell what you know.

3. If you don't already know your prospects (and vice versa) - GET TO KNOW THEM AND GET THEM TO KNOW YOU. Familiarity breeds sales.

4. Build relationships, not just prospect data bases.

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1. Your best source of leads resides in your own file cabinets.

Most agents already know this instinctively. We spend too much time waiting for the referrals that we've grown to depend upon for new business. However, the referrals that came easily to our fathers are drying up because of the intense competition from our own ranks and from non-traditional sources. Insurance (like banking and the legal profession) in our parents' time was a 'gentlemen's profession. It was considered verging on unethical to pro-actively solicit business. Your knowledge and reputation were supposed to cause referrals of business from your clients. And that worked - until State Farm and Allstate started advertising their products. Now the knowledgable, gentleman insurance agent who provides great service and products at fair prices finds himself (or herself) losing business to aggressive sales efforts and pure price competition. Of course we become disenchanted and turn cynical! The clients we've helped so much leave us because someone else (who knows much less about the business than we) have solicited them with the only tool they have -- price.

Well, those among us who understand that sales is not a price issue alone must begin to utilize our skills, knowledge, and talent to penetrate the natural referrals that exist passivly in our client base.

How?

First, redevelop your sales skills. Take courses or have someone like Agency Consulting Group, Inc. come in to teach your producers how to sell again.

Second, make a condition of new or renewal producer compensation for them to ask the customer for one referral (minimum) each year. That's right! You should be compensating your producers for two functions, selling the account and getting the account to refer them to at least one other prospect each year. After all, everyone in business has customers, suppliers, friendly competitors and others who could use the quality of service and product that you provide. Stealing the biblical quote, "ASK AND THOU SHALL RECEIVE." Ask first if you can use the customer as a reference for others who may purchase coverage from you. Once the customer says yes (why would anyone react negatively to that complement?) then ask him to tell you the names of other commercial accounts that could use excellent insurance coverage and exemplary service at a fair price?

2. Sell what you know

Who in their right mind would solicit Mobil Oil Corporation if the only thing they know about oil is where it goes in the car? Yet thousands of us locate prospects through shotgun marketing efforts in fields about which we know next to nothing. We then scamper to the underwriter for a quick lesson in risk management for that type of business and off we go to solicit the account for quoting. If the prospect even lets you in the door, it's to get alternative quotes to their incumbent agent (who probably knows both the account and the industry). Do we ever succeed in writing an account this way? Sure! We sell these account just frequently enough to keep us tilting at those windmills the other 98% of the time (when we have virtually no chance). Tilting at windmills killed Don Quixote. It is doing the same to thousands of agents, too.

Each of us builds a base of knowledge during our careers. Those agents in the business for more than ten years already have a good knowledge of certain types of businesses. Those are the prospects that you should be pursuing (as long as you have the markets to do so). Don't follow the markets current "hot buttons" if you do not know the industries. A half hour course by a company marketing representative (who also doesn't know the target business) won't suffice to compete against specialists who concentrate on those types of accounts. If you don't have the markets to sell the industries that you know, take the time to learn the industries in your Marketplace. Your Marketplace is defined as the marketing area in which you solicit business. If it is filled with retailers and service businesses, don't learn manufacturing or farm business -- there's no call for them in the area in which you sell insurance (even if the company is hot on those types of accounts this year). There are various sources to learn just about anything you want to know about a business including the public library, local colleges, and on-line services. Selling what you know inherently increases your hit rate.

3. If you don't already know your prospects (and vice versa) - GET TO KNOW THEM AND GET THEM TO KNOW YOU. Familiarity breeds sales.

Once you know which prospect type you are going to solicit, it is extemely important to identify every one of them in your marketing territory. Here is where list brokers and marketing consultants can earn their keep. Whether from the phone book or from a list broker, identify (by name) every prospect in the market segment you are targeting and set about to learn all you can about them. Market research firms have access to a wealth of knowledge about most businesses. But if they are out of your pocketbook's range, a trip to the library can replace the cost of market research with the expenditure of your time to gather similar information. The least information you want includes the business name, history, ownership, size (sales or even number of employees) of each firm in the target market.

Once you know who your prospects are and as much about them as you can, you must get the prospects to know as much about you as you do about them.

The best way we have seen to accomplish this is the basic, five step marketing program.

A. Create a brochure identifying you as a specialist in insuring his type of business. The accompanying letter should act to introduce you and the agency including the kudos and strengths that will start the prospect thinking of you as the expert insurance agent for his type of business. Also create a series of four follow-up mailers in the form of newsletters, follow-up letters, and "Need to Know" insurance issues for the target market. The entire five part marketing program should be created before the first letter is sent.

B. Send a sufficient number of 1st mailings each week that you will have time to follow up by telephone during the next week. Your questions are, 1) did you receive our letter?, and 2) is there any way we can help you now? If not, when does the prospects insurance coverage renew (to add to your data base)?

C. Schedule the letters in a logical sequence 10-12 weeks apart in order to keep a regular contact schedule with your prospects. You may very well be sending letters number two or three to some prospects before you have sent letter one to some of your prospect list. That's o.k. You can, in fact, only manage as many prospects as you can make and whith whom you can keep contact.

4. Build relationships, not just prospect data bases.

Manage your five step program in such a way that you never lose track of a prospect until you have sold the account or until you have determined that the prospect is no longer worth pursuing. The greatest fault we've seen in marketing plans is that the agent resigns from the program if the prospect doesn't react positively at the first contact.

No one enjoys rejection. But most of the time the rejection we experience is only in our minds. The prospect is still neutral at worst. We haven't given him time to get to know us and to trust us. The conduct of the five step program, managed to keep the contacts constant, will give the producer and the prospect sufficient familiarity to build a trust relationship without which sales are difficult, at best.