ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

Agency Websites and Customer Communications As A Marketing Tool

Through the 1990’s and into the 21st Century, agency websites have gained popularity. However, twenty years ago having an agency website was considered ‘cutting edge’ technology – regardless of the fact that it was probably a mini-billboard simply identifying the agency, hours of operation and the location.

By the end of the 1990’s agencies with plenty of cash were paying website designers for similar (but multi-page) billboard website that provided pictures and bios of employees (great for solicitation by competitors and headhunters), lists of services provided and logos of all insurance companies (again, great for competitors seeking market intelligence). Those sites were static and needed developer intervention to change. Once a person visited the website for the first time, there was little need to visit again.

The trade press (and internet marketers) convinced insurance agents that everyone MUST have a website. So millions of dollars were spent by thousands of insurance agencies to get some form of website on line to make sure that anyone searching for information about the agency was able to find the information that they sought.

By the turn of the century, internet marketers were actively soliciting agencies to cash in on all of those insurance leads that were supposed to be generated by insurance-hungry consumers who would prefer to search on-line for insurance products. Unfortunately, while the direct writers were providing on-line access based on billions of dollars of advertising, the internet marketers were trying to convince agents to pay them for internet searchers.

We have since realized that 99% of internet searchers are either ‘window shoppers’ or true ‘price shoppers’. These web surfers do not form loyalties and buy the lowest priced product available (if buy at all). We have spent many years convincing agents that there is no Magic Pill that will convert their agencies from a personalized insurance responder to a mass marketer. The direct writers can and do spend billions of dollars on radio, television, print and billboard advertising to draw people to their telephone numbers and internet presence to absorb that low-cost, no service marketplace.

We were enticed to the ‘Dark Side’. Marketing letters and website quoting were supposed to be the new means of generating new clients on behalf of independent agencies. We forgot the basic means by which independent agencies have grown and prospered for 200 years.

LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR ON THIS POINT – THE STRENGTH OF THE INDEPENDENT AGENT IS IN HIS ABILITY TO MAKE CLOSE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH PROSPECTS AND CLIENTS. IF YOU TRY TO ENTER THE SAME PLAYING FIELD AS THE DIRECT WRITERS YOU WILL FLUSH THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS DOWN THE DRAIN. BUT IF YOU USE THE INTERNET AND YOUR WEBSITE PROPERLY THEY CAN BECOME TOOLS TO ENHANCE YOUR RELATIONSHIP BUILDING ACTIVITIES.

In the last decade we have seen sporadic advances in technology that permitted agents to interact with clients. Broadband, unlimited data storage capabilities and high speed connections have permitted agency websites to become portals for clients (with proper security) to inquire to and coordinate their own insurance accounts. Form tools have permitted both standard and simplified applications and surveys to aid clients, prospects and agency staff to automate and speed the process of account management. Some systems have even been developed that integrated agency systems and carrier systems. More recently, e-mail links have been used to connect prospects and clients with web content, audio and even video communications with their agents.

Technology and the internet should be able to provide the following tools to agencies:

1. A means of communicating with clients and prospects very specific to the type of customer and prospect target market,

2. The ability of clients to interact with agencies on-line including live chat and live help and posting requests and inquiries

3. A form of education and information for clients and prospects in whatever medium with which they are most comfortable (print, audio, or video)

4. A medium for marketing that adds to, rather than replaces, personal relationship building between targeted prospects and existing clients and the agency staff.

5. The use of the agency website as a portal to agency information and secure client data and transactions.

In recent years we have seen agency web portals, information sharing capabilities, and several marketing systems that provide agencies marketing material and management. What has been missing is a single coordinating systems tool that brings all of these technologies together to provide advanced agencies with the full automation capabilities that can make their website a REAL tool for marketing, communications and relationship management with both prospects and clients.

Next month we will introduce you to an advanced program that may finally provide most of the tools that an agency needs in one package. Developed by George Nordhaus, a legendary marketer in the insurance agency industry, AgenciesOnline.Biz addresses marketing (including an impressive 1000 qualified leads in the agency’s target markets), internal and external communications, advanced audio and video capabilities and seamless coordination with the prevalent agency management systems in the industry. Please look for the March, 2009 PIPELINE for much more information about AO.