ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

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

PARTNERSHIP MARKETING

Partnership Marketing is the joining of two diverse organizations with a client base that can use the services and products of both. In its broadest terms the concept can apply to almost any two businesses that serve the same type of client base. But in reality Partnership Marketing can be very beneficial and profitable, but only to synergistic product or service providers.

WHY MOST FAIL

Partnership Marketing is neither new nor novel. Gas stations and convenience stores are a perfect example. Before, after or while the gas is pumping, we are prone to run into the convenience store for a cup of coffee or some other convenience food. But productive partnership marketing has been evasive and most attempts end in frustration and mutual separations. The reason that many joint or partnership marketing has not yielded the desired success is the lack of synergy between the products/services offered by the partners. For instance, most people who buy tires have cars and, therefore, need auto insurance. However, there doesn’t seem to be enough commonality between the local Firestone dealer and an insurance agency for cross-marketing to make sense to the tire customers (or to the insurance customers). How would you feel if you received solicitations for banking services simply because you were a customer of a grocery store? After all, most people who shop at grocery stores require and use sources of money! Most people would prefer to base their banking relationship on something more substantial than where they buy peas and carrots. Although many grocery stores now have banking branches in them, those branches are the convenience factor for already established relationships. The convenience of banking at your grocery rarely trumps better rates and products at other banking institutions. And it takes a unique customer to want to have their taxes done at their local Walmart. Yes, there are tax offices at ‘big box’ stores, but they have never been as busy as the tax services stand-alone stores. So we see Service Centers for other forms of customer service companies placing themselves in (renting) grocery and ‘big box’ stores, but they are not examples of Partnership Marketing.

Similarly, most insurance customers who have reached beyond the ‘lowest price’ syndrome for their insurance providers are more interested in the qualifications and quality of the vendor than by the casual relationship between the partners.

SYNERGY – THE WAY MARKETING PARTNERSHIPS CAN WORK

But, where there is SYNERGY between the products and services of a partner and insurance, the potential for cross-selling and building customer loyalty to both entities is great. In all the transactions we have seen in well over 35+ years of agency consulting we have found that the commonality of client relationships of successful versus unsuccessful relationships is the reason for the partnership. If the reasons of each partner is primarily serving client needs, customer-centric (always doing what is best for the customer) relationships and building loyalty through multi-dimensional product and service provision, the partnership has a good chance of succeeding (if both sides have equal requirements and equal opportunity for business development). If the reason for the partnership is simple revenue generation its chances of success diminish considerably.

So it’s the REASONS for the partnership and equality of requirements and benefits to both parties that will make the relationship successful from both the customers’ and the partners’ standpoints.

PITFALLS TO AVOID

1. Doing it for the money – Obviously business partnerships are meant to provide some additional revenue and profit to each party. This means that if the partnership will only enrich one or the other partner in the optimum stage, the relationship is doomed. We’ve also noted that in dozens upon dozens of such partnerships with insurance agents across many industries and disciplines, if profit is the only motivator (or the primary motivator) failure is much more likely than long-term success. In reality, the potential profit derived from selling some insurance policies to diverse but common clients will not derive serious enough income to most other industries to warrant or justify the work of the partnership. Banks, as an example, measure their revenue projections in the millions of dollars of profit and earnings (after tax). If money is the motivator, an insurance relationship will simply not drive enough income to justify the work. And, if the partner business has low enough margins that a few thousand or a few tens of thousands of dollars will be attractive to them, the potential for serious enough returns to the agency diminishes, as well.

However, Partnership Marketing is an excellent way to maximize customer retention of both entities and could enhance the revenue per customer in each partner business through effective cross-sell and benefit partnerships.

2. Partnership Marketing WILL NOT WORK if the cross selling is, in any way, passive. Once the customers of both entities are informed of the partnership they will either be mildly interested, curious, or not care. An on-going cross-selling program in which the primary relationship manager introduces the clients to the new partner and products or services will yield the most immediate and the most long-term results.

3. Cross Selling must be cooperative and bi-lateral. A unilateral marketing program may yield one partner new clients and the other partner a source of revenue, but it is NOT Partnership Marketing. In order to be in a true Partnership Marketing program, both partners must enjoy equal opportunities to generate new customers. That is the true synergy that makes partnerships successful. A new client to an insurance agency may only yield a few hundred dollars of new commission while it may yield thousands of dollars of revenue to a partner. However, that is because of the scale of revenues generated by each. If you provide as many new customers to your partner as they do to you the partnership will be successful in the long term.

4. Management of insurance by non-insurance professionals – We see this in acquisitions of agencies by non-insurance entities more than in partnerships. The manager doesn’t have to already be an insurance professional. However, if from another discipline, the manager must convert to full time agency management to become effective. So, financial managers (from banks) or non-financial operations managers who simply add the insurance operation to their managed disciplines generally get frustrated when the agency doesn’t operate the way he expects because the employees understand the agency operations and procedures and systems while he does not.

5. Lack of marketing clarity at the outset of the relationship – A marketing partnership MUST carry specific goals as well as procedures for seeding (or cross-seeding) clients from the insurance to and from the non-insurance partners. “Let’s do it and see how it works” is a recipe for failure.

6. Imbalanced work effort, responsibility, or income potential – When one partner has all the responsibility and the other has none -- or when one partner has all the benefit and the other only acts as a business source for some financial return the partnership will probably fail. Conversely we have seen successful marketing partnerships when both have a similar work effort and both see tangible results beyond dollars (i.e. new customers, customer retention, customer satisfaction).

Synergistic Partnership Potentials

Real Estate - The best historical example of such synergy is real estate or mortgage companies and insurance. Customers who purchase homes or other properties commonly must have insurance to close the transaction. If they have a strong relationship with an agent partner, they will likely coordinate their insurance needs with their current advisor. However, if they have no such relationship or are not insurance savvy, the ability to have a partner insurance agent to the real estate agent available to shop their insurance and present them with a policy at closing is a great advantage to an easy transaction. Real estate/insurance partnerships have existed for well over 100 years and should be considered as a viable opportunity to serve the customer and provide additional business for both entities.

Banks – Included in this category are banks, savings & loans and credit unions. The synergy between banking and insurance is PROTECTION OF ASSETS. Both institutions have asset protection as one of their primary tenets. But many financial institutions, like many insurance agencies use all the right jargon but act only toward the profit margins. If relationship building is truly of interest to BOTH the bank and to the insurance entity this synergy can work well. The key is to maximize retention of customers for the ban and the insurance agency by providing sufficient number and types of services and products from both that movement away from either will be difficult unless reasons well beyond price exist for the departure.

Banks will be (and have been) generally disappointed if their reason is simply to generate an additional revenue base. The ROI expectations of financial institutions are difficult to meet within the realm of insurance agencies. And net revenues (after expenses) of insurance operations aren’t even a ‘blip on the radar’ for most financial institutions) without a solid commitment to active marketing of insurance over a long period (3-5 years) to all bank customers supported by all other bank operations. Most banks have management already stretched by the requirements for product and service revenue sources in primary bank products. They may not be as excited as the bank board with the synergy of insurance and banking since it puts the responsibility for another product or service into their already busy jobs. Those banks that believe in the Customer-Centric philosophy and actually want to protect the assets of their clients will still find a relationship with an agency attractive to have a team of professional specialists available to handle the banks customers’ insurance needs instead of losing control of those functions to outsiders who may not be as protective of the customer’s assets as they are desirous of generating revenues.

The Best (and Worst) Ways to Partner

If an agency is partnering with another entity for the right reason -- to provide insurance services to that entity’s clients and (hopefully) the product or service of the partner to all agency clients, a team of agency staff and partner staff should be created. The goal of the Team is to take the vision of the principals for the partnership, a Mission Statement, and convert it to short term objectives and action plans for the execution of the partnership. The objectives must define annual goals the results of which would accomplish the Mission of the partnership. Both partners will have goals for their own business generation from their partners customer base or referrals and those goals will be tracked and evaluated quarterly for the first few years and annually thereafter to show the owners of each partner that the benefits are on-going and equal to both.

Too often we have seen the dissolution of partnerships through active decisions or through passive negligence because, after the initial work effort, each partner’s efforts move to more productive directions. No goals were set. No expectations were defined. No team was established. No metrics were created. Eventually, benign neglect set in and the partnerships fell into ruin. And the strange thing is that the Partnership Marketing efforts were in the same industries in which others were quite successful over the long run.

Conclusion

The key to success in Partnership Marketing is in the goal-setting and the commitment and metrics that are implemented as a part of the marketing. If you set goals and manage them AND if the partnership is synergistic with both parties benefitting (relatively) equally you maximize your chances of success.