When you hear agents speaking about how tough it is to grow in the soft market, do you commiserate with them, perhaps with a nod of understanding? When you hear your sales staff speaking about how tough it is to make sales in the soft market, how do you feel then? As an owner, you are keenly aware of the industry wide impact of the soft market, yet you want and need to see performance from your production staff in order to continue to make the agency grow. While you may hope that your top producer lures the big prospect to the agency, there are ways to boost the number of “everyday” clients. The answer you are looking for is a MARKETING PLAN.
Almost every agent I have says they have a marketing plan, and many say that it just isn’t working. After some discussion, we mutually determine that the agency really doesn’t have a marketing plan, and that there is no way to tell what works and what doesn’t except that the bottom line isn’t growing. So there needs to a definition:
Marketing Plan – A pre-determined and measurable strategy integrating a number of independent actions resulting in the collection of prospects and conversion to customers
Now be honest, does your agency have a marketing plan? This is the overall strategy to drive in prospects and convert them into customers. And it is an outbound set of actions, not the passive action of waiting for the phone to ring or hoping for a referral. With a properly executed marketing plan, the phone will ring with directed inquiries for your products. And unless you ask for referrals, this is not marketing, it is just lucky.
Many agents ask me for a marketing checklist, and because every agency is different, writing commercial lines, personal lines, specialty lines, high risk, life and health, wholesale, brokering, with a large staff, one-man shops, etc., etc., that there is no simple checklist that would suffice. So consider this a series of guidelines that will help your agency establish a marketing plan or sharpen the plan you have in place.
First and foremost, determine a goal. Yes, before you lift a finger to “market” insurance and before you spend a dime on an ad, figure out a realistic goal to achieve. This may be a number of new policies or new customers; it might be measured in commission or premium dollars. But be honest with yourself – if you haven’t increased in any measurable area in the past, it is not realistic to think that you will grow by 10% either.
Next, determine what you have already been doing to get your name out there. Most agencies have a Yellow Pages ad, many have websites, some have newsletters, several use direct marketing, there are agencies with billboards, signs in front of the agency, sponsor a little league team, and so on. After you have your list, be it a long list or a very short list, categorize each method into one of three categories: SALES/ACTION, AGENCY INFORMATION, and COMMUNITY RELATIONS. Each of these categories is an important part of the overall marketing plan, but it may be necessary to shift some of the agency’s spending in order to create a budget that yields the greatest return.
Budgeting expenses for marketing is a critical component of a marketing plan. There are going to be expenses incurred in promoting your agency and products, and you must determine how much money you are willing to spend annually. Later, you will determine if the money spent in each contact method is justified. This is another time when you must be honest with yourself. Two adages come to mind:
“Nothing is Free!” “You get what you pay for!”
Plan to spend the proper amount of money based on several quotes, and don’t always jump at the least expensive one. Look for QUALITY!
In order to measure the success of each marketing method, you need to determine which devices are driving your prospects in the door – or to the phones as the case may be. The easiest way to do this is to ask a simple question to people who are new to the agency, “How did you hear about us?” There are many more sophisticated ways to measure response, from coded mailers to multiple phone numbers to website analytics. But a simple question is the first method that can be launched and it costs nothing! Keep a spreadsheet or some other grid to measure where responses are coming from, and over the course of time, you’ll see if the Yellow Pages ad is worth the money or if the billboard on the interstate is truly effective.
Here are some basics that every agency should consider.
Develop a website. The internet fad seems to be catching on! If your agency doesn’t have an online presence yet, it’s time to get an agency website. The initial start-up costs are reasonable, and the annual maintenance is negligible. Agency Consulting Group can help your agency develop a website that is informational and interactive for your prospects and customers. Call us at (800) 779-2430 if you would like additional information.
Contact, Contact, Contact. A single contact with a person is not enough to influence their decision to consider a change in their insurance. An effective marketing plan has a minimum of three contacts, and our clients regularly execute multiple-contact, multi-year plans for each qualified prospect. Contacts should be made using several media sources and should include some personal contact in best case scenarios.
Track contacts and responses. Whether you use your existing automation system tools, purchase a stand-alone CRM (customer relationship management) tool, or just use a spreadsheet, tract every outbound contact to each prospect – AND YOUR CUSTOMERS! Then keep associated records of inbound contacts from new prospects, existing prospects and your current clients. This helps to manage marketing messages and also determines when you
Track Marketing Methods. How many responses are you getting each month from that billboard? Is the big Yellow Pages ad worth the money, or would a listing suffice? Must the agency sponsor the baseball, football, soccer and hockey clubs, or would a rotation of community funds be in order? Measuring the rate of return from each method will SAVE your agency money. If something is not working, track it monthly and make decisions to change quarterly or semi-annually. This is especially true in print advertising (magazines, trade publications, etc.).
Ask for referrals! If a customer says, “So-and-so referred me and I’ve heard good things about your agency,” send So-and-so a gift basket. But in general, the best referrals are requested, and the agency should make an effort to contact that referral to introduce the agency. Agency Consulting Group has a referral marketing plan that is effective and measurably returns a positive result from approximately 1 out of every 3 referrals. And we offer a tracking tool that helps the agency see who the centers-of-influence are by measuring revenues from referrals. Visit our website, www.agencyconsulting.com for more information.
Disqualify prospects that won’t pan out, are taking advantage of your agency’s good-will (free quotes) or are taking more time than can be earned in commissions. Concentrating marketing efforts on viable prospects that you want to be your customer will offer the most efficient use of resources and save you money in the long run. Not every person on the street is a prospect. Be selective in your marketing and sales efforts!
INVOLVE YOUR CARRIERS!!! The companies you already work with would be thrilled to lend a hand with your agency’s overall marketing plan. Getting the company on board includes integrating the right people from the start, and that is generally someone higher up on the food chain than the underwriter you deal with on a daily basis. The result is that your agency may be positioned to receive a competitive edge from the carrier!
Given the range of agencies we have the opportunity to work with every year, we know that marketing programs are as individual and customized as ever. There are geographic considerations, personnel selections, and product specifications that can benefit your agency’s marketing efforts. To discuss, plan or implement an effective marketing plan for your agency, please call (800) 779-2430 and ask to speak with Al or David.