THE “HOW TO’S” OF CHANGE – Article #2 – follow up from article entitled “FOUR CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR LEADERS”

Have you ever wondered how agents who are no smarter or better connected than you can form relationships with large, “marquis” accounts in your area that seem to last forever?

A Marquis Account are the high-profile accounts that may be large accounts from a premium or revenue size, but may also be smaller accounts that are the Centers of Influence in the area. These accounts, normally not more than a handful in any territory, provide an important return in both income and relationships for the agents who insure them.

But how did these accounts come to these agents in the first place? And how do these agents keep control of these accounts since every “marquis” account is a target for every competitor in the area?

Many people believe that these accounts are all “tied” to the agency principal, a form of “cronyism” stemming from personal relationships. Historically that may have been true. But as these marquis accounts become larger and more influential they are enticed by competitor agencies with expertise and services that their cronies have difficulty providing.

Eventually, knowledge and products and services trumps cronyism and the marquis account moves on. But if you want to be the agency that benefits from the maturity of those marquis accounts in your area you must somehow form a relationship with the key decision-makers within those accounts. Here’s how to do it.

First, identify the marquis accounts in your area. These are accounts that may be solidly under the control of a national, regional or local insurance provider. That doesn’t matter in the long run. What matters is whether they are being properly insured and properly serviced. And these are two very different issues. Even if the insurance coverage is proper and correct for the client, if the agent disregards the relationship, the client becomes exposed. Even if the relationship is a tight, close and personal one, if the insurance program has holes in it, the client also becomes exposed. However you have no potential of identifying either circumstance unless you, yourself, form a close enough relationship with the prospect that he will permit you to analyze their insurance program.

The APM (Asset Protection Model) of relationship selling is built upon the creation and building of close, personal relationships with the agency’s prospects. In normal agency prospects this is done by persistent personal visits, each of which carries a goal of providing value before the sale and becoming a trusted advisor to the prospect. Most marquis accounts require a different approach because the pre-existing personal relationship or the size of the account will make frequent visits for relationship building unprofitable. There will be too many layers of gatekeepers in most marquis accounts and it would take too long to penetrate the account from the bottom-up.

The way to penetrate marquis accounts is from the top-down and requires a level of intelligence gathering that most agents simply don’t have the patience to do. In our internet-based society, there is little information about a business entity that can’t be researched. Once the marquis accounts in your area are identified (an easy task because everyone inherently “knows” the important accounts centers of influence in the local area) you quickly eliminate the businesses that are owned remotely. They are probably out of your reach. But they are always locally owned businesses and centers of influence that could be available to you if you were friends with them. Research the centers of influence and decision-makers in each of these entities.

So, obviously, the key is putting yourself into the position that would allow you to meet or become more familiar with the decision-makers of the marquis accounts in the area. This is neither easy nor quick to do. It requires patience and attention to a process, but it can be done.

The research that you do is less on the business than it is on the decision-makers. Your goal is to find out their interests, civic, cultural, and social and put yourself into the position that you will be in close contact with them through the same activities that interest them. But, like fishing for the elusive ‘big one’ your best interest will be served by becoming better acquainted with the decision-maker and never bringing up the topic of insurance. Talk about the converging points of interests that bring you together. The best fishermen never try to drop bait in front of their intended target. They allow the target to come to the bait instead. If you can ‘make friends’ and become familiar with the decision-maker you can be certain that he will know what you do. By not charging forward and talking about insurance and making the common points of interest your topics of conversation you will allow him to bring the point of your business to the conversation in his own time.

As I pointed out a few paragraphs ago, most agents will not have the fortitude to pursue this course of prospecting. But the ones that do find themselves in the unusual position of counselling a center of influence about his insurance program without the threat to his existing insurance provider. The method normal to the APM is to analyze risk, not quote insurance. So if you get into the position of counselling the prospect about his insurance program, do so by offering to analyze his current program with NO issue about taking over the account. If you have formed a relationship with the prospect, it must be genuine and your concern will be only that his is properly protected. If you find that his coverage is sound, tell him that – and offer to review his renewal simply as a friend and counsellor. If you find holes in his protection, tell him what needs to be done to shore up the program – and ask him why his current provider didn’t find the same issues as you. Eventually, the prospect will understand that you are providing more value to him than his current provider and the relationship will mature in the direction that you had hoped it would.

The Asset Protection Model is pure. It asks you to form a relationship with the prospect before the sale, rather than after it. It converts your natural likability into your best asset. It forms a trust relationship that truly makes you more concerned over the client’s asset protection program than just about selling insurance. The result is that, once the prospects realize how different you are from the price-pushers, they will flock to you and refer you to others. However, the positions occupied by most marquis accounts require you to penetrate them differently than the frequent visits you make to your other prospects. You can be assured if you follow this advice that most other agents will NOT be your competition. They will simply not be willing to spend the time to penetrate the most important accounts in your area. If you ARE willing to devote the time to form relationships with the key centers of influence in your area you will find some interesting side effects. First, you will become more civically, religiously, socially and politically active. These are good things because it will give back to the community for the many bounties that the community gives to you. These actions will bring you into a more rounded life than most of your peers. We see so many agents whose lives revolve around their business and a very limited social life. When they retire, they wither on the vine. You will become a much more “rounded” individual. Finally, you will be the target of envy of many of your fellow agents because you have become so “lucky” to get these types of accounts. Little will they know that your “luck” stems from diligence and hard work.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”