The job of a producer in an agency is to bring opportunities in the door and to sell them insurance. For many years, a producer was also required to CREATE the opportunities, to “shake the trees” to get prospects, and even to market the lines to the carriers. No wonder many producers feel that the accounts belong to them, rather than to the agency. It has been difficult to justify ownership based only on the fact that the agency holds the company contract and has provided the producer an office. After all, other agencies will offer both of these benefits for a producer to leave you.
A producer comes to an agency with expectations of success – and expectations of support. An agency hires a producer in expectation that sufficient business will be brought to the agency to support that producer’s efforts and provide additional profit to the agency. The best way to use a producer to that end is to help the producer succeed, not just to support him until you determine whether he will pay for himself or not.
To that end, the most intelligent marketing agencies create, implement and manage marketing programs on behalf of its producers. The agency assumes the responsibility for both creating opportunities through creative target marketing with its carriers and ‘shaking the trees’, identifying the prospects for the product and the agency and contacting them effectively enough and frequently enough to permit the producers to bring those opportunities to the door.
The skill of a good insurance producer is to have sufficient knowledge to identify the coverage needs, risk factors and current insurance gaps in a prospect account. The talent of a good producer is to have a drive and personality that permits him to sell the prospect on using the agency for his insurance needs.
Prospecting requires an additional ability — the ability to accept substantial rejection. Most producers must accept occasional rejection by prospects at face-to-face sales calls, but they do not welcome the frequent rejection encountered in telephone prospecting. Many producers refuse to perform this activity because of the impersonal (and extremely difficult) telephone sales techniques needed to close on the phone. Closing in the case of telemarketing is to achieve an expiration date or an appointment. That job must be done by someone who has a personality secure enough to know that the rejection is of the concept of insurance, not of them personally. Producers are notorious for taking rejection to heart. Unfortunately, the producer is more knowledgeable than any telemarketer could be. A telemarketer whose job entails calling prospects, identifying expiration dates and setting appointments often fail to qualify prospects sufficiently, resulting in wasted visits by producers who quickly realize that they will never write the account in question. The best person to contact a prospect by phone, therefore, continues to be the producer who will visit and sell to that client. However, the phone call need not be a cold call. The process of a long-term marketing plan (see below), familiarizes the prospects with the agency over and over again until the producer contact is simply one part of a multi-contact program for each prospect. The phone call is much easier when the prospect recognizes your name.
We urge every agency to spend time with their carriers to identify the lines and target markets in which the company has already had substantial success. Do not be attracted to carrier programs that are new without a history of success. Too many of these programs fizzle because, while the carrier’s home office would like to write this type of business, they do not have realistic pricing, underwriting guidelines, or market-knowledgeable underwriters. The ‘tried-and-true’ products that sell well for the carrier are the ones that you would like to target.
Once the agency targets are identified, the agency must take responsibility for locating the market participants in the geographic area. Many companies will assist with prospect lists. However, if you are in a metropolitan area, many list brokers (your commercial printer can probably direct you to some) can provide a list by SIC code. Software is available that will put that information into your computer at a very reasonable cost. Finally, those of you who have access to the Internet can generate more marketing and demographic detail than ever – for free. The point is to list all prospects for the target markets in the geographic area that you service. Cull the list for those prospects that you already write, that you wouldn’t want to write, or that you feel you are not capable of writing.
Finally, the agency (with the producer) should design a long-term marketing program. We have found that a three year program with no less than four contacts per year (five is better), mixing letters followed by phone calls from the producer, with newsletters, Bulletins and Alerts. Bulletins and Alerts are agency generated documents that include articles about the agency (in the Bulletins) and specific risk factors and key coverage elements about the particular target market to whom you are mailing. Call Agency Consulting Group, Inc. for more information about the construction of marketing programs.
With these mechanisms in place your producers will have local prospects identified for them in target markets that are favorable for the agency’s carriers. The agency will “soften up” the prospects through a constant barrage of information about the agency, the carrier selected for the product and issues regarding their particular risk factors. The telephone calls by the producer (following closely after each marketing effort) will no longer be the “cold call” that the producers have learned to avoid. The producer will call and visit the prospect two or three times each year for three years with the purpose of building a relationship. The result of that relationship will be the opportunity to assume the prospects insurance program. Of course the rates will have to be competitive. But once you are friends and a trust relationship has been built, price is not the only consideration.
This process will accomplish the goal of removing all roadblocks to sales for the producer. If the producer fails to sell, it is because of ineffective sales techniques, not because of insufficient prospects, contacts, products, price or agency support.