Tag Archives: agents

Digital Is the Assistant We Always Wanted

From the 1980s through the early 2000s, many advisers and brokers dreamed of having more help with critical yet time-consuming tasks like proof of insurance and minor claims processing. We mused, “If only I had help with those tasks, I could spend more time focusing on high-touch customer service and sales.”

Today, digital innovations are streamlining much of the way carriers and their representatives conduct and generate business. These innovations are precisely the help we wished for.

So, why do many in our industry resist digital advances like customer self-service and apps?

Digital enables us to create deeper customer relationships

Digital technology is not going to replace us. The tech advances we have access to today are simply encouraging us to reposition our No. 1 asset—our people—to do the high-dollar, deeper-dive work with clients that we only dreamed about years ago.

Our industry is gaining exponential efficiency from the digitization of many of its processes and systems. Greater efficiency in other areas enables advisers to spend more time focusing on high-return activities like conducting annual reviews, offering comprehensive financial advice, handling complex service issues and increasing product sales and density.

Technology enables us to serve our customers more fully. It has created model distribution—an ecosystem of connected offerings from a variety of participating providers that makes it easier to fulfill multiple needs for our customers and provide an integrated user experience.

When we leverage this enhanced distribution model, we build deeper customer relationships, which, in turn, lead to increased product density and customer and adviser retention.

Technology is facilitating the evolution of distribution at all levels

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many carriers’ tech efforts. Unable to serve customers face to face, they found other ways to reach out to prospects and customers. But there is so much more we can do. 

According to a May 2021 report by DAIS, a platform focused on making modern technological advances in the insurance industry, artificial intelligence (AI) is the future of insurance. AI enhances our ability to hyper-personalize the customer experience, drive product innovation and automate routine tasks.

A 2021 Deloitte study echoes that claim. The study predicts that AI will evolve underwriters into customer portfolio managers and strategic analysts, advisers into specialized customer experts and ecosystem integrators, actuaries into strategic planners and cross-functional collaborators and claims officers into customer loyalty drivers and customer liability experts.

This is nirvana, isn’t it?

See also: Building Your Digital Sales Arsenal

Savvy companies use digital to drive leads and grow faster

A Liberty Mutual/Safeco Insurance study conducted in October 2020 introduced the inaugural Agent for the Future Index—a quantitative assessment of the state of digital transformation in the independent agent channel. Researchers divided the survey respondents into three groups: low, medium and high digital adopters.

The study revealed that high digital adopters improve the digital tools they have in place and use those tools to drive leads. Their top priorities are educating their customers about new ways of working with them and extending their online presence for marketing. 

The study finds that 47% of high digital adopters invested in digital capabilities in the past year, while only 18% of low adopters did so. And high digital adopters had a 60% greater increase in revenue than their less digitally savvy peers.

During the pandemic, all levels of the distribution chain were tasked with finding innovative ways to connect with their communities online. Leveraging digital technology simply requires expanding those efforts.

Digital enhancements don’t have to be complex

The concept of AI can seem complex and intimidating. Most of us have no idea how to implement machine learning or data cleansing into our systems. That’s OK; plenty of experts out there specialize in AI implementation. We can hire them once we make digital enhancement a priority for our companies.

Making your company easier to find online and easier to do business with doesn’t have to be complicated. During the pandemic, many carriers and agencies increased their outreach and customer engagement simply by enhancing their websites and stepping up their social media activity.

Three strategies to begin leveraging technology

A technology CEO and member of the Forbes Technology Council says that delivering an excellent experience is now a matter of survival. He writes, “From your website and your mobile app to your social media profiles and your email campaigns, insurers must always deliver the best customer experience. To build deeper relationships with customers throughout the entire customer journey from application to cross-selling, insurers must build engaging, personalized journeys at every step of the way. We are entering a new era of innovation and giant technological leaps in the insurance industry. These are the exciting times we are living in.”

So how can carriers and their advisers boost their digital capabilities? Here are three simple strategies to begin implementing immediately.

1. Leverage technology to gain new prospects and retain current customers

For decades, customers have remained loyal to their carriers and their advisers. Today, that loyalty is at risk of being replaced by a thirst for more options, faster access and better experiences. Customers are in complete control, and that’s the way it should be. The silver lining is that, when we differentiate ourselves by providing an exceptional customer experience, we can get prospects to at least consider us. Providing an exceptional experience will also strengthen our current customers’ loyalty.

How do we accomplish that? By changing the distribution model. This means allowing technology—an app, for example—to handle the low-return tasks like making ID cards available and processing transactions such as tow claims.

Don’t fight it; embrace it. Free of doing those routine tasks, your company and your advisers can focus on deepening customer relationships and personalizing solutions. They can discover novel ways to exceed their clients’ expectations and focus more on providing advice and guidance.

2. Make it easy for customers to find you, then engage them in other ways

Today’s consumers are accustomed to exploring their options online. Make your company easy to find and your offerings appealing, and people will seek more information. For example, we know that auto insurance is the product that will get most customers to consider us. Creating an engaging, easy-to-access auto insurance page on your website will draw customers in. Once they engage with you, then you can differentiate your company and your service.

Although many customers initially approach companies by seeking quotes for their basic protection needs, most also want expert advice on their overall financial health. Make it easy for them to discover that you offer a full array of insurance and financial services solutions.

For example, an advice relationship might begin with guidance about liability coverage. Customers might not realize that $500,000 limit in liability coverage isn’t sufficient if they cause an auto accident that results in several million dollars worth of injuries to a family. Advisers deliver exceptional value when they educate their customers about critical issues like this.

3. Continually improve your products and delivery mechanisms 

As commoditization in our industry continues to be the norm, carriers must continually improve their products and delivery mechanisms. Make sure your offerings provide not just perceived value but real value.

Product pricing is one example of the difference between perceived and real value. Years ago, advisers perceived some carriers as “the cheap companies.” Over time, as those companies attracted and retained more clients, advisers realized the companies aren’t cheap. They are serving the segment of the population shopping for affordable insurance. These companies offer good-quality products, make it easy to do business and deliver their products seamlessly. 

Avoid focusing only on price, but recognize that some clients are sensitive to pricing on certain types of insurance. Provide options for all price points and levels of service desired.

See also: Digital Future of Insurance Emerges

Build digital innovation into your budget

Remember when the internet first came on the scene? Many resisted the innovation, thinking it was just a fad. When they realized it was the way of the future, they had to prioritize establishing a presence on the web.

Our customers demand ease of use through digital and online technology. We must prioritize it, budget for it and implement it. Our survival depends on it, and our customers expect it.

Managing Your Personal Brand

Raise your hand if you have a personal brand?

Of course, that’s a trick question. Everyone has a brand.

A brand is your professional reputation, and it has a lot in common with your personal reputation. Just as you don’t get to choose whether you have a reputation, you also don’t get to choose what that reputation is. Others determine your brand and reputation based on their interactions with you.

Sometimes, marketing and branding get confused. They are closely related but not the same.

Marketing is like asking for a date. Branding is the reason someone says “yes.”

Brand by default

While others ultimately determine your brand, you do have the power to influence the brand they assign to you. This is a power you must leverage to its full benefit.

Think of the brands associated with you as having three levels:

  • The industry in which you compete has a brand.
  • The company which you work for also has a brand.
  • Then there is your personal brand.

Humans are strange creatures; we want to categorize and label everything. Because of that, you will have a pre-determined brand even in the minds of those who have never had a single interaction with you. We call that a stereotype.

If you call on a prospect and they don’t know you, but they know your organization, they will assume you mirror the image they have of your employer. If they don’t know the organization you work for, they will assume you fit the image they have of the industry. In the insurance industry, that usually isn’t a positive stereotype.

We all want to be right

You may be the furthest from the industry stereotype there is and cringe at the idea of being labeled as such. You resent how often you hear business owners state that all insurance brokers are the same. But you convince yourself that, once you get in front of them, they’ll see how you’re different. That seems logical, but it doesn’t work that way.

Most prospects are meeting you for the first time; they don’t know you personally and probably don’t even know your agency. All that leaves them with is an assumption that you fit the industry stereotype. It is the stereotypical insurance broker they are expecting to see when you show up.

It is human nature; we all want to prove ourselves right. Proving you fit the stereotypical mold is no different. When you show up, subconsciously, they will be looking for cues from you that you fit the image they expected. Even if only 20% of your conversation falls into the stereotypical bucket, that is what will stick as they form their impression of you because it is what they expected, proving their assumptions were correct.

You may be right; you may very well have broken the mold and spent a vast majority of your time with that prospect discussing non-stereotypical ideas. However, because they weren’t looking for something different, the ideas don’t affect your brand the way you hoped.

Use this to your advantage

While you can’t determine the brand someone eventually assigns to you, you can influence that assignment. By managing your brand, you can plant a seed before they meet you that you are different. You can start to mold the list of expectations they have when they meet you.

If you consistently talk about different ideas or even different perspectives on familiar topics (on your blog, website, social media, etc.), they will now be looking for those cues when they meet you. This will influence the brand they assign to you in a very positive way.

See also: Personal Connections Via Social Media

But remember, you can’t just manipulate your way into a desirable brand. It must be genuine to who you are and the experience you offer. A couple of blogs and an occasional post on LinkedIn isn’t enough. You must show up consistently and be conscious of your desired brand in everything you do. Every interaction someone has with you will reinforce, strengthen or dilute your brand.

Brand ROI

It does take work, but the results are worth the effort. A powerful brand creates trust, familiarity, differentiation and even an emotional connection with your audience. A strong brand makes your marketing and sales efforts more effective and attracts the “like-minded” to you.

You’re going to have a brand no matter what. I would argue that nothing will affect your success more than effectively managing your brand.

4 Questions That Scare Salespeople

It’s not so much that the questions scare salespeople; it’s the lack of answers they find terrifying.

As someone who coaches salespeople and makes selling a part of my everyday activities, I can appreciate the job’s difficulty. What I can’t respect is not doing everything possible to make the job simpler. I swear, at times, it seems like salespeople are intentionally making their job harder.

Here’s what I mean

Open your customer relationship management (CRM) system and answer the following questions for each active prospect…

But wait. Hold on a minute. Before we get to the questions, let’s address the two key elements in my request.

First, let’s make sure we agree about what constitutes a prospect. A prospect is not a name on a wish list or on the list you just purchased. Those are suspects, someone you think you may want to have as a client.

You don’t have an actual prospect until the person is aware of your interest in potentially doing business and agree to participate in that exploration.

Now your CRM. To be clear, I’m talking about the technology you use to track prospects. This is the system that you bitch about to your sales manager because “entering stuff in the system gets in the way of my valuable sales time.”

Do you know why salespeople avoid using a CRM? It allows them to avoid owning up to the reality of not having a healthy pipeline.

Tracking prospects in a consistent, centralized manner is a prudent practice. Enough with the bitching and moaning about data entry.

Back to the questions

Yes, selling is difficult. Nobody likes to be sold to, right? So, look at the opposite side of this coin. Instead of thinking about how you can sell to the opportunities in your pipeline, focus on how you can help them make better buying decisions.

The path to them making better decisions comes with clues that lead to an engagement with you. If you can answer the following questions, there is an excellent chance you will help the prospect make a better buying decision. There is also a good chance that a better buying decision will include you.

1. What does this opportunity value most?

This question is both the most obvious and the most ignored. It is obvious because, of course, you have to show prospects more value. The problem is that most salespeople assume the answer to this question on behalf of the prospect. Salespeople assume the prospect wants a lower price, more free stuff or better service.

Maybe they do. But the path to lost opportunities is littered with wrong assumptions made by salespeople.

See also: Trusted Adviser? No, Be a Go-To Adviser

Don’t make this difficult. Just take the time at the beginning of the sales process to ask the buyer what they value. But ask it in a way that expands their expectations beyond price, product and service.

Ask, “If we were getting together for dinner to celebrate what we have accomplished by working together, what are a couple of non-cost-related things we would be celebrating?”

2. What have I done to deliver on that value?

Once you have identified what a prospect values, start delivering it. I mean, like NOW, while they’re still a prospect.

I laugh at one of the cornerstones of way too any producers’ value propositions. They will say, “What sets us apart is the level of service we provide.”

WTH?! 😳

Here’s my problem. A prospect can’t experience your service until they become a client. You have ZERO chance to demonstrate that value during the sales process.

If you want to make the buying decision easier for a prospect, nothing will move the needle faster than delivering ideas and advice on what they value. This completely removes the concern they have over whether they would get any meaningful value from working with you.

A prospect in motion

The following two questions are yet more examples of why following a sales process is so important. If you have a consistent sales process in place, the steps of moving a prospect through the pipeline become apparent. To ensure productive movement, you must be able to answer these questions for each opportunity.

3. When will our next meeting take place?

The one thing worse than an empty pipeline? One that is filled but stagnant. Prospects must keep moving forward (and I don’t mean on the two- to three-year timeline so many producers believe it takes to earn a new client).

If you have identified what a prospect values and are already providing proof of your ability to deliver, you have their attention. And, if you have shown them a path that leads to even greater value, they will be eager to schedule the next conversation and move forward with you.

Interested prospects are almost as excited for the next meeting as you are.

4. What is the purpose of the next meeting?

Every meeting must have a purpose, a defined goal. When you and the prospect agree on what you will discuss next and why it is meaningful to the buyer, meetings stop feeling like a burden and start to look like the growth opportunity they need to be.

When you have defined the purpose of a meeting, they become productive, meaningful and valuable to the buyer.

Purposeful meetings build momentum, trust and confidence.

The questions move your KPIs

The average time it takes a typical producer to acquire a new client is way too long in our industry, and the close ratios are woefully low.

Answering these four questions with confidence will lead to more new clients in dramatically less time.

Closing more deals isn’t rocket science, guys. You have to be able to answer the right questions.

See also: What COVID and 43 Years Taught Me

Back to your CRM

Look back at each prospect in your pipeline. If you can positively and definitively answer each of these questions for a prospect, you are likely looking at a future client.

If you can’t, well, your gut has already been telling you that answer.

4 Business-Boosting Tips for Social Media

According to a recent Aon Programs survey, insurance agents are betting on social media to give them the biggest marketing lift this year. Of the 33% of agents expecting a boost from social media, 41% expect Facebook and 33% expect LinkedIn to be their top-performing platforms.

As agents increase their reliance on social media to build their brands and connect with customers, there are four social strategies that they should tap to gain the best ROI. 

First, agents should take a less-is-more approach. While agents should be active on social media platforms, it is equally important to focus on quality content over quantity. No one likes an over-poster who is just cranking out content for the sake of it without a clear message. Agents should make sure that every post is relevant to their audience. Along the same lines, agents should concentrate posting on their top-performing platforms. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. And why would you need a YouTube channel if your clients and prospects aren’t on YouTube? Being targeted in your social strategy is the way to go to drive the best results. 

Second, agents ought to consider creating snackable content. Would you read a 10-sentence social media post? How about a five-sentence social media post? We are living in an era overloaded with digital media, and it can be overwhelming. How do agents combat digital fatigue on their business platforms? Keep posts snackable! Delivering a short but impactful message will up your chances of your post being read – and well-received. Remember, the bite-sized rule applies to all formats — from visuals and motion graphics to text. If you want to give your followers the option to dig deeper on a topic, provide them with a link to a longer-form piece.

Third, agents must let video take center stage. If you haven’t already jumped on the video bandwagon, start making your plans! Whether it be on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, videos are the format of choice these days.  In fact, according to HubSpot, 72% of customers would rather learn about a product or service by way of video. Oftentimes, when we see a face and hear a voice delivering a message, it feels more personal and can be more appealing than one-dimensional visuals or text. The best part is that video is so easy to create today – put together a few talking points, find a professional backdrop and hit record on your smartphone or tablet. Just remember to keep it short. For the most part, social media videos should remain in the safe range of 30 to 90 seconds.

See also: Want to See Social Media Genius?

Finally, agents need to be authentic. If there has ever been a time for authenticity, it is now. Professionals need to be able to trust the brands they work with and even those they merely like and follow. If agents commit to transparency in their social media strategy, they’ll build deeper relationships with their network – and they’ll even build their business. According to Cohn & Wolfe’s most recent Authentic 100, “91% of consumers are willing to reward a brand for its authenticity with a purchase, investment, endorsement or something similar.”

How do you maintain an authentic voice on social media? Social media started out, well, social! Personalizing your content with showing your team’s personality helps to boost authenticity. One way you can do this is by using authentic photos with your posts. Another way is by pairing self-promotion with expressing gratitude to others. People want to know that there are real people behind the like button. On that note, it is sometimes better not to comment on a sensitive matter if you can’t confidently back yourself on the positive side of the issue.

Social media is ever-changing but these four tips for better ROI never go out of style. By merging these foundational basics with trending topics and tactics, you’ll be on the right path to building social relationships that garner real business results.

Trusted Adviser? No, Be a Go-To Adviser

One of the most clichéd claims made in our industry is that of being a “trusted adviser.” Sure, trust is essential. Clients need to trust in your ability to do your job, and they need to trust in your intentions when giving advice.

But is earning trust brag-worthy? Isn’t trust a minimum expectation of the advisor-client relationship?

The real goal should be achieving “go-to” status.

What questions do you want your clients to bring you?

More importantly, what questions are they bringing you now? Not to be an alarmist, but if those questions are limited to insurance issues, your client relationship is in danger.

When asked how they wanted to be viewed, one of our clients responded with the following, “I want to be THE partner my clients go to to ask their toughest questions. I want to help my clients accomplish their intentions.”

I LOVE that! Notice, it doesn’t say their toughest “benefits questions” or even “accomplish their HR intentions.” The commitment is to be the partner their clients go to for help with anything challenging their business.

How cool is that?! Or maybe the idea makes you feel a little uncomfortable?

It is increasingly necessary

If you’ve been in sales for any amount of time, you know it’s more challenging than ever to deliver value to a buyer. Heck, if you were selling a year ago, you see how much more difficult it became because of the pandemic.

The increased challenge to deliver value started way before 2020, though. There are many reasons, but one stands out.

Buyers no longer depend on a salesperson to learn about a product or service.

Not only that, buyers don’t want to talk to anyone until they decide they’re ready. They will self-educate on their own terms and at their own pace.

It’s not that they don’t eventually want to talk to a salesperson, but buyers are now way further into the buying process before they go to a salesperson with questions. This means the value bar has been raised significantly for salespeople. The further you’ve advanced on the value spectrum, the more important your eventual conversations will be.

How are you perceived?

If you want to know how prospects/clients perceive and categorize you, look no further than the questions you are asked.

Vendor — “Can you get me a better quote?”

If you are mostly getting price questions, you are viewed as a commodity.

Insightful Seller — “Can you help me effectively communicate my benefits program and deal with compliance issues?”

At this level, salespeople understand the commoditized product offering so well they can help buyers get more value from it than if they bought it from someone else.

Educational path to this level — Instead of studying your products and services’ features and benefits, study the problems they solve.

Trusted Adviser — “Can you help me better understand what solutions I should be considering and show me how to use them effectively?”

Salespeople at this level are selling the problems they solve rather than the products. The best at this level aren’t even really selling; the buyers trust they can help them make better buying decisions.

Path to this level – Study and implement a consultative selling process that makes the buying process more manageable.

Strategic Adviser — At this level, questions start to become, as you might guess, strategic. “You seem to understand our industry and the current business environment; what can we be doing to compete more effectively?”

These advisers bring a new perspective to the buyer and help them see things they hadn’t seen before, like environmental challenges and opportunities.

Path to this level — Study a specific industry or the business environment, in general.

Go-to Adviser — At this level, clients pull back their curtain and share their most vulnerable self. You know you’ve arrived in the relationship when asked, “We have some internal growth pains. Can we talk about suggestions you would have to get past them?”

Go-to advisers have proven their ability to address the challenges and opportunities a buyer faces internally, challenges that buyers don’t see on their own even though they are surrounded by them daily. Even if buyers do see the challenges, they don’t know how to address them.

Path to this level — Study business operations: marketing, finance, strategy, processes, everything it takes to run a successful business.

Challenge yourself to pursue the various educational paths along this value progression. By doing so, you will put yourself in a position to be that go-to relationship for your clients. Talk about a game changer!

See also: 3 Tips for Increasing Customer Engagement

You don’t have to have all the answers

If the idea of being “the partner your clients go to with their toughest questions” makes you uncomfortable, it shouldn’t. Just because they come to you with their toughest questions, it doesn’t mean they expect you to have all the answers.

To become a Go-to adviser, you only need to be willing to participate in conversations that lead to the answers.

I suspect you already take this approach in a much narrower way. If you are a benefits producer, you may find yourself in compliance conversations that reach your knowledge limit. At that point, you bring in a compliance specialist. Or perhaps you find yourself deeper in HR topics than you can handle, but you are comfortable because you know where to pass the baton.

A problem-solving framework

If you follow the educational paths mentioned earlier, you’ll create a foundation that can support a Go-to relationship. With that knowledge foundation in place, the following framework will be an effective way to help your prospects/clients think through any challenge they bring you.

1. Define the goal by asking, “If we were sitting here celebrating a successful resolution, what are some of the specifics we would be celebrating?”

This question will provide clarity as to what they want/need to accomplish.

2. “What are the PEOPLE issues you need to deal with to achieve a resolution?”

Maybe they have toxic people on the team; perhaps they need new people, or maybe they need to train those they have.

3. “What PRODUCT/SERVICE issues need to be addressed?”

Maybe there is a deliverable to be created, upgraded or even abandoned.

4. “Are there PROCESS issues standing in your way?”

It could be they have the answers they need but aren’t operating in a consistent, process-driven manner.

Will the complete answer be apparent with these questions? Probably not. However, by defining the goal and evaluating the people, product and process issues that determine success, you will help the prospect/client find clarity about what needs to happen next.

Your role as a Go-to advisor isn’t so much to give specific answers; it’s more about asking additional questions to reveal the path leading to the answer.

Is all this necessary?

You could make an argument that this type of progression isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t agree with you, but you could make the argument. After all, you will win the occasional deal based on price alone. Don’t fall into that “easy” trap.

It does take hard work to progress. However, every level you advance toward Go-to status provides exceptional ROI:

  1. It reduces the amount of competition.
  2. The buyer becomes less sensitive to price.
  3. You shorten the sales cycle.
  4. Your retention rate increases.
  5. You will find it easier to access decision-makers.
  6. The level of credibility you bring to the conversation will grow exponentially.

So, I’ll ask you a “not tough” question. Is it worth it to become a Go-to adviser?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

This article was originally published here.