Tag Archives: insurance sales

Restoring the Agent-Client Relationship

There has been a lot of frustration in the insurance industry from both those who sell it and those who need it. Both camps are suffering financially, and both can do better if they get together on vital insurance protection, but they just can’t seem to hook up without jumping through hoops. In an era of hyper-information and instant communication, this disconnect may seem crazy, but it’s real. In a time of chaotic change, an online meetup service would be valuable to agents and consumers alike to repair that agent/client relationship and put the personal touch back into insurance.

Financially challenged agents and consumers

Incomes have stagnated for insurance agents and the general public alike, and the route to better times seems unclear for both sides. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for insurance sales agents inched up only 2% between 2010 and 2014. In 2010, it was $62,520.  In 2014, it was $63,730. Furthermore, the field has become overcrowded, with 18% more agents vying for the business in 2014 than in 2010.

The general public has fared no better. Following the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, the wealthiest Americans have done well. The “rest of us,” however, continue to struggle. The proportion of American households defined as “middle-income” remained stagnant from 2010 through 2014, at about 51%, according to a Pew Research Center study. Back in 1970, the “middle-income” percentage was 10 points higher.

The potential for pocketbook improvements

Both insurance agents and their prospects could do better financially if they could somehow get together more quickly and smoothly – through a matchmaker or intermediary.

It’s easy to see how agents could profit. With, say, a 10% to 50% increase in qualified leads per month, a corresponding jump in income could be expected. And with other efficiencies through more nuanced matchmaking, even greater income increases might be forthcoming – through enhanced referrals, for example.

It’s a little more complicated to see how connecting more smoothly could financially benefit insurance buyers. It becomes clear, though, when one goes to the heart of what insurance is for.  It’s for mitigating risk, which can be expensive. It also means personal benefits such as improved health and well-being. For example, good guidance from an agent can:

  • Make the difference between paying and not having to pay for home repairs after a type of storm damage not covered by an “economy” policy the agent advised against.
  • Preserve a family’s estate by convincing the family, early on, of the prudence of securing long-term-care insurance. This could be a financial game changer for millions of families that are now exposed. According to industry estimates, about 90% of those who could benefit from LTC insurance do not own a policy. And one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy is uncovered health expenses, especially in the later years!
  • Help keep clients safe and whole through an auto policy with safe-driving incentives. The potential benefits range from lower premiums to higher lifetime incomes because of avoiding accidents that might interrupt the ability to work.

As technology and society evolve, good guidance from an insurance agent may affect people’s pocketbooks and lives in more significant ways than ever. More and more agents can:

  • Team with financial advisers to foster sound budgeting, savings, investments and money management.
  • Influence their clients’ health by recommending policies, now starting to appear, that come with fitness incentives. The financial win here is double: lower premiums for keeping up one’s wellness routine and greater lifetime earnings through enhanced vitality and work-span.

The matchmaker solution

A good matchmaking service brings insurance agents and buyers together in very efficient, human ways. It starts with search and ends with introductions and contact.  It includes:

  • A search function to locate agents for a particular type of insurance (auto, critical illness, health, homeowners, life, long-term care, Medicare supplement) in a particular geographic area.
  • A list of agents with their pictures and names visible, for the buyer to peruse and select from.
  • Details about each agent, including:
    • Insurance lines and carriers represented.
    • Agent’s biography or background description.
    • Reviews or testimonials with ratings (usually one to five stars).
    • Link to the agent’s personal or business website.
    • Other information ranging from a location map to social media links.

Limited matching has existed for a few years. Some generic consumer rating and matching services embrace insurance agents. They include Yelp and Angie’s List. General search services, such as Google and Bing, serve as de facto matching services, but in a very spotty way. Insurance associations develop leads that are sold to agents but do not typically provide free online access to individual agents.

Robust agent-buyer matching, with all the above elements, is ready for prime time. In 2015, Agent Review, the first complete rating and matching service designed specifically for insurance agents and insurance buyers, was introduced.

Where Price-Focused Sales Are Heading

I recently read an article about “digital insurance stores.” The article made some good points, though this was not one of them: “Agents need to go beyond their traditional roles as sellers of auto insurance because auto is fast becoming more commoditized.” [emphasis added]

Once again, we’re told that auto insurance is a commodity. In articles (see the “Price Check” article, for example) and webinars, we’ve communicated why auto insurance in particular, and personal lines insurance in general, is not a commodity, nor is it “fast becoming more commoditized.” If anything, the opposite is true. In his paper, “Reevaluating Standardized Insurance Policies,” University of Minnesota Law School Professor Daniel Schwarcz writes about homeowners insurance:

“The current personal-lines insurance marketplace is largely organized around a myth. That myth is that personal-lines insurance policies are completely uniform. This myth explains regulatory rules that do nothing to promote insurance contract transparency….

“Different carriers’ homeowners policies differ radically with respect to numerous important coverage provisions. A substantial majority of these deviations produce decreases in the amount of coverage relative to the presumptive industry standard….”

“If regulators do not act to substantially improve consumer protection in this domain, then it can be expected that coverage will continue to degrade for most carriers, in a modern-day reenactment of the race to the bottom in fire insurance that triggered the first wave of standardized insurance policies….”

Most of the agents I know recognize the demonstrated market share threat of direct, price-focused sales but don’t fear it. Transparent competition is generally a good thing. Historically, intensified industry competition has, more often than not, resulted in more broadened, innovative products. That’s no longer the case given the lack of transparency in the marketing of direct/online insurance products.

Given a focus almost entirely based on low-price, “painless” marketing by increasingly data-driven, tunnel-visioned and short-sighted financial bean counters, what we’re likely seeing now is the beginning of a lemming-like stampede over a coverage oblivion cliff. Too many carriers today couldn’t care less about the role their products play in protecting American families from financial ruin. They’ve convinced themselves (and much of America) that what consumers really want and need is fast, cheap and funny and that the way to sell that is through lizards with Australian accents and box store clerks who’ll sell you a generic brown-paper-packaged insurance product at whatever price you tell her.

So-called experts and researchers who likely have never read their own auto policies and almost certainly have never compared two or more policies tell us that car insurance is a commodity where the best deal is the cheapest price that can be quoted in two minutes (yes, one company implies that it can ascertain your unique exposures and quote you the right product in two minutes, not 15, 7.5, or five). The experts tout the efficiencies of the Internet as the marketing channel that can bring even greater riches to insurers, as they predict the imminent demise of ignorant, un-hip Baby Boomer insurance agents who foolishly believe that consumers need consultation and advocacy. Note, too, that virtually all of these research reports focus on the advantages to the insurance company, with almost complete disregard to the obvious disadvantages to the American consumer.

But let’s say they’re right, that the Internet provides efficiencies that traditional marketing and sales channels cannot compete with. When all you can offer is “fast and cheap,” at some point you can’t provide that product any faster or cheaper. You’ve become as efficient as you possibly can be. So, when price is your only value proposition, what do you do at this point when you can’t cut the expense ratio any closer? Presumably, you’d look to, by far, the biggest component of premium – losses and loss adjustment expenses. So, how do you reduce that component, which accounts for 75% to 80% of premium, to continue to compete on price?

One way would be to actually return to underwriting. But you can’t do that when you’re quoting in two minutes. So, what does that leave? Reducing coverage or becoming more restrictive in claims handling practices. After all, who will know? Everyone agrees that “car insurance” is a commodity, so no one is considering what the policy actually covers or doesn’t cover. Until claim time. And, on average, that’s only once every seven years or so. So, again, no one much will notice…other than the families who lose just about everything they own because they bought an inferior product.

As Mr. Schwarcz opines, that’s exactly where the industry is headed in auto insurance unless agents make their case to the consuming public about the value of consultative selling and claims advocacy. And unless regulators return to carefully vetting the products they approve for the marketplace to ensure that they do not leave unreasonable, potentially catastrophic coverage gaps for insureds and that they reasonably protect the public from becoming victims to overly restrictive policy exclusions and limitations.

Copyright 2015 by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Reprinted with permission.

Data Analytics Comes of Age for Agents

Sitting down for lunch with one of our top independent agents, I asked him about his business.  

“Things are great – we’re totally paperless now!” he responded triumphantly.

“So what are you doing with all of the data you’re collecting?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m too small to do any of that stuff,” he said with a shrug.

“You’re not,” I said. “In fact, it’s a powerful way for you to generate more business. Let me show you how….”

“Data analytics” sounds like rocket science—sophisticated, expensive, intimidating and beyond the reach of the typical independent agency. It isn't. Data analytics is simply the analysis of data that allows a person to make a better decision than they could without data.

The challenge occurs when there is so much data available that it becomes difficult to determine what information is relevant and what is not. It becomes even harder when the data is not stored in a way that can be easily analyzed.

Today’s technology allows people to analyze huge amounts of data in whatever form. Sophisticated software can identify patterns and relationships between millions of pieces of information that provide better insight into a subject. This is commonly referred to as “big data” analytics.

Don't get overwhelmed by these terms or the complexity of the algorithms used to analyze data. Just remember that the objective is to use data so you and your agency can make better decisions. Here are the key steps to improve your agency's performance:

Step 1:  Understand what you have

Your agency contains a treasure trove of information about your existing clients and potential customers.

Before you can even begin to run a data analytics program, spend time understanding the data you already collect. Start by creating a spreadsheet with all of the data you collect when you onboard a new client — for example, birthdate, home and work address.

Add information you collect as part of the underwriting process. For example, if you write a BOP policy for a client, capture all the additional data an insurer needs to evaluate the risk — the number of employees, store locations and industry.

When this spreadsheet is completed, you will discover the sheer volume of data you already collect about your clients.

Step 2: Understand what you want

Who are my most profitable clients? Are clients more profitable if I write both their commercial and personal lines insurance? How many policies per household do I need to maintain a high retention rate? How can I best target new clients? What type of people are my best referral sources? What marketing programs generate the best leads?

If you think you know the answer to these questions because you've asked them yourself, think again. Most agency owners base their answer on individual experience. That's no longer good enough. Insurance sales and marketing has transformed from an art to a science.

While the data you collect is extremely valuable, data analytics tools also allow you to incorporate outside data into your analysis. What information would you like to have about an existing client or a potential customer? What information would you like to know about a certain area or region?

Identify your “data gaps” — information you don't have but would like to have about a client or a prospect. This might include their net worth, whether they own another home or their business affiliations.  Consider any information you would like to have about a specific geographic area or other external information that would be helpful in allowing you to attract and retain clients.

Capturing all of this additional “outside” data is beyond the capability of any individual agency. But today there are companies that do just that. Find one that offers subscription- or transaction-based solutions, with little or no start-up costs, that are easily accessible by using their secure website. Find a platform you can use any time to plug in or access the data you want.

The data relationships that you build will allow you to create a strategic advantage. Stay away from cookie-cutter solutions that just provide “answers” to data questions. They don't allow you to differentiate the results of the data analysis.

Step 3: Put the data to work

Does your agency management system have a data analytics feature or tool? If it does, subscribe to it. If it doesn’t, demand that the vendor offer such a tool.

If your agency management system doesn't have a data analytics tool, reach out to the insurance company you write a lot of business with and ask if you can partner with them on a data analytics project. Offer to share your information if they will analyze your book of business. Make sure you play a key role in defining the data to be analyzed, and most importantly make sure you define the hypothesis or data relationship you are looking to uncover.

Take action

Today, customer acquisition and retention takes place in real time, or close to it. The more information you have about current and potential customers, the better you will be able to address their needs when and where they want it. That's why you need to embrace data analytics — it gives you the information you need, when you need it.

If you are like most agencies, you’ve already done the hard part by getting rid of your paper files and moving to an electronic agency management system platform. Now you need to start using your data.  You have a great opportunity to become a sophisticated marketer and drive better performance and growth out of your agency.

What are you waiting for?

Call It What You Want

Call it what you want … lead generation, business development, canvassing, door to door, talking with referrals, follow up from a networking event, asking for referrals or even making the “Dreaded Cold Call.” You can disguise it anyway you want. You are prospecting!

Prospects may come from a variety of sources that include your warm or natural market. You may also receive a steady flow of prospects from centers of influence, such as attorneys, doctors, accountants or VIPs in your community. What about referrals from clients or friends? You may even belong to associations and business networking groups. What about social media? (compliance permitting).

Skeptics say that prospecting is dead. It’s not. And it never will be. The decision to prospect is yours alone.

True, the old way of selling is dead and gone forever, but prospecting continues to be the foundation of all successful businesses and salespeople. So what is prospecting?

Prospecting is defined as “in search of” or “to labor for.” What are we all searching for? We should be prospecting for (or searching for) new customers, or new business from our existing customers. It’s that simple.

Question — If you had the cure for cancer, how many cancer patients would you approach each day? Of course you would approach as many as you could. Make sense?

Why then, do we stop prospecting? The simple answer is that it is hard work. We get lazy and complacent. After all, it’s easier to check your voicemail or email isn’t it? Voicemail can’t object, email doesn’t challenge our value. We get caught up in all the stuff that really doesn’t matter.

In closing: The following quote from Frank Bettger’s book How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling says it straight out, “You can’t make a sale, until you write some business; You can’t write some business, until you have had a conversation; And you can’t have a conversation until you make the call!” Are you ready to have more conversations, write more business, and make more sales? The decision is yours and yours alone.

Happy Prospecting!