Building Your Business – Part 1: How to Find Your Base

When trying to manage or grow an agency – it is important to be able to answer the question – Who is your customer… I have only worked with a handful of agencies that could answer this question in the beginning of the process, BUT all of them could answer it in the end – confidently and accurately.  A good answer has specific attributes that help to bring clarity around the agency’s value proposition and becomes the measure to use in evaluating opportunities as they are made available.  An example of the answer that we will work to formulate:

 “My agency’s customer is a family buying home and auto coverage from us. Their average age is 52.  They live in a home valued between $250,000 and $600,000 and typically have one car per driver.  They live in this county and have been with our agency for more than 3 years.” 

Understanding your customer or “Perfect Client Profile”, allows you to drive the customer experience.  Understanding your customer’s needs positions, allows you as the agent to provide solutions.  Whether through education or additional services, knowing your customers’ needs creates a relationship that transcends beyond the sale of insurance products.  

It would be great to add more details to that description like “They are referred to us from current customers.” or “They started with our agency by buying a life policy for their children.” However, in the beginning – we will aim for the general level of description that holds a few details and add more details as we go.  

Before we can answer this question for our agency, we need to be able to answer a few key questions that contribute to that statement. So, let’s ask a few questions to help figure this out:

  • What do people buy from me? 

If we look at the book in the agency…have most people bought their home and auto from the agency or is the agency more focused on small commercial type risks. You might even need to focus this question a little further – what do they buy first?  If your agency has built a name for providing auto insurance for youthful drivers – that could be the first policy you sell the family, but in the first 24 months they are a customer, you are picking up the other autos and home policies as well. 

In the end, you need to know what they buy – all of it – but knowing what they buy first can help throughout the process as well.  It would also be good to look at what your current carrier partners are providing for you to sell.  It’s safe to say that most carriers are not competitive on everything from the $100,000 to $10,000,000 home.  Some like values under $500,000 and others like values between $500,000 and $2,000,000.  The age group of the customer also plays into who they are, and which markets are interested in providing them insurance.

Growing an agency should be deliberate, predictable and sustainable.  The consultative approach to relationship building and being recognized as a resource will offer a high level of certainty to the decision-making process. Many of the key parameters will center around the products or attributes of the risks, but never lose sight that the relationship with the client is always the key element of every successful agency.

  • What do they have in common? 

Besides having the best agent in town! Often, I find agents have not taken the time to look at this idea…usually there is a common thread among the clients of an agency.  When you look at your book – do most of your customers go to the same church? Do they have kids that play sports with your kids? Do they all have some kind of connection to the long history of Rotary involvement from the agencies multi-generational involvement? Try to identify what is common within your book. Case Example:  I was hired by an agency to do some consulting to better understand the differences between the books in their seven office locations.  Many of these locations were situated in towns of similar size and geography.  Each one of these offices had been a separate acquisition over the last 30 years of the agency’s history.  We found that out of all the offices, they wrote about 500 motorcycle policies, but more than 300 of them were written out of one specific office.  There was a simple reason…the retired principal of that one office location had been a long-time member of a motorcycle club and had done a good job of letting folks know what he did for a living. This doesn’t mean the new principals need to go buy a Harley, but it will suggest that there is something shared by more than 300 of the policy holders in that agency.  

Business relationships many times originate from social events, memberships to groups or organizations that allow us to participate in events that support our interest.  In doing so, we can build relationships with those who we share commonalities with, offering a much easier platform to nourish business growth.

Most multi-generational agencies will see that different groups of clients emerge within the book.  Those from the previous generation – the legacy business, and then those that have been added from the younger generation.  These books within the book, tend to center on the different personalities and interests of the producers/principals that helped to build them.  The key outcome in answering this question is to better understand if there are common threads of membership, personal interest or characteristics that would help you better meet their needs, find more of them to engage or even possibly anticipate what they will need next!


  • Where do they come from…or better …How did they get to me? 

As we work to handle the business that is right in front of us at the moment, many agencies will try and answer this question, but they don’t always track or record the info for future review. We like to say not all opportunities are created equally, and that applies to referral sources, sports program adds, billboards, radio spots, you name it…not all of them provide equally good results to the same agency.  Many agencies deploy a multifaceted approach to their marketing in the hopes of catching their customers attention with one of the tools they use.  If we knew where our customers are coming from, we would know what forms of marketing were being successful. If you seem to write more new business during the baseball season than the football season, it is possible the banner on the outfield wall at the high school was more effective than the quarter page ad in the football program.  You need to ask, “where did you find out about us”, because it could be one family on the baseball team that is your client and saying nice things. They could be the reason, and not the banner.  If you don’t know where they are coming from, then you need to start asking. Ask your current customers if they remember how they got your info in the beginning or why they chose your agency to work with.

Business success is based on the measuring, managing and adjustment of results.  Feedback is an important feature of attaining valuable information to assess.  What we think is the beginning, and what “THEY” think is maybe very different. 

What have we learned?

Well, if you know who your customer is, what they buy from you and how they came to be a client…then you are well on your way to understanding what you have inside your agency.  For many – that’s enough!  They have determined that what they have is what they want, and they are happy to keep that going.  There is probably a sign on the principal’s desk that reads “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  For others, they realize the agency they are trying to build needs a little better or different direction to reach the success they have planned for their future.  Too many times we see agencies frustrated with their results because they can’t answer these questions adequately.


 Where can we apply this?

For the rest of this discussion we will address the key pieces to helping good agencies stay solid with the added element of helping agencies that want to take the next step – meet the challenge of growing and building the agency they see in their future. We regularly get asked to help agencies that are bringing in the next generation to provide some help and direction. 

While working with an agency in southern Ohio a few years ago, the principal told me that the office staff, agents and himself, would sit together for lunch in the conference room.  You would think this was a great way to build a team environment, and it was…for everyone but the principal.  He sat at the lunch table and looked at his two young boys, one newly married and the older one expecting a child, eating their lunch as members of the agency and felt the weight of their mortgage payments on the future cash flow of the agency.  In that moment, he realized they needed a plan to help grow and establish the agency at a new level that was more than capable of meeting the income needs of all its current and future owners. 

Every time the agency takes on the responsibility of adding another generation of leadership, the revenue of the agency adds the challenge of meeting the income needs of those individuals. By diving deep into these ideas, the agency can navigate the path forward successfully…