Knowing where the next opportunity for new business will come from, eases the stress of these issues. With good answers to these questions from Part 1, it makes sense to get a few more questions answered. Accepting the status quo as the required path forward should not be the only option being considered. We investigate the answers to this next set of questions to determine what the right adjustments – if any – are to how and where the agency plans to move forward effectively. You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint and you wouldn’t take a vacation without a plan. Building your business should require the same mindset. Having a good solid business plan exponentially increases any company’s success rates.
- What would my best customer look like?
We start here, because often the clients we have are not always the clients we want. A customer that has been with us from the beginning might look very differently than the customer that joined recently and has a better total potential for embracing the full value being offered by the agency at this time. It is also possible, that as we added more members to the team, we may have added a wider range of expertise, broader network of relationships and varied areas of enthusiasm. Understanding what the best customer looks like today – as the agency is positioned now – will help identify what potential is currently untapped within your agency. The more specific we can be on defining what this best customer looks like, the easier it will be to answer the next questions.
- What exactly would they own?
You may have already outlined this answer when you defined your best customer. It’s a separate question to make sure it is not overlooked. The coverages they purchase are determine by what they own. You can’t buy coverage on the boat you don’t own. For commercial accounts, it is important to be specific on what kind of business they are operating. The more we can define what the best account looks like, the easier it is to go looking for them.
- Where would I find these customers?
There is a good chance that the best customer looks a little different than the current customer of the agency – and that’s OK…and truth be told – it’s great news! Many agencies feel like they have tapped out the markets that they have traditionally operated in. They are looking to start fishing in another pond but want to find the right one before spending time and money shifting the focus of the agency. With a clearer definition of the best customer written down on paper, it is time to start digging into where these insureds hang out, get information, network and do business. For those looking to work with individuals, we think in terms of social groups, neighborhoods or maybe less personal, zip codes or counties. For businesses, we look for associations, subscriptions or key identifiers in their name. If we want to work with multi owner businesses, then names like “Smith and Associates” or “Jones and Sons” will work well. If we have a niche (we will talk more about this in the next part) there is usually a key word like “automotive” or “remodeling” or “tool & die” that will be in their name. This question is all about where you can find them, and if their name will have the information to identify them for you…then its a directory of any kind that will help uncover where they are.
- Who knows them?
This is a related question, because we need to keep relationships at the center of our thinking. You may already have all the relationships you need for your agency to jump into this target market, but you may also realize that there are a few key people that could make a big impact on your initiative. It is helpful to think of the inputs, outputs, service and support that may be connected to your group. As you look into a specific commercial target market – is there a CPA that handles this market more than another? It might make sense to find that person who knows everybody – every town has one – and ask them – Who knows the people you want to most connect with.
- How would I be able to help them more than the other agent down the street?
Brutal honesty is the best policy here. Don’t try to spin up some kind of gimmick. Dig deep and really define what you can do to serve them better. Many times, this can be as simple as doing what you say you are going to do by the time you originally agreed to do it! (I can assure you that would be enough for any contractor I’ve ever worked with.) We actually hired a painter one time because he was highly recommended – because he showed up to paint on the days, he said he would. We never even discussed the quality of the job he did. Keep in mind this commitment of being the best at something requires buy in from the top to the bottom of the organization…every member of your team has to be on board with the commitment required to be able to make the claim. While it is always better when the customer just notices the difference – you will need to bring your differentiating features into the spotlight of your marketing and communications with prospects, centers of influence and existing customers. Once folks see the difference, the word will travel, and others will begin noticing without you drawing their attention to it.
Your value proposition is what attracts your customer. The value proposition is the solution you afford, the promise you make and keep. It is the reason why someone buys from you. Establishing your value proposition can be a driving force for growth.
So, where are we?
We know what our best customer looks like; we know where to find them and who can help us; we know what we can do to help them more than anyone else. Now for the inconvenient truth – not all prospects in our market are created equally! It’s important to build a method of rating the quality of the opportunity that each prospect presents to your agency. Like most things in life – working off a 5-star system is simple and effective. Identify the 5 key characteristics of the perfect or ideal customer. An agency that offers both property and liability insurance as well as financial services might award a star for any business that has employer sponsored health insurance, another for an employer sponsored retirement plan to go along with the star for the business commercial package policy and another star for the personal insurance of the owner or key contact at the business. Those 4 stars are very specific, and the 5th star could be based more on the culture/personality fit of the customer with the agency. An agency with a focus strictly on personal lines might use a 4-star system, giving each line like home, auto and other (umbrella, boat, motorcycle, etc.) a star of its own and reserve the fourth star for the client’s fit to the agency. Many agencies will use a rating system – A, B or C – to give some ranking to the quality of the customer, but here the bulk of the rating is based solely on the number of potential lines of business that can be placed with the customer. Other factors like size, age and geography can also influence the discretionary star. Regardless, build a rating system and apply it to every opportunity.
Do I need to pick a niche?
It is safe to say you don’t “need” a niche, but our experience would suggest you WANT one. Defining the best customers for your agency becomes clearer when the agency is focused, and often a niche will help the agency focus its expertise on a certain type of customer that helps each of these questions get answered with more specifics and details. Side note for agencies looking to add producers: An agency with a well-defined niche can often find faster success for new recruits, especially younger producers, because the universe of information to learn and digest is narrower. You also find that people who like the specific areas of focus will surface more easily and present themselves as the right candidate for the job to join the agency. Niches don’t provide a guarantee of success in this program or with younger or newer producers, but aligning passion, capacity and resources properly can likely increase your odds of getting good results.
Quantity or Quality?
All the work you have done upfront to define the who, where and how will make the next steps more automatic. Reach out to meet as many of those people that could possibly fit in your target market as possible. Use the rating system to sort the good ones from the better and best ones. Every connection could lead to another opportunity that was never contemplated when these plans were outlined. Timing is a critical factor that often gets overlooked. The saying, “Timing is everything” holds true for just about every opportunity. Doing it better and knowing the right people to reinforce your message will always need to meet favorably with the right timing for the customer. Don’t let bad timing now be the stumbling block to momentum. Keep working the process and find the right way to build the follow up system (more on that later) to make your offering available now and until the timing is right. Every customer has their own priorities – some of them are flexible and some are not – just think of how a CPA firm runs in the first quarter of the year…hard deadlines, understaffed and work piling up. If you find consistent timing issues in your niche or some regular interval of availability, adjust your system to better take advantage of those situations to deepen your relationships with your key influential customers.
Where do I find quantity?
This is a task that never goes away and requires a regular disciplined pursuit. You need to build a list. Go back through all those resources you consulted to answer the earlier questions…who has a list and would be willing to share it? Is a list available in some form for the group you are interested in working with? Often associations, conferences and chambers can provide a list, but make sure you comb through the list for the right fit potential customers. Sometimes a list is long – over 1,000 names of those who attended the conference and sometimes a list is short – the 3 people that fit your focus the CPA will introduce to you. Both lists are valuable and should be cultivated with a high degree of professional persistence. We have found that many of your existing customers will have a list of their own they are willing to share. Maybe it is from the conference they just attended. It could be a trade association directory they picked up last month or the one they get next month when they renew their membership with the group. The more people who know what you need to help your business to remain successful, the easier it is to find what you need – because others will be making it available to you – sometimes without even having to ask!
What should I tell them?
Now that we are finding people that fit our model in all the right ways, it is important to help build a compelling reason for them to choose you. The idea of “selling” someone insurance is outdated and unrealistic.
People don’t buy insurance…they more often buy an insurance agent’s time who provides it for them.
Educate them on how you can meet their needs better than anyone else. Relate to them using stories of situations – like theirs – that highlight the value they want in the relationship. Underinsured/Uninsured motorists’ coverage is not very exciting on paper, but what it does to help protect them if someone only has minimum limits is very compelling. Tell them a story about the last person who had $40,000 in hospital bills and the at-fault driver only had $25,000 of liability coverage. Tell them the story about the last claim that required some “intervention” during the hazard, like the tarp that got placed on the roof before the next rain came and did more damage. Use stories that answer these questions:
- How did your help make sure the client had what they needed in those situations?
- What role did you play the day of the loss that made it easier for the customer to bear?
- What role did you play prior to the loss that properly prepared them with the right coverages?
Most importantly, tell them why you want to help them – specifically! Make sure you can tell the story of why you are in this business and proud to operate as an independent agency. Being a real person that is relevant to the customer in a way that builds a strong connection of care and support will provide a compelling reason for them to choose you, and then you can work out the coverage options that make the most sense. Let me encourage you to be as specific as you can with these examples of how your agency has helped others over the years.
Give these stories to your newer producers and newer employees to take pride in the work they get the privilege to do by being a part of this agency. Owning these elements of your work will dramatically improve the energy and enthusiasm in your current agency culture. If you are doing it right, everything you are telling the customer will be felt already when they walk through your door or meet other members of your team. (My mother once told me you have 2 ears and 1 mouth. What she meant by that was I should probably listen more than I talk.) If we stay true to this philosophy, and truly listen to our customers and prospective customers, we can learn everything we need to know to fill their needs.
What should I do to follow up?
We have the simple answer and the more involved answer, so buckle up! Let’s tackle simple first – you have a very narrow niche or maybe offer fewer lines of business…your customers are likely very similar, and your follow up material can be the same for all of them. An email-able piece that tells a few more example stories of who you are and what your agency is prepared to do on their behalf. It is even better if there is something to leave behind at a meeting that gives them a little more BUT further encourages them to want to learn more. If you have administrative support, bring them into the process and help them connect to the value of the work that is needed to shepherd these individuals into becoming customers.
One significant pillar – the more involved answer – of your process will be disciplined consistency. Establish your process for follow up and stick to it. Track your activity to identify adjustments that can be made to improve your results. These key components will build a system that empowers momentum to surge within your agency. The more deliberate you are on attracting the right client to your agency and working with the right people to help you connect with the right potential customers, the more this new momentum will play a part in drawing people into your agency to work, to become customers and to connect.
What do I do next?
With a good process, materials, rating system and defined best customer…You are ready to move your agency’s productivity to the next level using the Brand Ambassador approach to grow your book. The program will utilize all these key elements that have been identified thus far to increase the number of opportunities your agency will have to write new business.
We cover this approach in our last installment of the Brand Ambassador.