(Image credit: Dollar Photo Club.)
Every insurer I talk to today is in organic growth mode and looking to drive new sales, create new products, enter new territories and improve account penetration and agent performance, as well as customer retention. Today’s growth strategy is different from what we saw in the market just a few years ago, when it was driven by desperation caused by the financial meltdown. Instead, today’s growth mode is a balance of the perceived opportunity of a healthy market, tempered by the hard-learned lessons that business must keep an underwriting profit in mind, and not rely on investment income to drive a profit.
If the topic of sales comes up with insurers that support independent agent channels, the frequent knee-jerk reaction is “We leverage independent agents—we’re not in sales.” But that simply isn’t true. For independent agency insurers, it’s critical to embrace the idea that “We’re all in sales.”
Independent agency insurers sell to agents by convincing the agent that they are the insurer of choice, that their products are what the clients need, that they are the easiest to do business with and that they provide the right tools and service. It’s not just the marketing rep signing up new agents or convincing agents to push new products; it’s also about the field underwriter who works with the agent on individual risk, and front office personnel (underwriting assistants, technical assistants and similar roles) who work with the agent or support staff to turn a quick quote into an application and carry it through the underwriting process to binding. All of these professionals, supported by the portals, tools, systems and capabilities provided by the insurer, make up the sales environment for an independent agency insurer. The field marketer signs a new agency, but the field staff maintains the agency relationship, generates loyalty, controls the flow of new business and creates book longevity.
Given all of the moving parts, here’s how independent agency insurers can manage the agent relationship effectively:
Visibility: Insurers need to provide insight into books of business to field management, underwriting and anyone else who helps manage the agency relationship and the development of the pipeline. Staff managing agents and field operations need to see into how agents’ books of business are developing so they can take the right level of action for each agent (reward, invest or remove). This includes anything from determining when to schedule agency visits, to leads, to resource allocation. Since field operations interacts with agents and drives agency satisfaction, there needs to be actionable visibility into processes, sales license agreements and transactions so that management can take action where appropriate. Unobtrusive visibility should not impact processing; management should only get involved when results are impacted.
Go To Market: Often, insurers go to market with new products and changes in an impersonal, passive way, such as through mailed marketing collateral or lunch-and-learns. Instead, insurers should take a proactive role in generating business for agents in a way that will make product messaging stick and drive growth. For example, insurers should leverage analytics to review the book of business an agent has with the insurer to identify which clients should be targeted as a warm lead. With each targeted lead, the insurer needs to provide customized marketing material, product information, positioning and rough quotes the agent can leverage with the client. Being proactive with lead generation not only makes the new product tangible to the agent, but increases satisfaction and retention.
Sales Process and Agency Tools: All agents want to collaborate easily, with underwriting in particular, and don’t want to enter information multiple times or submit unnecessary data, so it’s important to have the tools to do so. These tools should also provide visibility into the submission/underwriting process and books of business. Especially with efforts to attract younger agents into the industry, collaborative tools and real-time processing are a high priority. Additionally, agents are willing to do more of the submission process through a portal if the insurer has the ability to provide a quote or proposal faster. These examples of functionality can be provided by independent agents with positive results and regulated by the nature of the agent/insurer relationship.
Field Operations: Field operations are the insurer’s sales force. The success of agents (and insurers’ success keeping agents) hinges directly upon field operations’ ability to execute, service and partner with agents. The frustration that underwriters, assistants, field marketing, management, etc., experience is working across multiple systems with inconsistent tools. They often have to rely on extensive manual processes to get the job done. Insurers are looking for a common desktop that can tie information together and launch processes that start with a lead or inquiry and can be followed/managed throughout subsequent processes with role-based access to data. Role-based access provides insurers the ability to give each user access to information they need to do their job effectively without compromising data, integrity or intellectual capital of the insurer or the customer ownership that agents want to protect.
Independent agency insurers will be successful in the future and maintain high levels of retention with quality agents if they are responsive to agents’ needs and are easy to do business with. This starts with access to data and people, collaboration and tools and processes that actively help the agent close more business in an efficient way. This will engender success in today’s organic growth market.