AVOIDING ROADBLOCKS TO AGENCY SUCCESS
Eight actions to get your agency back on track
The Rough Notes Company is headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, nicknamed the “roundabout capital of the country”—having opened its 100th toward the end of 2016. I’m sure there are more by now. While I find roundabouts safe and beneficial for traffic flow—when everyone knows how they work—the frequent construction of these circular intersections causes numerous roadblocks and requires months of finding another way around the city.
Roadblocks can happen anywhere—not just on the roadways—even in your agency.
At last year’s Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) of Indiana convention, Steve Lewis, CEO of Crossroads Consulting & Coaching, shared eight roadblocks to agency success. A former life and financial services executive with MetLife and later an independent agency owner, Lewis started his consulting firm in 2014 to help agencies get back on the road to profitability.
“I enjoyed helping clients as an agent for 20-plus years, but I really like going to agencies because I love to fix broken things,” says Lewis. “Every agency has things that are broken.
“I opened an agency in 1993 and wanted to know what I could do to take it to the next level. I realized that specific things were standing in the way. I discovered that the same issues that existed in my agency existed in every agency.”
Roadblocks and solutions
1. Crew—“I don’t care who is causing the drama, they are killing your agency,” Lewis says. “An agency I visited in Chicago had that one bad apple, but they claimed she was their best producer. A few months later I got a message that they had let her go and now their team was like a group hug and selling more than ever!
“There are a lot of personalities in an agency, but it’s typically the Tigger or the Eeyore,” he explains. “I want Tiggers; they’re happy and engaging. Would you rather have a Tigger who doesn’t know anything about insurance, or an Eeyore who has every possible accolade in insurance? I can teach insurance. I can’t teach someone to be a Tigger.”
“Engagement with clients is much more important today than it was even a few years ago. If you’ve never listened in on your staff while they’re making phone calls, you need to do that.”
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Pay attention to how your team members engage with clients. “Engage-ment with clients is much more important today than it was even a few years ago,” Lewis says. “If you’ve never listened in on your staff while they’re making phone calls, you need to do that.
“What is the cost of a bad employee? It costs at least double the average employee salary to have a bad employee. Some agencies even create jobs because they can’t stand to fire anybody. I’m not for getting rid of people, but I am for everybody justifying their position. You also need to know whether you have too many or not enough on your team.”
2. Course—Keep every team member on course by creating processes and procedures.
“I had a friend who worked for GEICO and if you didn’t follow their script, you were out,” Lewis says. “I’m not suggesting that you create a script for everything your team says, but have key words and phrases for them to use to help transition into the next phase of the sale. What do we typically say to our team members? ‘Go do your thing.’ There is no process to follow.
“Follow up with your clients,” he advises. “Some of your team members follow up once; some follow up ten times. There should be a process for this. The same goes for asking for and getting referrals. Having a process in place is essential.”
3. Culpability—Hold your team members accountable.
“I can’t stress accountability enough,” says Lewis. “When we start holding people accountable, they’re either going to fix the issue or they’re going to leave. If they leave, you are better off because they were the problem. Replace them with someone you can hold accountable. If they stay, you will not get the results you want. It’s like Super Nanny. The spoiled kid gets sent to the Time Out Room and eventually figures out that they’re not going to win against her. They have to fix it and they do.
“How do you hold people accountable? Use metrics as opposed to subjective criteria. You agreed to sell so many policies, send so many emails, or do so many account reviews. It’s straightforward, and it doesn’t matter how they feel they performed; the numbers don’t lie. Offer incentives. If you do just this, you’re earning your keep and we’re cool. If you do more than this you get a bonus, but if you do less we need to have a talk, and you’ll eventually have to fix it or you need to go.”
4. Culture—Are you a salesperson or a service person? Create a culture that introduces both aspects to crew members.
“A hardcore salesperson doesn’t want to look at paperwork, while ‘Sally or Sam Serviceperson’ is great with it,” explains Lewis. “The hybrids in the middle are a rare find. They’re not the best in either category, but they’re not afraid to ask questions. Because our business gravitates toward the service side, it’s critical to engage service people in the sales process.
Lewis recommends using the scripts: “Other than price …” what is the most important thing for your coverage? and “Oh, by the way …” I notice you don’t have this covered with us; why is that?
“I know a woman who is the sweetest, calmest Sally Serviceperson who wanted nothing to do with sales but she became the consistent number one seller at her firm,” says Lewis. “She understood her role in the process and that she wasn’t selling insurance but was an advisor. She thought people would be angry with her for asking the ‘Oh, by the way’ question. I asked her: ‘Of the people you asked, how many thanked you for asking?’ She said eight or nine of the ten. ‘How
many engaged in a conversation with you about the topic?’ Six or seven. ‘How many were angry that you asked?’ She questioned why they would be angry. I reminded her that that was her biggest fear when we started working together. I don’t want to change Sally Serviceperson; I just want to engage her in the sales process.”
5. Commerce (Marketing)—When it comes to marketing to your clients, think back to the previous points.
“Cross-selling is critical; have a marketing plan for sales with metrics and hold your service team responsible for sales,” Lewis says. “Use technology by branding on social media, and make sure your pages are engaging. Get and use testimonials.”
Lewis also suggests starting a business partners program by pairing with a local company every month. Promote it on your website and social media pages.
“It’s a great way to self-promote and to promote the company,” he says. “It creates interest on your social media posts, awareness of that business, and loyalty from that business to you. It’s a win all the way around.”
And don’t forget about referrals. “I built my agency on referrals,” Lewis says. “Have a process in place to find out how people are hearing about your agency and who referred them. Make sure to contact those who referred people to you and thank them. If you build your agency on referrals, you have a foundational marketing platform and your clients are less likely to shop around. You have a higher percentage closing ratio and a higher retention rate, and you bring in more people for cross-selling.”
6. Commerce (Remarketing)—“I hear agency owners say, ‘Oh no, we don’t make it about price,’ and the next thing coming out of their mouth is, ‘Let’s see if we can save you some money on that,’” says Lewis. “We have to frame the conversation away from price and toward value.
“Make sure to train your staff on value. What is value to the client, other than price? Find out what that is and sell based on that. When it comes time for renewal, clients are less likely to shop because we haven’t made it about price.
“By starting the conversation with value, you’ll be eliminating some of that remarketing. Another way to eliminate remarketing is to make sure that every phone call is an opportunity. Whether we are generating cross-selling opportunities, updating contact information, asking for referrals, or branding the agency, every phone call to the agency should be an opportunity.”
7. Commerce (Branding)—“I think agents do a horrible job of standing out from the competition, creating a brand,” Lewis says. “It takes 17 touches for a client to remember your agency. We sell them a product, and the next time we hear from them is when they have a complaint. There aren’t any touches in the middle from us that say, ‘Thank you for your business,’ ‘happy birthday,’ or ‘happy holidays.’ Using today’s technology, you should be able to do this easily.
“Don’t make it hard to do business with you,” Lewis adds. He shared a story about working with an agency in the upper Midwest that questioned why its business wasn’t growing. If a client wanted a quote, he or she had to visit the agency’s office, which was located in a remote rural area. It was an inconvenience for people to have to physically go to the agency. Despite the fantastic work quality, high retention and low loss ratio, the agency didn’t make it easy to do business with it.
“The main reasons people leave an agency are lack of attention and communication,” says Lewis. “Make sure you call people back within 24 hours, that your game face is on every time you answer the phone, and that people are greeted in a warm way; don’t tell them to take a number.”
8. Change—Don’t be afraid of change, and stay up to date with the latest technology trends.
“Some agencies are so anti-technology that it’s scary,” says Lewis. “Over the past couple of years I have seen more agencies embracing technology, but a few years ago I went into an agency and, although it had an agency management system, every desk still had a Rolodex on it. I was stunned.
“There’s so much technology to make your agency run more smoothly, grow revenue, and improve interaction and communication with your clients. To create a great customer experience, technology is absolutely critical.
“Technology today is powerful and cost effective. For example, your efficiency goes up significantly when each team member has dual monitors, yet I still go into agencies where each employee has only one. Take advantage of the baseline stuff, but always be looking for that next great thing,” Lewis concludes.
As Lewis mentioned, the same issues arise in every agency. Ideally this information can put your agency on the track to success and avoid those annoying roadblocks in the future.
By Christopher W. Cook
For more information or to request a free copy of Steve’s book:
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