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ACHIEVING AGENCY GROWTH

ACHIEVING AGENCY GROWTH

ACHIEVING AGENCY GROWTH
March 30
08:31 2021

LEADERSHIP

ACHIEVING AGENCY GROWTH

Combining vision and leadership to drive sustained organizational success

By Doug Coombs

Starting and growing a successful independent insurance agency—or any business, for that matter—takes hard work, discipline, and good business sense. It also takes leadership and vision—the ability to know who you are as an agency and what you want to become. Ultimately, it takes a commitment to share and continually reinforce that vision with your team.

Such awareness and vision will provide the ability to inspire yourself and your agency’s key players, so they commit to your agency’s long-term goals. This helps define your brand, focus your business plan and build a successful agency that offers insurance solutions to its clients and helps the communities it serves.

Start with the basics

An important step to leading in your community and leading others to succeed alongside you is to define your agency’s mission, vision, and values. While many agency owners ignore these basic statements, they are important documents that belong in your business plan and/or strategic plan as living, breathing components of your business; they underlie your success.

Building long-term success involves inspiring your team to create success for your agency day in and day out, through economic ups and downs, and in the face of industry and competitive challenges.

In a recent Inc. article, Marissa Levin wrote, “… these three identity elements define what a company believes, stands for, and values more than profits; where the company is going; and why the company exists. Without clarity around these three elements, the company will struggle, it will remain in a consistent reactive state, and its employees will lack clarity on its purpose and direction.”

By first defining their agency mission, independent agents can identify what is most important to them in terms of why they are in business and what products and services they will offer to which clients.

Next, agents can spell out their vision for what they aspire to become—what type of agency they want to build, what will result in the best outcome for their team, and how they want their customers and their community to perceive them. This is also important in defining an agency brand and the relationship you want to have with your customers.

Finally, identify the values your agency will uphold, defining how you and your team will conduct business and conduct yourselves as you interact with clients to meet their needs.

Having these statements as a mantra for everyone in the agency—from the office manager to customer service representatives and agency producers—will help guide staff, provide structure, and increase professional service to all of the agency’s clients.

As your business grows, matures, and adds staff, it’s important to review these statements, and evaluate your agency’s strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis is an effective way to keep a finger on the pulse of your identity to make sure you stay on course. This review will show where your business excels and where there is room for improvement.

Instilling leadership

Focusing on these mission, vision, and values statements doesn’t take away from time spent retaining and attracting new business. In fact, they provide a solid foundation to building a focused sales culture and producing better outcomes.

This is where leadership enters the picture.

Share with your team how these statements are vital to the agency’s success, showing them how the underlying principles will lead them to operate with more cohesion and understanding. Having this conversation empowers a team to understand why you went into business, appreciate the direction, and do their best to reach clearly defined agency goals.

As a leader, … support and encourage your team’s desire to grow and expand their skills. Implement training and learning opportunities for career development, especially those that can increase sales.

Set meaningful short-term and long-term goals and standards for your team to drive shared success. Strong, clear leadership should communicate how staff performance will be measured and the benefits of adhering to these standards. Be transparent and discover how the agency/staff relationship prospers as a result.

Discuss the language your sales team uses to engage new and existing clients, incorporating your business values into the sales process and inte-grating the core values into messaging and proposals. This is an effective way to highlight how your agency’s core values shape the client experience.

Another important step is to provide regular performance indicators by investing in tools that add efficiency and transparency to your team’s efforts. For example, a digital dashboard helps everyone see key performance indicators (KPIs) and track what each team member is working on.

These dashboards should offer data such as the volume of sales calls, visits, presentations, customer service inquiries, and the number of projects completed. They add accountability to the goals set for the month, the quarter, and the year, while providing real-time data to give you a fresh perspective each day and communicate statistics on sales and prospects.

Accountability, recognition, training

To maximize your agency’s results, it is also critical to establish accountability and recognition for your team. Leading your team to success means consistently acknowledging a job well done and discussing ways people could have handled any transactions differently. Review missed opportunities and discuss ways to improve performance or support better outcomes. Last, end on a high note. Discuss the smart tactics, behaviors, and habits that help broaden the agency’s networks, expand relationships, and ultimately sign new clients and renew policies.

As an agency owner, it’s important to be open to hearing what your staff and clients are saying to better your business as it grows. This point was highlighted in a post by Suzanne Lucas on adaptive leadership that appears on The Balance Careers website, which says that being a leader “… means accepting feedback, as well. What are your employees saying? What are your customers saying? Do surveys and look at the data. You can’t just ask and ignore it. You need to reflect on what works and what does not and take the risk to change it.”

As a leader, it’s also important to support and encourage your team’s desire to grow and expand their skills. Implement training and learning opportunities for career development, especially those that can increase sales. For example, if your office sells personal lines only, learning about and selling commercial insurance lines will expand your book of business to include everything from home-based business owners to small shops and retailers; it also can differentiate from your competitors and possibly energize sales.

If your agency does not have the internal resources available to provide necessary training, contact your carriers to learn more about their training initiatives applicable to your staff. If your agency is part of a network, consider what the network offers for training and learning. Training may help staff strengthen sales of existing products or entice them to sell new products recently appointed to the agency.

Sustain growth and build long-term success

Even if your agency was built on a solid foundation and experiences growth over time, it is likely that sales will level off or an economic downturn may put the brakes on agency growth and profitability. That’s why it is vital to look for ways to sustain growth and build your agency’s long-term success.

By understanding that their work matters and how it fits into the agency’s long-term mission, vision, and values, each member of your team will know they are an extension of the agency, its brand, and its success.

Some of the steps described already—from setting goals to training, recognition and accountability—can help. It’s also important to keep your whole team engaged in your mission, vision and values, whether you do it by holding team meetings or spotlighting employees for a job well done. It may help to engage in team building, for instance, inviting staff to help the community by completing a project outside of work while still getting paid.

These activities are particularly important today, as many people continue to work remotely without the day-to-day contact and camaraderie to which they are accustomed. Strong agency leaders will reach back to their core values, mission and vision to draw on their teams, promote positivity and give the agency team the support needed to continue to drive sales.

Building long-term success involves inspiring your team to create success for your agency day in and day out, through economic ups and downs, and in the face of industry and competitive challenges. That’s why it’s so important to recognize hard work and give rewards where appropriate, and encourage every team member to take ownership for agency results each day, month, and year.

By understanding that their work matters and how it fits into the agency’s long-term mission, vision, and values, each member of your team will know they are an extension of the agency, its brand, and its success.

The author

Doug Coombs is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of SIAA (Strategic Insurance Agency Alliance, Inc.). He can be reached at dougc@siaa.net.

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