Staying relevant in a changing environment
The role of the independent agent is in flux in 2018. With a large player like Amazon beginning to dip its toe into the insurance and risk management waters and direct-to-consumer products saturating the market, independent agents and brokers are facing increased demand for customized, differentiated solutions. Some may say the future role of the small and middle market agent is in jeopardy.
[I]ndependent agents are well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of tomorrow’s customers. They bring key advantages to the market that … new competitors cannot match.
Contrary to these naysayers, independent agents are well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of tomorrow’s customers. They bring key advantages to the market that these new competitors cannot match. They must, however, stay relevant and develop four important characteristics for success. Let me explain …
In the book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, Chris Guillebeau identifies four key aspects impacting the success of an individual: product, platform, audience, and money. Each of these key factors, if carefully addressed, can drastically impact one’s long-term success.
Let’s break down each of the four in more detail:
Product—Today, many agents and brokers believe their primary role is to place insurance through a competitive bidding process. The challenge for most is how to differentiate the product in the eyes of the consumer.
Because the agent and broker spend so much time playing the commodity game, the industry collectively has driven the consumers’ perception of this vital role to be nothing more than price and product. When working with agency professionals on their value propositions, I hear them say things like this all the time:
- “Well, we have quality customer service,” or
- “We like to pick up the phone and call our clients as opposed to emailing them.”
What I have always argued, though, is if I went to the competitor right down the street and asked them what makes their products or services unique, are they going to say the same thing?
When you think about what you’re bringing to the table in terms of offerings, it is essential that you assess the degree to which they are unique in the eyes of the consumer and if you are delivering your solutions in a way that enhances the customer experience. Today, in my experience, a critical component to differentiating your services lies in your ability to deliver enterprise risk management solutions that can help uncover the unforeseen risks facing your client’s organization.
The Geicos and Progressives of the world don’t push product, they stimulate the buyers’ emotions in their advertising—reassurance that should a claim occur, the insured will be covered. How can you promote a differentiated solution not focused on price and product?
Platform—As an agent or broker, you tend to rely on your agency and trust that it is promoting you, your services, and your capabilities through strategic marketing tactics. But when looking under the hood of most agencies, I find three truisms:
- Most agencies do not have a dedicated marketing arm.
- Most agencies do not have the capability or understanding of how to encourage producers to sell via social channels.
- Even though many consider digital marketing the “new normal,” there are more agents who don’t leverage social media properly than who do.
The saying that “people buy from people they trust” still rings true today. With that in mind, you can change the way you market and sell insurance and risk management services by differentiating your voice and message, then making it unique through these social channels.
How do you start?
- Capture the attention of your ideal client by accessing major social network sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Join the conversation.
- Increase your personal brand equity by establishing yourself as an expert in your desired niche or industry.
- Actively create and distribute content that shows your breadth of knowledge so that when the time is ripe, your “ask” becomes a no-brainer for the buyer in your target audience.
With that being said, let’s discuss characteristic number three…
Audience—If you’ve been in a sales role or served as a producer for a long time, you understand the importance of having a connected, raving fan network—a group of individuals who absolutely love you and who gladly sing your praises. For those of you who are newer to your roles, however, there are huge opportunities to get your message out via the social channels mentioned above, networking events, or whatever way you feel most comfortable telling your story. What’s important to remember about building a captive audience is that you must connect.
Think of it this way: most people would feel more comfortable attending a dinner party at the home of a long-time friend than they would accepting a complete stranger’s invitation to dinner to meet some new people. Why? Because when we feel connected to someone, such as a long-term friend, we feel at ease and understood. We relate to them and trust that they are relating to us.
Such a scenario plays out every day in sales. Successful agents and brokers build connections and discover commonalities in order to form the foundation of trust and loyalty with their prospects. People want to be persuaded by those to whom they can relate. Anytime you establish common ground with your prospects, you increase your persuasive powers.
Conversely, if you’re like me, you receive countless emails and phone calls throughout the day where someone pitches their product or service without even trying to make a connection! They have no understanding of the pain points being experienced by their prospective customer on any given day.
If someone called and asked me to talk about my role, the things that keep me up at night, and the things that I’m experiencing and having difficulty with, I would trust that person far more than those standard stock emails, sales pitches, or pleas from vendors to take their call or give them a meeting. Take me on a date before you ask me to marry you!
You need to play on your audience’s turf to grow a successful network. This is not an overnight thing. This will take time. It is the end game that will make you successful.
Money—In this industry, financial success will come far more quickly if you have a compelling and differentiated process, a platform to promote it on, and a captive audience to sell to. Regarding money, it’s important to understand that consumers are willing to pay a premium for a quality customer experience.
My favorite example of this is coffee. At some point in your life, you’ve either bought a drink at Starbucks, walked past one or, at the very least, wondered why people are willing to pay so much for a coffee there. It’s because of the experience! The aromatic smell, the environment after you walk into the shop, and even the feeling of choosing a venti instead of a “large” contribute to the overall customer experience.
If someone is willing to pay a premium for a cup of coffee, I think it’s fair to say, as an industry, we should be able to provide a premium service at a premium price, as long as it’s in the best interest of the customer. After all, I think it’s safe to agree that insurance is exponentially more important to our target audience than a cup of coffee … so why shouldn’t it be priced so?
In conclusion, as you navigate your changing role as an independent agent, continue to keep the four aspects of success in mind—product, platform, audience, and money. Not only will your job satisfaction increase, but so will your income. More important, your ability to serve in the best interest of your community will solidify your role within this industry for years to come.
Matt O’Neill is the managing director of the Beyond Insurance Institute. He oversees the design and development of the Beyond Insurance e-learning curriculums and assessments and strategizes with organizations on the implementation of the Beyond Insurance tools and resources. Matt also serves as a coach and speaker on differentiation and developing a competitive advantage.
Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development.
To learn more about Beyond Insurance or to get a complimentary whitepaper on Finding Your Niche, email firstname.lastname@example.org.