By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA, TRA, ASA, and Carolyn Smith, TRA
INDUSTRY PRACTICE GROUPS
Ten steps to set up a functioning, effective niche-focused group
A functioning and effective IPG is responsible for strategy, marketing, communication, data, work process, risk management solutions, … and profitability within the industry niche.
What are Industry Practice Groups (IPGs)? Quite simply, they consist of a number of individuals who band together to share knowledge and expertise, learn from each other, and build capabilities to better serve their clients. A functioning and effective IPG is responsible for strategy, marketing, communication, data, work process, risk management solutions, innovations, client deliverables, carrier relationships, and profitability within a particular industry niche.
The objectives for these industry teams include:
- Effective use of technical, tactical, and human resources to gain market share
- Organized approaches to thought leadership, carrier relationships, business development and the customer experience
- A clear and concise business purpose. A WHY—a cause that goes far beyond product deliverables
- Enhanced brand awareness, brand trust, brand differentiation and brand equity, which invariably leads to client acquisition, referrals, and retention
- A well-defined target audience supported by coordinated, strategic marketing, collateral materials, and speaking engagements
- Ability to tailor (and in many cases broaden) insurance programs, claims, and carrier risk control support
- Enhanced cross-sell opportunities
There are 10 steps to setting up an IPG.
- Identify other IPGs. The first step in adopting an IPG model is to gain an understanding of what already exists. Consider using the following criteria for determining which industry or industries should be placed at the top of the list:
- Existing client base and referral sources
- Book of business growth and profitability
- Unique affiliations with associations and other trusted advisors who serve the market segment
- Resources that enhance brand differentiation
- Projected industry growth
- Market trends and evolving risk issues
- Degree of saturation by competing firms in your marketplace
- Start with an IPG business plan. The business plan should focus on all aspects of the IPG. Consider the following framework:
- Executive summary, including mission statement
- Industry overview, including trends and evolving issues. Include charts, graphs, and tables
- Market analysis, opportunity, and competition
- Industry associations and other strategic partners who serve the industry
- Strategy to gather, assimilate and analyze data
- Target niches within the industry
- Internal resource assessment
- Potential carrier partnerships
Strategic marketing plan, including goal setting
The business plan should include goals, strategies, solutions, as well as potential roadblocks. As the project has numerous moving parts, the IPG leader(s) should delegate roles and responsibilities within the framework of the plan. Time spent on the business plan will pay off in spades as the IPG is designed and built.
- Appoint strong and committed group leaders. Once the IPG has been determined and the business plan created, the next step is to appoint strong leadership. Strong leadership is critical for an IPG to thrive. The decision should not be based on seniority or simply the volume of the current book of business managed. Rather, the attributes of a successful IPG leader include:
- Passionately committed to the IPG model
- Organized with an ability to delegate and hold others accountable
- Experience and credibility within the industry
- Respected by his or her colleagues
- Outstanding people skills (cheerleader, coach, mentor, and enforcer)
- Leads by example
A good leader acts as the focal point for the community, attracting members, encouraging participation, ensuring relevance, and building capability.
- Determine group members. Once the IPG has been identified, business plan built, and leadership put in place, the next step is to identify group members. These are agency leaders, producers, account managers, claims, risk control, and CSRs who have experience with and/or a keen interest in the specific industry.
Some colleagues may wish to participate in more than one group, and that is all right. But they should declare a primary affiliation with one IPG—not three or four. It is expected that this individual will respond to the wishes of IPG leadership as respects to data collection, marketing, work process, risk management solutions, carrier relationships, and client deliverables.
- Gather data through the use of a practice group worksheet. The process of data gathering is one of the most critical steps in the creation of a successful IPG. Why? Data drives decisions. For that reason, a practice group worksheet should be created that aligns to the business planning process outlined in the second step. The worksheet encompasses the requested data of the IPG leader(s). It contains:
- Name of IPG
- Brief industry overview, including trends and evolving issues
- Market analysis and opportunity
- Expected products, services, resources, and solutions to be offered within the IPG model
- Leadership experience
- Pertinent data, including:
- Number of existing clients who fit within the industry overview
- Name of key client(s) (i.e., sizeable and recognizable market leader)
- Total premium volume
- Market opportunity (i.e., number of prospects and estimated premium volume)
- Book of business loss ratio
- Notable services, resources, and solutions offered by agency
- Unique staff experience (i.e., comes from specific industry, underwriting, claims, loss control)
- Industry associations and other organizations
- Key carrier relationships that serve industry niche
- Premium volume by carrier
Once the data has been carefully evaluated, the IPG leader(s) should put together an IPG market opportunity memorandum, which spells out the following concerning the niche: depth of expertise and industry knowledge; brand position/brand awareness; existing market share (client base); differentiated resources and capabilities; competitors; market trends; marketing strategy, including referral sources; and carrier appetite.
- Schedule IPG meetings. The frequency and content of IPG meetings is of paramount importance. A scheduled routine is suggested. The IPG’s kick-off session should be a “big deal.” It should be supported by a well-thought-out agenda and include senior representatives of the firm. With the IPG leader orchestrating the 60- to-90-minute program, he or she should spell out pertinent components of the business plan including:
- His or her professional background including experience and passion for the industry
- Recognize others who have contributed to building the IPG business plan
- Brief industry overview, including trends and evolving issues
- Market analysis, opportunity, and competition
- Data collected, including premium volume, loss ratios, carrier relationships, etc.
- Noteworthy clients and affiliations (i.e., associations and other trusted advisors)
- Action plan to bring the IPG to full potential
- Marketing strategies, including internal communications and external materials
- Frequency and content of IPG meetings
- Expectations of those who support the IPG, including the importance of participation and thought leadership
- The IPGs should continue to hold monthly sessions with a focus on industry trends, evolving issues, marketing, and business development.
- Form an IPG advisory board. While the IPC leader(s) and his or her practice group will have tremendous insights and boots on the ground experience, an advisory board consisting of industry experts that represent associations, professional advisors who focus on the niche, insurance carriers, as well as business leaders who work in the industry has merit.
The advisory board’s duties and responsibilities should be assigned by the IPG leader(s). The responsibilities of the board may include strategic advice as respects to marketing, services delivered, networking suggestions, innovations as well as trends and issues facing the industry. Although the advisory board is an informal group of professionals and does not have decision-making authority, it adds credibility to the IPG.
- Design a marketing plan. It is imperative that an IPG is supported by a marketing plan—a strategic document that links marketing strategies and objectives. A well-designed marketing plan outlines suggested strategies on how its firm enters the product, service, or solution into its market with methods to get the consumer to experience it.
Marketing materials should be developed, including website content, print brochures, pamphlets, service sheets, surveys and assessments, and videos.
- Partner with insurance carriers that cater to the industry. Insurance carriers have vast knowledge about the industries they serve. This includes, but is not limited to, risk analytics, industry trends, evolving risk issues, industry growth patterns, claims data, underwriting performance by line of coverage, and relationships with industry associations. In forming an IPG, insurance carriers are valued business partners as they possess:
- In-depth knowledge of the industry
- Risk analytics
- Competitive landscape
- Ideal client profiles
- Relationships with associations and other trusted industry advisors
- Marketing strategies
- White papers on industry trends and evolving risk issues
- Underwriting profitability by line of coverage
- Ability to tailor policy forms and underwriting flexibility
Today’s underwriter desires a relationship with an agency that demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of an industry as well as the individual client profile. For that reason, the IPG model will attract high-quality carriers who wish to partner in a meaningful way as they recognize that a relationship with the agency will deliver above-average underwriting performance.
- Develop skills through training, coaching, and mentoring. A high-performing IPG includes skill development in the form of training, coaching, and mentoring. That being said, the agency should build a knowledge and skill-development center that houses business development, account management, and growth training, specific to the industry segment.
Mentorship is a wonderful component of a thriving IPG model. It encompasses a developmental relation-ship in which a more experienced person helps a less experienced professional. A true mentoring relationship works in both directions—the mentor learns about new ideas from the mentee, just as the mentee learns timeless wisdom from the mentor.
It is also important to recognize that insurance carriers and associations have industry-specific training and coaching programs. As the IPG evolves, you will be wise to tap into these resources.
Scott Addis is CEO and Carolyn Smith is director of marketing for Beyond Insurance. Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. Scott’s agency was recognized by Rough Notes magazine as a Marketing Agency of the Month, he was a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, and he was selected as one of the “25 Most Innovative Agents in America.” Carolyn serves as a performance coach for the Beyond Insurance Quest for Success and Reach Your Peak six-month coaching, mentoring, and performance-enhancement programs. To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott at email@example.com.