LOOKING AHEAD TO 2021: DRIVING SALES IN UNCERTAIN TIMES
Three ways agencies can market efficiently and smartly
By Jeff Holmes
For many independent agents, the year 2020 brought dramatic change to the way they do business and to their prospects for the future. As everyone navigated uncharted and uncertain waters, some agencies experienced an alarming drop in income, while others were able to hold their own and even grow.
What was the difference? While many factors may have been in play, one key difference was whether an agency reacted to the pandemic with extreme caution—pulling back on sales and marketing—or whether they were proactive in making changes and expanded their marketing.
Now, as agents assess their performance and plan for 2021, at the top of the list for many will be a strategy to drive new business at a time when an uncertain U.S. economy struggles to recover.
Marketing aggressively at a time when budgets are strained may not make sense to some, but since the pandemic began, it became apparent that agencies that effectively moved their marketing agenda forward fared better than ones that didn’t. In fact, a recent Entrepreneur article pointed out that “long-term studies show the right approach during economic uncertainty is to increase—not decrease—your marketing spend.”
This article will examine three ways that independent agencies can drive sales and marketing efficiently and smartly in uncertain times: refocusing and targeting marketing efforts, investing in technology and data analytics, and building brand ambassadors among the staff.
In a nutshell, independent agents need to plan for laser-focused and more efficient marketing to drive sales. Today, content is king and content marketing has emerged as a leading way to reach a specific audience rather than a broader group of prospects. Content marketing is generally defined as the creation and sharing of online material that does not explicitly promote a brand but rather provides content that will stimulate interest in products or services.
According to HubSpot, the most common measurement of success for content marketing programs is total sales. HubSpot’s recent surveys showed that 24% of marketers planned on increasing their investment in content marketing in 2020, and nearly 40% of marketers said content marketing is a very important part of their overall marketing strategy.
This marketing approach works well when it shares content that is specific to the person or business that may be looking for this information and when that content is available in different media, such as videos, blogs, social media posts, etc. It is also an effective way to market without spending unnecessary resources.
Marketing aggressively at a time when budgets are strained may not make sense to some, but since the pandemic began, it became apparent that agencies that effectively moved their marketing agenda forward fared better than ones that didn’t.
According to Bizfluent.com, “Promotional resources can be concentrated on a target market, while the advertising message is designed specifically to resonate with consumers in that group. Also, a target market for Firm A is less likely to get the same level of attention from Firms B and C. Together, these factors improve the potential for brand loyalty.”
Targeted messages can share how you can fulfill clients’ needs and put your agency in the spotlight, educating clients on various coverages and benefits. For example, sharing content on social media pages can encourage prospects to fill out a basic form on the agency website, allowing the agency to collect their name and email. Then, the agency can reach out to them with a monthly e-newsletter or other in-depth content to drive new sales and cross-sell products.
To be successful, however, content has to be fresh, relevant and well placed. Too much posting can overwhelm an audience. Marketing Evolution reports that modern consumers are “exposed to an overwhelming amount of marketing messages—up to 10,000 a day—and as a result, only engage with messages that are relevant to their needs.”
Agencies should start with the basics, making sure that content on the agency website is engaging, user-friendly and informative, and supported by a content management system that enables a designated agency staff member to easily update it.
Social media is another effective, low-cost tool. ReviewTrackers.com reported that “the key to insurance and social media is to get people’s mindshare. Focus on delivering information that can foster trust. And offer options and resources that continually educate your audience.” It also cited client input as valuable: “Your client success stories, photos, and videos are a great way to humanize your insurance brand and incorporate user-generated content into your social media marketing.”
Marketing content is also a great opportunity for clients to get to know your staff—features like an “Agent Spotlight” can engage clients easily via a short “selfie” video or story with a few photos of that staffer. Clients will become familiar with your employees and know that they can get help and guidance from any member of the team whenever needed.
Technology and analytics
The saying “Work smarter, not harder” comes to mind for a post-pandemic 2021. Investing in technology and using data analytics effectively is another key to a targeted sales and marketing effort—and overall agency efficiency. Using smart technology and understanding your data will increase agency efficiency and help your team operate smarter on a daily basis. This investment starts with the agency management system (AMS), which is not just a data network to share files securely, schedule appointments, download and share data from carriers and conduct transactions. It also captures client data to build lists and identify strengths and gaps in insurance sales or potential cross-selling opportunities.
When an AMS is used to its potential, it makes an independent agency more efficient. It enables all client data to live in one place, automates an agency’s office, and provides a streamlined communication channel between carriers and agents.
Data-driven metrics from an agency website and social media can also help drive an agency’s marketing efforts forward and reveal how well a targeted marketing campaign is working. Google Analytics can be used to see where website readers are engaged and what content is still relevant.
Likewise, social media tracking shows what prospects are reading, commenting on, and sharing with others. Agencies can use the data gathered monthly to ascertain which clients need what products and cross-sell the products as needed.
According to AgencyBloc.com, “One of the most lucrative opportunities you can find with analytics is cross-selling opportunities. You can manipulate your analytics to see just how many clients you could be selling additional policies to.” They also noted that the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5% to 20%, while the probability of selling to an existing client is 60% to 70%.
While many independent agencies do not have the budget to hire a full-time marketing staff member, it is important to have someone who can be a champion of marketing, even if it is part-time. This can be done by adding the responsibility to an existing position, using college students as interns, or contracting a marketing consultant to offer expertise and guidance.
At the same time, agency principals can expand the agency’s marketing reach by building a sales and marketing culture. Agencies can tap into the entire staff’s skillset to gather ideas, combine marketing strengths and establish this culture within the agency—instilling the belief that everything each staff member does creates an opportunity to present products and services that meet all client needs.
Staff who are informed can share the same product information and messaging and can speak to an agency’s strengths while building relationships with clients and prospects to make the agency brand stronger. Agency principals can encourage staff to request reviews and testimonials from clients when they have closed a sale. Getting feedback is vital to improving overall staff performance and can be shared on your website and social media channels.
It’s important to remember that every conversation each staff member has relative to insurance can be beneficial to the agency’s brand, and each interaction with a client or prospect is important. The smoother the conversation with each contact, the more the agency will benefit and increase its income. The agency may also gain word of mouth referrals, social media shares, and positive testimonials and reviews to benefit its channels.
In building the brand ambassadors within the agency, the agency principal should understand the staff’s strengths and have developmental plans to move people forward in the areas key to the agency’s future viability. Are employees currently using their strengths to the fullest? Are their skills aligned with tasks that benefit the future of the agency?
Having access to training and learning resources is a must for today’s independent agent. Continued training and learning will help identify future careers for staff and build cohesiveness. State insurance offices and carriers can be valuable resources for remote training programs, sales programs, and affordable education on various topics. Affordable educational opportunities also exist online in places like edX.org and Grow with Google. Staff should be made aware of and encouraged to check out relevant topics. Mentoring programs can also be valuable so staff can learn from one another, reveal strengths and develop more skillsets.
By focusing on an efficient, targeted marketing strategy, investing in technology and data analytics, and building a sales and marketing culture, agencies can position themselves for success in 2021.
Jeff Holmes is the chief operating officer of SIAA, Inc., and can be reached at email@example.com.