AGENCY OF THE MONTH
“R” STANDS FOR RELATIONSHIPS
Montana agency helps customers find financial freedom
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
Managing Partner Brandon Smith, of Glidewell Investments & Insurance Group (GiiG), Missoula, Montana, was heading toward a career in banking when opportunity, as they say, knocked.
“Sixteen years ago, I was just out of college and working at a bank with the goal of getting into commercial lending,” he recalls. “At a family reunion, my cousin, Paul Glidewell, who was office manager for GiiG, asked me why I wasn’t working for them. We went out to lunch later to continue the discussion and I had no good answer to his question other than the fact that, as I told him, ‘I know nothing about insurance, I have no experience, no insights; I’ve never even shopped for insurance.’ I guess that sold him on me, or rather, he sold me on the fact that I could learn.”
And it looks like he was right.
Today, Brandon is the managing partner of the firm, with responsibilities for growth, marketing, public relations, systems and strategies, and soft-ware integration. Paul, who in the ’90s was brought in as office manager by his father and agency founder, Dave Glidewell, is acting president now. He oversees sales management, day-to-day operations, budgeting and the general flow of money.
Paul’s brother, Mark, is in the financial planning unit of the firm. He joined the agency soon after Paul, starting out in auto and home insurance, then adding health insurance to the GiiG’s portfolio. Life insurance was already a key offering of the firm since Dave started the agency in 1980 as a life insurance operation, expanding into personal lines thanks to an appointment by Safeco. Dave is now semi-retired but continues to service several wealth management clients a few days a week.
“We are extremely passionate in the way we do business,” Brandon points out. “Our mission is to end the financial crisis families are experiencing by working with them to find the best mechanisms—insurance or otherwise—to achieve financial freedom, to make certain that an unforeseen event or even a foreseen event, such as retirement, does not result in financial hardship. We started out doing this for families in our area but, as we grew and looked for new opportunities, we found that we were able to duplicate this in other geographic areas by remembering the key ingredient—relationships.
“We actually have a virtual relationship with the majority of our clients that is very similar to the relationship that we have with our local clients,” Brandon says. “As we experimented with online leads, we found that they are exactly the same as a word-of-mouth lead. They contact us because they want to find out what we have to offer. The only difference is that we have to contact them telephonically or electronically rather than in person.
“The difference between a contact and contract is the letter ‘R.’ I believe the ‘R’ stands for relationships. Once you have the client’s heart, their wallet follows, then their loyalty, retention and referrals.0It’s how you create customers for life.”
When you think about it, all successful relationships are built on communication. Whether it’s your marriage or your trust in the plumber whom you always call when there’s a problem, it comes down to letting the party in question know what you expect and them responding in a way that meets your expectations.
“We want to learn, grow, and maximize our potential, but we also recognize that we are not going to be one of the largest agencies in the United States, but we are going to be successful and of great value to our clients and our community.”
In the electronic world, that’s also true. The only difference is that the communication may be a little more uncertain to one or both parties because of the computer interface rather than the face-to-face communication where we can “read” the person. But, as anyone who has played poker with a really good player knows, that ability is uncertain at best, and more often than not, completely wrong. With electronic communication, results are paramount. If promises are kept, information is relayed, and, most important, claims are paid, then the relationship evolves into one that cannot be broken by simple offers of lower prices. We can see this in a customer testimonial on the GiiG website where James from Michigan says, “I could shop around for slightly lower rates … but don’t because of the tremendous service GiiG gives.”
GiiG worked with consultant Dave Ramsey and became an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) in 19 states through his program. Based on previous results and the Ramsey program, they expect to receive approximately 4,300 leads this year. Brandon notes that the agency achieved a 97.2% contact rate with all the leads they got in the fourth quarter of last year.
To achieve this success, the agency acted on information from a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study of phone call attempts. The study found that the greatest success was achieved when contact was made within five minutes of receipt of the online lead. “We go one better than that,” Brandon declares. “We contact the person within one minute of receipt. Our phone system is Ring Central so we know immediately when we receive a lead, and we follow up without delay.”
The HBR study found that the best day of the week to make contact and qualify a lead is Thursday. “So, every Thursday, we get on the phone and start calling people who we failed to reach initially,” Brandon says. The effort is held together by Keap, a CRM system from Infusionsoft designed for small businesses.
“The key to success,” Brandon continues, “is discipline. Over a 45-day period from receipt of a lead, we have 19 different touches. In addition to phone calls and leaving a phone message, we also text and email online leads. We’ve found that people are most likely to respond to a text so we include a link in the text that allows them to set up a 15-minute conversation with us.
“You have to have continual follow-up, to focus on building the virtual relationship—to be there and be real virtually. It’s truly a balancing act. Once contact is made, we begin the natural sales process, which includes use of many social media platforms to maintain our virtual relationship with each client.”
Results speak for themselves. Of the 97.2% that had been reached in the fourth quarter of 2019, “we sold to 50%, 34% were still open, and only 15% were a no sale; our closing rate actually runs around 67%,” Brandon points out. “Essentially, we use technology to enhance all of our relationships. Technology allows us to spend more time communicating with clients, either virtually or physically.”
Maintaining its roots
“Although we have relationships in 19 states,” Brandon continues, “we continue our tradition of supporting our local community and clients therein with sponsorships of a number of youth groups as well as other local nonprofits. We are very active and trusted in our community. Evidence of this is the fact that nearly 900 churches have chosen our agency to provide their insurance.
“One of my own contributions to the community was coaching a Little League team, the GiiG Team,” Brandon adds proudly. “We created a social media channel so people could follow our team’s progress.
“They were followed like the Boston Red Sox (Brandon is a Sox supporter, for which I, a Yankee faithful, forgive him). It really created an enthusiastic fan base for the team and, incidentally, resulted in an additional $11,000 in revenue for the agency as some of those fans came to us for their insurance needs.
“That’s not why we did this, but it does go to show that if you do the right thing, the rest will follow.”
Helping the industry
Brandon was one of the original co-founders of the Insurance Agency Owners Alliance (IAOA), an organization that brings independent insurance agency owners together to share and learn from each other. It is an invitation-only group that now boasts over 6,600 agency owner members.
“The group has provided us with some great ideas and, for a while,” Brandon admits, “I tried to implement nearly every best practice I ran across. However, I quickly learned that only those ideas that enhanced what we were best at—building relationships and putting people before programs—were ideas we should be implementing. Some ideas worked great for others but just weren’t for us. We needed to remain true to ourselves.
“We want to learn, grow, and maximize our potential,” he continues. “We also recognize that we are not going to be one of the largest agencies in the United States, but we are going to be successful and of great value to our clients and our community. And we are going to provide the 20 people who work with us a rewarding way to make a living, as well as providing opportunities for future employees as we grow.”
The agency has a diversified revenue stream, with property/casualty making up 56%, 28% from life/health and 16% from wealth management. In addition to the Missoula headquarters, the agency also acquired a second location just 24 miles outside Bozeman in 2006.
Brandon concludes: “My uncle and cousins paved the way for me. It was be-cause of their hard work that I am here. Thank God my cousin invited me in.”
Rough Notes is pleased to recognize GiiG as our Agency of the Month.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.