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The sound of opportunity

Handling online leads requires a different approach

By Nancy Doucette

There are some big numbers associated with online insurance shopping. Estimates indicate that millions of people click around the Internet every month, shopping for insurance.

All those clicks sound like opportunity for some enterprising insurance agents. But attracting online insurance shoppers to an agency Web site is a big undertaking. Learning the art of search engine optimization (SEO)—careful selection of keywords to draw visitors to a site—and keeping current with it can be a full-time job. So those enterprising agents are leaving the SEO to companies that make it their full-time job to aggregate leads, and all parties—the consumer, agent and the lead aggregator—benefit.

“I sell insurance. I’m not an IT person,” declares Lisa Pacillo, a principal with All Risk Insurance Group, Inc., in Boca Raton, Florida. “If I were to try to figure out how to drive business to my Web site, it would cost me a fortune.”

When Pacillo and her business partner, Randy Schleger, founded their agency in early 2006, she recalls, “I started with a desk and a phone. Now, almost three years later, I have 1,500 clients.” She remembers clicking around the Internet, trying to figure out how to attract homeowners business to her fledgling agency.

She googled “Florida home insurance” and a couple of online lead companies popped up. She contacted both organizations, but the owners of the then relatively young HometownQuotes traveled from their headquarters in Tennessee to visit All Risk Insurance Group.

Pacillo says the agency started out buying 10 leads a day from HometownQuotes and advertising in local newspapers. “Dollar for dollar, the print ads weren’t cost effective,” she says. “There’s no guarantee that anyone is going to read the ad or who is going to respond. Based on the number of leads we were buying and the sales we were able to close compared to the sales we got from the newspaper ads, the online leads were yielding better results.”

Kindred spirits

HometownQuotes co-founder Hunter Ingram isn’t surprised by Pacillo’s experience. As a former agent himself, he grew his own “scratch” agency using online leads and so did co-founder Bob Klee.

Despite the success that Ingram and Klee had using online leads themselves, they were dissatisfied with the quality of the leads they were receiving from the available vendors. Additionally, they found the insurance knowledge of the customer service reps at the lead aggregators to be lacking. So in late 2003, Ingram and Klee founded HometownQuotes. Headquarters was in the bonus room above Klee’s garage. Ingram serves as president/CEO and Klee is CFO.

HometownQuotes quickly outgrew Klee’s bonus room. They now have some 30 employees at their Franklin, Tennessee, headquarters. That includes a full-time quality control department. The most recent hire for that department is an insurance industry veteran with 18 years of agency experience. Ingram says the insurance background that the majority of their employees have is one of the things that differentiates HometownQuotes from the competition.

Another differentiator is that HometownQuotes doesn’t offer gifts or incentives to consumers who visit their site. “We’re always looking out for our agents,” Ingram says. “We want to provide high quality leads.” Agents can receive leads for individuals interested in quotes for auto, homeowners, or renters insurance as well as life, health and group health.

Ingram explains that agents can tailor the leads to suit the appetite of the carriers the agency represents. This is accomplished through the use of filters. For instance, if an agency doesn’t have a market for individuals with a DUI on their record, those leads can be filtered out. The more filters an agency uses, the more expensive the leads become.

HometownQuotes understands that Internet leads are different from the prospect who comes into the office. To help agents gain a better understanding of those differences, Ingram facilitates regular webinars.

“In the webinar,” he continues, “I offer a 30- to 60-minute presentation about how using online leads gave me an edge over my competition when I was an agent. It’s called ‘Closing the Deal.’ During the webinar, I discuss the importance of contacting Internet leads quickly, but that doesn’t mean that all contact must be handled online. In many cases, a phone call is the quickest way to let the prospect know you’re working on a quote for them.

“I’m a big believer that if you’re not participating in some kind of online marketing program for your agency, you’re shortchanging your agency.”

Ingram says the average attend-ance for the webinars is about 100 people—that includes current agency customers as well as prospects.

From the trenches

Dalcio Andujar, principal of Florida One Insurance in Pembroke Pines, Florida, offers this advice to agents who are thinking about using online leads: “Don’t mistake online leads for online customers. They are not. You can’t expect to e-mail a quote to an online prospect and expect them to e-mail you back with their credit card number. It’s not going to happen.

“You must establish a relationship right from the beginning and build value once that prospect becomes a client,” he emphasizes.

Andujar has been using HometownQuotes since 2006. He says he appreciates the fact that he can regulate the flow of leads, especially around the holidays when shopping for insurance online tapers off. He’s capped the number of leads he gets on a weekly basis at 15. It’s a manageable number, he adds, given the process the agency uses once the leads arrive.

Florida One contacts each lead by phone to verify that the information they provided on the HometownQuotes online questionnaire is accurate and to confirm that the requested limits meet the client’s needs. “We try to make a connection at this point,” Andujar explains, “to begin to form a relationship.” Additionally, he says, making contact by phone is ultimately a time saver. “There’s no point spending time putting together a quote with several different carriers first and then discover that the consumer doesn’t have that car yet.”

Once Andujar or one of his staff has made initial contact with the lead, the agency prepares the quote. If the prospect declines to buy at that point, the lead is suspensed for contact again in three months.

It’s a process that has served Florida One well, Andujar acknowledges. “Our closing ratio is about 85% with the leads we get from HometownQuotes.”

Lisa Pacillo also believes in contacting leads by phone first whenever possible. Her agency caps the number of leads they receive at 30 per day. She estimates the close ratio for leads coming from HometownQuotes at 75%.

But the truly good news, she says, is that the agency is getting referrals from existing clients—many of whom came to the agency by way of HometownQuotes. That goodwill is the result of establishing a relationship with the leads immediately and then following that up with top-notch service.

Like Andujar, Pacillo and her staff are persistent with leads who do not buy initially. “If our first attempt with the lead doesn’t pan out, we don’t just toss it,” she says. “That’s potentially a $2,000 account—plus all the friends that they have. Or that $300 condo policy that comes from an online lead or referral…that policy could lead us to the entire building. You have to look at the big picture.”

“There is no demographic for the agent who uses HometownQuotes,” Ingram notes. “The common trait is that they need to be aggressive. There’s a mistaken belief among some agents that online leads guarantee a 100% close ratio. That’s just not the case.”

Ingram is also sharing his insights and knowledge with carrier agent councils, in addition to his regular webinars.

His message? “Not only are people going online to shop for airline tickets, iPods—you name it—they’ re going online to shop for insurance. If you’re an agent and you’re not online—if you don’t have a Web site or an Internet presence—you’re missing out on those people. It’s one more way to market yourself to consumers.”

For more information:
HometownQuotes LLC
Web site:



“If you’re not participating in some kind of online marketing program for your agency, you’re shortchanging your agency.”

—Hunter Ingram













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