Indiana agency becomes national in scope as caring culture takes center stage
By Dennis Pillsbury
Insurance Management Group, Marion, Indiana, traces its roots back to 1875 when J.A. Searles started a small farm agency to serve the local area. The firm changed with the times and with new ownership, as it transformed itself from farm agency to generalist to fit the needs of its community. The latest permutations included an owner who purchased the agency—reportedly with poker winnings that he earned on ship while coming home from serving in World War II—and subsequently sold it to an investor around 2000. That investor changed the agency name in 2005 to Insurance Management Group (IMG).
Trent Dailey joined IMG in 2007 as a producer, while it was still basically a local mom-and-pop-type agency, “ripe for transformation,” Trent says. In 2015, Trent decided to lead that transformation and purchased the agency with a goal of proving his entrepreneurial savvy.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We have over I00,000 interactions with people every year. Every one of them is an opportunity to brighten their day.”
Chief Executive Officer
“That was my whole goal,” says Trent, who now is CEO of IMG. “But I realized early on that I needed to stop serving my own needs and start serving others if I wanted to create an agency culture that allowed everyone to succeed. My faith has always been important and that led me to recognize the right order for service: God first, others second, and me third.”
Paradoxically, as Trent moved away from serving his own needs to serving the needs of others, he created “a rocket ship that has more than doubled its revenue in the last five years and allowed others to reach their own personal and professional goals,” Trent continues. “Most gratifying is the fact that our culture has evolved into a caring, service-oriented culture, where each person in the agency focuses on doing the best job for our clients.
“This emphasis on service has been enhanced by a concomitant emphasis on learning,” he adds.
“We all recognize that we need to develop an unparalleled expertise about insurance and risk management if we are truly going to offer the best risk management advice and solutions. Our knowledge has grown exponentially as our culture of caring took hold.”
With the strong growth in revenue came an equal level of growth in the amount of work required from the agency leadership and Trent recognized that he needed help. His brother, Todd Dailey, was working in the IT area at Liberty Mutual. Todd had been there 11 years and he had, as he puts it, “a deep but narrow experience that I felt would translate well at a smaller agency that needed to incorporate a data-driven structure if it was going to make it to the next level.”
Todd, who serves as agency president and chief operating officer, continues, “When we talked things over, we recognized that we had complementary skill sets, coupled with common values, that could really benefit the agency and its people. Fortunately, I already knew a lot of the people at the agency and loved the culture that was starting to blossom there.
“The idea of teaming up was extremely compelling,” he adds. “So, in 2018, I took a leap and accepted the position of president and chief operating officer, with a primary goal to free up Trent so he could concentrate on what he does best, including managing his own book of business as well as focusing on strategic sales for the agency.”
“I started by creating a more data-driven environment that would allow us to better measure our performance,” Todd continues. “There was a lot of experimenting, measuring, and refining as we worked to establish the best systems for us. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of effort.
“This needed to recognize our culture and our people to come up with a system that would enhance each person’s ability to find their best fit within the agency, as well as help them provide excellent service to our clients,” he notes. “We started by implementing a Net Promoter Score, an employee engagement platform, and an analytics platform to monitor the overall metrics within the agency.
“It is always a challenge to blend data and culture, but we were ruthlessly committed to find the right way to recognize and use each person’s unique talents in a way that was productive for them and for the agency, as well as allow them to have a rewarding work life and personal life balance,” Todd explains.
What looked paradoxical on paper to some proved to be quite rewarding in reality. The use of what looks like an almost mechanistic approach created a structure that allows people to find jobs within the agency where their talents are better utilized, resulting in a more rewarding career. It also created systems that took over some of the less rewarding tasks, so that people were freed up to do what they do best.
“Our people began to see that this was a way for us to find even better ways to take care of them,” Todd says. “And when we take care of our people, they take care of clients. It creates a cycle of caring that feeds on itself, making each day rewarding and providing increased chances to create a WOW moment for our clients.”
Trent points out that “we obsess over the opportunity to WOW, to go above and beyond. It is one of our four operating principles and we continually recognize people for producing a WOW and even have a ‘We WOW’ award that we present to one of our people at the end of the year.”
Trent says that, just as Todd came in to provide a more data-driven structure in operations, “I knew we needed the same kind of approach in sales, so we could take even greater strides in that area. So, we brought in an old sales pro,” he says with a smile, eliciting a chuckling groan from James Harness, chief sales officer, who joined the agency in the summer of 2019 as one of the older members of the leadership team at the age of 48. (That seems pretty young to me.)
“[W]hen we take care of our people, they take care of clients. It creates a cycle of caring that feeds on itself, making each day rewarding and providing increased chances to create a WOW moment for our clients.”
President and Chief Operating Officer
“I spent most of my life in the sales world,” James says, “and my mentor taught me that the most important thing to do to develop a successful sales organization was to find good people. I knew what they had here at IMG. I knew I wanted to work here. So, when Trent approached me, I was ready to say ‘yes.’
“Here I was being given the opportunity to work with a group of people who had a 100% servant’s attitude,” he adds. “All I had to do was to get them to do what they were already doing, but with some structure that provides even more opportunity to grow their business outside their comfort zone, geographically perhaps, but within their comfort zone when it came to whom they did business with.
“Our sales mantra is that we want to work with people who have common values with us, who want to do business with us, and for whom we can provide expertise and excellent service that will enhance their bottom line,” James explains. “It’s simple; if you do business with people who have common values, you can hold that business for a very long time.”
Referrals are key
“I also emphasized the need to make the ask: Ask for referrals,” James continues. “If your clients like you, they’ll be happy to recommend you to others. Otherwise, you’ll be on the phone talking to people you don’t know and a sales coach once told me, ‘Cold calling is God’s punishment for not asking for referrals.’ The other advantage of working with referrals is that people almost always recommend like-minded people, so working with good people leads to working with more good people.
“Our sales mantra is that we want to work with people who have common values with us, who want to do business with us, and for whom we can provide expertise and excellent service that will enhance their bottom line.”
Chief Sales Officer
James says he also showed how collaboration could lead to even greater opportunities to grow. “We’re blessed with a team of producers who have such great knowledge and talent that the opportunities are almost unlimited,” he notes. “For some clients, the diversity of knowledge can lead to opportunities for additional cross- selling, and for prospects it may be the differentiator when we are competing with other agencies.”
Trent points out that one of the biggest changes the agency has seen since he came on board has been the change in the agency’s geographic footprint. “Thanks to James’ contacts nationally and his sales leadership, we are writing a lot more business nationwide, particularly in areas where producers have a niche, like construction, manufacturing, retail sales, municipalities, and habitational,” he notes.
Todd points to the other three principles in addition to We WOW that have been critical to the agency’s success:
“We serve, which involves not only service to clients, but service to community, where our Project IMpact partners with organizations to volunteer and sponsor in the community.” Project IMpact takes place during dedicated weeks each year when IMG team members go out in small groups on volunteer work projects, doing everything from painting to planting to cleaning to building—whatever the organizations need.
“We grow, which involves our emphasis on self-improvement—on being a learning organization where our know-ledge keeps growing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how much we’ve learned from others, including our competitors. We don’t have all the answers but we always focus on being better and more knowledgeable than we were yesterday.
“We team, which involves always leaving teammates better off than they were before.”
As Todd concludes, he points out that the agency’s success is based on caring first and foremost. Everything else springs from that. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he says. Trent adds, “We have over 100,000 interactions with people every year. Every one of them is an opportunity to brighten their day.”
Rough Notes is proud to recognize Insurance Management Group as our Agency of the Month.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.