An independent agent can spend countless hours investigating leads and thousands of dollars in advertising in the pursuit of new business. Knowing the best methods, investigating new marketing trends, and creating a referral pipeline can make prospecting more customer-centric and more efficient for overall agency growth.
Use Traditional Marketing Methods
In spite of the social media revolution of the 21st century, some traditional methods of marketing outreach are still crucial.
- Maximize your value to potential clients. Customers value the attributes primarily held by independent agencies:
- Agent familiar with account
- Agent analyzes needs and finds best coverage
- Expert to meet with face-to-face
- Focus advertising on strengths of independent agent:
- Finds best policy for price
- Available locally
- Builds personal relationship
- Finds tailored coverage
- Communicate with current customers. It’s as important as publicizing to potential customers.
- Use emailed company newsletters and ask people to forward it at the bottom (see “Content Marketing” below). Reinforcing the choice made by current clientele through ongoing publicity reduces defections as well.
- Articles should highlight new and most popular services and specialty coverages as well as accomplishments. (More than one-third of small commercial customers say they don’t rely on their agent for advice on coverage. Perhaps a more consistent communication strategy to clients will demonstrate what your agency can offer.)
- Trade associations are important sources of information on insurance. They influence the decision-making process, particularly for businesses that may not be mainstream (e.g., day care, nail salons).
- Identify which current customers can be targeted for new services. Stimulate cross-buying (auto, home and umbrella). Small commercial buyers indicate an interest in packages designed for their business: key person life, investment services, personal property/casualty, credit products and personal life. Some potential clients are willing to switch providers to get these services.
- Use integrated marketing. Work with car dealerships and realtors for joint advertising and cross referrals of services and products.
- Get involved in community causes and participate in special events:
- Staff a booth at your next fire station open house.
- Donate child safety seats to your local police department for the needy.
- Adopt a local school during fire safety week.
- Sponsor a local youth group or sports team.
- Use affinity merchandise to gain name recognition:
- Offer safety “seals of approval” to school kids during safety awareness campaigns.
- Print a small, quick-reference guide for emergency road services.
- Provide other low-cost tools that educate and motivate.
- Ask for customer feedback:
- Invite your customers in to an employee meeting to give feedback on their recent experience with your agency. Customer service will improve, and word will get around.
Capitalize on Internet Marketing
Experts in the Big “I” Agents Council for Technology (ACT) say it’s urgent and critical that agencies participate online. Those that don’t are invisible to the majority of potential customers, who are searching for insurance information online.
No marketing plan is complete without a robust Web site.
- Must be professionally designed.
- Add content regularly to optimize search engine results. For ideas see “Ten Things Agents Should Know about SEO”
- Must meet customers’ expectations:
- Offer quote capability. According to the comScore Online Auto Insurance Shopping Report, in 2012 69% of shoppers went online to obtain price quotes on auto insurance. Only 25% called toll-free numbers or visited a local agent.
- Offer a self-service portal for customers to access their policies, download ID cards, etc., day or night. You can outsource this service to vendors like Artisan and others. For guidance on self-service portals, see Inc.’s article, “How to Provide Customer Self-Service Online”
- For further guidance on Web marketing, visit Agents Council for Technology online.
ACT experts say it is both urgent and critical that agencies participate in social media.
For information on a balanced approach to using technology for sales and marketing, see ACT’s article, “A Balanced Approach to Agency Marketing.”
For information on how to develop as a business in the new social culture, read ACT’s “Becoming a Social Business.”
View Ernst & Young’s report on U.S. insurance trends, including the need to use technology, here.
Referrals are a very effective way of gaining new customers. But many people have trouble asking for one.
The first priority is to get over your fear. Bear in mind that most people like to help other people (if there is no negative cost to them).
The most effective way to gain referrals is to make it standard operating procedure to ask for one from every satisfied client. A face-to-face request is the most effective, then phone, then email.
- Add a sentence in a bright color to the email signatures of your staff: “If you like our service, tell a friend! We love referrals!”
- Use your current customer database to identify potential customers. Ask for a face-to-face meeting in which to discuss the referral; if the prospect doesn’t agree to an in-person meeting, use the phone or email.
- Use LinkedIn tutorial.
- Use Facebook
- Use Twitter #clientreferral
Listening and Offering What the Prospective Customer Needs
Have you ever sat down with someone who really listened to you? It’s rare—you remember that person. He or she stands out in your mind, and you want to go back to him or her.
Be that kind of person. Be a good listener and create that kind of rapport with every customer. When you listen to find out what that customer needs, you can match him readily with the best product.
Tips for good listening:
- Don’t get so wrapped up in what you can offer that you forget to find out what the prospective customer needs.
- Bear in mind the old adage: “When my mouth is moving, I’m not learning anything.”
- If the prospect asks you about your business or background, answer, but be brief. Then take the focus off yourself and turn it back on the prospect.
- Learn what they need: that way you'll have a much easier time presenting them with solutions that meet their needs. When the product matches the client’s need, the sale is easy.
- Actively listen to the customer. Show that you're actively listening by making eye contact, nodding, saying, “Yes, I see,” or jotting a note.
- Don’t interrupt a customer when he or she is speaking: Ask clarifying questions when the customer is finished.
Community Building and Engagement
The word "community" is derived via Old French from the
Latin communitas (com, "with/together" + munus, "gift"),
a broad term for fellowship or organized society.
Definition of Community Building
It’s a range of practices that alleviates problems and helps create a sense of community among individuals who live within a region or who share a common interest. It is sometimes referred to as community development or community service.
- Insurance agencies have long been aware that involvement in their community’s causes and events is good business practice.
- Approaching community involvement with a bigger goal, however—the health of your community--will, in the long run, benefit your agency even more.
- Communities are enhanced when causes are approached with a sense of possibility, generosity and celebration of gifts.
Places to get involved include, but are not limited to:
- Public libraries. They establish a sense of place in a community. They are anchor institutions that, in times of disaster and economic struggle, are the heart of their communities.
- Houses of worship.
- Schools (tutoring, mentoring, coaching).
- Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, Lions, other service organizations.
As you meet people in these organizations, get to know them and try to connect them with others in the community who share their interests. Be of service.
As you participate in the online revolution, finding content for blog posts and Tweets can be a challenge.
The good news is you have lots of content right within your agency:
- Post your involvement in community causes and events on your blog, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ but not in a self-promotional way (more in a celebratory way, celebrating the community).
- Brand journalism: Assign someone in your agency to write down your company’s success stories: Discounts found for clients, smart deals structured, problems solved. These can be posted on your Web site; then write posts in social media that link to the stories on your site. Use the success stories in your email newsletter.
- Target your newsletter: It’s a measurable, cost-effective way to grow client accounts. Send success stories on certain topics to clients who are likely to be interested in those topics. Use an email system like Constant Contact
- Write down the questions your customers ask. Post a snippet on social media and a link to the full answer on your blog. This makes you part of the education economy, where people want information, not a hard sell.
Content from Outside Your Agency
- Curate Web content that would interest your clients (always giving attribution). Set up a Google Alert on a topic clients have expressed interest in. Google will troll the Web for articles on that topic and notify you automatically. Talkwalker is another source.
- Always think of what your customers need to know in order to manage their lives and businesses better. Don’t just think about what you want to say.
- Segment your customers. Some are interested in home and auto, others are interested in business interruption insurance.