Marketing Agency of the Month
New-fangled ways to reach
Connecticut agent overcomes discomfort with technology
and pushes the marketing envelope
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
“They made me uncomfortable,” says Chris Paradiso, owner of Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services, LLC, Stafford Springs, Connecticut. He readily admits that computers were not his thing. “When I started selling life, health and annuities in 1998, my computer skills involved just getting e-mail, and I was perfectly happy with that level of expertise.”
In 2002, Chris branched out into property/casualty insurance through an arrangement with a P-C agency. However, a proposed business deal with that agency did not reach fruition, so Chris went out to get company appointments to write property and casualty business on his own. “That was about three-and-a-half years ago,” Chris points out. “I found that I really liked the property/casualty area. You get to learn all about a client’s business and I liked the challenge and the intellectual stimulation that provided.
“In a lot of ways, that deal falling through was one of the best things that happened to me,” Chris acknowledges. “It forced me to really get into the property/casualty business myself and I love it.”
That love did not extend to computers, however. A year ago, Chris still was using his computer for e-mails only. But he also recognized that the numbers were not on his side. When you look at the fact that about 85% of shoppers start out by researching on the Internet the product they intend to purchase, not having a presence there made no sense.
Fortunately, one of his insurance company reps introduced Chris to Adam DeGraide, founder and chief executive officer of Astonish Results, LLC, a digital marketing company. The rep believed that the two men would get along—and she was right. Chris and Adam hit it off. The relationship grew into a successful business partnership that resulted in Paradiso Insurance moving from very little Internet presence to a pre-eminent position on the global electronic highway.
From impersonal to personal within the hour
“Astonish worked with me to set up a system that involved much more than a Web site,” Chris reports. “The main idea was to drive people to Paradiso Insurance so we could make personal contact with them. That was the key to success. We really want to get the prospect on the phone. Whenever we receive a request for a quote from the Web site, the tracking system sends the information directly to my cell phone and I make certain that I contact them within the hour. If I’m with a client, I will excuse myself and make that call. The key is to provide a warm response to what starts out as a cold request.
“The results have been astounding,” Chris continues. “Most people are happy to actually talk to someone about their insurance needs. Often what starts out as a request for a quote on a particular coverage turns out to be an opportunity to write the whole account.
“Once the phone call has been made, we start the e-mail drip process that Astonish worked with us to set up. It keeps the prospect informed about when he or she will be contacted with a quote. If it is going to take longer than 24 hours to provide a quote because the request involves a complex coverage, the e-mails inform the client of that fact and let them know when to expect a quote. It’s all done automatically.
“The whole idea is to start building a relationship with a warm phone call and then to build on that relationship with informative e-mails and follow-up phone contact when necessary,” Chris points out.
But wait; there’s more
“Astonish didn’t just help us set up a Web site and walk away,” Chris says. “They really became partners with our agency and helped us use our Web site as a marketing tool as well as a sales tool. We established a Partners of Paradiso Insurance section on our Web site that features our clients. The section includes coupons from our commercial clients so our other clients and prospects will use their services.
“It establishes a circle of customers going to customers. The great thing about this is that it shows our clients that we really are interested in their success. We are helping to drive business to them. Talk about a win-win. As their business grows, so do their risk transfer needs. They make more money and so do we.”
The information highway also is being used to enhance the ability of key centers of influence to promote Paradiso Insurance. For example, one insured that is very happy with Paradiso’s services, Universal Tile, sells to 450 stores throughout New England. The owner has agreed to e-mail these stores with a testimonial recommending Paradiso. Astonish is helping to get the e-mail addresses for each of the storeowners.
“Universal Tile didn’t have all these e-mail addresses, so this will help them better market to their customers and, of course, the testimonial helps to establish 450 warm leads for us,” Chris points out. “It’s another win-win.”
The Blogger Extraordinaire
Of course, if you are committed to marketing via the Internet, then you need much more than a Web site. And Chris, who admits that he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly, has taken that to heart. He recently added a full-time blogger and tweeter to his staff. Agency Blogger Extraordinaire Dan Thon fires off at least three blogs a day in addition to keeping in touch with people via Twitter and other social media sites in an effort to drive them to the blog.
Dan spends the rest of his day sitting down with people in the agency to get additional ideas for a new blog. He’s also gone out on sales calls.
A recent blog post, for example, focused on wedding insurance. Paradiso Insurance offers a wedding package that includes not only wedding insurance but also includes help with combining the auto and homeowners or tenant coverages for the newlyweds. Once that post was up, Dan tweeted people who were getting married and became Twitter friends with them.
“Weddings often are a very expensive proposition,” Chris points out. “And in today’s economy, there have been some devastating examples of problems when the site for the reception no longer is in business. This becomes grist for our blog mill.
“We’re reaching out to people who are just starting out,” Chris says. “If we treat them right and help them have a successful wedding and ease their way through the insurance changes that their union brings about, we’ll have clients for life. And most of these clients will have more insurance needs as their family and businesses grow. We’re in on the ground floor.”
The father of twins who recently turned two, Chris sees the next target market being new parents. He explains that a client recently called him about getting life insurance because he was a new dad. “An e-mail we sent out about life insurance struck a chord with him.”
Paradiso plans on e-mailing a video clip from the twins’ second birthday party to all clients. “We want people to get to know us as human beings and see that their concerns mesh with ours.”
Another way the agency uses the Internet to humanize itself is by sending out e-cards to clients. “We try to send them out on days when clients might not expect a card,” Chris says. “For example, we have a large Italian clientele and we send them Happy St. Joseph’s Day cards.”
Having a Blogger Extraordinaire also has proven to be a marketing plus in an unexpected way with certain clients. “Dan has come with me on some of my calls to help clients blog,” Chris says. “A number of clients have seen what we do on the Web and have asked us for help. That really cements the relationship. We want our clients to come to us with any problem, whether it’s insurance-related or not. They get to see that we are truly partners who are concerned about their business, not just the commission check.”
Cross-selling is key
“I fully understand that you need to have 2.8 policies on average to turn a customer into a client, so we are continually looking to cross-sell our clients,” Chris says. “Astonish Results has really helped us with this effort. They have worked with us to change our agency from a service-oriented agency to a sales-oriented agency. To accomplish this, we record our calls and listen to see how clients are treated and whether there was an opportunity to cross-sell. That’s been a great help, but it’s important that you use this tool the right way. We don’t do this to criticize an employee about the way he or she handled a particular call. Rather it is all about bettering the agency so that there is more money for everyone here.”
The agency also uses its database of clients to cross-sell. The agency management system meshes with the Astonish marketing system so life insurance clients, for example, are starting to receive information about the agency’s property/casualty capabilities.
Chris doesn’t believe in baby steps. When he sees something that works, he jumps in with both feet. “I’m willing to spend money to make money,” Chris says. “I want to work with the best, because the people who are the best in their field are the only ones who can help you become the best in your field. Bringing in Astonish Results was a leap of faith, but it has paid off in so many ways. I’m not where I want to be, but we’re getting there.”
While Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services still is in its infancy, its willingness to push the marketing envelope makes it a perfect candidate for recognition as the Rough Notes Marketing Agency of the Month. Agency revenues are on pace to hit more than $800,000 this year and should surpass the one-million-dollar mark next year. Seventy percent of the revenue comes from property/casualty business (60% personal and 40% commercial), with the balance coming from life, health and annuities.
When Chris started writing property and casualty coverages, he had two full-time people. Today, the number has increased to five and he is looking to expand beyond that. He also is planning on using the Internet to help him find potential acquisition targets. Thus far, all of his growth has been organic, but he is looking at mergers and acquisitions as an avenue for supplementing that growth.