Sailing the treacherous seas of follow-up
Follow-up is a relative to “thinking ahead”
By John Edward Love, CPCU
You have just finished meeting with a prospect who had expressed dissatisfaction with the incumbent agent and, in addition, seemed to like everything you said. As you drive back to the office, you are mentally starting to count the money from the account. Then, when you check your messages, you learn that you have five things to do when you return…and it’s 2 p.m. already…and you must attend your daughter’s recital this evening.
Suddenly it’s two weeks later and you haven’t followed up with that prospect. When you finally do initiate a contact, you learn that the prospect is now lukewarm about you and has met with two other agents since meeting with you.
Frustrating, isn’t it? Being a successful producer means having clients to take care of, company underwriter meetings to attend, and probably some level of management duties. Plus, you must keep bringing in new business. One of the first things to go is the consistent prospecting activity that keeps your new business pipeline full; another is the follow-up to first meetings with prospects.
You need a system that allows you to stay in touch with prospects in a prompt and efficient way so you can keep the momentum going in your favor.
Spend two hours during the next week preparing the materials described below, and you can follow up with any prospect in less than 30 minutes. This comes with the caveat that it helps to have a little administrative support in your office—but if you have an existing book to attend to, then you should already be getting some form of this support (right?).
The thank-you note. Prepare a template e-mail, letter or note ahead of time, one that says something to the effect of:
“Thank you for your time and interest in discussing ACME’s risk management program and philosophy. I enjoyed my conversation with you and, in particular, would like to help you meet your challenge of lowering workers compensation and auto claims for your manufacturing plant. Enclosed is an article on safety committees that I think you’ll find of interest. I can help with the setup and administration of the committee if you decide to move forward with it.
In addition, I look forward to receiving copies of your current insurance program and would be happy to come by to make the copies myself if that would help. It would be an honor to work with a company that focuses on safety and pride in its employee culture, and I look forward to seeing you again.”
Once the template is prepared, you can customize it in various places, based on the details of the meeting. Just as with pre-appointment prospecting letters, customizing anything with specific references to the prospect will catch the reader’s attention. Having a standard thank-you note allows you to do it more quickly yourself or to delegate it to an assistant.
Add value. Always strive to attach something of technical value and interest. With the various online services available to producers (e.g., Producer Online, Zywave, SilverPlume, Advisen), you can always find an article that is germane to something you discussed with the prospect. Try to select an objective piece that reinforces one of the key points you made. Researching and customizing something for the prospect is even better and, again, made easier with online services. If you were to spend one hour researching (I know, I’ve tested this), you could come up with 10 to 15 articles on various topics and be confident that at least one of them will prove valuable to the client.
Confirm the next step. Of course, you left the first meeting having established with the prospect what the next step would be. Reconfirm that with the prospect in your thank-you note and/or in another follow-up note/e-mail. You are now beginning to shape the prospect’s opinion of your professionalism, which is based on: (1) Did the insurance agent hear what I said and (2) Did he or she follow up as promised? This is the easiest step to take and is money in the bank if you’ll do it every time.
Meet with your support team. Develop and use a standard form that, once complete, provides answers to the 10 to 15 basic questions that every member of your support team will ask. These include:
• Name of prospect company, contact(s), Web site
• Incumbent agent and carrier(s)
• Current premiums
• How did you get the first appointment (referral, social occasion, etc.)?
• Hot-button issues
• Surprising information you acquired during the meeting (e.g., no losses in 10-plus years)
• Proposal due dates
• Markets assigned
• Who from your team needs to attend proposal presentation?
• What components of your proposal resources should be included?
• Possible references or connections you can use in proposal
• Attach company brochures and other info
If you make an account “real” to your support team and underwriters, they are more likely to help you and prioritize their time for you. Are many great accounts written without this information being exchanged? Yes. But with an average failure rate on new business of 20% to 50%, producers should be diligent about doing things the right away in order to avoid long periods of underperformance.
Don’t let down your guard
Have you ever been sailing? I’ve taken three long Atlantic Ocean trips where I lived on a 38-foot boat for up to six weeks at a time with four other adults. Such close quarters taught me a lot about my own faults and weaknesses, and I also learned about how others deal with their shortcomings.
Let me sum up what comprises most long-distance sailing trips: extended periods of boredom interrupted by short episodes of stress and drama. Sails don’t rip in good weather at noon with all hands on deck. They tear during Force 7 winds at 3 a.m.
The process for managing the development of accounts is similar. Everything is great when you’re ready to leave the meeting (or cast off from the dock), but frequently you let your guard down and assume you can catch up later.
I watched my brother almost drown after falling overboard because we had failed to tidy up the ropes and loose equipment on deck while in calm seas (too busy looking at the island we were leaving). As the waves went from two to three feet to seven to eight feet, and my brother was hustling to coil some ropes, the boat rolled and he pitched overboard. Do your follow-ups the right way every time, so you don’t watch an account you could have won slip away into the depths of lost opportunity.
John Edward Love, CPCU, is president and executive director of TechAssure, an association of insurance agents and underwriters who specialize in managing risks for technology and life sciences companies. TechAssure members serve more than 4,000 technology companies worldwide. For 18 years, Love was a leading producer at Armfield, Harrison & Thomas (AH&T) in Leesburg, Virginia, and was a founder of AH&T Technology Brokers.