Out with the old
It's time to get purposeful with business development activities
By Roger Sitkins
The old way of selling insurance is simply that—old. That's because the old way ("Look, Copy, Quote and Pray") no longer produces the organic growth that agencies and brokerages require these days. Average producers blame the economy and the continued soft market as reasons for not growing.
However, many agencies and producers are still growing. They're continuing to cultivate net new growth while too many others are moving in reverse. That's because they recognize that they can't change the soft market or the declining economy. But they have changed what they can—themselves.
They've recognized that the old way doesn't work. If you want to emulate those successful agencies, then you probably need to realize that you are what must change. That means becoming very purposeful, not random, in your Business Development Activities (BDA).
The "Old BDA"
Remember the BDA of yesteryear? To refresh your memory, the Old BDA included: answering the phone by the third ring; giving free estimates and doing a lot of practice quoting; and attending Rotary, Lions or other service club meetings. We also did a lot of advertising, including direct mail campaigns and Yellow Pages ads.
Strangely, these and other random activities actually worked in the old days. But keep in mind, this was a time when milk was delivered to your door, doctors made house calls (as did life insurance agents), every gas station provided full service, and people went to the bank to deposit checks. But I digress.
Today, the same random activities would be an ineffective waste of time. Even then, they weren't part of a purposeful business development plan designed to achieve specific results. Rather, the Old BDA created a pretty lousy selling system that generated a good income.
Recently I read somewhere: "You can take great people, highly trained and motivated, put them in a lousy system and the system will win every time!" So if you have a lousy system, it will ensure that over time you will have lousy results. That's why you and your agency had better create a purposeful system of BDA!
The "New BDA"
Just as a random system creates random results, the New BDA is a purposeful system that produces purposeful results. Here are some of the distinguishing features of the New BDA.
• A Belief that Every Day Is a BDA Day. Every day, you should be doing something that creates some sort of business development activity for you and your agency. This concept is not only attitudinal, but behavioral as well.
• Review Lost Business and Lost Accounts. It's a good idea to take a look at any business or accounts you have lost so you can understand what happened. Why did you lose the business or account(s)? Are any of these accounts salvageable? Frequently, lost business is a marketplace issue. Therefore, it's beneficial to re-examine the circumstances of your loss before eliminating any potential business from your pipeline.
• Cross-Selling Opportunities. If you look at every client in the context of what a full-time client is, you're likely to discover a great cross-selling opportunity. We define full-time clients as those clients who place all of their business with you, including their VIP personal lines, business insurance, employee benefits and financial services (if you offer that). Unless you are writing all of their insurance, there's tremendous opportunity to cross-sell.
• Referrals and Introductions. Although we have talked about this time and again, it still bears repeating. Are you purposefully asking for referrals and introductions?
• Center of Influence Development. Of all of the clients you have and all of the people you know in the business world, you should have numerous centers of influence. If you don't have at least 10 centers of influence that you're being purposeful with, you're either doing something terribly wrong or you're not doing enough to cultivate these key contacts.
• Target Marketing. In the medical field, it's no secret that specialists make more money than general practitioners. The same is true in the insurance industry. That's why it's critical to be very purposeful about target marketing, focusing on the types of accounts your agency already cultivates. Maybe you're already writing a number of restaurants or hotels. If so, you must have the markets, the products and the pricing for those types of accounts. Why not capitalize on that referral base and start positioning yourself as an expert/specialist in that type of business?
• Seminar Selling. In your town, you probably have quite a few estate planners and financial planners who run seminars on a regular basis. The reason they're so popular is that they're a great source of leads for the people who hold them. Also, the public is eager to listen to business leaders who have information that can help them. What do you know about changes in health care that could help business owners? What about controlling total cost of risk or preparing for both insured and uninsured risks? If you want to reach your market while building your brand as an expert, try hosting seminars.
• Webinars. Much like seminars, Webinars provide excellent exposure to new audiences, but with some additional, unique benefits. Besides the fact that they're shorter than a typical seminar (15 to 30 minutes vs. one hour or more), invitees don't have to leave their offices to attend and you don't have to offer any food or refreshments. Further, there's no space to rent. Because there are no hard-dollar costs to host a Webinar, it's arguably the least expensive way to reach the greatest number of potential customers.
• Carrier Reps. Are you talking to your insurance carrier reps on a regular basis, asking them for accounts that other agencies have just been shopping out there but aren't serious about letting that company take a look at? Are there any types or classes of business that the reps would really like to write but that other agencies aren't pursuing? Furthermore, some carriers still have lead-generation services. Are you asking them for help?
• Friends and Acquaintances. Maybe you're not writing their insurance. Maybe you're not asking them for names of those whom you could also help. Are you asking them for referrals?
• Employees. Your employees know lots of people—probably hundreds of them! Whom do they know who should be buying insurance from you?
• Volunteer Organizations. You don't have to serve on a board to be visible in the community. Perhaps you're a volunteer. If so, whom do you know? Look around.
• Political Campaigns. If you're so inclined, get involved on behalf of a politician or cause that you want to support. Whether you get involved on the local, state or national level, you're bound to meet people who are active and engaged with others, including business owners.
• Drive-Bys. I'm not talking about the drive-bys you see on the news! I'm referring to any business you notice or mobile advertising you see when you're driving down the road. If it catches your attention, jot down some essential information and do a little research. It just may be a new prospect.
• Write Articles. Being published in local business journals, newspapers and trade publications gives you credibility. Beyond establishing you as an expert, it helps you manage your brand.
• Social Media. Whether you're blogging, tweeting, or using LinkedIn® or Facebook, social media can work for you or against you. For example, blogs can establish you as an expert in your field. However, you must also be very careful about managing your brand. You don't want to project an unflattering image or send the wrong message.
Many people consider LinkedIn as their professional social network and Facebook as their personal social network. Unfortunately, some of them are posting things on their personal network that may work against them professionally. Remember, whatever you post through your professional and personal social networks becomes part of your brand. And because it's easy for professional contacts to access personal information, it's best not to reveal too much.
• Check 2 Check. Everyone you write a check to should be writing one back to you. Look at your vendor list or your check register. Everyone on it should be on your suspect list.
• Research & Development. Learning about your suspects and prospects should be a huge part of your BDA. Most agencies rely on Google™, Hoovers™ and InfoUSA to gather as much information as possible about business prospects and suspects. Having a thorough understanding of the suspect business allows an agent to know how to best prepare for the first appointment. The goal is to gather enough information about the business to know the first three questions you'll ask the prospect when you walk through the door.
• B2B Connections. Take a look at your clients and centers of influence. How can you help them make connections? You should be making deposits with them so that you can make withdrawals.
• Cold Calls. If all else fails, you can always start cold-calling (which I jokingly refer to as God's punishment for not asking for referrals). Of course, there are certain times that you have to make cold calls, such as when you're new in the business. But if you've been on the job for more than two or three years and you're still doing it, shame on you!
The bottom line
We know that random activities generate random results. We also know that purposeful activities, tied to a formal selling system, generate planned, positive results. Are your activities random or purposeful?
As always, it's your choice.
Roger Sitkins is founder and chairman of Sitkins International, a private client group and membership program for some of the top independent insurance agencies and brokerages in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Members participate in training, advising and networking opportunities focused around innovation, sales, growth, profitability and value. Sitkins International is inventing the future of the independent insurance system by providing intellectual property that empowers agents and brokers to become the innovators.