It's all about activity
A DIY pipeline management tool using TAM keeps this Michigan agency's producers focused and the bottom line growing
By Nancy Doucette
You don't have to be able to see around corners to predict producer success. Agency principals, sales managers, and consultants agree: A systematic approach is the single characteristic that successful producers have in common.
And while producers know this to be the case as well, getting them to adhere to that systematic approach occasionally takes some education.
Brian Bartosh, CIC, LUTCF, president of Alpena, Michigan-based Top O' Michigan Insurance, and a producer himself, knows this first-hand. "Before I started using a pipeline management tool it was a matter of: 'I need to remember to call Bob on Friday.' I was constantly trying to remember the things I had to do. And while Outlook provided a task list, it didn't help me keep track of my prospects.
"Pipeline management is the ability to manage a large number of prospects through various stages of development. When you use a pipeline management tool, it's not just about tracking results," he points out. "It's about managing all of the contacts.
"Studies have shown that those who use a pipeline management tool can earn 20% more commissions than those who don't," he notes.
How can that be? "Focus," Bartosh asserts. "Producers don't have to cycle through mental reminders to 'call Bob on Friday.' A sales pipeline tool lets producers focus on what they need to do that day or that week. It provides 'just-in-time' information. Producers aren't seeing everything they have to do; they're seeing only what they have to do at that point. They're managing tasks a lot better."
What Outlook or a spreadsheet (another popular option for keeping track of prospects) provides, he adds, is "really not using technology or automation. That's merging visual searches and visual reviews of lists. There's no electronic filtering."
If you want a job done right …
Bartosh's interest in pipeline management began about five years ago. Rather than buy an off-the-shelf product and tweak it to conform to his agency's workflows, he decided to build a pipeline management tool himself using TAM (his Applied Systems agency management system) as the foundation. He says he used the myTAM business process management tool and TAM's activity codes. He assigned activity codes to the various steps of the sales process—the introduction stage, the x-date, and the appointment; through the data collection, submission and quoting phases, and the proposal; ending with sale or no sale. If there's no sale, he says the pipeline tool remarkets to that prospect for the next time around.
Behind the scenes, Bartosh continues, the pipeline tool creates event logs which make it possible for him to run weekly reports—important given that he's sales manager for the agency as well. One report reflects the prior week's activities and how well the seven producers did in terms of meeting their goals. The other report looks at the current week and what the producers actually have scheduled.
"I get to see how many appointments a producer has scheduled, how many introductions he or she made, how many proposals were delivered, and so forth. It's all about activity," he states. "Producers need to keep their pipelines fed in order to meet their goals."
When Bartosh first began tracking production activities more closely, he said he noticed hills and valleys. The hills appeared when producers were working aggressively at feeding their pipelines. But as they began working their leads, valleys occurred because the producers weren't as focused on their pipelines. "We're leveling that off," he reports. In looking at the prior week's activities, he says he isn't looking for how much was sold. Rather, he's looking at how full the pipeline is.
"We moved from tracking production—which could be a month or two late—to current week and past week activity. If a producer had a bad week as far as activity goes, we can address issues a lot quicker than if we were looking at data from two months ago. That's not a good time to see production dips."
Bartosh says he pulls a proposal status report each week as well. "It shows which are successful, which are currently open, and which are unsuccessful. It's month-to-date. Because it's all activity code driven, producers get to see if they're getting closer to their goal. It's a good dashboard—instant access to information so they can plan their strategies," he says.
He says the reports aren't intended to intimidate producers. He uses them to identify instances where a producer may need some additional coaching. "We do some profiling when we recruit, interview and hire," he explains. "They have good skill sets but nobody walks in the door as a '10.' If we don't do some coaching and provide some tools, the success rate—especially for new producers—will be low."
In addition to his responsibilities at Top O' Michigan, Bartosh has been heavily involved with ASCnet (Applied Systems Client Network, the association for users of Applied Systems' products). During his term as chair in 2011, he visited most of ASCnet's 70 local chapters which gave him "a good perspective on what people do and don't do" with their management systems. "A lot of agencies could run these reports, but they don't," he observes. "They spend a lot of time moving data into Excel, then slicing and dicing it. I'm running 'canned' reports right out of TAM. All I've done is change the filter criteria and sort them differently so that they're meaningful."
Of course the data has to be in the system in the first place and Bartosh readily accepts the fact that producers "don't want to key in a bunch of statistical information." Since he rolled out the pipeline tool to the producers in 2008, acceptance has grown, due at least in part to peer pressure. "Some of the veteran producers were slow to come on board with this process," he acknowledges, "but they're seeing that the producers who are using it are enjoying more success. Their success is coming from managing a higher level of contact with their prospects. This tool helps differentiate 'busy' from 'productive.'
"Now the producers see using this tool as a benefit to them. They don't think about the data they're keying in. They understand that the weekly reports they receive are very helpful to them and we couldn't get the reports without the data they enter."
Direction from the top, in terms of buy-in, doesn't hurt either. "I have goals just like the other producers do," Bartosh notes. "They see me using the same tools, getting the same reports. I show up on the dashboard each day with what percentage of my goal I'm meeting."
With the pipeline management system being part of TAM, Bartosh says any staff member—CSRs or producers—can add data to the prospect database. "As we gather more data on a prospect, it all slides right into the account manager's hands making it easier to market the account when the time comes." Once that prospect becomes a client, the addition of useful data continues. He says he recently completed a life application for a client. He grabbed the driver's license number from the application and added it to the database. "Any useful bit of information—we just keep adding on," he says.
"We have about 18,000 prospects in our database," Bartosh continues. "They're managed and reviewed. Those that we lose contact with or decide don't match our marketing goals are cleaned out using the purging utilities. It's a clean database of eligible prospects.
"Looking at our new client list is surprising. We're getting in touch with people we never approached in over 35 years of being in business, and we're writing them. This is really working."
Leverage your technology investment
"We didn't buy anything special in order to develop this pipeline management tool," Bartosh reiterates. "We took what we already had in TAM and leveraged it.
"This isn't that complex," he says. "We're tracking sales-type activities and most of the activity codes are defaulted in TAM already."
For other Applied Systems agency principals or sales managers who want to get started building their own pipeline management tool, Bartosh suggests they start by tracking simple things like appointments, sales, or proposals—activities that are built into TAM. "As you get more involved, you might decide you want to track levels of introductions, so you add more steps and more activities to it.
"The myTAM tool simply links those things together so people are following a consistent process. The reports are filtered on that activity."
Bartosh points out that ASCnet is creating a Principals Network which will discuss these types of topics in addition to other best practices which will help agencies reduce operating expenses, improve customer retention, and increase growth and profitability.
Additionally, TENCon (ASCnet's annual education event) has a track dedicated to principals. At last year's TENCon, Bartosh facilitated several Principal Master Series sessions in addition to Producer Workshops which included discussion of his pipeline management tool and other helpful electronic tools for producers.
TENCon 2012 will be held at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, August 20 through August 23.