Tales of An Insurance Startup

Have you ever thought of starting a scratch insurance agency? Maybe you are on the edge of doing something, but fearful of taking the leap. Maybe you are an established agency, but could be invigorated by new ideas.

Here’s the story of someone who did it.

Matthew Carroll, began working in the insurance industry 6 years ago as a producer inside an Independent Agency. During that time, he learned a lot about lead generation and structuring follow ups for sales success. After a couple years, a State Farm agency reached out to him to become a producer inside an agency. He jumped at the chance, because it came with the hope of actually owning his own agency one day.

His tenure there was successful, but did not lead him to ownership as quickly as he imagined. So after 3 years of grinding away at production, Matthew took the leap and opened his own shop.

Granted this was no overnight leap in the dark. In fact, we spoke at least 6months before he pulled the trigger. He gathered all the necessary information he needed to make good decisions. He put together one of the best business plans that I had ever seen. Production targets were in place, as well as the marketing activities needed to get there. Then in Jan of 2017, he launched Kentucky Bred Insurance.


Matt came storming out of the gate, and was writing business and following his marketing plan from day one.

After 9 months, his growth has been steady and impressive. However, like any venture it has not been perfect and there have been a couple bumps along the way.

Recently, I sat down with him, and asked him about his first 9 months. Here’s what Matt has learned.

What things about starting and running the agency have been harder than you expected?

MC: The tension between looking at my goals to stay motivated, and remembering to do the day to day activities that will hit the goal. As things get hard, I have to look at the end goal to keep going, but it is really easy for me to fall into daydreaming about success, and forgetting to make my sales calls and marketing contacts. Yet, if I didn’t have those dreams the daily activities would grind on me.

Related to this is sticking to the activities I had set up in my business plan. There are times when the busy working of the agency takes over, and I don’t make time for the activities that will keep my pipeline full of leads.

Also, riding the wave of work/life balance. I’ve gone overboard in both directions.

Knowing where to spend marketing dollars had been really hard. Running quick calculations for return on investment isn’t difficult, but many of the activities I might do won’t have immediate returns. So how do I calculate for that? For example, say I run multiple Facebook ads, and I drives leads to me. That’s easy to calculate, but then 3-6 months later, a couple more leads trickle in from the campaign. I don’t mind spending money on activities that generate business, but because of the slow-acting nature of some marketing, it is really hard to make those decisions.

As I think about the future, and I realize that I need to start making hires. Planning for this has been harder than expected. Knowing which activities, I need someone to do, plus find them is becoming a challenge as I start looking.

What was much easier than you expected?

MC: Generating referrals has been much easier. In my other jobs as a producer, I would talk with family and friends and some would give me a shot at their business, but most wouldn’t. I don’t know what flipped when I started my own business, but I am getting more “yes’s” when I ask. Also I have had more people I know reach out to me to help them. I am not sure if it because they know I am the owner, and this isn’t some short-term job. Maybe my approach has changed because I have more confidence and urgency to sell as an owner.

A big surprise has been the amount of support I have gotten from other independent agents. There are several across the country that I talk with regularly, and they have been incredibly encouraging as well as very open about strategies and tactics inside the agency. My previous experience as a producer inside an agency was that everyone kept things close to the vest, and afraid of giving away their trade secrets.

What would you have done different?

MC: I would have been more aggressive at developing more and deeper relationships with influencers that are sources of business. At this point, I am doing more of that, but I relied so much on the low-hanging fruit of friends and family in the beginning, I didn’t work as hard on getting those lead sources in place.

What didn’t you know that you wish you had?

MC: I had no idea about the power of social media, especially Facebook, and its ability to generate business. Also how important content creation to drive business has surprised me. I am working on changing that and looking to outsource some of those activities.

Last question, what do you wish your companies would have done for you early on?

MC: In the captive world, companies do a much better job launching an agency. In my State Farm experience, there is a lot of marketing money given up front. Sometimes up to 50k, with other dollars trickling in to do marketing. Anything from a marketing side would have been nice. It could have been tents or banners for networking events, or even small amounts to help with lead generation.

Overall, I am happy about my decision, but not there is still a lot to do because I start realizing those daydreams.

Thanks, Matt!  To contact Matt go to his agency site, FB page, or LinkedIn account.

If you’ve done an insurance startup, do you have any advice for Matt? Leave your comments below:

Can You Measure Customer Service?

measure customer serviceYou have defined what good service is for your agency. You spent the time cranking out a service statement that all your people understand. The owners know it, the sales people know it, the service staff knows it, even the bookkeeper knows it. You plastered it on everyone’s desk, the break room, and the bathroom stalls. It is your mantra.

Weeks go by and you are beginning to wonder if anyone remembers your service pep rally. Are the slogans and statements shadows in people’s memory? Everyone signed onto your ideas, the staff helped you craft the philosophy, but how do you keep everyone on track with it?

You don’t want your service philosophy to become background static in everyone’s work lives.

Is there anything you can do to track your service activity and whether it is effective and reaching the goals you have set for your agency?

I think you can. In fact, I have seen it done.  Here’s three simple ways to measure customer service.

1. Metrics.   Are there numbers you can look at to see what is happening in the service department? Yes. There are two specific metrics your management systems should be able to tell you.

Retention. If retention is dropping, something is happening from the service side of the house. Yes, there could be other reasons such as company pricing or new stringent underwriting guidelines, but if you see this drop then it should be an indicator that something is going and customers are not happy.

Make sure you track this on a rolling twelve month basis, and track policies not written premium. Written premium can be deceptive because of rate activity, but you can not hide behind lost policies. If grabbing retention data is hard, the next best thing is to track cancelled policies. This one is simple and can be done monthly.

Referrals. If people are sending you customers, then something in your office is working. Now granted you may have great pricing, but I bet your people skills have more to do with it. You have a created a great experience for someone and they want to share it with a friend. Finding someway to begin tracking customer referrals. Most management systems have a “source” field that you can track where business is coming from.

[warning: for numbers geeks] Here’s a metric, I learned years ago that really helps with trend. Line graphing helps, but this one is tricky and can be revealing. It’s called the 3 vs. 12. Take the last rolling 3 months and compare to the last rolling 12 months. The percentage of change will eliminate anomaly months, and levels things out so you don’t start panicking if you have a bad month. [Analytic talk complete]

2. Mystery Shopping. You may bristle a little when you hear this. You may even worry that this will turn you into some crazed micro-manager with an office full of people whispering “service nazi” behind your back. Don’t worry. This doesn’t have to be crazy, but I promise it works.

Contact friends or customers and ask them to call in requesting a potential change to their policy. School them on questions and what to look for. For example, mystery customer #1 calls because they are looking at a new Honda Odyssey and wants to know what it will do to rate, and do they really need rental and what is that loan/lease gap coverage the car dealer mentioned. Mystery Customer #2 calls because they are considering an umbrella, but doesn’t really know what it is and how it works. These are simple things to do. Let your people know that you are doing them.

3. Surveys. Over the years, how many surveys have you mailed out to customers? How many did you get back? Probably not many, and if you got anything back it was only from the angry customers. This makes it look like you have big problems, because you don’t hear from the good ones.

Put yourself in their shoes. Do you like surveys? Be honest, don’t you just look at the 1-10 scale and check 8’s or 9’s on everything, if you do it all.

Use email surveys. You can create free surveys online at surveymonkey.com. If you search in Google you can find other options as well. Limit the survey to 3 questions. Make sure at least one question is open-ended and doesn’t generate a one word answer. Try to make them creative and occasionally ask about other places they get good service, so you get a sense of what they expect and what they like. This will let you tweak your own processes to exceed customer expectations.

Here are some sample questions: Would you refer your friends to us? Are answers to your questions clear and helpful? What drives you crazy about dealing with service people?

So what do you think? If you are serious about taking your service to the next level, measuring it is really the only way you can enforce and improve your standards.

Measuring service activity will keep your service standards from becoming a nice platitude. It will make it real and tangible in your office.

Are there other ways, you have measured your service performance?

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

photo credit: Sergey Sus via photopin cc

How To Improve the #1 Reason People Buy From You

improve likable

What’s the number #1 reason that customers give for purchasing from someone? 

It’s not price or convenience. 

It’s likability.

Think about your own purchases.  Have you ever seen a car you liked, interacted with a sales person, but couldn’t pull the trigger?  Something about the salesperson was distasteful.  You couldn’t put your finger on it, but you didn’t like him.

Or remember the trip to your local electronic store to buy a new computer or TV.  Some young smarmy guy saunters beside you, spilling product knowledge all over you, but never listening, kind of creeping you out.  You couldn’t do it.  You walked.

I’ve written on creating marketing strategies to drive people into your business, but all the marketing savvy is worthless if your personality turns off the customer when he arrives at your door.

Can you become more likable?


And it doesn’t matter where you are on the likability scale, this is one area where we can constantly improve.  In fact, start this exercise by asking people you trust to be honest where you rank on the likable scale from 1 to 10.  Then you know where to go, and how to improve.

Here are some tips:

1.  Them Not You. Focus on the other person.  Don’t spill out your expertise or knowledge on to them.  Ask questions about them (and not with the intention of them asking the same thing back).  Act interested, and followup with more questions.

2.  Build Rapport.  Rapport is not always easy, but the quickest way to build rapport is to look for commonality.  When you meet someone or go into their home or office, begin looking or asking for areas of commonality.  Look for those pictures of kids, sports team logos, hints about hobbies, anything that you can grab onto.  Maybe you are not interested in some of those things.  They don’t know that, and remember it’s not about you, it’s about them.

3.  Humor.  Laughing with a person creates likability almost instantly.  Sometimes the best thing to laugh at is yourself.  Especially if you find yourself nervous in a social interaction.  If you forget something or misspeak, you can laugh about it, and make the other person laugh as well.  Collecting funny stories or remembering humorous experiences from your life to pepper conversation is one way to improve.

Years ago I walked into an insurance agent’s office, and could tell he was on a difficult call with a customer.  I didn’t know the man well, and was a little nervous about the conversation. He hung up the phone in frustration, and before jumping into my spiel, I asked about the call.  He related the story of a customer misunderstanding something that should have been simple.

I laughed and told him a similar story from my own experience with a funny ending: a customer calling to remove his car from his policy—the blue one (oh, with a gold stripe).

Then we both laughed and the interaction opened up into a positive outcome.

4.  Smile.  This works even on the phone, and has become trite advice these days.  I have even seen mirrors propped next to people’s phone saying “They can hear your smile.”

But it’s true.

The crazy thing about smiling is that it makes you happier, in turn, becoming infectious to the people you encounter.

Many days, I drag myself out of bed, into the shower, into my car, sitting, waiting to walk into my first appointment, forcing myself into a couple goofy smiles in my car rearview mirror, and instantly I feel a little happier and more energetic.

5. Make Them Comfortable.  Sometimes you may notice, that it is not you that is nervous and unsure, but the customer.  Do what you can to make them comfortable.  Give them a cup of coffee, but them in a comfortable seat.  Walk around with them.  Anything.  Give assurances and set expectations, because they may be scared or worried about something.

6.  Know Their Style.  This one takes practice, but it can help immensely.  Have you come to the place in life that you realize not everyone is like you?  Sad, isn’t it.  The world would be such a better place, but probably incredibly boring if that was true.

There are multiple resources out there on social styles, and most group everyone into one of four quadrants such as Drivers, Amiables, Analytics, or Expressives.  Every resource may use different terms but they are similar.

This doesn’t mean everyone can be so easily pigeon-holed, but we all have dominant traits and these labels help understand how we interact with the world.  Knowing these and then trying to match your style to what you determine is another’s can create a deep sense of likability.

Good news:  We are all likable or we wouldn’t have customers, but becoming more likable can help all your interactions and will help you improve every sales encounter.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

Have you done anything over your career to become more likeable?  Do you have any humorous stories about unlikable sales-people?

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

How to Run a Facebook Contest (and why)

facebook contest Many of the businesses I work with have Facebook pages, some don’t post frequently enough to get a lot of engagement, others post a lot, but haven’t seen the engagement and activity they would like. What can be done to generate more interest in their page? Successful Facebook marketing is not about blasting your fans with business information, but creating community and being useful so they share it with others.  In all likelihood, the fans you have, especially in the beginning, are already customers.  Your goal is to provide them value and information that they are willing to share with others like them, who will come to your page, engage and eventually become a customer as well. In the beginning, engagement and community can be really hard, and one way to create some excitement about your page, increasing likes, comments, and shares is a contest. Recently, I was able to pick the brain of the marketing director of successful agency, and he gave me several tips he has implemented that has made contests an important part of their Facebook strategy. Tips to Run a Facebook Contest 1.  Make the contest duration short.  Usually several days to a week.  Admit it, your attention span is short, and so is your customers, the shorter ones create more activity.

For example, you might post this on a Thursday: “You have until noontime on Monday, [Month & Day] to leave your comment, and if you’d like an additional entry, share this post!”

2.  Give away Gift Cards from $30 – $50 to restaurants, movies, gas, car wash, etc. 3.  Team up with local businesses to help you promote.  If there are any businesses you currently insure or geographically close to you that offer gift cards or certificates, give those away as part of your contest.  If that business has an Facebook page, ask them to promote. 4.  Use engaging pictures on your contest.  I am a fan of Photopin to find great royalty free pictures. 5.  Ask for comments or an answer to a crazy question.

Here’s an example:   [Insert Pizza Picture]   “We’d love to hear what your favorite pizza topping is, so be sure to let us know in the comments section! In return, you could win a $40 gift card!”


“[Agency name] would love to know what your favorite summer activity is, so be sure to let us know in the comments section! In return, YOU COULD WIN $50!!”

6.  Think Community Charity.  For a month give a donation to a local charity of a $1 for every new like. Anytime you get a new like, announce it in the Facebook feed, and gave a running total of how much money you are generating.  The key is to partner with a local charity that can help you promote it.  $1 may not be enough to generate activity, but this agency generated almost 80 likes in a month. 7.  Get employees to promote.  This is big.  Every time they do a promotion, they make sure that any employees active online will share the contest through their social networks. 8.  Include a disclaimer.  You can not run a contest that appears that it is endorsed or generated by Facebook.  If you are really concerned about all the legal disclaimers, then you can a Facebook app.

Example:  “This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. You understand that you are providing your information to [Your Business Name] and not to Facebook. The information you provide will only be used for the [Your Business Name] and related communications.”

9.  Celebrate the Winner.  As soon as the contest is over, announce the winner immediately.  If you have them come by your business to pick up the gift, take their picture, and ask if you can post it.  Make a big deal about it, and have fun with it.

Here’s a complete example: how to run a facebook contest   So what are you waiting for!  If engagement on your Facebook page has been a problem, try out these tip, and let us what kind of response you get in comments below.  Also, what has been your experience with contests? Be Productive, Theron Mathis P.S.  A great thank you to Matthew House at Preferred Insurance Center for spending time letting me pick his brain about his agency marketing.

Google Reader and Your Insurance Office

Google Reader can be a powerful tool in your agency’s marketing arsenal. RSS Feed

Unfortunately, last week, I logged into Google Reader, and the unthinkable occurred.  A message appeared that Google was shutting the service down effective July!  Horror of Horrors.  Suddenly the internet was filled with a buzz over Reader’s demise.

Why is this a big deal?

First, many readers of Productive Agency, subscribe to the content through Google Reader and need a replacement (recommendations below).

Second, over the past several years, Google Reader is how I have read news regarding the Insurance Industry, Sales, Marketing, Agency Management, my favorite Sports Teams (Go Cards!), etc, then sharing it with agencies, peers, and social media.

Google Reader lives off of a technology called RSS.  RSS is computer code called a feed that website designers can use to share and publicize their content.  The feed for this website is http://feeds.feedburner.com/ProductiveAgency .

Every site on the web with changing content has a feed, and rather than coming back to that site again and again to look for new material, you can subscribe to a feed through a reader, visiting the reader for updated news.

Currently I subscribe to over 400 websites.  Some never or rarely update, but this saves me a tremendous amount of time.

If you don’t currently use a Feed Reader, but want to stay current on industry news, then a you will be well served. Not convinced?

Do you need content for weekly sales meetings?

What about material for your agency newsletter?

Are you ever asked to provide insurance info for local papers?

Are you struggling for content for Facebook, blogs, or other Social Media outlets, a reader can help?

So with the demise of Google Reader, what are the alternatives?

1.  The Old Reader

2.  NewsBlur

3.  Feedly

4.  Netvibes

5. Pulse

Each one of these have their own benefits, and shortcomings.  Currently the Old Reader is having trouble processing all those trying to migrate over from Google Reader.  Eventually this should be worked out, which will be good, because it has the closest feel to Google.

Depending on how you access the web is a consideration as well.  Are you always at a desktop?  Do you use a Mac or PC?  What about an iPhone, iPad, Droid, or Kindle?  Some readers have special apps and their readability may vary on each device.

So far, I like Feedly the best!  It was easy to move over my current subscriptions, the look is great, and there are a lot of features that make it easy to share information among other platforms such as Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

The power all these bring to your Agency is that they can help you become a content expert among peers and customers.  To get a sense of how I use Feeds to share information, check out my LinkedIn page.  I post at least two pieces of Insurance/Sales information daily, and I don’t spend a lot of time scouring the web for the info. I let my reader do the work.

To Your Agency Success,

Theron Mathis

P.S.  What are your favorite sites and sources for Insurance Content?