How You’ve Lost Your Attention Span and How to Get it Back

I lost my attention span.  I bet yours is gone too, and it’s hurting your business more than you realize.  I will prove it to you. But all hope is not lost.  I will show you how to get it back.

 

Last year, 18 years after I stepped out of my last official class in grad school, I decided to go back to school.  Well kind of.  I signed up for the CPCU designation.  This is an insurance designation that consists of 8 self study courses; followed up by an exam at an approved testing center.  It really is graduate level work.

How hard could it be?  I’ve been in the insurance industry all my professional career, and was always an excellent student.

I’ll never forget sitting down the first night to that large text book.  I opened up to Chapter 1, with highlighter and pen in hand.  I had a study guide nearby that guided me through the chapters with questions to reinforce the material.

I started reading, and my brain interrupted.  “Hey, I wonder what the weather will be tomorrow.” 

I pick up my phone, open the weather app, glance at the weather, then the weather of my hometown, then the weather of my in-laws, then the weather in Paris, then the weather in Ireland.

“Oh no, I have to start studying again!!”

Skim page 2.  Answer a question about insurance company financing.

“Hmm, financing, money, how much money did the most recent super-hero movie make?  What new movies are coming out this week? I bet YouTube has trailers.”

Pick up phone, go to YouTube, watch 15 minutes of movie trailers.

“What am I doing, I have to study!”

Page 3.

“Wonder what’s going on with my friends?”

Pick up phone, go to Facebook, thirty minutes later and I am in full self-flagellation mode.

“I can’t belief myself I can focus.”

Go to home computer, google “how to focus”

An hour later, I start yawning, realize it’s bedtime and kick myself for spending two hours studying but only getting 3 pages in.  Something had to change.

Why I think it happened?

You can probably guess.  I think it’s a combination of spending some much time trying to multi-task, and the pinging of our digital world.

Even writing this post, I got interrupted, but it set me down a path where I ended up back on my computer surfing the Starbucks website entering starcodes (long story).

Multi-tasking is a myth (even for women).

Psychologists and brain researchers have learned that humans can’t multi-task.1

It may feel like it but what you are really doing is switching your attention from one task to the next.  You are only doing it very quickly.   You are splitting your attention and giving neither task full focus.

For some tasks this may be fine, such as folding laundry and watching TV, but to most meaningful activities require much more concentration.  To really learn to excel at a task, full attention is required.

Digital devices have rewired the brain.

Especially social media.  Social media captures attention like a drug.  Sparks of information enter the brain, and before you have time to settle into boredom with an item, another sliver of tasty information appears.  It’s like a never-ending buffet for attention.  The visual stimulation plus the fear of missing out grabs your mind and holds on.  This isn’t hyperbole, even though it sounds like I’m describing the mind of an addict looking for his next fix.

Be attentive to the next time you pick up your phone when it pings you with a visual or auditory alert.  You don’t just look at the one item, you will search for more, and keep searching until something stops you.  You lose a sense of time.

Think about the times you’ve got caught in a loop of YouTube videos.  You watch one after another after another, then you look at your clock.  What seemed like 10-15 minutes may have been 30 minutes to an hour.

It’s almost like you can’t help yourself.

Former Facebook executive Sean Parker has recently said, “It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,”2

On top of the brain candy aspect of digital media, there is the fear of missing out.  Believe it or not, this has been identified as such a problem, there is an actual acronymn for it–FOMO.  Sadly, there is a wikipedia page that describes this condition.

Researcher define it as  “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” 3

It’s not just other’s experiences that capture our minds, but information that if you knew it would change your life.  And if you don’t know it, your life may be poorer for it.

Why it matters in business?

1. Time Management

We only have so much attention to give each day.  It is easy to drift into meaningless activities that rob us from achieving our goals.  Your goal may be to set X appointments before the day is done, and you need energy and attention to complete that task.

2. Focus on Your Customer

If you are selling, you must focus deeply on the customer.  Your mind can’t wander when you are looking for ways to help and sell your product.  Focusing on the other person helps with memory, and will uncover needs they have for your product.

3. Problem Solving

You need time and attention and creativity for most business problems.  This could be crafting a product for your customer or creating a new marketing strategy.  It could be thinking through a presentation you need to deliver.  Or how to handle staffing and employee issues.

4. Brainstorming

You need to brainstorm to constantly improve, but it’s hard when you can’t focus.  There are times you need to carve out a slice of time just to think about your business.  What are your goals?  Where are you succeeding?  Where are you failing?  Working out these questions takes time and focus and mental energy that can’t be drained away by a distracting lifestyle.

What did I do to get it back?

First, I set my phone far away from me when I studied.  And when it had to be close because of expected calls, I turned it over and out of sight, so I couldn’t see any visual notifications.  The buzzer was off and only the ringer on for important calls.

Second, I went on a social media fast.  I fasted from Facebook for 30 days.  For the first couple days, it was painful, and made me realize I was addicted.  I can’t tell you how many times, I caught myself opening a tab on the browser beginning to type, f…a…c…, then I came to my senses and stopped.  Eventually it got easier and I forgot.  I really believe my brain changed, and attention started returning.

Third, I started working in concentrated blocks of time.  This began with studying, but then I used the method for regular work.  I would work for 20 mins, stop, walk around, go to the bathroom, get a drink then come back to the task at hand.  I wouldn’t let myself go longer than a 10 minute break, and I avoided surfing the web.

Fourth, I set daily goals.  These are big life changing goals, but small manageable tasks that will eventually help me hit those big items.  Write 500 words per day.  Create a list of prospect.  Craft a marketing email for a new promotion. Submit an expense report.  Nothing big, but bigger than my normal to-do lists.  The rule of thumb here are items that take longer than 15 minutes.  Those are the items that get lost in my attention.  I can crank through those quick two-minute email tasks all day long, but don’t ever accomplish any of the big stuff that will really make a difference long-term.

Attention and focus is a fight, and thinking of it in terms of a battle has changed my approach and added a little bit of success.

Business Blogging that Actually Gets You Business

Does your business have an active blog?

There are only two reasons to blog.  Create valuable content for your customers or attract more customers to your agency.

Let’s talk about attracting customers to your agency.  The way content attracts people to your agency site is primarily through SEO or Social Media marketing.

Here’s the bad news blogging about auto and home insurance info. It won’t help your SEO.  Trying to compete with Progressive and Geico online around the keywords “auto insurance” is difficult.

You can compete locally for terms like “auto” & “home” insurance and win, but you will need become an SEO expert or willing to spend money on someone to do it for you.  They exist, and surprisingly you can win this way.  The negative with SEO is that it is harder to target the demographics you want.  SEO on terms like auto and home cast a wide net having pull into fish you don’t want.  You’ll capture good customers, but there will be a lot you will throw back.

If you want to dominate your insurance market through SEO, there are topics that will help you win.

So what should you blog about that will attract attention to your business?

  1. Think Niche.  What are the items your agency has specialized in?  Boats, Motorcycles, Rental Property, Restaurants, Convenient Stores, Niche Manufacturers.  Think about the questions customers ask you.
  2. Think Local.  No matter what you write about.  Localize it.  Identify your geographic business area and include that in your content.  It might be the city you live in.  It might be the region you target for a commercial niche.

Here are some ideas:

1.Specialty Lines.  Granted you won’t make much money selling $200 cycle policies, but the customer traffic this segment can drive to your agency can be huge.  You won’t only sell a motorcycle policy, you will ask about home, auto, umbrella, etc.  Boats, Motorcycles, Classic Cars fit this niche.  Write about local clubs or festivals and share socially and you will get traffic.

2. Rental Property.  The average property investors think they know property insurance, but they don’t.  There are multiple ways they leave themselves exposed.  Think of all those conversations you’ve had with friends and relatives that have a rental property or two.  There is no way they are fully protected.  For many, property investment is their retirement, and they exposing that nest egg.  You can get very local here.  I guarantee there are parts of your city or region that are prime area for investors.  Identifying those areas and the potential risks are beneficial to all your customers.

3. Jewelry.  Save this for those special times of years, like Valentines and Christmas.  Most people don’t have enough coverage for their jewelry or other items. Partner up with a local jeweler and use them to help write the article.  The joint effort will help SEO if you link each other and both share socially.

4. Umbrellas.  No one understands this.  Talk about what it covers and why people need it.  Use humor, don’t get stuck in the insurance weeds.  Give people just enough info to understand it and need it.

5. Commercial Niches.  If one of these items has more potential than the other, this is it.  No one does this.  Try this: Google the handful of niches you insure or know a little about.  You will not find many articles out there helping those business understand their insurance needs.  If you do, they won’t be in your market.  No one does this.  Using this topic to write, creates more opportunity than just  SEO power for your site.  You can use this content with associations and trade organizations.

One agent I work with reached out to an association in a niche she writes business.  She asked if they ever needed content for their own site or newsletter.  They said yes.  She wrote a couple articles about insurance and their business.  The association published it and not only linked back to the agent’s site, but provided their phone number and email.  Instant authority.  Instant credibility.  Instant leads

So how do you do this?

Think of all the questions customers ask you in these niches.  Think about all the gaps you’ve surprised people in discovering.  Those are your topics.  

Create articles around these topics using keywords you research through Google Keyword Tool.  Look for the ways customers search on their topics and the way they ask questions.  Those phrases need to be part of your titles and peppered inside your writing.  

If you need content, your companies probably have a handful of articles they don’t mind you taking and editing.

Warning.  You will sit down to write, especially if you are new and you will doubt.   You will see yourself as an imposter.  You are.  But don’t worry about it.  You know more than your clients.  In fact, you know a lot.  If all you’ve done in this business is taken your insurance class and exam, you know more than 90% of the world about insurance.  You don’t have to be an expert, just be helpful.

Think like a customer and what will help them in their life and business.  Use that info to generate localized content.  Make it shareable, and you will start seeing more opportunities to spread your agency’s message to your market.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

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8 Ways to Market to Realtors & Lenders

Marketing for personal lines has become increasingly harder over the years.

Customers squashed telemarketing sales.  Fewer people have land lines, so it is harder to find a person’s number.  Many go unlisted, and this makes them hidden.  Many people will just not answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number.

Door to door is really not cost effective because of the return on investment.

Direct-mail still works, but you need to a lot of it, as well as time and money to get your copy just right.

Email marketing is amazing, but for it to work without becoming a spammer, you have to capture emails from current customers, prospects, and potential lead sources.

One method that has a low barrier to entry, but can generate almost instant returns is marketing to lenders and realtors.

When a customer buys a home, he is more likely to allow his insurance to be shopped.  To find and interact with those customers, you have to get to those involved in the transaction.

Realtors and lenders are the perfect people to insert you into that transaction.

This is not a secret anymore.  I would bet these businesses sees more insurance agents today than they did 10 years ago.

It’s not impossible to stand out among this lead-source, but it takes a little more thought and strategy than it used to.

1. Think like a glass rep.  Every week your agency gets 1 or more glass reps soliciting business from you.  I am sure there are a couple of these vendors that you really use, and encourage your customers to use.  But why?  Why are there some vendors that you use and others you don’t?  Think through this question.  It will help you develop a strategy to improve your own marketing with realtors and lenders. The good ones are consistent marketers.  Someone in your office needs to be that person.   Print out a 5 mile radius map of your agency and all the realtor and lending offices within that scope.  List them out, then make a plan to consistently visit these offices.

For example, maybe you can only spare one day a week to this type of marketing.  Grab you list, start from the top, and start visiting.  See as many as possible in the time you allotted yourself.  Check each off, and make notes.  Next week pick up where you left off and do the same.  Eventually you will get to the bottom of your list.  Maybe it will take you a month or two, but once you reach the bottom start over.

Being a consistent face and voice in their business will help you understand them, and allow them to be comfortable with you.  I guarantee that many of your competitors make one or two visits, then quit, when no business starts flowing.

2.  Leave- Behinds.  These don’t have to be complicated, but are markers of visit.  They are footprints and clues you were there.  It can be as simple as a business card.  The only problem with cards is that they are easily thrown away.  Notepads are great because they get used, and if they are sticky get posted around an office.  Pens tend to hang around as well.  Food and candy jars are always appreciated.  If it’s your first visit, take their card and then email them a followup note after you get back in the office.

3.  Ask for business.  Of course you are going to do this.  But most people ask for it in the future: “When you have something you are trying to close, please give us a shot at quoting it.”  Add the present.  “When you have something, we’d be happy to quote it for you.  Are you working on something now I can look at for you?  Is there something I can take back to the office, and get you an answer today?”  I worked at an agency where we did a lot of this type of marketing, and when we started asking for something now and not in the future, we often walked out with quotes in hand.  Sometimes all you need is a chance to generate future streams of business.

4.  Find the right person.  Knowing the decision maker is one of the keys to sales.  It is no different here.  Someone in the office you are visiting has enormous influence, and can usher you into that position of influence as well.  The secret is knowing them.  This can be difficult to discern on a first visit.  Once you figure it out, begin a relationship of trust.  This will allow you to create a mutually beneficial partnership going forward.

5.  Be a sponsor.  Lenders and Realtors are sales organizations.  They do regular sales meetings, sometimes weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.  Ask to sponsor their meetings with food or giveaways.  Most will let you speak for 5 to 10 minutes if you are bringing something to the meeting.  This is something most insurance companies will comp for you as well.

6.  Find a need and meet it.  This one takes time, and you will rarely discover on the first visit.  You need to build trust and find the right people to talk with.  But every organizations has needs.  These are the gaps and struggles inside their business.  It could be anything from sales training, access to information, marketing relationships, etc.  Over time look for these needs and get creative on how to help them.  One agency I know found a smaller realty office that was trying to grow.  Their marketing wasn’t great, but they were trying hard.  The agent partnered with them for a trade show, splitting time and booth cost.  You can bet the agency got the majority of their leads.

7. Pay for it.  Agents are scared to do this, but every day they pay for radio spots, direct mail, yellow page ads, internet leads, telemarketing leads, xdate sheets, etc.  It’s the same thing.  The only thing you need to worry about is not making the payments contingent upon selling the business.  Most if not all Departments of Insurance outlaw this.

I’ve seen two effective ways agents have done this successfully.  First they pay a dollar amount per lead.  You have to run some ROI calculations to determine your maximum spend; based on close rates, average revenue, average retention, etc.  Also it needs to be attractive enough to make a difference as well.  This works.  The other is to do contests.  Within an office, give a gift card of a substantial amount to the realtor or loan officer that sends the most leads in a month.

Make sure you stress they need to be a qualified lead.  You don’t want to get a name and number, call the customer, and have them act surprised at your attempt to quote their business.  I know some agencies require a list of information to make the quote valid.

8.  Lunch & Learns.  This strategy is highly effective at getting you in front of groups.  Realtors and Lenders give misinformation about insurance to consumers all the time.  Be an expert and give them information they can use with their customers regarding insurance for their property.  You are not trying to make them an expert, but it empower them with a couple accurate talking points.   Plus if you are providing lunch, most people will give you the courtesy to listen for a while.

Before you reinvent the wheel, grab a company person’s wallet and their powerpoint library. This is an easy spend for most company folks.  They may even throw in gift cards for a drawing.  Also, they might have presentation already created about property insurance.  This saves you some time.  Gather the business cards of everyone there, and send them a followup note, if you really want to impress.

If you networked with other agents for any length of time, this strategy is one frequently mentioned as a personal lines growth driver.  It may feel like everyone is doing it, but I promise few are doing it well.  Schedule your marketing, be consistent, ask for opportunities, and repeat.

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Customers You Don’t Want

One of the hallmarks of marketing is developing a profile of an ideal customer.

You pick the customer or niche that fits your business model, and then you keep that niche in mind when you craft any marketing strategy or customer facing material.  This helps immensely when brainstorming new lead sources or marketing ideas.  An image of the ideal customer informs how you design your website, business cards, trade-shows, brochures, etc.  When you understand this person fully, and take action on that information, you become a better marketer than your competitors.

This became clear on school field trip.  I chaperoned a trip to a radio station.  This was a radio conglomerate with multiple brands and channels stuffed inside their building.  Each channel had their own booth and office.  One was talk radio, another country, today’s hits, classic rock, etc.  In each booth, printed in large letters on the wall was a list of characteristics of their target demographic.

DJ’s, salespeople, and decision makers could not avoid this sheet when performing their daily actions.

Agencies have this list as well.  Most don’t have it posted, but the owner knows it, and sometimes the staff.  It’s a great idea to get this out of your head and distribute it throughout your organization.

While knowing your ideal customer is critical, what might be equally important is understanding the “Customer You Don’t Want”.

bad customers
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What does that person look like, and what do you do to avoid them?

Here some identifiers to help brainstorm this person:

  • Time-wasters. Write down the qualities of a customer that is a time waster. He never offers any opportunity for revenue activity, but demands attention more than normal.
  • Late-payer.  You chase him each month to give you money to keep their policy in force.
  • Frequent claimant.  They call in a claim too regularly, or are always asking “what-if” claims questions.  Alarm bells ring in your head, suspicious of their potential next move.
  • Billing questioner.  They pay their bills on time, but have questions every month related to the accounting breakdown of their bill.
  • Endorsement happy.  Every month they are doing something different to their policy; new cars, new drivers, change in coverage, etc.
  • Grumpy & Angry.  This one ruins the mood of every person in your office.  Every interaction is negative, and you can’t believe they stick around.
  • Bad Demographics.  Not red-lining, but identifying areas outside your scope of business.  if someone contacts you about their homeowners and they live in another hundreds of miles away they might not be the best customers.  Million dollar homes are attractive to write, but you might not have the markets for this and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole could generate more work than it’s worth.

There is no doubt that a few of these customers are part of being an insurance agent.   Some even have very good reasons to retain as clients.

By identifying them, they give you an opportunity to minimize their influence inside the agency.

If you are an owner, I bet you have a blacklist.  Does your staff know it?  What do you do in your agency to minimize the bad customer?

How A Local Business Taught Me How To Engage Customers Online

Local businesses have groaned for years under the weight of national giants.  Small retailers curse the big box store when it moves down the street.  Bookstores rail against the online stores.  Insurance agents complain about the budgets of the direct companies with lizard mascots and mega marketing.

How can we compete?  Social media, content marketing, and email strategies equalize the playing field, and even give us little guys an advantage.

Local businesses don’t need national attention.  They only need the obsessive attention of their local market, and these new tools allow such attention because it can magnify the engagement a local business already garners from their small base of customers.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s a story of a local business that is dying and being swamped by national corporations.  Yet, one employee, Adam, decided to quit complaining about the big boys and get creative.  He used these new tools to create demand for his product making it unique and specific to his audience.

Adam is was local sportscaster, and he chronicled his experiment on his own blog including a video of the broadcast which evolved from creative engagement with his customers.

Listen to his insights.

First, he recognizes the realities of his business:  “The local sportscast is dying. The emergence of all-sports channels and catered fan websites has rendered this medium mundane. No opinions, not enough time to delve into details and a complete lack of resources.”

Second, he finds a solution: “So, other than expecting people to turn on their TV at a designated time because they always have…how does the local sportscast attract an audience? Engage them.”

Third, he applies it to his problem: “Last night I tweeted out that I’m starting something called #Sportscast. This week’s theme: Old School Wrestlers. I simply asked for people to tweet me the names of former wrestlers and I’d try to fit them into my sportscast.  Nearly 50 responses later, I had a pool of possibilities. The result is the video…”

Ok, I know we are not in a business as exciting as sportscasting, so you are probably thinking, “Great idea, but how does this apply to me.”

Ask yourself questions?

Who is my audience (or customers)?

What can I do for them that big boys can’t?

What do I uniquely know about them?

Brainstorm with me.

I live in Louisville, KY, and every year we have a big event that you may have heard of—the Kentucky Derby.

Think through questions that people might have about Insurance related to this specific local event that the big boys won’t answer.

  • Do I have coverage to rent my house for Derby week?  (this happens a lot)
  • What if I have a Derby party with lots of mint juleps, should I worry about liability coverage
  • If I am at the track, and someone steals my winning ticket, am I covered?
  • What if someone breaks a car window at the track or steals my ipod out of the car?  Should I pay out of pocket or turn in a claim?
  • What if my business sponsors an event at the track and someone gets hurt, who is liable?

These questions could easily turn into newsletter content, blog posts, tweets, etc., and they are uniquely you.

Or you could get plain silly with social media, and post pictures of agency owners in crazy Derby hats.

At your next agency meeting, think through who your customer is and what are their likes and dislikes.  Find ways to ask and engage them, and create content that demands their attention because it answers their questions and fills a need in their world

(this post originally appeared on the Grow website)

7 Tricks to Create Unlimited Content

Agent Jack has been looking for ways to increase market share and reach people beyond his traditional advertising and networking. Recently he stumbled onto the concept of Content Marketing.

He got it!

photo credit: Clayton Cottingham | Photography 28/366 via photopin (license)

Last week he needed help with a plumbing task and googled “how do I stop my toilet from running”.  Google sent him to a Youtube video where a local plumber was walking him through the process of fixing his toilet.  A week later an outside spigot froze up and he knew it was beyond his abilities, but remembered the guy on the video that had helped him.  He picked up the phone and called Mr Youtube Plumber.  By the next day all was working again, and Agent Jack had a plumber for life.

He has seen content marketing at work, and wants to use in his agency.

He contacts his tech guy and makes sure that he is able to generate “blog” content through his current website.  Within days everything is setup and Jack is ready to start writing.  He blocks off time in his schedule, closes the door, and puts his phone on “do not disturb”.  His wordprocessor launches and suddenly a blank screen begins mocking him.  His mind full of ideas begins to mirror the screen in front of him, and everything disappears.

An hour later, he manages to type a paragraph or two, but nothing that will satisfy this content machine he is trying to launch.

How will he ever feed this content monster that he just created?

Brainstorming–but not how you think.

Here are 7 ways to use brainstorming to create unlimited content:

1.  Do It Alone.  When you hear brainstorming, you probably imagine yourself trapped in a room with friends or worse–strangers.  A white board is staring at your face.  A grumpy facilitor with a red marker in hand is waiting for brilliant ideas to jump out at him so he can paint the board with ideas.  Nothing happens.  Crickets are chirpiring.  Finally one brave soul chimes in and the crowd groans.  Eventually momentum builds, but at the end of the session you wonder if anything creative really happened.

Guess what, science has proved your intuition correct.

Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, summarizes the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone.”  

Brainstorming works, but not like conventional wisdom has schooled us.  Do it alone.

2.  Use Your People.  This sounds like I am totally backtracking on what I just said.  I didn’t say brainstorm with people.  I said use your people.  Make them do it alone as well.  Give them cues and questions to help spur thought, and ask them to spend twenty minutes one morning cranking out as many ideas as possible for potential posts.

The quote above from our eminent scientist had a portion deleted from the end of the sentence.  Here it is:

“brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

Here’s the key.  Let everyone brainstorm alone, but then bring your talent together to share their ideas.  This will create robust lists of content and spur more thinking and further ideas.  The reason this works is that the shy ones in the group are not bullied into silence by the more aggressive personality.  All people generate ideas, and come to the table on some equal footing.

3.  Give Rules.  I have hinted at this, but here are the rules that I am suggesting.  Ask yourself questions, but whatever you do don’t censor yourself.  Write or type as fast as you can so your internal editor can’t grab your hand and stop you.  Don’t worry if stupid or silly ideas start flowing from your pen.  Don’t stop from chasing those rabbits and any weird thought that might come out of your head.  You never know that it might spark something equally creative down the trail.

If you stop coming up with ideas, just keep writing.  Start writing “I can’t think of anymore ideas, help, help, help.”  Start repeating what you previously wrote but do it fast.  I promise ideas will come.  Give yourself a timer and one that ticks and the pressure will make things happen.  This forces you to make things happen.  Also have a list of topics or questions to help spur activity.  The best rule is to do it fast, avoid censoring yourself, and editing what you say.

4.  Use Your Customers.  Questions are a way to use your customers.  Have everyone think through the most recent and most common questions they get from customers and friends about insurance.

Think by product & niches: auto, home, umbrella, bops, etc.  This is how you search in Google.  You type in a questions you want solved.

This method won’t just give you great content ideas, but will provide you with the title for your posts.  For example:  “Should I get the insurance waiver from my rental car company?”  “Why do I need flood if I don’t live near water?”  “Why does credit affect my insurance price?”  “Why is my neighbor’s insurance cheaper than mine when we have similar cars?”

This is almost limitless.  Have staff begin recording all the questions, so you can begin answering in posts.

5.  Solve Misunderstanding.  Misunderstanding are really a subset of questions, but phrased slightly different. This difference can be incredibly effective.  It allows you to pick up a topic, spin it, and come at a different angle.

What are the most common misunderstandings about insurance?  Think claim time.  This is where what someone thought might happen begins to differ from reality.  You can really shine here, because some of their misunderstanding may have come from your competitor.  This sets you as an expert in your field, and you can address not only customers, but your referral sources such as realtors and lenders.

6.  Things You Wish Customers Knew.  Here is another category that is full of possibilities.

What do you wish your customers knew about insurance before they bought?  What do you wish they knew before they turned in a claim?  What do you wish they knew that affect their insurance rate?

The other avenue to think of here is not merely your business of insurance, but you can talk about agency history, the unique background of employees and owners.

You can talk about what you wish people knew about their community.  These kinds of posts bring personality and a level of humanity to your business so you don’t always look like you are pushing insurance down everyone’s throats.

7.  Best Ofs.  I stole this one directly from the mind of Marcus Sheridan.  If you don’t follow his Sales Lion blog, you need to.

“Best ofs” are not necessarily insurance specific.  Think about the things you and the people in your agency like about your city.  What are the best restaurants in town?  How about the best body shops, or electricians, or plumbers?  This could be a time you pump up the businesses of your customers.  You could write about the best vehicles for safety.  Write on the best pieces of equipment to stop leaks in your pipes.

Once you start on the “best ofs” you will find tons of content.

8.  Use The Calendar.  Grab a calendar and begin thinking about what happens in January in our country, state or city then I write about it.  How about driving in ice or snow?  How to winterize?

What happens in February?  A lot of jewelry is purchased.  Write about how to cover expensive or non-expensive jewelry.

March?  Talk about March Madness basketball.  Go through every month, and I bet you can come up with calendar content with very little prompting.

Agent Jack finished this list of 7 and feels relief.  The monster of content creation has been tamed, now that he has lists of potential posts to write.  It may be years before the monster raises his ugly head looking to be fed.

The task of content creation can be overwhelming, but don’t let blank screens and whiteboards overwhelm you.  Begin with a couple ideas and start creating topics and titles.  You will be surprised how fast and easy the ideas come.

Lack of content will never be your excuse in your marketing journey.

If you create content today, what do you do to keep the pump primed and the ideas flowing?

(this originally appeared on the Grow website)

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.

www.kybredinsurance.com

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?

Yes.

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!”

or

“[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.