Managing Your Insurance Company Rep for Your Success

As an independent insurance agent, the company/agency relationship is crucial to your success.

Yet, I sense there can be a level of irritation or distrust in this relationship that is born out of fear.

It’s a fear of getting a contract cancelled, exceptions denied, or perhaps money taken away.

On the company side, there is fear.  Fear that new business flow will stop.  Fear that poor quality business will trickle into your company.  Fear that the agency will roll your entire book of business.

But as an agency, if you can get past the fear and the charades that are played between agent and rep, great things can happen.  

Games of charades?  A perfect example of this is the planning season.  The agent sits down with the company person and is asked, “How much can you commit to grow next year?”

The agent says, “Put me down for 10%”.

They both smile, a document is produced, and signatures confirm the exercise.

The company knows this won’t happen.  The agency’s retention is 80% and for the agent to grow 10%, they will have to triple new business production from last year.

The agent knows this isn’t true either, because he was in the middle of losing a producer, and the rates for this company were steadily becoming uncompetitive.

But the charade continues and on each future visit, the rep lays out production sheets and fills the staff with donuts, but nothing really gets moved forward.

This relationship wastes a lot of time on both sides, but the good news is that you can use this relationship for your agency success with a handful of changes.

  1. Don’t let them waste your time!  Be clear that you want to succeed with them but you need tangible, clear items of discussion that accomplish a stated goal no matter how small.  
  2. Ask for money.  Most companies have marketing money, even if there is no formal co-op program.  A lot of this money goes unspent because no one asks.
  3. Use them for brainstorming.  Rarely do you have the time to step back and work on your business.  You are knee-deep in the business, managing renewals, putting out fires, dealing with employees, and diffusing claims.  Use that “company” time to think through marketing ideas, staffing changes, or renewal processes.
  4. Ask for honesty.  Find out what they really think of your agency.  Ask what you do well?  Where do you struggle? What needs changing?
  5. Have them create detailed plans for you.  It is really hard to generate marketing checklists, sales processes, and best practices.  Make them do it for you.  They can be a surrogate agency manager, and you don’t have to pay them.
  6. Make them an accountability partner.  Let them know what you want to accomplish and implement in the agency.  Ask them to hold your feet to the fire on these goals.  At each visit, they can ask how you are progressing on your goals.

To get to this level of partnership takes a lot of trust and honesty with your reps, and you won’t be able to do it with everyone.  But with the ones you can, be honest and use them like you would a paid consultant.


Checklists Are Not Only For E&O Protection

As insurance people, we think of checklists as way to review coverage with a customer, and avoid an E & O claim.  But they can be more useful than that.

Checklists download the success part of your brain.

insurance success checklist

Skilled pilots rely on checklists every time they take a plane into the air.  Even though an experienced pilot could go through steps where he checks instruments and readings and flight plans, the checklists protect him from mental slips.  It frees his mind to focus on the task of flight rather than using mental effort to remember each step of take-off.

Medical professionals use checklists to protect the lives of their patients when diagnosing or performing procedures.  The use of checklists have been so successful that hospitals who adopt their use see a dramatic decrease in medical accidents, thereby protecting the lives entrusted to their care.

It is work to think through complex tasks, but following a checklists removes mental strain and allows you to do what you do best: sale, market, manage, create a legacy.

I set aside every Monday to do administrative work, yet I found I got to lunch and often never got to the true tasks that needed done.  Out of frustration, I scribbled out a list of my most important admin tasks that had to get done each week.

Monday morning arrived, I pulled out the checklist, and begin working my way through it step by step.  Surprisingly lunch arrived and the bulk of my admin worked had been done, which gave me time to brainstorm around prospecting and marketing. Rather than being bogged down in the daily grind, I could begin to manage my future.

I took the same concept and applied to new customers.  How should I onboard people properly to create loyalty?  I wrote down the steps, and on my next new appointment, walked through the list without forgetting something important or racking my brain looking unsure in front of the client.

I am beginning to do the same for marketing, the sales process, and writing this article.

You can do the same.  There is so much we do that is repeatable, yet we frustrate ourselves by struggling to remember all the moving parts each time the task arrives.

Think through all your tasks that you do repeatedly.

Think through each small step you do, and write it out.

Next time, you encounter that task whether it be cold-calling, quoting, selling, crafting a presentation, etc; pull out the checklist, and see if you don’t find that you just put success on paper.

How have you used checklists in your insurance agency?


1st Step to Get More Customers

Have you ever purchased a new car, driven it home proudly, knowing you had chosen well, a unique vehicle with special features and a beautiful color, only to suddenly pass several of the same vehicles within your first five miles?

Suddenly you see your smart purchase everywhere — in every other garage, in the carpool line, and at the mall.

I remember as a kid learning a new word, and believe it or not, that night on TV the news anchor used it, then it appeared on the pages of my bedtime reading.

Why does this happen?  Your brain is a filter and will only pay attention to what you tell it to and this is a secret to marketing.

The first secret to get more customers: know your ideal customer and you will find him.

There is no magic here, but you become attuned to what you want, then you start finding it.  Your marketing will be more attractive because you are not firing bird shot but arrows.

the perfect insurance consumer?

How do you determine your ideal customer?

1.  Look at your current book of business.  Pull out the top 10 to 25 revenue generating customer.

2.  Pick out the best of the best.  Of that group, would you consider any of those customers ideal customers?  Ask: “If I could clone this customer, would I? Does he pay consistently and generate little service activity?  Does he send us quality referrals?”  Try to find more than one of these examples in the list.

3.  List out the common characteristics of these ideal customers.  Don’t look at the characteristics above, but think about demographics: their likes, dislikes, marital status, income bracket, occupation, age group, zip code, children, education, outside interest.  How do they dress?  What do they like to eat?  What do they do for entertainment?  How do they like to do business?  How do they like to communicate with you?

4.  Create a clear picture of this person.  Just like you would draw up a job description for the ideal team member, create written description of your ideal person.  Get him in your head, share him with your staff, put his picture on your desk.

Then what?  After you do this, you will begin seeing this customer everywhere.  When you craft marketing, it won’t be to a general audience, but you will be writing to your perfect customer.  You will ask for referrals from people that will send you this person.

So, do you have an ideal customer?

How Planning for Pain Will Help You Sell More

The social sciences are researching crazy behaviors all the time, and thankfully, some of the research turns out incredibly beneficial.

Recently while listening to a favorite podcast, the subject of resiliency landed on my radar screen.

Now, I normally would have not connected this with sales, except having the ability to survive constant rejection.  That helps, but it is not much fun, and does not really move the sales process forward.

Yet this slant of attack promised to dramatically improve every sales and service encounter.

That’s a big promise.

This is the secret:  a written plan of attack.

Here’s the story:  Rehab clinics throughout the country struggled with the healing and mobility of patients with knee and hip surgery.  They wanted to know how they could speed recovery.  The problem was that the pain of walking post-surgery kept people immobile.  Several strategies were tried but only one was particularly effective.

Patients were instructed to write out a plan of attack when experiencing pain on that first step.

A plan might look like this: the first step hurts, lift leg, shake it, then taken 3 quick steps; or the first step is painful, but I will walk across the room before resting.

Those with a written plan recovered dramatically faster!

Why did this work?  The patient made one decision that would cover multiple scenarios.  This kept them from having to re-negotiate with themselves every time walking generated pain.  They knew what to do, and writing the plan made it concrete, solidifying it into their subconscious.

So, how does this apply to insurance sales?

We know that we are going to experience painful situations with customers and prospects, and these steps will make you more resilient and successful with people:

  1. Make a list of customer pain points such as: price objection, billing frustrations, claims misunderstanding, and rate increases.

  2. Write out a script.

  3. Say it aloud.  (Bonus tip: recruit a partner and role-play it.)

Then watch the magic happen.  Will you follow the script exactly?  No, but you have already envisioned the pain and conquered it.  It is no longer a mystery and will give you confidence, which will be apparent to the client.

Try it for yourself.  Use it at your next sales meeting, brainstorming each step as group.

Let us know the results.


P.S. If you want to hear the podcast for more detail on this topic, check out this episode of Social Triggers (which is an excellent sales and marketing resource): the science of making habits

To Sell is Human

Quick update:

I am a big fan of Dan Pink.  His book Drive was excellent when it comes to human motivation, especially in the workplace.  I have previously written posts on the topic.  Early this week, his new book on Sales was launched.  I am a quarter through the book, and it looks to be excellent.

Posts will follow this year on application for the insurance professional.

What books are you reading that have application to your agency?  Comment below.


Why Insurance is a Noble Profession

Used Car Salesman
Is this how you see yourself?

Of all the professions in our world, insurance never ranks very high.  You often find it in the company of attorneys and used-car salesman in a list of despised or suspect professions.  Unfortunately, we often believe the surveys.

Deep inside at the neighborhood party, introducing ourselves as an insurance professional feels slightly uncomfortable.  As soon as the words leave your mouth, you feel the need to enter defense mode.  Granted, we will always get one-upped by the policeman, fireman, or athlete at career day in your child’s kindergarten class, but there’s no need for shame.

Insurance is a noble profession, and I will prove it for you. 

  • We protect people.  We offer advice and products that have immense value.  They protect people from financial ruin.  Our neighbors and society are able to take greater monetary risks, and thereby create value and comfort, because our safety net exists.
  • We uphold the modern economy.  In a world of fiscal cliffs and crazy governmental monetary policy, we forget the fundamentals that underlie our economy.  Consider the housing market.  Would a bank loan 100K, 200K, 500K to individuals to buy property if they were not convinced their loan was not protected against risk?  There would be no housing market without insurance.  The risk to lenders would be too high.  The same premise can be applied to loans for business, exploration, and research.  Insurance allows capital to flow much more freely than it would in a world without it.
  • We force people to consider risk and safety.  Many modern safety advances came out research from insurance companies.  Fire protection took leaps forward due to insurance.  Those ubiquitous “crash-test dummies” were created in the lab of an insurance organization. Crash Test Dummies
  • We create jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.  I am not talking about indirect job creation.  There are approximately 40,000 Independent Insurance Agencies in the US, and with direct writers like Allstate, State Farm, and Nationwide, there are easily over 100,000 insurance agencies in America.  Most of those offices employ at least 1 person and many employ upwards of 50+.  Conservatively, 1 Million Americans have jobs because someone in their community decided to get an insurance license and begin selling.
  • We create goodwill in our community.  The above points are reasons enough to support the nobility of this profession.  This bullet is nothing more than icing on the cake.  Rarely do I meet an insurance office who does not participate in local charity and community sponsorship.  I know many agents who have begun their own non-profits to support charities they create.  Insurance people are involved in their churches, civic organization, and local charities giving back in gratitude to people they protect.

Don’t let the perception of the slimy, polyester decked sales person get stuck on you.  Proudly wear the badge of insurance professional, and hammer these positive and noble images into every employee and neighbor you have.

P.S.  Add your thoughts to this list in the comments below, and share this post with your insurance friends.