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MARKETING PLANNING WITH YOUR CARRIERS
Marketing Planning is NOT sending a postcard or letter to all prospects in a specific SIC code or market group. That defines a marketing letter. Sending out single-strike marketing letters or material and waiting for the phone to ring is like going to Atlantic City or Las Vegas and betting on a single number on the roulette wheel. Every once in a while you will get lucky and get a few customers, but, on the whole, it is a waste of money that helps build the casinos (or helps sponsor the newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies who get paid whether or not your marketing is successful.
Marketing Planning is first, defining the target markets that you will pursue based on both your and your carriers’ strengths, then creating a multi-step marketing effort (that may, very well, involve much more than print materials), implementing the plan and tracking it through its conduct to either validate its success, or identify its weaknesses to change the plan and continue its execution.
Few enough agents actually “plan” for their marketing efforts. Even fewer do so in concert with the strengths of their carriers. Below are the steps to creating Marketing Plans toward your favored carriers and toward their product strengths. Don’t do this in a vacuum. Work with your marketing staff at the carriers. They can be very helpful in identifying the target markets and may even lend assistance in the creation of the prospect base. Finally, most of the carriers have professional staff who can write copy for the marketing program to give you a head-start with the prospects.
Here are the steps in creating and implementing a marketing program that works well for insurance agencies. Following the basic steps, we have expanded each step to tell you HOW to accomplish them with programs that you already know or with which we can help familiarize you.
- Identify the target markets for which your carriers have strong product and competitive rates
- Identify the prospect base within your ‘strike zone’ for those target markets.
- Concentrate specific product knowledge training to your production staff (done by the carrier)
- Create a relationship-driven (not a price-driven) sales process. Make friends, not quote insurance. Don’t quote until the prospect knows and trusts you. Don’t propose (or proposition) the girl on the first date. APM
- Get creative help from the carrier marketing arm for the lead-ins for the marketing campaign (15 step marketing program over 3 years)
- Implement and monitor the program for three years and 15 visits for every prospect toward successful conversion of clients. The success rate will grow geometrically in the second and third year and since new prospects are added to the Funnel as existing prospect are converted into clients (or eliminated from consideration), the rate of sales will consistently grow as the program continues. Consistency is the key.
- Join with the carrier by providing metrics including
- # contacts with the prospects monthly and YTD (# of prospects contacted, # of contacts with each prospect)
- Evolution of the relationship (tracking relationship progress or prospect elimination and replacement) – keep the Sales Funnel full
- # of submissions
- # of sales
- Expect high number of contact rates and relationship development in the first year or two, followed by a growing number of submissions for the prospects with whom the relationships have developed in years 2 and 3.
- Track company response to submissions toward sales conversions.
- Identifying Target Markets – All agencies have talents, skills and knowledge base in several target markets. Most agencies have carriers who can demonstrate a history of strong growth in a few (or several) target markets within an underwriting office or geographic area (the company’s “strong suits”). Concentrate your marketing efforts on a) targets in which the agency is already knowledgeable, b) targets of opportunity in the agency’s geographic area, and c) the client types that your carriers have demonstrated skill in achieving (by their historical performance).
You will know what types of clients you have been ‘good at’ (successful in achieving), historically. Your carriers should be able to tell you what they have been good at (# of new clients for the carrier in the marketing area or in your geographic area in the last year). You may (or many carriers have the capability to aid you) determine through demographic studies what types of business are prevalent in your area that have the common traits of a) strong company products, b) competitive (not necessarily the lowest) rates, and underwriting competence.
- Identifying the prospect base for the target markets – This requires list generation by your agency or by the carriers who are your partners. Every list must be scrubbed for a) prospects that you already know, and b) prospects that you already know are not desirable or achievable. Then, the hard work begins. Many carriers have the means to provide you substantial information about every business prospect that you have, from decision-makers names to historical sales and personnel numbers and “intelligence” about those prospects that start your file on each prospect to build a relationship. If you don’t have the carriers who can help you with this, at least use the internet to gather all the information you can about each prospect before the relationship-building stage begins. This process is the one that is usually skipped and causes the agent to be ‘just another insurance sales person’ when they try to approach the prospect. It is much more advantageous to know a great deal about the prospect BEFORE you make your first contact.
- Knowledge Training – While Step 2 is being accomplished, invite your carrier underwriters to “refresh” your production staff’s knowledge base about the risk factors, coverages and (especially) the competitive advantages that you would have with the carrier’s products for the prospect type under discussion. This knowledge training is a refresher to make sure your producers KNOW the target market while they are building relationships with the prospects. It is NOT a silver bullet to permit them to quote the prospect at the first or second meeting.
- Create a relationship – mature a relationship – Use the Asset Protection Model of relationship building in its entirety (call us at 800-779-2430 if you are not yet fully conversant with this Relationship Management tool). It will evolve a trust relationship and create friendships between you and the prospect in a totally non-threatening manner. It does so through a 15 Step Marketing Program (5 steps per year over three years) during which you provide service to the prospect without expectation of (or requesting) quotes. Once the relationship is sound, the prospect will suggest that you become his agent and the CLIENT Relationship begins in earnest using the carrier who brought you to the table with the client. As the relationship builds there is ALWAYS (the same) indicator that the prospect is trusting enough and likes you enough to become your client. Only then are you permitted to assume his account because his is no longer a price-driven sale (although price and rate will always be critically important to both the client and to you). And make sure you deliver on the relationship after the sale or you open the door to competitors and erode the very relationship that you spent years creating.
- Use the carrier if you don’t have the creative strength in house – Here’s where some carriers fall down. They can do “brochures” basically saying “We’re Great” in a variety of ways. But the APM and your marketing campaign is built on 15 visits to every prospect over a period of as much as three years. Each visit is preceded by an agenda-driven specific value that you (the agent) can bring to them (with no obligation) to prove that you are not “just another insurance salesman.” That means you have to have 15 value-added functions that you can provide (your agenda) within the 15 steps of the program. Those value-added functions could include the coverages and nuances of your carrier’s products, or those services that you can provide different (or better) than your competitors. Your goal is simple in statement and difficult in implementation – MAKE FRIENDS AND BUILD A TRUST RELATIONSHIP THAT IS GREATER THAN HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CURRENT INSUROR (if one exists). If you have the creative strength within the agency to create the 15 steps, do so. If not, request help from your carrier of choice. If they cannot help you use us or get professional help from creative advertising and copywriting agencies. This step cannot be avoided if the program is to be successful.
- Implement the program is a disciplined manner. Every prospect has a file (a subdirectory). That file is filled with intelligence about the prospect gained by the producer (renamed as Relationship Manager – RM) during their visits to the prospect. While the agenda for the prospect is the familiarization of the value-added benefit, the agenda for the RM is to come away from the prospect with an ever-growing pool of intelligence about the prospect and about his business. That intelligence pool is reviewed prior to each visit to make sure the prospect knows that we are growing ever-closer as friends and as trusted advisors. Management tracks the 15-Step program with Call Reports that specify the agenda goal, the result, intelligence gathered, the next step and the timing of the next step (if outside the 15-step schedule). The 15 step program starts with a schedule, but there is nothing sacrosanct about the schedule. If the prospect’s situation demands a speed-up or slow-down, the Call Report identifies it and the next step is slowed or accelerated to the needs and desires of the prospect.
- The METRICS – Keep track of everything and, if the agency is using a carrier as a product partner, share EVERYTHING with the carrier. This should include a) number of prospects in the Funnel, b) number added or deleted in the period, number of prospect seen in the period (and at which stage of the 15 steps each prospect is seen), number of submissions, and number of sales (including annualized premiums and commissions). The carrier should be critically concerned that the time they spent training and in the creative process is pursued by the agency in a dedicated manner and that the process is neither short-cutted nor stopped in favor of the new “flavor of the month”.
- Contact Rates and Relationship Development – Many of us are aware of the Sales Funnel, the process by which we fill the funnel with prospects and work them through the funnel until a smaller number of them exit as customers. By using the three-year process, the Sales Funnel is always being re-stocked (adding new prospects as existing prospects become clients or are eliminated as no longer a potential client) and is almost as wide in its terminus as it is in its entrance. The long-term success rate for the APM is very high (well above 70%) because we are either building a relationship or are eliminating prospects in favor of ones with a greater potential for becoming agency clients and we do so objectively and unmercifully. Management must know the contact rates of the producers with the prospects in their Sales Funnel and be constantly diligent that the Relationship Manager is not wasting his/her time pursuing prospects that are not going to become clients. The track of contact rates and relationship management is as long as three years – very long in a normal sales process, but quite worthwhile if the closing rates are maintained well above 70%. And the retention rate for clients built in this way is above 95% (uncontrollable losses only due to death, retirement or sale of business).
- Track the Companies as well as your own success — Unfortunately, company attitudes change (sometimes when personnel changes) and a good marketing program turns sour in the middle of the three year cycle. Tracking company response to submissions will tell you when this is occurring so that you can work with Company management (or change companies) to continue the marketing effort and resolve the problems.
The Asset Protection Model of Sales and its core component of the 15 Step Marketing Program working with a strong, consistent carrier and a committed agent will build a book of loyal, relationship-driven (rather than price-driven) clients. They will be slow in converting at first because they all have other relationships already (or are justifiably suspicious of your motives for visiting them). If you EVER stop the relationship building and give in to your baser instinct of offering a quote, you will immediately lose the goodwill and relationship that you’ve spent so much time building with the prospect.
The UPSIDE – you will have a consistently growing book of clients, price-sensitive, but not price-driven, for whom you are a friend and trusted advisor. Once the first two years of the program are completed, you will find an astonishing closing rate on the prospects in the program because you’ve converted them from suspicious to trusting and you deliver on your promises.
The DOWNSIDE – this is slow and expensive. Historically, we’ve taught the prospects that we are only in it for the sale and if he asks for a price-driven quote, we will quickly accede to that request. After all, we can only sell what we quote, right? That attitude will eliminate all the good will that you’ve created with the prospect and, even if you sell the policy now, he will again be convinced that you are a sales “whore” like the others and will go shopping next year if offered alternatives. Supporting RMs through the 15-Step Program without expectation of quick sales, is excruciating for agents if they don’t BELIEVE that this is the secure and the right way of building clients. But as long as the RM is out there visiting the prospect, as long as he is gathering intelligence and showing the prospect the value of an association with your agency, this program WILL work and will work at exceptional levels.
The APM in tandem with the 15 Step Marketing Program is meant to create ‘Customers for Life.’ The relationship between the agency and the carrier will also strengthen with time as a trust relationship is built and both carrier and agency provide each other the support both need to grow their books of business.