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The AIMS Society blog is designed to provide practical, timely ideas to help insurance agencies improve results from their marketing and sales efforts. Wishing you much success!!! For even more, consider joining the AIMS Society and you'll have access to a powerful network of agents and carrier personnel focused on excellence in sales!

 

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Owning Your Brand

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Updated: Monday, August 25, 2014

Owning Your Brand

In his article, Agency Models: What Defines Today’s True Independent Agency, Mark E. Ruquet said, “The conventional definition of an independent agent is an entrepreneur who owns his or her book of business and offers multiple carriers to service their clients.”

The single word that jumped out at me in that sentence was “entrepreneur,” and it left me wondering how many insurance agents truly treat their business in an entrepreneurial manner.  What does it take to do that?  Jayson DeMers is founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency and contributor to Entrepreneur magazine (which seems like a promising start for expertise on the subject).  He believes there are five important skills every successful entrepreneur should possess:

1.       Communication—whether you think you’re a natural or believe this is a personal challenge, DeMers recommends paying attention to how people react when you talk for clues about your effectiveness.  If you’re seeing puzzled looks, you know there’s work to be done.

2.       Branding (personal and business). To be effective, DeMers maintains that you must be online and active on social media.  As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, deliver relevant content that helps you connect with your audience—this isn’t the place for overt selling.  He offers these resources to help you get started if you’re still reluctant: 5 Ways to Build Your Brand in Short Chunks of Time and The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.

3.       Selling—DeMers maintains that everyone is in sales, noting that “every time you deliver your elevator pitch about your business, negotiate with a vendor, or even just persuade anyone to do anything, you’re tapping into sales skills.”  He emphasizes that most sales likely come from conversations and says, “If you focus on helping, rather than selling, you’ll feel more confident about the sales process, and make more sales, too.” 

4.       Strategy—with all the daily to-dos, it’s easy to lose sight of the long-term challenges and goals of the business.  But DeMers encourages everyone to “dedicate time to simply dream about what you want for your business–it’s the only way to grow over time and remain competitive.”  Dreaming doesn’t sound like a bad to-do list item at all!

5.       Finance—reality demands what DeMers calls a “decent understanding of your finances, profit margins, cash flow and funding.”  Knowledge equals comfort and that means better decisions.  He recommends a tool that helps you actually visualize the numbers beyond spreadsheets too. 

So even if you’re surrounded by co-workers and you see your position as a niche role within a bigger organization, treat your brand as if you are a solo entrepreneur.  It’ll surely add to your passion, help you create buy-in with others and should make even the more mundane tasks feel more relevant.  Now that’s how to own your brand!

Tags:  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Lessons Learned

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lessons Learned

As kids head back to school, take a moment to think about your favorite teacher.  Perhaps it was an elementary teacher who seemed to appreciate your unique personality or made you believe in a talent you never thought you possessed.  Or maybe it was a high school teacher or college professor who ignited your curiosity because they were as interested in your viewpoint as they were in the subject at hand.   

Your favorite teacher likely made you feel very important.  Valued.  Relevant.  It was more about you; not so much about them.  And that’s what made them so memorable.  When’s the last time you did the same for one of your customers?  Approached the sale from their perspective and figured out what you could do to make their job easier and engage their enthusiasm?

What are other “great teacher” qualities we could all apply to our jobs?

  • Confidence:  Stellar teachers know their topic.  They teach from a deep base of knowledge, able to deftly change the lesson plan based on the audience.
  • Patience:  Sometimes a teacher has to repeat, repeat, repeat, until the student grasps the lesson.
  • Empathy:  Great teachers know their class isn’t the only show in town.  They understand that distractions come from other stresses. If they can help ease any of those stresses, the chances of success increase.
  • Flexibility:  Students learn in different ways—visually, orally, through hands-on projects etc.  Outstanding teachers match teaching style to the student and can explain a topic in different ways, from different perspectives. 
  • Pride: Memorable teachers are often great at noting a student’s success and sharing accomplishments.
  • Dedication: The bell may ring, but the best teachers stay engaged as necessary.
  • Curiosity:  Enthusiasm extends beyond their subject, leading outstanding teachers to ask questions, learn from others and understand outside viewpoints.

So yes, we’re in insurance, but there’s always more we can learn to make ourselves better salespeople.  Class dismissed!

 

Tags:  AIMS Society  CPIA designation  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Can't we all just get along?

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can’t we all just get along?

 

In his article, Why Generations Clash at Work for Entrepreneur, Steve Tobak remembers his impressions of managers early in his career, remarking, “I do remember feeling that my older superiors didn’t see the world the way I did. And I was right; they didn’t. My managers saw the world differently because they had something I didn’t have: experience in it…”  He gets it now that he’s older himself, but he missed it when it mattered.

 

The article’s reference to “rifts” or the “gap” between generations we’ve all felt is unfortunate.  When we’re all busy trying to prove we’re right—because we claim an advantage of more experience if we’re older, or a fresh perspective if we’re younger—we lose the opportunity to learn from each other. Tobak urges us not to buy into the “broad characterizations of generations of people,” reminding that everyone does not possess every characterization of their assigned group, be it Boomers, Millennials or even the up-and-coming Generation Z (yep, it’s true, we’ve hit the Z’s). 

 

Other suggestions to ease inter-generational angst: 

  • Understand each person’s “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me), as Tobin calls it.  This is what motivates a person…and it is the proverbial key to an employee’s heart.
  • While challenging the boundaries and testing limits, younger workers shouldn’t, as Tobin says, “expect management to cater to you wherever you go.”
  • At the same time, good managers must “never forget that you were once that brash young upstart who succeeded by taking risks and pushing the envelope.”  Managers who resist challenges to their ideas risk succumbing to the status quo. 

Pretty good ideas to help us avoid what J.B. Priesly captured so well when he said, “There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age - I missed it coming and going.” 

 

Tags:  AIMS Society  CPIA designation  insurance marketing and sales  Leadership  self-improvement  teamwork 

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How to attract millennials

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 05, 2014

How to attract millennials

In last week’s blog, I shared information about the 2009 Insurance Journal Young Agents Survey.  Independent agents under 40 revealed what they liked most and least about being an independent agent.  The bad news was that many young agents struggle with the negative perceptions about insurance.  But, we know better, so I challenged you to share the good. 

And there’s a lot to share.

In fact, one piece of good news—actually the great news—is that we have something many millenials want:  flexibility.  You see, according to PwC’s Next Gen A Global Generational Study, this younger generation of workers says they’d consider a pay cut in exchange for better work-life balance.  Now, consider what some of the young agents surveyed said they like most about the insurance field:

  • ­ The freedom it provides and ability to work hard to determine your own income.
  • ­ The amount of time I have with my family and the flexibility of the business.
  • ­ I can make really good money and I control my schedule for the most part.
  • ­ The freedom to work my own hours and the fact that income ceiling is only controlled by how much effort I put.
  • ­ Relationships, freedom.
  • ­ Flexible schedule and unlimited income potential.
  • ­ Flexible work schedule and the ability to help people understand a piece of their life that is so important.
  • ­ Freedom. Meeting local business owners and developing relationships with them and leaders in the community.
  • ­The ability to write any risk on the planet and not having a home office dictate my life and income level.
  • ­ Own hours, unlimited income potential, exposure to all different types of industries.
  • ­ The freedom to try new things.
  • ­ Freedom of choice.
  • ­ Freedom to work when and how you would like to.
  • ­ I enjoy having the ability to direct my own work-flow while helping people protect themselves.
  • ­ Flexibility.
  • ­ Income and scheduling freedom.
  • ­ I like that I can realize my own dreams, and the self-direction that I can take.
  • ­ Flexibility of job and hours.

So if your agency is like so many others out there, struggling to engage new talent, make sure you’re selling to one of our greatest strengths.  Highlight the best we have to offer—it may be hard for more than millenials to refuse!  

Tags:  AIMS Society  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  Leadership  self-improvement 

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An Industry With A Complex

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An industry with a complex

I recently discovered an article on MyNewMarkets.com that provided an overview of the 2009 Insurance Journal Young Agents Survey that asked independent agents under 40 years old what they liked the most and the least about being an independent agent.  It was a good news/bad news kind of list.  But what bothered me most was the ongoing perception issues faced by our industry-and the frustrating reality that we, the very people who make up that industry, may have accepted our position or done little to try to change it.

Among the top 49 "least liked" aspects of being an insurance agent, here's what was included as comments:

  • Public perception - while we're actually one of the last lines of defense for individuals' and companies' ability to continue operating, we're too often perceived as being one half step above used car salesmen.
  • Cold calls and the negative connotation associated with the job.
  • The public opinion of insurance in general.
  • The perception.
  • The perception the general public has of insurance and insurance agents.
  • Telling people I sell insurance for a living.
  • People's initial reaction when I say I am an insurance gent.
  • Being compared to a car salesman.

Ouch.

Looks like we've got some selling to do-oif ourselves.  Did you know that Insurance Agent ranks as the 13th Best Business Job according to US News and World Report?  Have you recently tweeted, posted on Facebook or sent out a press release to yor local paper when you've sponsored a student, supported a charity or done another good deed as a company?  Have you ever signed up for a career day and told about what it's really like at an agency?

Our industry deserves better, and as salespeople, I know we can do this.  So starting today, let's all hold our heads a little higher and be more intentional with our message.  Let's share the good.

Tags:  AIMS Society  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement  teamwork 

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How to Reach Your Own Sesquicentennial

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Reach Your Own Sesquicentennial

Staying young may be the best way to become old.  What do I mean by that?  I’d argue that to remain in business across a century and a half requires any company—and in this case, an insurance agency celebrating its sesquicentennial—to remain strategically young in approach, energy and attitude toward change, refusing to accept a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. 

In the current issue of Insurance Journal there is a particularly interesting article, “Contemporary Growth Tips From a 150-Year Old Agency” that illustrates the value of that forward thinking approach. The agency?  John W. Sanford & Son, which began issuing policies in 1864 and is now part of the Warwick Resource Group (WRG), led by lead principals, who also happen to be brothers: Richard Savino, CEO, and Keith Savino, chief operating officer.

How do they explain the agency’s longevity?  They credit “five ingredients in their formula for adapting and growing in today’s marketplace.”  This includes:

1.   Buyer Identification:  Using technology and online marketing to target potential clients worldwide, rather than limiting their sales potential to a defined geographic region

2.  Hub & Spoke: This organizational structure uses one central location (the hub) to consolidate key operations and uses remote sales offices (spokes) for localized efforts.  Again, technology, such as cloud computing and internet-based phone systems (VOIP), makes this structure both flexible and economically feasible.   

3.  Outside Hires: Great work can come from experts in other fields, i.e. construction, who can join the team and then learn insurance. They bring a great contact list with them too.

4.  Acquisitions:  Just 10 years ago, WRG had only a single office. Interestingly (and perhaps this sounds an alarm for agencies who haven’t kept pace), Richard notes in the article that acquisitions were frequently found among agencies that “did not maintain the technology required to run an efficient office.” 

5.  Leadership:  But not static leadership.  In fact, the Savino brothers value the interaction and learning they receive from industry associations, which I’m pleased to say includes the AIMS Society (Richard and Keith serve as two of our directors).

Turns out some contemporary thinking can keep an old business alive and thriving. Want to read more detail? Check out the whole article here—and be sure to congratulate the Savino’s at the next AIMS event!

Tags:  Agency Management  AIMS Society  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  Leadership  self-improvement  teamwork 

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To Tell the Truth: Will the real you please stand up?

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Updated: Monday, July 14, 2014

To Tell the Truth:  Will the real you please stand up?

It’s a simple question with perhaps a not-so-simple answer:  Are the business-you and the real-life-you the same person?

If not, why not?

Of course, everyone has some differences between their work and everyday life personas—the bawdy jokes or the goofy behavior need to be tabled when there’s work to be done.  I’m talking about the bigger picture, genuine stuff of your personality. Do you feel like yourself when you’re at work and do you believe you’re using your best talents and traits on the job?

Why does it matter?  Because you spend 40-plus hours a week at work.  Because “happy” people are more productive and more valuable to their company.  And Dan Miller, author of the New York Times bestselling, “No More Dreaded Mondays” and “Wisdom meets Passion,” says people buy from those who they know, like and trust.  He estimates that reaching this relationship milestone is about 40 percent of the sales process.  I’d argue that if you’re not genuine—if you’re too busy trying to project who you think you should be rather than who you really are—you’ll never achieve your full sales potential.

There’s a broad spectrum of answers which might arise from my question.  If your job simply doesn’t fit who you are, that’s a definite issue—and it’s likely something you already know needs to be fixed.  But I would guess that there is room for everyone to let down their guard a bit and let their unique personality shine.  Take a few minutes to consider your daily approach to your job.  Can your presentations be tweaked to better suit your style?  Are there some talents you could leverage to improve your performance and make yourself stand out?  Are there some corporate challenges you would be particularly good at tackling even if they aren’t a direct fit with your current job description? 

Take some time; think carefully about how you can fit more of you into your job.  You’ll be happy you did.

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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The Power of Referrals

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Power of Referrals

Ninety two percent of all consumers report that a word-of-mouth recommendation is the “leading reason they buy a product or service,” according to Nielsen and Roper reports posted by Marketo. That’s a pretty powerful sales tool.  Are you leveraging it?

A great idea is to create referral partnerships.  The idea is to partner with other local businesses to appropriately share contact information and recommendations with customers.  This is not a blanket approach—you don’t throw a pile of business cards or a listing of partners at every client regardless of their situation.  But, when handled judiciously and with thoughtful consideration, it not only helps your referral partner, but positions you as an agent who is genuinely considerate of your client and their concerns.

Think beyond the obvious repair shops and contractors.  Most agents have these kind of partnerships already in place (although there may be opportunity to reinforce such partnerships by letting the owners know you appreciate their recommendations in reverse—in other words, never let new business you receive via someone else’s recommendation go unnoticed). 

Also, recommendations should not be limited to claim situations.  If you have a client who just moved to a new home, what better reminder that you are an agent who cares for them individually that providing a list of recommended businesses that might be of help. Be creative; consider including landscapers, designers, window treatment companies—anyone you can personally vouch for and feel confident they will provide great service.  If a client’s family will have a new driver soon, is there a driver training school you have personal experience with through your own children?  In return for your recommendation, the training school can provide your name as an auto insurance source to its customers.  Even if the client doesn’t go with your recommendation, the exchange has provided an excellent opportunity for contact. 

Include only those businesses you would genuinely endorse to your own family and friends.  After contacting them and discussing your intention, gain their own commitment to share your name with their own customers.  Every couple of months, follow up to let them know how many referrals you’ve provided and always thank them for any you know they provided in return.  Even if loads of new business doesn’t come directly your way, your considerate outreach to customers as they face new life circumstances provides you a definitive point of difference versus other local agents.  And that’s always a great thing.

So, who do you recommend?

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement  teamwork 

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A peek behind the curtain

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Thursday, June 26, 2014

A peek behind the curtain

We need your input THIS WEEK—June 27th is our deadline.  We know, quick turnaround required, but it will only take a few moments.  Why?

You already understand that knowledge is power.  Insight is what helps you figure out the best way to add value to your business.

To that end, we hope you’ll participate in the 2014 Independent Agency Survey.  NetVU and Accenture have partnered to conduct this ten minute survey which will help pinpoint emerging trends and also help NetVU advocate more effectively on behalf of Vertafore management systems users.

For you, perhaps the biggest payoff comes from the immediate benchmarking data that will allow you to compare your responses to other agencies (by immediate, we mean as soon as you enter your last response). And who doesn’t want a peek inside other agencies?

In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to pre-order the completed report—including extensive industry analysis—at no charge.  Free. 

Pretty nice return on a ten minute investment!

The 2014 Independent Agency Survey is designed for producers, brokers, principals, and other agency influencers who are responsible for the growth and strategy of your business.  If you think there may be someone else at your company who is a better fit, please forward this to them.  Survey closes after June 27th.  Thank you!

Tags:  Agency Management 

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Summer Casual

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Casual

Summer is definitely the casual season.  Some offices boast summer hours, others institute more casual dress.  Studies show those can be valuable employee perks. 

But be careful that summer casual doesn’t translate into casual selling. 

Of course, no one wants a canned sales script—that went out the door with the sea of blue business jackets—but leaving a sales conversation to chance, without considering the best step-by-step approach for closing the sale is as risky as sitting out on a sunny summer day without sunscreen.  You’ll get burnt.

One training tool to consider is a call-flow document, which can help you or your staff identify the strongest opening statements and list of qualifying questions.  Also useful is generating a list of possible objections and pinpointing the appropriate response for each.  When you consider the possible arguments against your sales message in advance, it provides you the opportunity to brainstorm the right follow up approach.

In the spirit of summer, this process can actually be fun.  I swear.  Have everyone come to the table with their own call-flow document—their best ideas for starting and progressing a sales call—and then do some role playing.  Allow your team to embody the stereotypes of their toughest clients and prospects.  Even if they drift into a bit of silliness, the serious part of the project remains.  It forces people outside their own perspective and this exercise can challenge people to push their messaging up a notch.

Another thing to consider is how the same sales message should evolve based on how it occurs—online, on the phone or in person.  Once you’re comfortable with your personal call-flow document, think about how you might deliver it.  Will it take a series of emails?  Can you combine various communication options—maybe provide background information in an initial email, add some detail on the phone and then save the in-person meeting for the actual close?  Of course, it will vary by client style as well.  Make sure you deliver your message in the format your client prefers, not the one you do. 

The best thing about the call-flow document is that it doesn’t dictate the conversation, but it does force consideration of where the conversation might go based on what the client says in response.  In the end, it allows for a more casual “feel” while leaving less to chance.  And because you’re not left scrambling for a response or meandering to find your strongest benefit, you’re actually freed up to be more yourself.

 

  

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement  teamwork 

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