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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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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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Less talking, more listening

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Updated: Monday, June 02, 2014

Less talking, more listening

I love to check the perspective of sales professionals in other fields.  Marc Wayshak, who has written two books on sales and leadership,
Game Plan Selling and Breaking All Barriers, notes that “The good news is that your competitors are out there right now enthusiastically pitching the features and benefits of their products to your prospects. They’re making cheesy sales calls, inundating people with their boring information, using outdated closing techniques, and finally wasting their time following up on prospects that are unlikely to do business with them.”

That can make you feel pretty good—until he adds, “The bad news is that you’re probably doing the same exact thing.”

He recommends, instead of pitching your products and services, you should be asking great questions.  What are the five primary questions
he recommends?

  1. “Tell me about your challenges with regards to…” This immediately focuses the discussion on the buyer, not on you, and it positions you to be the problem solver.
  2. “Give me an example of this challenge.” This is where you can learn specifics and move from theoretical to actual.  Understand the details and you can provide tailored solutions.
  3. “Ballpark how much this challenge costs you.” This will help you prioritize products and services.  However, I would add a caution: even problems without a high monetary price tag could still be very important if they cause ongoing angst for your client.  Some problems might cause a client to waste time, lose credibility, etc. 
  4. “What would it mean to you if you could solve this challenge?” This question causes the buyer to articulate, in their own words, how valuable you might ultimately be to them. 
  5. “Big picture, what are you looking to accomplish?” As Wayshak says, “Salespeople often have no clue as to why their prospects would even want to buy from them. This question is the ultimate paintbrush in the hand of your prospect. This is where you fully understand what the prospect wants to accomplish from a high level.”

Wayshak explains the power of his five question approach:  “Most people are pushing their products or services onto prospects, whereas you will simply be asking great questions to let the prospect sell himself.”

Seems like a well-planned sales method with potentially great payback.  Do you have any additional “must-ask questions” you’d recommend?  If you do decide to try Wayshak’s approach, I’d sure love hearing from you so we can share your insight with others in a future blog.  Happy selling!

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales 

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Pitching Insurance

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Updated: Monday, May 19, 2014

Pitching Insurance

By Donna Gray

 

When’s the last time you pitched insurance—not a policy, but the industry?

 

We could use your help. 

 

As an article in Leader’s Edge reveals, the average insurance employee is 58 years, and nearly 500,000 professionals will retire in the decade ending in 2018—that’s nearly one fourth of the industry’s workforce!

 

The McKinsey & Company study that notes this impending exodus also warns that replacing this talent will be difficult, saying insurance is saddled with a “poor reputation,” and younger workers don’t know the kind of opportunities available in our field.

 

If you like what you do—and I see the enthusiasm and positive attitude at AIMS events—it’s time to share your story.   Don’t sit silent and let the lawyers and doctors in the neighborhood steal all the bright stars.  You know as well as I that insurance is much more complex and offers more career prospects than many suspect.

 

If you need help getting started, a great resource is The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes insurance and risk management education and understanding. The Griffith Foundation is eager to provide learning materials that you can share with your local schools—even as young as elementary age.  Or you can hook up with insurance and risk management students at a nearby college or university.  There’s few agencies that couldn’t benefit from a bit of collegiate enthusiasm or the go-get-‘em work habits of a summer intern.

 

At The AIMS Society, we know that education makes a difference.  It’s what keeps any industry vital.  So while we keep doing what we do, I hope you’ll consider encouraging a young person in your community to learn more about insurance.   Know someone who’s already interested?  Tell them to look into the Foundation for Agency Management Excellence or FAME scholarships. In the current academic year alone, FAME sponsored 46 $5,000 scholarships at universities nationwide. 

 

It’s our industry.  It’s our future. Let’s work together to keep it growing!

 

Donna Gray is executive director of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society, which offers the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA) professional designation.

Tags:  Agency Management  AIMS Society  Leadership  teamwork 

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Selfish Selling

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Selfish Selling
By Donna Gray

Every sale is selfish—buyers want to know what’s in it for them. That doesn’t make them greedy or self-centered, but it’s true that each of your customers are coming to the table with their own perspective.

Knowing this, are you selling only features…or are you selling benefits? It’s an important distinction.

Features are merely the details of a policy or program. The terms, the pricing, the coverage options. The benefits are how that policy or program solves a problem, reduces a risk or makes the person’s life easier.

Here’s where the real art of selling comes in: the features are the same for everyone—the benefits are not. To know what benefit appeals to a particular buyer takes understanding.  You have to know their background. You have to understand their concerns and also know their personality.

With business insurance, there are corporate concerns that you can solve. How much money can your recommendation save a company? How much time? Can you reduce risk or eliminate exposure? But never divide insurance sales into personal versus business with regard to your approach. You see, every insurance decision, even those made as part of a client’s job, carries a personal stake. Don’t underestimate the power of making someone look like a rock star at work. And recognize that you gain a tremendous competitive advantage when you reduce someone’s job stress or provide them the tools
they need to really excel. To make yourself an invaluable insurance provider means you need to make yourself invaluable to buyers themselves.

Policies come and policies go; those are the interchangeable features that every insurance company offers. It’s the benefits, on both a corporate and a personal level, that makes you—and your insurance—irreplaceable.


Donna Gray is executive director of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society, which offers the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA) professional designation.

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales 

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Showing Love After the Sale

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Updated: Monday, April 21, 2014

Showing Love After the Sale

By Donna Gray

 

An important part of building a strong, sustainable business is keeping customers once you’ve brought them into the agency. On his blog, CPIA facilitator Don Meincke points out that “Building a client base with sound retention makes better financial sense than constantly chasing a new sale while ignoring the ones you already have.” That’s something we focus on in our Insurance Success Seminars and through other AIMS Society offerings.

 

Don offers a number of ways to help boost retention by “showing some love” to customers after the sale. Here are a few of his suggestions:

 

  • Ask.  It sounds so simple, but it works. Ask your clients if they are happy. Set up a website page for customer feedback and encourage clients to use it. Reach out through social media, send a survey card, make a phone call, or stop by for a visit. Just do so within a reasonable timeframe after the sale, make sure the contact is personal, and absolutely do something fast about any negative responses.

  • Take customer calls. Your customer (“your” being the pivotal term) is calling YOU for a reason. Don’t blow it. Never ignore the call and don’t send it straight to a customer service center.

  • Intervene on your client’s behalf. You might get the same answer from customer service or the claims department that the customer would, but your involvement demonstrates your genuine interest in resolving the situation and it puts you in a better position to explain the outcome.

  • “Fess up” if you’ve made a mistake. In your zeal to solve the customer’s problems, you may answer a question incorrectly. If that happens, pick up the phone, admit it, apologize, and offer an alternative solution.

  • A Business News Daily study shows that a reward for doing business is effective. Fifty-four percent of customers surveyed would have stayed if some retention incentive had been provided. We see a lot of new customer discounts and specials advertised; that can be galling to a lifer. Consider how to work loyalty rewards into your product offering.  Studies also show it doesn’t have to be a large, expensive gift.  It’s the recognition—the thought—that counts.

 

What do you do to show some love and boost client retention?

 

Donna Gray is executive director of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society, which offers the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA) professional designation. 

Tags:  AIMS Society  CPIA designation  insurance marketing and sales 

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Seven Traits of Great Employees

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Updated: Friday, March 28, 2014

Seven Traits of Great Employees
By Donna Gray

 

At this year’s AIMS Society PRO-to-PRO Executive Retreat, The Omnia Group’s Carletta Clyatt helped us explore what it takes to be—and identify and nurture—successful leaders. We learned how to recognize and value the differences within work teams and to manage them appropriately. We looked at how behavior influences management styles and how behavioral insight can help leaders build and maintain cohesive, loyal and productive teams.

 

A recent Omnia blog post looked at the flip side of that discussion and identified seven traits great employees possess. These are:

 

1. Curiosity. Great employees are life-long learners who often ask, “Why?” That’s because they have a need to understand how things work. This curiosity causes great employees to ask questions and seek answers when others might not.

 

2. Passion. Great employees get excited about stuff and they aren’t afraid to feel or express those feelings. In short, great employees care—about quality, excellence and the business. Yes, they want to help the organization meet its goals, too. These employees possess a sense of ownership about their work that can’t be faked or manufactured. That sense of ownership fuels their “get it done” attitude.

 

3. Courage. Although many leaders might deny it, they’re not always happy with employees who challenge how work is done. Yet, courageous employees who challenge “how we do things around here” encourage innovation. Many organizations resist change, even when it’s desperately needed. Without employees courageous enough to question company processes, procedures, and strategy, how will a firm grow and adapt? It won’t.

 

4. Humility. Great employees are humble, and this humility keeps them on the lookout for a better way. That’s because they understand that success is never guaranteed; other organizations with similar products and services are always ready to assume the market share of a company too satisfied with past achievements.

 

5. Diligence. Great employees are diligent. They “sweat the small stuff,” because they know details matter. That said, a concern for detail should not be confused with a tendency to micromanage employees or with a lack of understanding or focus on the “big picture.” Great employees understand the importance of both short- and long-term objectives, and they appreciate both.

 

6. Decisiveness. Great employees are practically genius at assimilating bits of information quickly, drilling down to the core issues, and using that information to act when action is needed. Great employees know that, often, the best they can do is make decisions with the information they have, until they can secure more or determine that more is unnecessary, and then they act.

 

7. Honesty. Seriously, who wants to work with someone who can’t be trusted or taken at face value? Great employees don’t provide these dilemmas, because they’re reliable and trustworthy. With very rare exception, they say what they mean and mean what they say. They keep their word or are communicative and apologetic when they can’t. They also accept responsibility for mistakes without making excuses.

 

Are there any other traits you would add to the list? And what can leaders do to better recognize, reward and nurture these traits in employees?

 

Donna Gray is executive director of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society.

Tags:  Agency Management  AIMS Society  Leadership 

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