This is Part 5, the final part of a multi-part leadership series written by Tim Sawyer, President and Director of Client Services at Astonish. The goal is to give your insurance agency the tools necessary for effective leadership from a man who’s helped thousands of insurance professionals succeed in marketing their insurance agencies to the modern consumer.
6. Manage, Measure, Improve
I have often said that change is highly unlikely unless someone is fired (or at least held extremely accountable) when things go bad, or someone is rewarded when things go well. So the question that must be asked is “who in the agency is ultimately responsible for the growth of the business?” Until this question is answered there is a strong chance that success will remain elusive. In other words, who’s responsible to manage, measure and improve on the numbers? In most traditional agencies this would fall to the agency principal/ producer. But what happens if this person is not a natural or trained leader/manager? There would be a tendency to avoid this important role altogether.
The person responsible for the MMI process should be passionate about Constant Improvement. It’s not enough to know the numbers in the agency, but what the numbers actually mean. Also, how do the numbers compare to industry standards. Modern agencies should be paying attention to key metrics such as revenue per employee, CSR client service count, and conversion rates for new customer acquisitions as well as average additional policies sold per service call. Once the agency has defined what to measure, then it’s time to create a constant improvement process (CIP). For example, if new client acquisition is 15% of quote requests and the industry standard is 30%, then a process has to be put in place to manage and improve the conversion rate to the industry standard. This process would require goal setting, insurance sales training, prioritization and most important, accountability. Agencies that lack the knowledge, skill sets or time to create such a process should look to 3rd parties who can provide these services. Whether outsourced or dealt with internally, someone in the agency must be responsible to manage, measure and improve the numbers.
Practical leadership is critical to the success of the modern agency
Agency principals seeking to grow in the digital age must first start with themselves to provide the necessary leadership and commitment required for lasting success. They must be able to clearly articulate the vision and the goals of the agency as well as the time table involved. They must be prepared for employee pushback from those who are reluctant to change. They must be dedicated to overcome the inevitable roadblocks associated with all major initiatives. As it relates to employee motivation and behavioral change, the modern leader must be consistent in the application of incentives and accountability. Effective practical leadership must include the use of metrics and key performance indicators to keep the agency on track. Someone in the agency must assume be responsible for the MMI and CIP processes.
“No widget, tool or gadget will ever fix or replace a broken leader,” says Adam DeGraide, Founder & CEO of Astonish.
The local agent distribution channel is under attack from direct writers, captive agents, carriers going direct and billions of dollars in advertising. In addition competition is fierce from one local agent to another. Add to the mix the rapidly changing behavior of the modern consumer and you get a distribution channel that must adapt to the reality of this environment. The modern agency leader is confronted with difficult choices. Investment in technology and training can be costly without the proper mix of employee motivation and management oversight. On the flip side of the coin, doing nothing is not a sustainable business model. As I have often said, “hope is not a strategy.”Continue Reading »
This is Part 3 in a multi-part leadership series written by Tim Sawyer, President and Director of Client Services at Astonish. The goal is to give your insurance agency the tools necessary for effective leadership from a man who’s helped thousands of insurance professionals succeed in marketing their insurance agencies to the modern consumer.
3. Clear expectations of the process and the time table involved
The successful launch of a large initiative with in an agency can be directly tied to the leader’s ability to articulate what the launch process will look like in addition to a reasonable expectation of the amount of time required to achieve a successful outcome. Leaders can expect team members to want to know exactly how this will affect them in very real and practical terms. In addition, leaders can expect team members to be asking themselves what’s in it for them.
The natural tendency of the leader may be to minimize the impact on individual team members. This may have the short term effect of reducing pushback but in the long run may undermine sustainable acceptance and execution.
Better to be realistic. This will require the leader to make the case for the purpose of the initiative. This must include the benefits to the agency, the team and to customers. Also, the leader should clearly define the phases of the process and how each phase will affect the team. There must be timelines established for each phase and a process to gauge progress.
Be prepared for pushback. It is inevitable that some team members will be reluctant to embrace the initiative. Most agencies have well established work forces not accustomed to change. Change can be threatening and in many cases met with total resistance. Modern agency leaders must resist the temptation to placate reluctant team members by suggesting that participation in the initiative is optional. If the initiative is vital to the long term success of the agency than its success supersedes the concerns of any one individual. This must be made clear to everyone. The leader must be unwavering in their commitment.
Find a respected champion within the agency. A team member who is passionate about the success of the initiative. Partner with this team member in meetings and presentations. Have them update the rest of the team on your progress and report back to you.
Lastly make it fun. Recently an agency principal in Ohio remarked to me about how he had an appointed a Fun Director in the agency. Her responsibility is to lighten the mood in the agency and make the workplace a desirable and “fun” place to spend time. Since then, according to the agency principal, innovation has improved in addition to a significant increase in new business.Continue Reading »
When you first immerse yourself within the social media game, you are constantly bombarded with information about the heavy-hitters
You are told to focus your efforts on Facebook, Twitter and blogging—build a community, engage in conversation and form relationships—if you want to become a successful social media ninja then you have to tackle the biggest and boldest social sites first.
But what happens next?
Once you’ve found your social groove, and developed quite an active community of followers, it’s time to embrace a well-rounded, more blended social strategy. There are a variety of additional community-inducing platforms that you can weave into your current social media efforts.
One, which we at Astonish Results regard very highly, is Flickr—the photo and video-sharing tool. Over the past 2 years Flickr has certainly been evolving its clout as a social media outlet, although Facebook and Twitter still tend to steal the spotlight. However, despite the competition, Flickr has also experienced rapid growth and integration within various aspects of digital marketing. It currently hosts upwards of 5 billion images and its branding benefits are steadily increasing.
With the array of both personal and professional reasons to use Flickr, it’s important that agency owners focus on implementing this social resource as a means to:
- Enhance the company’s personal interaction with current its clients
- Build greater awareness and visibility of their agency brand
- Humanize their agency and showcase their individuality
- Conduct outreach campaigns and contests; driving potential clients and& increased traffic to your site(s)
Still skeptical? Astonish Results has seen incredible traction from our branded Flickr account. As a company we share an abundance of photos including snapshots from holiday parties, candids of our fearless leaders out on the road, agency visits and more. By promoting the images through our Facebook and Twitter accounts, we not only encourage clients and the surrounding community to comment, but also provide them with an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at Astonish culture. Allowing the consumer to step inside the world of your agency – and view things from a more personalized perspective – is a great asset to your branding and credibility.
So how can you begin to harvest the power of Flickr for your independent insurance agency?
Take a look at some of these helpful hints to get you started:
If you’re ready to take your social media efforts to the next level, why not begin with Flickr? With the ability to interact, comment, categorize and build up strategic contact lists, the platform provides you with the perfect opportunity to increase your online presence—all with the simple upload of photos. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Are you active on Flickr? Feel free share best practices with us below, we’d love to hear what you’re doing!
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A huge part of having a successful online marketing strategy is to remain a local business while still appearing big enough to have an online brand. There can be a struggle between staying local and opening your brand to the online market. Staying local keeps you in your comfort zone, but it can limit your opportunities for leads. While with your online presence, you open your business up to the whole state and beyond, bringing in new opportunities.
Before you had an online presence, you may have built your book of business through word of mouth, referrals, and the locals in your area. While it is good to keep that momentum going, turning your company onto the internet requires you to think outside of your local bubble. There’s a fine line between appearing to be small-town and appearing to be big business. Although you don’t want to lose your local appeal, you do want to build your brand to reach outside of your town. Keep in mind that you are licensed to serve your entire state, not just your town.
For example, if someone calls you for auto insurance on the other side of the state from you, your first “local instinct” may be to send that lead to an agency closer to them. Stop right there! Just because technically that lead isn’t local to your physical office location doesn’t mean you cannot serve that customer. You don’t need to see the customer in order to get them the coverage they need, so why discard such a valuable lead? Instead, take that potential customer’s information and see what you can find them for auto insurance rates in their area. You can use this as an opportunity to show the potential customer that although you are an online brand and can help those throughout the state, you’re also a local business and you understand the needs of local people. Customers will appreciate you being able to stay local while serving “non-locals.”
Think of those throughout the state you’re licensed in as your locals. You are not restricted to selling insurance within a 10 mile radius of your town, so you should be welcoming in leads from all over your state. Obviously there can be restrictions for certain products and/or areas, but don’t simply take a local only stance. That is a quick way to lose business and deter from the development of your online brand.
Remember, you now have two locations – your Virtual Insurance Office and your brick and mortar location. Finding the balance between staying local and building your online brand is all about your attitude and the attitude of your entire staff – do you have the right strategy? Tweet me @astonish_shawna and tell me how you’re doing with balancing local and online strategies.Continue Reading »
Have you ever asked yourself if you believe? Believing is one of the most important aspects your agency must have if you want to increase sales. As Astonish Results CEO Adam DeGraide says, you must believe in yourself, the place you work, and the products you offer if you want to be successful.
If you walk into work every day with a negative attitude you are already set for failure and it is going to come across that way to the people that surround you. Having self-confidence is number one. Confidence is a trait that will make you happier, and the customer happier, because people feel better about a decision you are telling them to make, if you yourself are confident in it. Next, is believing that you can help the customer. The customer doesn’t want you to sell them something; they want you to HELP them buy something. Truly wanting to help your customers is a trait that will come off in a sales call. Showing that you are there to help them get the best rate and are willing to go the extra step when they file a claim will only deepen the level of trust you have instilled.
The second thing you must believe in is the place you work. Understanding the culture of the agency in which you work will help you feel in place, and your insurance agency culture is something you can use to differentiate your agency from competitors. If you aren’t sure what the agency stands for, ask your agency principal. Why did you start this agency? What is the message we want to get across to our customers? And if you are the agency owner, I would think about these questions. As the principal, showing your agents that YOU believe will only help them on their path to success.
The third part of your agency that you must believe in is the products you sell. You can’t sell anything in any business if you do not truly believe that it is the best choice out there for your customers. When following up with a lead the customer can tell if you are insincere about the product you are offering. Believing in the insurance policy you are offering them, that it will help them and is the best possible policy they can get, will shine through in your voice and attitude.
So ask yourself again. Do you believe in yourself, your agency, and the products you sell? If you answer no to any of these questions, then take a step back and assess the situation. Look for inspiration in yourself. Ask the most optimistic person in the office what they believe in, or approach your agency principal to better understand the culture at your agency. And lastly, believe in what you’re selling. If you can’t convince yourself a product is great, how can you convince the customer?Continue Reading »
Recently we held the second insurance marketing twitter chat. One of the last questions that came up was “What advice would you give to a new blogger or social media intern?” Especially in the insurance industry having the right approach at your social media strategy is an important first step. I have included some of the #INSchat comments along with some of my own tips for social media gurus in training.
1) Don’t be overwhelmed.
Leading the social media efforts at your agency can seem overwhelming at first. Social media is meant to be interactive and fun so don’t worry about having too much on your plate. Blogging, tweeting, tagging, it is all progressive. From the point about five months ago when I started until now I have learned an immense amount of knowledge about online marketing and different social media platforms. It takes time to learn everything, so don’t be overwhelmed just have a confident attitude and dive in!
2) Brand Yourself.
This is one of the most important points. No one wants to chat with an insurance agency on Facebook or twitter. If a friend suggested that I “like” an agency on Facebook and they have a picture of their logo and only tweet about how they can give me the best quote, I probably wouldn’t accept. Your job is to represent the agency as a thought leader. Showcase some of your own interests, whether you like football, fishing, or french fries, showing your personality keeps it interesting, makes it more fun for you, and allows others to see there is more to your social media efforts than generating leads. Lets face it. No one wants to hear about insurance unless they need a quote or have a question. So representing your agency as a person not just someone who is trying to sell something is key.
This one probably seems like a no brainer, but reading is important for content ideas and keeping up to date with the latest trends. There is so much information out there about social media, marketing strategy, and technology, so read it! The Alltop social media page is a great resource for finding the trending stories each day. If you have a question, someone has probably answered it in a blog post. The only way to learn about social media besides experience is to immerse yourself in the culture.
Things to keep in mind:
- Be sincere and authentic.
- Posts never go away, think long-term.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Many people on social networking sites, especially twitter, are more than happy to answer a question you may have.
- Get SOCIAL! Having good content is a positive but it isn’t the main source that will drive traffic to your post.
When looking for the definition of a modern hometown insurance agency, Bucci Insurance of Warwick Rhode Island has the look and feel. Situated in a well-groomed business park about 15 minutes from the Astonish Results office, the Insurance Marketing HQ team recently took a brief jaunt over to the offices for another Changing Faces of the Industry interview with their social media manager, Khiara.
Khiara is a senior at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI and has been interning at Bucci Insurance for over six months. Recruited from a Bryant college fair by Tony Bucci, the agency’s owner, she’s in charge of managing Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and the aptly named RI Insurance Blog. As a lifelong Rhode Island native, Khiara keys in on local happenings and community events. She has made a point to incorporate a sense of the Ocean State’s unique identity into the RI Insurance Blog by featuring local businesses, promoting historic Rhode Island events and designing the iconic Newport Bridge into the blog header.
A bit of a renaissance woman, Khiara also coaches a high school gymnastics team, is an RA on her campus, and works at a local golf course. Each of the positions provides her with an opportunity to fine tune social skills and network with a diverse group of people, valued skills for her as an aspiring marketing maven. Most people are surprised to hear that she does social media for an insurance agency, which has actually helped drive some interest in Bucci as a progressive-minded agency.
We sat down with Khiara to discuss insurance agency life and professions in the most recent, “Changing Faces of the Industry.”
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Finding an internal employee to manage social media can be like hunting for wild game at a petting zoo. Agents, producers, CSRs or even insurance marketing people who’ve been on the job for a long time might simply not have the willingness, personality or experience with social media to make the transition from traditional to social networking.
When no one in the office is suited to handle the tasks of a social media manager, we must look outside the agency walls. Often the best option is to hire a socially savvy friend or relative of a current employee, as is the case with the most recent Insurance Marketing HQ, Changing Faces of the Industry, interview subject, Marissa from the Ross Insurance Agency in Holyoke, MA. The daughter of Ross’ longest active employee, Marissa was hired to manage all aspects of the agency’s social media program which includes blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIn.
While it would be easy to classify her hiring as a case of nepotism or “knowing the right pers changing-faces-of-the-industry-ross-insurance-agency on,” Marissa actually has a marketing degree and years of experience engaging on social media networks. Beyond the knowledge, perhaps the most important aspect of her hiring was the sense of trust she walked in the door with because of her mother’s role with the company.
Strategic social networking thrives when the person responsible has a finger on the pulse of agency life and fellow employees appreciate the value of their contributions. If all agency employees saw Marissa’s contributions as, “She just plays on Facebook all day,” they’d be much less likely to share anything useful with her and may even harbor feelings of resentment.
However, because fellow employees know her mother and see that she’s dedicated to growing Ross’ community through the use of social media (while actually generating tangible results), they are much more open, and the social media activities thrive because of it.
While Marissa is a great example of how insurance agency’s can leverage young, non-industry talent to help their marketing efforts, an important point is the advantages that a close family member or friend can have when entering a position next to long-time employees. Not everyone will appreciate the role of a social media manager, but hiring the hard-working daughter, son, niece or nephew of a current employee can certainly help bridge the gap.
Still hunting for a wildebeast at the petting zoo? Ask around the agency, your social media manager could be closer than you think.
Many thanks are owed to Marissa and the folks from Ross Insurance Agency for their hospitality in welcoming the Insurance Marketing HQ team to their office. Please enjoy this “Changing Faces of the Industry,” video interview and excuse the flashy necklaces, we were celebrating a luau-themed end-of-summer party.Continue Reading »
The sultan of social sites recently announced a new location-based application called Facebook Places that will further expand the network’s reach into our daily lives. The new feature allows users with a smartphone to post status updates on their daily meanderings, tag people they are with and even identify “People Here Now” by installing the free application or using the site http://touch.facebook.com.
The service is not unique since Foursquare and Gowalla function much the same way, but Facebook’s 500 million+ users bring impactful attention to location-based social networks. Opportunistic and socially savvy insurance marketing minds can leverage these services in a number of ways:
- Claim your Agency/Business – Determine whether your business has a places page and click the link to claim ownership (check Foursquare too). While it’s not feasible to offer discounts or Everything-Must-Go Labor Day sales on insurance, you can offer first-time visitors a gift card or novelty item for letting you write their insurance. Plus, claiming your business ensures you’ll see what’s being said even if you choose not to participate.
- Build a positive Timeline – As part of the service, “Places” pages will exist as a timeline of people who checked in while providing any feedback they have to share. If you make people wait because your receptionist is too busy smoking a cigarette and texting her boyfriend to greet them, expect that to be communicated. However, if you have an overflowing candy bowl and the person is welcomed with a smile, coffee and new magazines, you may soon have hipsters and bloggers hanging out there just to be seen (OK, maybe not).
- Hang a Sign – Post a simple sign in your front window or lobby that says, “We’re on Facebook Places, Come Check-in” to show you’re plugged into the local social media community. At the very least, you may gain some new fan page likes or a curious bystander moseying in just from seeing the sign.
- Create your own Places Trail – Privacy is a big concern with location-based services because users are basically broadcasting where they are NOT (just ask PleaseRobMe.com). Facebook made the default setting so only friends will see the updates, but there’s reason to make them public, at least during business hours. If you’re on the road meeting with business insurance clients, showing the trail of visits is a good way to highlight the niches you’re involved with. You can also leave positive comments about your visits, perhaps recommending a favorite sandwich or highlighting a special deal that will appear on both your wall and the partner’s Places page.
- Use it as an Ice-Breaker – If meeting with a prospect, ask if they mind that you check-in on Facebook as a way to get the conversation flowing and to show your value as a marketing partner. Sell them on the fact that you want to help their business, not just sell insurance.
- Offer employee incentives – Since customers will never flock to your agency to get new insurance products, offer incentives to employees who earn the most agency or partner check-ins from setting up new prospect meetings. It works because it combines social media and insurance sales in a rewarding but not overly promotional kind of way, while providing the carrot on a stick for producers. Just be wary of the prospects privacy.
It would be absurd to say that Facebook places or any location-based network will be an insurance marketing game-changer, but it’s yet another tool that helps agents leave a footprint in the local community, something direct insurance writers will never be able to do.
SocialMediaToday.com covered the Facebook announcement and shared this from the closing statements:
(Chris) Cox, Facebook’s Vice President of Product shared a compelling and passionate closing statement citing Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place where Oldenburg describes the three most important places in the world:
Home: Where you eat and sleep, where your family is and where you go to digest and reflect.
Work: The core of economic society where we flex our brain muscle
“The Third Place”: The corner café, the local bar, the library, the newsstand, the place where people run-in to each other.
In his book, Oldenburg argues that we are in danger of destroying “The Third Place”.
For a long time people have repelled technology (many still do) for fear that instead of becoming connected, they actually disconnect. Cox explained that the hope for this technology is that instead of keeping us trapped on our couches in a bubble, it will actually become the force that pulls us out of our homes and back to the corner café.Continue Reading »
Recently, the Insurance Marketing HQ team had the opportunity to visit the energetic and inspired team from Encharter Insurance’s Amherst office known locally as Blair, Cutting & Smith Insurance. Situated in the heart of the UMASS-Amherst community, the agency has a rich history dating back to 1879.
Our visit happened to coincide with a “theme” day the agency had planned as a part of an office morale initiative that keeps employees happy and productive. To honor the 53rd anniversary of American Bandstand, Encharter’s staff donned attire ranging from poodle skirts and pink cardigans to floor length flower dresses with begonias in their hair.
As a special treat we spoke to two Encharter employees who are shining bright as “Changing Faces of the Insurance Industry,” one a social media engineer and the other, a savvy receptionist turned CSR.
Social Media Engineer – Heidi
Wielding an English degree out of college, Heidi has been instrumental in building an internship program for Encharter by leveraging relationships with UMASS-Amherst and creating an atmosphere of learning. She’s also responsible for helping to oversee the agency’s social media with a full on multimedia and social networking program.
Customer Service Representative – Katie
Stephanie started as a receptionist at Encharter before earning her license and becoming a CSR. Since then, she’s won multiple awards within the agency as a top producer based on a point system set up by the management team.Continue Reading »