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.”
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.
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:
- Share all photos and videos – both created by your agency as well as any customer-submitted material – this will help build up your Flickr portfolio
- Employ strategic keyword tagging to boost your images’ visibility – this will affect both SEO-inspired searches as well as searches performed by Flickr users within the platform
- Join Flickr user groups to help gather interest and spark conversation from those who may not be as familiar with your agency, your products or services
- Photo contests and unique promotions are a great way to utilize Flickr in regards to building an active social community and maintaining interest in your brand
- Consider connecting Flickr to your current website, Facebook Fan Page, blog, etc. to allow for smooth, seamless ability to cross promote among all of your agency’s online presences
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!
By Shawna Arnold
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.
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?
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.