Agency Perpetuation: Stepping into the Future 

In the first article on Agency Perpetuation, the case was made that planning for the future success of your agency is important to not only your business, but to the individuals and businesses that depend on you for their success. This week we present some basic steps you can take to build out your plan, and where you can find some valuable resources.

 

There are numerous pathways for agency owners to take in order to secure a solid footing in the future. No one option on its own will be enough; a multi-tiered approach will likely achieve the greatest success. Here are some basic things to consider:

 

Internal Mergers & Acquisitions – Many agencies are family-run businesses where, often informal, plans for handing off the business to the next generation have been discussed, or just expected. Far too frequently not nearly enough planning has gone into it, and many unexpected bumps in the road sideline the best-laid plans.

 

If it is a family purchase, agency valuation needs to be something arrived at and agreed to by both sides, as well as the full financial arrangement. Sometimes familial relations can get in the way of the business deal, and result in an unsuccessful meeting of the minds. Or else the son or daughter taking over doesn’t have the same entrepreneurial drive the parent did. Bottom line, like any business deal, despite it being an internal family sale, first arrive at the numbers then adjust them if special considerations are being made.

 

Sale to a key employee may or may not go much smoother, but the payout agreement, of which there are many types, might be more stringent. In either case, the owner/principal must keep the “numbers” side of the deal at arm’s-length. Don’t let your emotions cloud your desire to see your business succeed.

 

External Mergers & Acquisitions – Reasons for considering an external buyer are plenty. It might be there isn’t a family member or key employee that wants to take on the responsibilities of the business; it could be that perpetuation plans weren’t started in time, and circumstances forced this on you.

 

You don’t want to be in the position where you are not controlling the planned sale. Understand that any succession planning will take time and must include legal, financial, and estate planning professionals.

 

Succession Planning – Finally, no matter what direction your perpetuation plan goes in, for most owners who want to see their business continue and grow long after they’ve retired, finding the right person to lead your agency is the most personal issue. Whether it’s staying in the family or merging with another agency, including in the planning process time to know and get comfortable with whoever that person will be, can go a long way to taking some of the unknown out of the equation.

 

There are a lot of resources out there to help you in your perpetuation planning. Two of particular note come from IIABA and PIA.

 

For those of you that are members of the IIABA, their education courses include a Best Practices class in Perpetuation & Management Succession. This study provides motivation and useful information to independent agents who are currently, or will soon be addressing the issue of business perpetuation. Download the e-book online.

 

PIA has created Perpetuation Central, an online reference and resource center for agencies to access as they plan, and take steps to implement agency perpetuation. It offers step-by-step guidance and assistance in identifying issues to be considered, creating a plan, and locating available resources.

 

Finally, register now for the 2012 NetVU Conference, April 26-28 in Anaheim, CA. Included in the course curriculum are sessions on Agency Perpetuation including the IIABA’s Best Practices class. Talk directly with your peers that have gone through the planning process, or others that are in the same position you are in.  NCOM is a great place to get the conversation started, hear what others are doing.

 

Remember, with the proper planning, owners can create a foundation and strategy for securing the future success of their agency, and enjoy the rewards from the personal and financial investment they made over the years, well after their personal involvement ends. 

 

 

 

Calling Retail Agents Knowledgeable with the E&S Market 

The E&S Joint Working Group is establishing a Retail Agents Subgroup in order to provide GAs, wholesalers, and E&S carriers with more feedback on the major “pain points” agents are experiencing when writing E&S and program business, and the improvements in automation and workflow they would like to see. The subgroup will also point to examples of efficient processes they are currently experiencing from some of their E&S business partners to assist with increased adoption.

 

We encourage retail agents and other interested parties to join the Retail Agents Subgroup now by signing up the ACORD Teams site, by following this process:

  • Register on the ACORD website (if not already registered, www.acord.org)
  • Email Geri Prescott of ACORD (gprescott@acord.org), and ask to be added to the Retail Agents Subgroup of the E&S Joint Working Group

The subgroup will meet virtually every two or three weeks via one hour Internet sessions or conference call. Available members of the subgroup will also get together in person during E&S Joint Working Group meetings where possible.

 

This subgroup provides a great opportunity for retail agents familiar with these markets to improve how these markets function, increasing the level of automation and reducing the current duplication of effort and inefficiency.

 

 

   

Upcoming Webinar Series on “Making Download Work” a Must! 

Download is an essential component of an agency’s workflow; it eliminates data re-entry issues, speeds up customer service, and allows for the alignment of insured information between carriers and agents. But understanding how it works, how to work with it, and what it can do for you, is not always that easy.

 

In order to provide you with the tools and information you need to leverage download to its fullest, NetVU has put together a two-part webinar on “Making Download Work for You.” Beginning with part 1 on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Central, educators Joyce Sigler, vice president, training and automation administrator for the Jones-Wenner Insurance Agency; and Caleen Alexanderson, senior business analyst for download at Vertafore, will be teaching you what you need to know about download for your agency. Register for Part 1 NOW!  

 

Part 2 on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Central will include reports, and a review of additional settings and tools you have available. A good amount of time during this part will be your chance to ask questions, so come prepared to learn and find answers. Register for Part 2 NOW! 

 

The NetVU Playbook states that “Commercial Lines Download is an essential component that allows independent agencies to hold their nearly 80% market share in the commercial insurance marketplace. Synchronization of data between agents and companies is paramount to efficiently and profitably servicing commercial lines customers.” As far as NetVU is concerned, “Now is the time to try it again.” Let us help you do just that.

 

 

  

 

Prospecting For New Business

By: Adam DeGraide, CEO and Founder of Astonish Results 

 

For any new business, prospecting should be a critical element of your marketing plan. Prospecting and approaching a potential customer is the first step towards making a sale. In the insurance sales industry, it seems there are endless ways an insurance agent can prospect for potential clients.

 

Since there is a wide range of prospecting options available to insurance agents, most of them are not successful today due to the fact that they do not have an actual prospecting plan in place. When supervisors pose the question “What are you doing right now to prospect?,” to unsuccessful agents, most of these agents will have a laundry list of ideas, but no actual concrete prospecting strategy is being utilized.

 

If you’re like most agents, you just don’t know where or HOW to get started, or WHAT to do. Many agents don’t realize that prospecting is actually a bigger numbers game than one would assume. Even though a cold list does not usually provide high percentage sales numbers, it is one way to get started; keeping in mind this should not be your only prospecting method. Start with those that you know within your own personal network. One of the most important things an insurance agent can begin to start doing on Day 1 is to inform anyone within their own personal network (friends, family, co-workers from the past, etc), of their new and exciting career!

 

If you can discover anyone within your own personal network that has a need for any of your products or services, this is the BEST way to start. Even if your friends or family don’t buy from you, they may give you referrals. Getting your NAME out there is a crucial element to a successful prospecting plan.

 

Besides marketing towards their personal network, most insurance agents will either cold call clients, purchase Internet leads, or send out mailers, advertise, etc, to increase their book of business.

 

Unless you already have your own book of business, do not waste time attempting to develop your own list. Instead, use a highly targeted prospecting list consisting of people and companies that are more than likely to buy your products and services.

 

Even if your existing prospects are not quite ready to buy, it is important to keep in touch with them.  Insurance agents will learn that every client they encounter throughout their career is going to have different needs, financial objectives, and time horizons.

 

If a prospect has no interest at all in your assistance, do not waste time attempting to persuade them in a different direction, or continue to press for an appointment. If the prospect says no, then say “Ok, have a nice day.” Although persistency has proven to be a successful insurance sales technique, there is still a fine line between persistency and annoyance.

 

Prospecting on the phone can be difficult because the person you call is not going to be naturally inclined to even want to speak with you. Develop a short, brief 30 second approach that does not come across as overly “salesy.” State who you are and which agency you represent, what you’re selling, and a product feature. Then, simply ask if this is what they want. If the prospect shows any interest, then set up a time that works best for the both of you to meet.

 

There will be clients that will give you the cold shoulder and REJECT you. Although this can be very discouraging for many insurance agents, you have to develop a thick skin and not let rejection affect your CONFIDENCE. Many agents that fail are often discouraged if they are not having success with prospecting. What often ensues is the dreaded “rollercoaster effect,” meaning that an insurance agent has ZERO sales appointments lined up for the following week and no business to pursue.

 

Overcoming objections and client rejections are two major obstacles that can affect an insurance agent’s sales performance, confidence, and daily activities. No matter how talented you believe you are at selling, you are not always going to sell to everyone.

 

Let’s say you have approximately 1,000 clients in your book of business. If you dial 500 prospects per month, you may only get 5 appointments if you’re lucky. However, if you sent 500 mailers to your other leads, you may get 10-20 responses. Eventually, you may get a few good referrals from a previous client or someone in your personal market. As you can see the ratios are still low. However, you are still potentially building your business because you are still generating some interest in your products and services.

 

This makes your investment of time and money into your prospecting and lead gathering well worth it.  By prospecting clients, you are playing the odds. Ultimately, prospecting becomes a numbers game! Once insurance agents begin to accept this fact, then the better off they can understand what it takes to attain their goals. By varying your prospecting strategies, you are playing the odds much more effectively.

 

Getting started and building credibility within the minds of your prospects is one of the many challenges insurance agents are facing today. In today’s economy, insurance products have never been more difficult to sell or market. This is why it is crucial to discover which prospecting method works best for you. Ultimately, just understand that prospecting to new clients is simply a numbers game.

 

As the leading provider of digital marketing and sales training for the independent insurance industry, Astonish Results is perfectly poised to help grow your business. With the creation and implementation of a blended online strategy, let us help you change your agency forever. Call us today at 1.888.899.1936 to speak with a dedicated Astonish Results representative who will schedule a tour of our digital insurance marketing system for you, or sign up online for a FREE virtual presentation today! 

 

 

  

Volunteers Needed for Industry Work Groups 

IIABA’s ACT  (Agents Council for Technology) has an exciting agenda this fall, and needs NetVU member participation.  This is a great opportunity to get involved and make your voice heard without a significant time commitment.

 

We are actively seeking volunteers for these new initiatives:

 

Agencies of the Future Work Group – Create a blueprint for what different types of agencies (rapidly evolving, more traditional, etc.) might look like 2 to 4 years from now as they respond to changing consumer, client and employee expectations, opportunities to use new technologies, and other innovative business practices and tools. Consider possible changes in physical structure, operations, management, marketing, sales and servicing, and how agencies might plan to implement these new approaches most successfully.  

 

Mobile Strategies Work Group – Share ideas, implementations, and success stories for mobile applications and websites (both for sales and service) for both agent and agency client use, and draw on experiences from both within and outside the industry to provide examples. Communicate findings to larger agency and industry population.

 

Agency Business Intelligence “Think-Tank” sessions (short term) – Identify the types of business intelligence data, and reports agencies would most like to have from their systems and carriers. The group would then encourage the user groups to pursue these issues further with their technology providers, as well as to urge carriers to discuss carrier specific reports and information with their agency councils.

 

HIPAA Work Group – Work closely with IIABA’s Agents & Brokers Round Table to expand the security related tools we have created to-date to cover the additional requirements imposed by HIPAA.

 

Retail Agents Subgroup of the E&S Joint Working Group – Provide GAs, wholesalers, and E&S carriers with feedback on major “pain points” agents are experiencing when writing E&S and program business, and on improvements in automation and workflow they would like to see, including examples of efficient processes they are currently experiencing from some of their E&S business partners.

 

We also welcome new participants on ACT’s continuing work groups. The ongoing groups will be focused on the following initiatives in the coming months:

 

Strategic Future Issues – Update ACT’s Consumer & Technology Trends Report and Industry “Must Do” Issues in time for in-depth discussion at the February 2012 ACT meeting; continue to provide input for ACT meeting agenda items to keep us properly focused on the future.

 

Mid-Commercial – Review the mid-commercial renewal process for opportunities to achieve great automation and efficiency. Encourage agents, carriers, and vendors to automate mid-commercial submissions in accordance with the workflow developed by the work group and ACORD’s Mid-Commercial Submission XML Standards Mappings Document (currently in ACORD’s approval process).

 

Social Web – Continue idea sharing as to agency success stories in using social media, and produce articles and webinars that convey these insights to the broader agency population.

 

Carrier Communications – Finalize recommendations to encourage carriers to offer their agents the option to use RSS feeds for general carrier bulletins and urge agents to use this new technology. Conduct webinars to help agents understand how they can use these feeds to achieve better distribution, and continuing access to this information within their agencies.

 

Each of these work groups will meet virtually via one hour sessions, typically every two to three weeks and possibly a face-to-face meeting in February.

 

To volunteer for one or more of these groups contact Melissa Bond at Melissa@netvu.org or (469) 417-8109.

 

 

 

 

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