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It’s Not Either/Or But Rather Both/And

IMG 0284 150x150 It’s Not Either/Or But Rather Both/AndMy 12 year old son just loves his X-Box 360 console and long before the next greatest, “got to have” game is released, he pines over it, talking incessantly about how he can’t wait for it. He goes online and reads insider reviews of the game, checks his current issue of Game Informer magazine for any write ups and chats with his friends about what they’ve heard. When it finally arrives, his mother and I know that we won’t be seeing much of him for the next several hours.

When he has finally played enough for that first day, he comes upstairs to share the excitement of it all. I know at some point (usually sooner rather than later), he will have “beaten” it, reaching the highest level, and the game will, like so many others, be relegated to the shelf, no longer a challenge for the master.

Having achieved that level of expertise with the game doesn’t mean he’s bored with it. It just means that the game is now fodder to trade in to the store when the next “got to have” game comes out. It’s gone from a position of great importance to a commodity waiting for the best trade-in value he can get.

Like my son’s gaming attitude, independent agents once looked on personal lines business as very valuable and a great way to incorporate themselves into the community. Over time, PL value has been relegated to that of a commodity; not important to the agent’s business, not worth the effort to sell it for the little return, and certainly not as exciting as commercial lines accounts.

But that’s when the opportunities are lost. When agents can only see personal lines marketing in the same way their fathers did; when agents let a lizard or caveman dictate their business decisions; or when agents believe it’s an “either/or” and not the “both/and” choice that it should be.

Independent agents are letting billions of dollars in commissions slip through the cracks by not aggressively going after the personal lines market. The Alliance is here to show you how to “spackle” those cracks closed and keep more of that business from going to the direct writers and captive agents.

Keep an eye out for information about our new podcast series – The Power of Personal Lines. We want to bring you the tools you need to succeed. Hearing from successful agents that focus on PL and how they did it, could be some valuable advice. Let us know what’s missing; stay in touch.

What Was Old Is New Again!

Photo on 2010 05 05 at 12.34 What Was Old Is New Again!

Rick Gilman, Executive Director

I started my career as a journalist for the National Underwriter Life Edition and as the life agent beat reporter I remember writing a number of articles encouraging agents to “cross sell” their life clients on home and auto coverages. Back in those days, it was always touted that life insurance had to be “sold” but property and casualty was “bought.”

So, life agents saw P&C as a fairly easy sell, as you can’t buy a home or a car without the proper coverage, and they leveraged it to round out their book of business.

Fast forward nearly three decades and we find the pendulum swinging the other way with many agents viewing the personal lines side of P&C as a commodity and too difficult to compete with the big direct writers or captive agency companies because buyers are just shopping around for the best price.

Thinking that commercial lines business is where their future and success lies, independent agents couldn’t be further from the truth. When you consider that property & casualty insurance accounts for about $460 billion in premiums and personal auto alone represents 34% of that number, the potential revenue is staggering.

Right now national and regional independent-agency carriers account for only about one third of the total personal lines premiums. Think about how much is slipping through the cracks in the independent agency system into the hands of the direct writers and captive-agency companies.woman at desk 150x150 What Was Old Is New Again!

Shifting the balance in personal lines premiums is just what the Personal Lines Growth Alliance is all about. Getting the word out to those people and companies that support the independent agency system, educating agents on how to build a real sales culture amongst their staffs and giving them the tools to drive growth of PL sales is why more than 300 independent agencies and brokers, trade associations and user groups, national and regional carriers, and several technology providers are all part of the Alliance.

If you’re not already a member and/or you know of carriers that aren’t on the member list but should be, let us know. Help us reach out to others to strengthen our message; help us help you.

It’s Not Personal … It’s Business

Photo on 2010 05 05 at 12.34 150x150 It’s Not Personal … It’s Business

Rick Gilman, Executive Director

When I was first introduced to the Personal Lines Growth Alliance and told about its mission, I thought, here’s an organization that has a built in formula for success: it’s all about communicating the opportunities available for independent agents to aggressively go after the personal lines market and grow their income. The billions of dollars in untapped premiums and potential commissions seemed like a no brainer.

When you hold that up against a backdrop of diminishing returns for the commercial lines business, one would think that the entrepreneurial nature of agents and brokers would have led you immediately to recognize the value of PL as a means of making up the lost revenue stream. But it seems, some agents have a built-in fear factor and struggle with “outside the box” thinking necessary to break out of their comfort zones.

When I came on as the executive director, I realized that communications wasn’t going to be enough – we needed to open the eyes of independent agents and provide education on how to efficiently and effectively go after a larger slice of the personal lines pie. So, a campaign built around communications, education and advocacy was established. Now it is time to execute that campaign.

However, it’s no longer good enough to just state the obvious, we need to provide the “how” along with the “why.” In the first quarter of this year you will notice a new series of podcasts themed, “The Power of Personal Lines.” They will focus on agents and carriers that have successfully grown their personal lines business. I will be asking them to talk about what the tipping point that lead them to pursue this course of growth and how they went about achieving it. I would welcome your comments and ideas for questions you’d like me to ask along with names of others you believe have a good story to share.

In addition to the podcasts, over time we plan on developing other resources such as white papers, assessment tools and case studies. But we need membership to grow. Agents, brokers, carriers, solution providers and other associations are all eligible. Agent and broker memberships are complimentary. We need you to spread the word and succeed at growing your businesses, to add your stories to the resources.

Independent agency carriers membership fee costs no more than the cost of a color ad in a trade magazine and yet can bring a lot of benefit to their relationships with their agency force.

When agents attend their local agent association meetings, talk up PLGA. If your association is looking for speakers, let me know; some of our directors really know how to deliver a captivating message. If you are aware of any companies that should be part of this work, please send them to our website (www.personallinesgrowth.org).

Also, we will be renewing this quarter the monthly enewsletters to keep members up to date on PLGA activities. Feel free to forward them to others in your office or association.

Finally, I will be sharing my thoughts with you directly through this blog; I hope you will share yours with me. This needs to be a two-way conversation. Let me know what you need to succeed.

Management In the Digital World: 6 Rs

Guest Blogger: Dave Willis, Senior Associate, Aartrijk

willis dave 150x150 Management In the Digital World: 6 RsOur industry is chock full of organizations. That’s because information sharing is so vital to success in the insurance business. Social networking presents a great opportunity to share information and engage clients and prospects. But social networking requires management oversight and attention beyond the actual use of the tools. AIMS Society is helping its members recognize this and respond.

trans Management In the Digital World: 6 RsChartered as The Firemark Society (how many new insurance professionals know the relevance of this?), AIMS (American Insurance Marketing & Sales) Society is now helping agents and brokers build expertise in today’s digital world. The group’s executive director, Kitty Ambers, recently spelled out six management Rs that agency trans Management In the Digital World: 6 Rsprincipals should consider as they work to capitalize on social media and other online marketing activities:

Retool: Make sure internal processes and brand touch points support Web-centric, customer-focused marketing.
Retrain: Be certain employees understand the tools and changes that their use brings about. Moreover, be ready to handle change.
Recruit: Don’t expect to succeed by making the agency’s electronic marketing strategy a solo endeavor.
Respond: Understand and be ready to quickly serve the unique—okay, different—needs of today’s buyers.
Recognize: When things—and people—are working as they should, recognize and reward achievement.
Rethink: As Deming taught, PDCA. Monitor, assess and be ready to change or leverage for greater success.

A number of opportunities exist to help agents and brokers move forward on these management factors. Implementing Real Time and making use of training offered by agency management system user groups can support organizational retooling. ACORD’s POWER of Change training can help with retraining and change management. Aartrijk Brand Camp obviously is one that we recommend.

There’s another new resource: AIMS Society’s new IMIM (Insurance Media Internet Marketing) professional designation, along with its Agency Internet Bootcamp offerings. These can help with implementation strategies. Other resources, including those from agent associations and the Agents Council for Technology, also can help.

What has your organization done to support implementation of a social marketing strategy? What do you need to move forward?

Using Video to Communicate Your Message

Author: Rick Morgan, Vice President, New Media, Aartrijk

One of the “promises” of social networking is that it can be used to improve communication with customers and prospects, as well as, build and strengthen trusted relationships. Yet, very few are using perhaps one of the most effective social web tools to deliver on the promise – Video. Like it or not, in many ways we are living in a “post literate” society. We use symbols, avatars and icons to convey information. Rather than read a newspaper we get our news from TV and now more than ever from video on YouTube. We use Video to, inform, train and educate and of course entertain. That is, lots of people would rather watch than read. 

So, why not use video to convey your message? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Using something as simple as a Flip video camera will do the trick. Check out these agents who are successfully using video to reach their audience and communicate their message.

Atlanta Insurance Live
Holmes Murphy
Albany Insurance Professional
Rey Insurance
Crescenta Valley Insurance

Also, here are a couple of general resources you might find useful.

42 Ways to Use Video to Grow Your Business
6 Ways To Use Video As A Small Business Owner

Are you using video? If so, please comment and leave your website information.

Good for you, good for your community, good for your business

Author: Laurie Donohue, Vice President, Agency & Broker Marketing, Aartrijk

donohue laurie 150x150 Good for you, good for your community, good for your businessVolunteerism.
Good for you, good for your community, good for your business.
Being involved in your community is a hallmark for independent agents. Many agents are active members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club and many other civic organizations. Most also are involved with area charities, like United Way, the American Cancer Society or the local food bank. What’s more, insurance agency employees often are directly contributing with time and money to many other worthy causes.
The problem is that few people know about all this good work. In my discussions with agents about their marketing, many tell me that yes, they are involved with the community, but they do it because they want to – it satisfies an internal need to do so – not because they want praise or recognition.
Well, that’s a noble thought, but the truth of the matter is that people want to know how you and your business are giving back. In fact, it can play an important role in a potential customer’s buying decision. And, it’s becoming more and more critical with the younger generations. They view volunteerism and involvement as important as the products and services you offer.
There’s nothing wrong with letting your community know what you’re doing to improve the lives of the people you serve. Here are some tips on how to get make your efforts work for both you and your constituents:
1.  Pick only three of four major charities/organizations each year to be involved in. I know many agents balk at this because every day they get another charity asking for a sponsorship – $50 for an ad in the high school yearbook, $100 to sponsor the local children’s dance recital. There are two things to remember here. One. – all charities know they’re up against huge competition for your dollar and they do not think worse of you if you say no. Second – by concentrating your money and effort into just a few projects, you get much greater exposure and the people involved will actively sing your praises around town.
If you still feel bad about saying no, here’s a great way to lighten the burden: Set up a charitable giving committee in your office and have them choose the three causes your agency will work with this year. Then, if another charity comes knocking, you tell them you have a charitable giving committee and the money is allocated for this year, but the committee will be happy to consider their proposal for next year. Also, put aside $500 – $1000 for those incidental ones you know you just won’t be able to say no to.
2.  Consider developing a special event and/or award exclusively from your agency. How about offering a special driver education scholarship to area high school students? One agency has a “Let’s Shred Day” where people can bring documents to be shredded. Or, how about a “Park Clean Up Day?” When you develop an event that’s exclusively yours, you get a lot more publicity and buzz than if you’re just sponsoring a program. Sure it takes more work, but the pay off is huge.
3. Allow your employees a certain number of work-hours per month to volunteer. Let them serve lunch at the local community kitchen, do a walk-a-thon, etc. By representing the agency while volunteering, the agency image of caring and commitment in the community grows. Your employees will talk to others about how they are encouraged to give back, enhancing your image.
4.  Promote it! Have your employees blog about their volunteer experiences, or post information on their Facebook pages. Post the information on the agency Web site, Facebook page and anywhere else you can. Send press releases to area media. If you’re sponsoring a charitable event, make sure your logo is being used and you are being publicly thanked at the event. Don’t be shy – remember, people want to know!
By actively supporting your community and making sure your constituents know about it, you’ll enhance the image of your agency and more people will think of you first for their insurance needs. It’s relatively inexpensive and very effective. Just remember, it involves some time and effort both in supporting the charities and making sure the word gets out.

Price IS Not Everything!

Author: Carolyn “Cal” Durland, CPCU
Program Manager and Member Relations, AUGIE Facilitator, ACORD

durland cal 150x150 Price IS Not Everything!Over the last 6 months I’ve been telling my peers that it ‘feels’ like the commodity and price  driven marketing  by our lizard competition (and other direct writers) seems to be subsiding.  Common sense will tell an agent owner that it’s nearly impossible to save a client 15% or more year after year.  Even in the continuing soft market, every consumer has had the opportunity to shop their insurance at least once, some annually.  No matter what a company does, eventually the savings for that client is going to bottom out.  And it’s my feeling that consumers are realizing this and coming back to the reality that a real, local, insurance professional that’s coaching their kid’s sports team, or actively involved in the community, is an entirely viable alternative to the 800 toll-free stranger.  And now that many of us can provide a web-based rating solution, which is arguably more important to the next generation, the $10, $50, or $100 ‘savings’ isn’t as important.

Recently, I received some confirmation to my ‘feelings’!  JD Powers came out with a study on attitudes and habits of the automobile shopper.  The article states that “….price accounts for only 28 percent of overall customer satisfaction with the purchase experience—less important than both policy offerings (29%) and distribution channel (43%).”  It further says “…past service experiences play a considerable role in the purchase decisions of retained customers, and in some cases, may even outweigh the appeal of a lower-priced competitor.”

What’s the moral of the story?  Our future customers DO like to start out the quoting process online.  But they do care about local representation.  So Independent Agents must have a pretty good website (cut the yellow pages and invest it in a web designer!), and they need a consumer rating tool to satisfy that urge to quote online.  Then it’s the IA’s job to write AND keep the business, which most of us are very good at!

Can’t Do It All? Don’t Do Nothing.

Author:  Kitty Ambers
Executive Director, AIMS Society

kitty 150x150 Can’t Do It All? Don’t Do Nothing.Tweet, blog, vlog, e-market, optimize, friend, like, text. In today’s digital world, the opportunities to attract and connect with personal insurance clients and prospects are virtually endless. What should an agent or broker do first? What delivers the greatest value? Which brings the most bang for the buck?

Too often, the vast array of options leads to a certain kind of paralysis. “It’s overwhelming,” is a common lament I hear. “I don’t know where to start,” is another. What is most important when competing for personal lines customers is to not let the abundance of possibilities drive agents and brokers to do nothing.  Read more

Want Fries With That?

Author: Brady Polansky
President and CEO, NetVU

Polansky Brady 300dpi 150x150 Want Fries With That?Recently I had the privilege of spending quality time in the heartland of America listening to agents talk about how they are holding up in this economy and what they need to be successful.  What I enjoy most about interacting with people from what many consider “fly over” states is how real and down to earth they are.  They don’t often pretend to be larger than life; they tend to be less complicated, and frankly, are some of the friendliest people on the planet.  Heck, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, home of the Nebraska Corn huskers, the faithful home team crowd is as concerned about an injured opposing player as they are their own!  Read more

Lloyd ‘Skip’ Daigle

Author: Cal Yngve, CPIA
SalesForce Advantage, Founder – President

skip Lloyd ‘Skip’ DaigleLloyd ‘Skip’ Daigle, AVP, Agency Development at Travelers was undoubtedly the most outspoken proponent for Personal Lines growth and development in the independent agency system.  His seminars, workshops, and consulting included teaching and preaching the value of Personal Lines for the independent agent.

He, probably more than anyone else in our industry, convinced Agency Owners, Supervisors, CSRs and Producers that Personal Lines could be an important and valuable part of agency revenue and profits.  He also taught the value of focused, proactive communications that would lead to growth, increased retention ratios and profits.

Skip passed away on April 6th, a few short weeks after retiring.  He will be missed by many that he helped in our industry.

Many agents can give examples of how Skip helped them change and grow Personal Lines in their office.  If you want to share your ‘Skip’ story and explain how he made a difference in the success of Personal Lines in your agency, please share it with us by adding to this blog. It would be a fitting memorial to a remarkable man – both as a professional and as a family man.

PLGA offers condolences to Skip’s family.  He was truly one of a kind in all the good sense of the word.

Personal messages may be posted to the family through the funeral home.