How Your Traditional Agency Can Thrive in the Social Age

Written by Mark Babbitt, originally published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc.

The past few years mark a tremendous shift in communication among service-based businesses.

In this new social age, how can your established business keep up? How do you maintain “the way we’ve always done it” while implementing “the way things work now” to compete and grow?

Here are five characteristics of traditional companies, agencies and local leaders that have found a way to thrive in the social age:

They know social is a mindset 

Far too many old-school organizations—and their leaders—believe being “social” is about posting on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. They don’t realize social engagement isn’t any one of these tools, and it cannot be defined by a platform or technology.

Social is about listening—sharing knowledge and engaging. It’s about meeting your customers where they are and being relevant in the communities you serve. Social is how you present yourself, virtually and in person. Social is talking with your stakeholders—customers, fellow community members and employees—not at them. And always remember: Those customers and employees talk about your brand on social and digital media, whether you’re listening or not.

They create an OPEN culture 

From “A World Gone Social,” OPEN stands for Ordinary People | Extraordinary Network. The acronym is about reconsidering how you solve problems and face challenges. It means customers, employees, vendors and even competitors can offer input that leads to innovative solutions and better service. Simply put, OPEN means getting the right people in the right room at the right time.

By breaking down the hierarchal communication barriers and gathering community members, local service providers and even underwriters at the same table, real-world insights develop faster. Everyone becomes a solution-focused contributor. Every stakeholder has a voice.

They maintain consistent public relations efforts 

It’s important to have a reputation as a charismatic leader. Even if you’re not in the news as often as Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson or Elon Musk, you should be consistently present as the face of your business online.

However, as many agencies have learned, attempts to force an unsocial person to be likeable on social media can prove disastrous.

The goal here is simple: Present a passionate member of your team as your agency’s brand ambassador. The ambassador makes in-person and online appearances that benefit the community and the agency alike. They may lead a Facebook group that supports community efforts, or create a blog or podcast about local issues. Just as important, they consistently contribute to local business associations.

The key is that this person avoids talking about themselves or the agency all the time. Instead of becoming known as self-promoting spammers, your brand ambassador should promote the work of fellow community champions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and in person. With every appearance, the social face of your agency builds credibility and brand awareness.

They demonstrate social responsibility

In the social age, local business leaders are expected to care more—to be sincere, approachable and even vulnerable. Have something to celebrate? Talk about what it means to the community and the people you serve—but don’t mention how it impacts your business.

They thrive on testimonials. Because the social age has spawned self-promoters and spammers, many of us have become immune to people talking about themselves. Rather than place trust in advertising, consumers now flock to online sources for objective perspectives on the ways businesses serve their customers and community.

To grow your business without spamming, you must get so good at what you do that existing customers start doing the talking for you. Through endorsements and recommendations online, including social media Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites, let others become the voice of our agency. Soon, you will no longer need to invest in huge advertising campaigns featuring enormous headshots. Instead, you will grow through genuine affection for your brand and positive word of mouth, both online and off.

By leveraging the positive aspects of the social age, many agencies find a renewed passion for their communities. Their employees and brand ambassadors have a newfound purpose: competing in the local marketplace in all the right ways.


4 Old-School Tactics for Keeping in Touch with Personal Lines Clients

Written by Jacquelyn Connelly orginially published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. 

How do you make sure your agency stays top of mind for personal lines prospects and clients?

If you’re like many independent agents, your approach may be more laid back and less consciously strategic. But implementing a concrete process for keeping in touch with prospects and clients all year round is just as important on the personal lines side as it is for commercial accounts.

According to the latest Future One Agency Universe Study, independent agents use approximately the same top five tactics for keeping in touch with personal lines prospects as they do for current clients: regular phone calls, personal visits, periodic emails and business/civic association meetings, with referrals rounding out the list for prospects and annual reviews doing so for current clients.

But plenty of other strategies get results that didn’t make that list. Here are four old-school tactics that still work for keeping in touch with personal lines prospects and clients:

Agency-sponsored events

Seibert Insurance Agency in Tampa, Florida has upheld the tradition of hosting customer appreciation events—the events are just a little more creative than they used to be.

“Our latest one was a shred event,” says Karyn Seibert Roeling, president and owner. “We had the shred truck that shreds our stuff park at our office for about four hours, and we had our guys grill up hamburgers and hotdogs. A lot of people just came and dumped their stuff, but we had food there in case they wanted it.”

Handwritten notes

Kimberly Merrill Wood, account executive at Tobey & Merrill Insurance in Hampton, New Hampshire, says her agency is “all about handwritten notes.” Currently, she’s focusing on a campaign which involves sending them to personal lines prospects on the anniversary of owning a new home.

“People do look at their mail,” Merrill Wood says. “When you see someone’s handwriting on the envelope, you’re kind of like, ‘Ooh—what’s that?’”

Seibert Roeling agrees—her agency sends handwritten thank-you notes to all referral sources and new clients. And Dahkia Thompson, owner of A-Absolute Brokerage Inc. in Mount Vernon, New York, signs all her current personal lines clients up for a personalized “birthday club.”

“I send them a handwritten birthday card as just one more way to keep in contact,” Thompson explains. “That can also lead to referrals, because when they get that, they’re like, ‘Wow—my broker remembered me.’”

Print communication 

In a community like Storm Lake, Iowa, where the population is about 10,000, placing ads in the Yellow Pages is still an effective marketing strategy. “A lot of people around here still read the newspaper, so we’re advertising there weekly,” says Mike Pertzborn, Jr., owner of Stille Pierce & Pertzborn Insurance Services. “Print communication is still one of our top marketing promotions.”

The agency also counts a variety of print brochures among its top marketing materials, including one that introduces clients to the 16 employees who work hard for them behind the scenes.

“It’s amazing—I’ve been doing business with some of these customers for a long time, but they look at that brochure and go, ‘Wow, you guys are this big?’” says Mike Pertzborn, Sr., owner. “We feel that including those print brochures in every proposal is very important. It tells the history of the agency.”

The agency’s marketing brochures also include information about available products and services—an important reminder for clients who may associate their agent with only one type of insurance.

“I had a customer who was a car dealer in a small town nearby, and when I showed him the brochure he said, ‘Wait, you guys sell long-term care? I just bought a policy from someone else—I’d have talked to you if I knew you did it,’” says Pertzborn, Sr. “What that showed me is he needed to see something like this before he bought.”

Cross-selling

That mindset is also related to one of Stille Pierce & Pertzborn’s most successful prospecting strategies: Because 75-80% of the agency’s business is commercial lines, producers rely heavily on cross-selling to increase personal lines sales.

In a rural community like Storm Lake, clients have a variety of layered insurance needs. For example, “a lot of farmers today are cash-poor but asset-heavy—they might only make 50 grand a year, but they have $10 million in land,” points out Pertzborn, Jr. “Well, what happens when Mom or Dad or Grandpa passes away? How does that younger farmer buy that expensive land? There are nice life insurance products out there that could provide a solution. If we run across a client that doesn’t have a product through us, we’re definitely at least talking about it.”

“It’s our philosophy not to leave that door open for the other agent to come in and write any business for them,” agrees Pertzborn, Sr. “We try to write everything they have—life insurance, health insurance, commercial lines. Tying that personal lines into the rest of our business is very important to us.”


How to Identify and Develop High-Potential Leaders

Sponsored by Caliper, originally published in Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc.

Following its highly publicized usage at GE under CEO Jack Welch in the 1990s, the 9-Box model became a nearly universal standard for identifying high-potential leaders (Hipos).

But the model doesn’t provide guidance on how to define “high potential” in the first place—and many organizations struggle to differentiate genuine Hipos from those who merely have a track record of strong performance.

As noted in the Harvard Business Review, only about 30% of high-performing leaders have significant advancement potential—which means 70% do not. Therefore, a track record of high performance is a necessary, but not sufficient, factor in determining advancement potential.

While Hipos possess many of the same attributes as top performers who are not Hipos, such as communication skills and teamwork, these three factors can help you differentiate between genuine Hipos and top performers with limited advancement potential:

Resourcefulness

When facing non-routine obstacles, Hipos are able to quickly overcome them and find a way forward—they rarely get “stuck.”

Leader GPS

Hipos are able to navigate a much larger landscape in their approach to work. They have an intense outside-in perspective, such as being aware of external best practices and major trends in their industry, and they think cross-functionally. By contrast, many top performers who are not Hipos are more internally focused and think mostly within their functional silo.

Proactivity

Hipos think beyond their immediate circumstances by anticipating potential issues and opportunities much further into the future than top performers who are not Hipos. To paraphrase the late Stephen Covey, they focus on both the urgent and the important.

Once you’ve identified your organization’s Hipos, what’s the best way to develop them?

Substantial evidence suggests that on-the-job experiences which get leaders outside their comfort zones provide better development than other approaches such as workshops, training programs and executive education programs.

However, these on-the-job experiences need to be planned, and the leader needs to internalize lessons learned by reflecting on their actions and seeking feedback. Effective methods include keeping a personal journal, participating in a 360-degree feedback assessment every year or two and identifying specific on-the-job developmental experiences based on that feedback, and working with an executive coach who understands the principles of individual “action learning.”

Because these methods achieve proven results in an accelerated timeframe, they’re the ideal vehicle for Hipo development.

Stephen Hrop, PhD., is vice president of organizational development services at talent management firm Caliper. He has more than 20 years of experience in corporate and consulting settings, including extensive work with C-level executives and their teams.

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7 Tips for Rewarding Your Remote Workers

With the New Year approaching, it's customary to take a moment to reflect on the past 12 months and look back on all that we've accomplished. Now's the time to recognize and reward your team for all their hard work over the past year.

But with more and more global professionals working remotely-up to 70 percent, according to one recent study-you may be scratching your head as to how to appropriately and meaningfully celebrate your team members. Whether you have one professional who works from home or an entire business run by virtual employees, here are some tips for making sure everyone feels appreciated:

Party together

If you have an office holiday party, include remote workers. Always invite them to the physical party, even if you think they won't come. If they can't make it, offer to set up a video meeting or consider flying them in, like David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc., an HR outsourcing firm, does for the handful of remote workers on his 60-person team in Connecticut. Lewis told SHRM that the cost is worth the benefit of having everyone feel connected and appreciated. If you have multiple team members offsite, consider helping them set up their own party. With the rise of telework technology, virtual office parties are becoming a thing. Ask your remote workers what they might enjoy most.

Write a note 

Virtual rewards are wonderful-who doesn't love a Starbucks gift card or massage certificate? Yet, the personal touch of getting something in the mail goes a long way toward helping a remote worker feel like part of the team. Consider sending handwritten notes that accompany a physical gift or gift card. It doesn't have to be pricey; it just has to be personal.

Participate in group giving 

Give remote workers an opportunity to participate in "white elephant" or "secret Santa" gift exchanges by mail or online. The small act of inclusion can mean a lot.

Shout out on social media

If your remote workers are on social media and use it for business, make sure to give them props publicly. Recognize them on whichever platform is most relevant with a group thank-you message or with individual notes of recognition.

Give a day

The holiday season is a time when many people like to volunteer. Consider giving an official day off for your remote workers to engage in charitable work.

Convene regularly

One of the best ways to make remote workers feel like part of a team is to get everyone together in person. The most successful companies with virtual teams schedule at least twice-yearly retreats and team building trips. Now would be a good time to send out an invitation to such an event.

Create opportunities for thanks

Give all your employees, in-office and remote-, tools to recognize and reward each other. Provide them with online e-cards they can send and consider giving them stacks of simple thank-you notes they can mail.

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How to Free Up Time for Digital Marketing

Written by Zachary Emly, orginially published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. 

"You need to be on social media. You should have Facebook and a blog. Make sure you’re also creating videos and checking out the latest trends like Snapchat and Instagram.” Sound familiar?

Do these people understand the life of an insurance agent? No agent has a few hours of spare time that they’re waiting to fill with Facebook and uncomfortable video creation.

But the experts are still right—digital marketing is a necessity for the future of your agency.

Here are a few easy ways you can free up more time for digital marketing while still getting through your workload.

Get rid of non-money making activities

Things like taking out the trash, getting the mail, shredding documents and other seemingly arbitrary tasks. We’re all busy, but I think we can all agree that not everything on our desk is necessarily pressing. By removing the junk or moving it down the pay scale, agency owners can begin to invest in their future marketing means.

Schedule time for it 

Whatever is on your calendar will get done. If your calendar is filled with important tasks, you will succeed. If not, you’re more likely to fail. And if someone opens your calendar and sees you’re available, they’ll fill it with their needs. It’s easy to get caught up in pursuits that don’t matter, like lengthy, unnecessary work calls. If you build work time into your calendar, you’re less likely to procrastinate or be interrupted.

Hire someone 

When all else fails, hire someone. You don’t necessarily have to outsource your marketing to the cheapest bidder just to get it done. Consider bringing someone in house who is capable of properly marketing your agency. Although it requires time, money and capacity to hire someone, it’s worth it. Your marketing team should make more money than you have to pay them. Your agency may save a few pennies if you choose not to hire someone, but you’ll end up losing dollars in the long run.

Just make sure that the person you hire understands the job and has some experience with digital marketing—and make sure you’re willing to invest in their training. Also consider distributing marketing tasks to more than one person at your agency. They can work part time on different marketing initiatives but come together once a week to stay aligned.

Know what you need to do 

With so many different tools at your fingertips, effectively marketing your agency can be a bit intimidating. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re working, and you may come out without achieving anything tangible.

To avoid this, take a couple of weeks to set goals that align with your agency goals as a whole. Prioritizing will help ensure a sharp focus on only the most important marketing activities—the ones that will help you hit your business goals.

Zachary Emly is an instructor and consultant at inBuzz Group, a firm that educates insurance agents and small business owners on how to take control of their digital marketing.

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