It was August, and September — Life Insurance Awareness Month — would come quickly.
That got Warren Barhorst’s mind racing. But to those who know him, that’s nothing new.
Barhorst owns and operates the largest Nationwide Insurance agency in the United States, Barhorst Insurance Group (BIG). In 18 years, he’s grown the company from just two employees to more than 100, and from one location in Jersey Village, Texas, to more than 30 across the state. His company is set to expand by 30% annually, and he established an internal goal to reach $1 billion in sales revenue by 2020. Founded in 1993 as a Nationwide agency, BIG is today a captive hybrid agency representing more than 50 insurance carriers. Barhorst is a published author, speaker, and an entrepreneur in the purest sense of the term. And he is continually striving to find new and effective ways to sell insurance.
Barhorst communicates the concept of being a trusted advisor to his team, with a goal of being an advocate, a resource and a provider of peace of mind for clients. “I will never tire of hearing, ‘Wow, I’ve never had an insurance agent sit down and explain it to me like that,’” says Barhorst, who prides himself and his company on being different. From Halloween costume contests and impromptu sales competitions to regular all-hands meetings, Barhorst strives to keep spirits high inside his offices. He realizes his team has a demanding and often monotonous job, so he continually tries to find ways to reward them.
Promoting life insurance internally
Barhorst figured Life Insurance Awareness Month would be an easy sell to his team. “It’s obvious that it’s a necessity, right? It’s an easy sell, right?” he says.
Not so. The fact was that most of BIG’s employees were uneducated about the realities of the life insurance market. They didn’t realize how many people didn’t have it, how much an average household would need, or the impact when someone died without it. And the lack of education meant they didn’t know how to sell it.
Barhorst realized he needed a creative internal campaign not only to promote LIAM, but also to educate his team on the importance of having life insurance. He wanted to impress upon them the criticality with real-life examples that hit the heartstrings and make them realize that no one should be without it. Sell it internally, and then they can effectively sell it to the clients, he reasoned.
Motivating from the ground up
To promote LIAM, Barhorst started with his core: his internal teams in Houston and Dallas. He knew the motivation had to start from the ground up. Educate, encourage and incent employees, and they will turn and sell it outward.
Barhorst kicked off a lead generation and sales contest — an internal campaign designed to sell life insurance and also delight and motivate his employees. The main concept was to create a fun and memorable campaign, and, with a pre-planned series of touches, keep life insurance at the forefront of the team members’ minds for the entire month (and beyond, he hoped).
On the morning of Sept. 1, employees were greeted with boxes of “Life” cereal at their desks. (Gallons of milk were on hand in case anyone wanted to dig in. Most did.) A bowl featured the main contest graphic, and the box included contest details and rules as well as life insurance facts from www.lifehappens.org.
Employees tracked life insurance leads on a weekly basis and turned them in for prizes — gift cards that increased in value as the month progressed to maintain a high level of interest.
Keeping up the momentum
Each week, new marketing pieces were distributed to promote awareness and sales. Barhorst sat for a “Mikey-likes-it”-style photo shoot, and the prints were folded into stand-up promos for each employee’s desk. Seeing the support and enthusiasm of the boss helped fan the flames and keep the momentum going.
The following week, “Life” cereal bars were handed out with a note: “What a great day to sell life insurance!” This was just another way to keep life insurance at the forefront of people’s minds.
Promoting the campaign externally
To communicate with the public, flyers and signs about the campaign were created for the main lobbies. Water bottles with coordinating labels were given to walk-in customers.
BIG offered free “kids’ kits” to walk-in customers that included information on life insurance, child safety tips, an ID/fingerprint kit, a safety coloring book and crayons. Those who received a life insurance quote were put into a drawing for a $50 box of back-to-school supplies and other goodies. “Life insurance is about being the reason your family is secure, and the ‘kid’ tie-in was a nice addition,” Barhorst says.
A news release was distributed online and included links to www.lifehappens.org as well as PDFs from the site’s online marketing kit. The release was picked up by many different media outlets and, in just three weeks, netted:
- 5,249 total media deliveries
- 73,361 total web impressions
- 59 websites picked up/syndicated
- 1,242 full-page reads
- 127 interactions (printing, forwarding, downloading PDF, clicking link, interacting with embedded website)
Measuring the results
“The customer service teams were tickled,” says Anne Bly, BIG customer service manager. “To have something unique that also educated them, it was just a perfect concept.”
In fact, months later, the cereal boxes and contest graphics are still displayed on desks and in offices throughout the company. It definitely made a lasting impression.
“We sell an ‘extraordinary service experience’ for our customers,” Barhorst says. “But we also look to do the same for our employees. Creating a fun campaign such as this was well worth the time and effort it took to put it together. The motivation plus the additional sales, it really turned out well. We’re already thinking about how to top it next year.”
In four weeks, the internal contest increased new life insurance sales by 54% over August and 112% over July. Design, development and printing of all graphic pieces were done internally. Costs were minimal and included only those for gift card prizes, kids’ kits and at-desk promotional pieces, like the cereal.
Through this unique internal communications campaign, BIG was able to educate and impress the importance of life insurance on its employees, clients, friends and others around them. It ignited excitement and interest and was a memorable way to communicate something as critical as life insurance.
Angie Goings joined BIG in early 2011 as the company’s marketing director. In this role, she oversees all internal and external marketing activities and is leading a rebranding effort that will officially kick off in the new year. For more information, call (713) 856-5533 or visit big-usa.com.