When it comes to building a profitable book of business, independent insurance agents are not motivated by commissions alone. In many cases, agents will follow the path of least resistance and focus on selling insurance products from carriers that provide the easiest way of doing business, particularly technology that is easy to use and intuitive and helps them to increase sales and manage their businesses better.
Further, the technology must be flexible enough to support agents in both a disconnected and connected, real-time mode of work at their discretion. Leveraging the ACORD industry standards will aid in seamless data exchange and connections.
Quite simply, agents don’t want to spend time figuring out how to work technology when they should be out selling to customers. Instead, they want simple and easy-to-learn-and-use tools to handle administration, access pricing information, check the status of a customer’s policy, and be alerted to any customer activity after the sale is completed. And they want this technology to be available in one place and delivered through the tools they already use, such as a laptop, personal digital assistant (PDA) or cellphone.
Most insurance companies recognize the reality of the situation and are enhancing existing technology and tools to better support agents. Where insurance companies falter, however, is in their tendency to develop agent technology without a clear understanding of agents’ needs or any involvement from agents themselves.
Moreover, some insurance companies are developing technology without first looking for ways to make the sales process as easy as possible. However, simply creating new tools will not be enough to meet agent needs if existing sales processes are cumbersome and time consuming. In many cases, it makes sense to revamp and streamline those business processes (new business, rating and quoting, underwriting) and then use technology as the engine to enable those changes and drive sales. For example, companies can reduce their information requirements by creating a cohesive channel strategy across all distribution channels. This, in turn, can reduce cycle time by creating straight-through processing of non-exception business and automated data collection.
Understanding agent needs
Once an insurance company is ready to develop appropriate sales tools, it can use surveys and focus groups to ask a broad cross-section of agents what they need to increase their book of business. Some insurers have formed agent steering committees and advisory groups, often made up of top performing agents.
While these groups can be helpful, they are unlikely to tell the whole story. After all, many top performers will excel no matter what the circumstances, while less experienced agents may stand to gain a much larger boost in productivity with the right supporting tools. It is also a good idea for representatives of the insurance company to spend time in the field with agents to learn how they operate and interact and sell to customers.