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In the world of insurance sales, there is an ongoing debate about whether old school or new school methods are better. Digital can be faster and more accountable with plenty of metrics right at your fingertips. As a result, leads no longer get lost or go unworked, and there is more transparency with regard to agent and manager productivity. Score one for new school.

On the other hand, email blasts can get lost in spam filters; and the more seasoned generation may not be as comfortable using computers or new technologies. They don’t see a reason to fix something that’s not broken: Point for old school. So forget the scoring system — I say why not blend both old and new to achieve the desired goal for your business?

My business has one foot firmly planted in the traditional paper world and the other equally placed in the software technology world. We print, fulfill and send lead generation direct mail, and we also develop cutting edge desktop and mobile technology to help agents manage the sales process. It helps them do their jobs with more efficiency and fewer headaches in the field.

Some might ask, why use direct mail when it seems out of date? The answer: everyone’s inbox is over-flowing and it’s easy for a great campaign message to get buried as your prospect navigates through a sea of messages. With direct mail you can use data mining to send a very personalized message to your ideal prospects who have to at least look at their mail before deciding to toss or keep. We use very precise techniques to gather data about potential clients before we reach out to them, so that when we do send a direct mail piece, the information or offer is customized and relevant. For agents, this means more qualified leads and improving conversion rates.

In response to those who still think direct mail is dead, I point to the masses, the younger generation included, who can’t wait to check their mailbox every day. They harbor a quiet hope when they open the lid, an optimism that perhaps something good is waiting inside like a favorite magazine, a card from a friend, a birthday check. Historically, our mailboxes have been enjoyed, despite direct mail ads. Many people revere letter writing and card making as a kind of art; there’s even a cross-generational letter writing revival taking place today. A good headline or interesting package will always get someone’s attention. This is especially true for the older generation who prefer to do things the way they’ve always done them, which means they will read a letter or postcard with their name on it versus an impersonal email blast.

And then there’s cost. Email is not always a less expensive solution because you often have to hire a third party or build a system to deliver them with efficiency and accuracy. Many e-mails slip through the cracks, get bounced back, are filtered out as spam or deleted based on the sender/headline. Paper mail is less likely to be ignored, and the fact that so many have abandoned direct mail makes it even more attractive to the sender and novel to the receiver.

Even in an advanced digital world, there is a demand for paper. People use it to verify their status, as in: here’s my card. As it stands, we still use paper currency, although this may go away. We have to carry identification on us by law, and most people still keep their proof of insurance in their glove compartment or wallet. However, paper also brings up questions of environment impact, cost and information security. That’s why we believe in eliminating paper usage where it no longer makes sense.

Consider the sales process. Agents in the field once navigated their day with crumpled maps, highlighted lists of addresses and stacks of lead cards scattered about. It was inefficient, time consuming and cumbersome. New mobile sales apps, however, make the field sales process much more fluid. An agent can view sales leads and quickly plug routes into a GPS to make the most of their time. They can also access new and old leads based on geography to identify other clients to call on.

New mobile sales apps can also offer comprehensive tools that help agents access leads while they’re in the field, serving up accurate driving direction, and the four closest neighbors who match the preferred demographic. Tablet apps do away with the cumbersome tasks of filling out every application, since they arrive pre-populated with the client’s information, cutting out the laborious task and unnecessary duplicate paperwork.  Deals are closed faster and with less pain and narrow the formerly long bridge between filing the application and receiving a commission check.

When information such as address or client status needs updating, agents change the disposition, amend information, and make notes and appointments directly from their mobile device. Managers can view the same data for instant visibility into the sales process. This changes the way agencies run metrics and manage accountability. If an agent leaves the company, their open leads aren’t lost or forgotten; they are easily reassigned, thus saving companies money and improving ROI.

The applications we develop also give agents unparalleled access to records and other advanced features. Instead of using just a name and basic information on a printout, agents can view someone’s entire record, from how they like to be contacted to preferences on which agent they like to work with most. Data can also be recycled so cold leads can be resurrected.

Every insurance agent knows the pain that accompanies a successfully closed sale. Incomplete or misplaced paperwork delays the process by weeks, stalling coverage as applications get stuck in an underwriting holding pattern. This irritates the agent and the client. Delays and incomplete or incorrect information puts additional strain on every branch of the insurance company. Apps to the rescue! Specialized tablet apps can streamline paperwork because key fields are required and must be completed on the spot to move forward. Errors and missing information are detected immediately, so the “paperwork” can’t be submitted until it is right, thus stopping redundancies. It also mandates the agent to do his or her job right the first time.

Money now moves faster than the U.S Postal System. Electronic sales mean faster payment and faster delivery. Instead of relying on paper checks to pass through a multitude of hands over weeks, new apps can input payment just by scanning the check and automatically recording the routing number. And, phones become hand held point of sale systems with just a swipe of a credit or debit card. Faster payment processing means quicker commissions for agents, which bodes well in recruiting top talent and employee retention, allowing agencies to build a better sales force. Offering the best tools, vehicles of communications, and most efficient processes is the differentiator in an agent’s success, which then carries over to the company’s success.

Insurance companies that pioneer in terms of electronic sales apps and stay ahead of the curve will leave their competition in the dust. Many of our clients are now issuing tablets to their sales agents and leveraging mobile apps. In the future, I think this trend will become the standard. It’s best to embrace it now, knowing your competition already has.

So, in answer to the basic question — old school versus new school — I have to say both. People love their tablets, but it’s also nice to get some quality snail mail now and then.

See also:

5 ways the tablet can enhance your business relationships

Emerging technology and the future of distribution

6 apps to keep you organized