I recently spoke with three top producers about how technology is changing, for better or worse, the way they do business. Here, they discuss how they’re using social media for business and whether insurance sales websites are a threat to agents.

For the rest of this roundtable, see:

Part one: Tablets and e-signatures: The future of life insurance sales?

Part three: Technology for beginners

Q. Social media now seems to permeate our lives. Are you a proponent of using social media in your business life, and if so, how are you using it? If you are not a proponent, why not, and are you concerned about the competition from those who are using it?

Ryan J. Pinney, CSFP, vice president of brokerage sales for Pinney Insurance Center in Roseville, Calif.: I really like social media as a tool, but I think most producers are using it incorrectly. Social media for most people isn’t and shouldn’t be a direct solicitation. Instead, producers should think of it more like a cocktail party. They should be establishing rapport, creating interest and eventually taking the conversation offline to move it into a sales cycle. Personally, I think social media is the best and most effective tool for social intelligence. I like to keep track of job, marital and family changes that may indicate sales opportunities. I also like to comment on posts that my clients make in order to stay visible to them, although I tend to do this sparingly to avoid the stalker feeling it may create otherwise.

Michael Morrow, CFP, MDRT member, international speaker and author of the best-selling “Leading Marketing Strategies” and “The Picture Sells the Story”: We believe social media is a huge opportunity to network. We use LinkedIn and Twitter regularly as great ways to connect and network with our clients and prospects, and they allow us to stay top of mind through insightful postings.

These platforms allow us to learn information about our connections that would be very difficult to gain otherwise. They are effective ways to build upon our referral base.

We also believe that using these tools adds professionalism and credibility, giving us another opportunity to strengthen our brand. As well, social media tools demonstrate that we are relevant and ahead of the technology curve. All of our company contact information — business cards, letterhead, website — includes our LinkedIn and Twitter addresses and logo.

See also: Most affluent Gen Yers use social media for personal finance, investing

John F. Nichols, MSM, CLU, president of Chicago-based Disability Resource Group Inc.: Social media extends and deepens relationships. It’s a unique tool that allows you to stay connected with clients beyond formal meetings. It provides additional touches with the client on a personal side, such as weddings, funerals, graduations, vacations, hobbies, etc. that you may not otherwise have known. This information is valuable in deepening a relationship and providing value in areas that are important to your client.

Social media sites are also important as they provide numerous new connections, referrals and client news, such as job changes. The more I know about a client or prospect, the better I can serve them.

Q. When you consider your competition, does the proliferation of online insurance sales sites like AccuQuote, Intelliquote, SelectQuote, etc., give you cause for concern? Why or why not?

Morrow: Online insurance sites do not give me cause for concern. There will always be a small percentage of people who are attracted to online sites, but we believe most people make online purchases for commodities but will look to an advisor to solve a problem. In my opinion, life insurance is sold, not bought. That being said, we do recognize that many clients and prospects may visit these sites prior to a meeting, which makes for a more knowledgeable client or prospect.

Nichols: Online insurance sale sites are a model of doing business. Our industry has several models from which a consumer may choose for business. My only concern, which I would have for any model, has to do with ethical behavior, education and appropriateness of the sale.

Pinney: The average producer probably is concerned — and should be — but not for the reasons you would think. The reality is that individual producers can do the same things as the big guys and often do it better because of their ingenuity and flexibility. Just look at guys like Jeff Rose with LifeInsuranceByJeff.com, Chris Huntley with InsuranceBlogByChris.com, and Jeff Root with RootFin.com. All three are examples of individual producers who rank on Google’s first page for some of the most competitive search terms related to life insurance. No big staff, high-profile spokesperson or expensive radio or TV spots — just good old-fashioned hard work and a little know-how. By the way, all three of these guys write hundreds of apps and hundreds of thousands in premium each month.

The problem the industry is facing today isn’t one of internal competition. That’s always been there and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The problem is one of external competition. It’s what Maria [Ferrante-Schepis] of research and consulting firm Maddock Douglas refers to as the “Napster Moment,” that moment when a new way of doing things completely changes an industry. Just think about how we used to buy music — in stores, on either tape or CD. But do you even know where a record store is anymore? How about video rentals — when was the last time you went to rent a video from an actual store? In both instances, alternate forms of distribution completely changed the industry. I am much more concerned with the idea of a Facebook, Wal-Mart or Google figuring out how to do what we do better than we do it and eliminating us as the preferred distribution method.

 

For more on technology, see:

Tablets and e-signatures: The future of life insurance sales?

Technology for beginners

3 ways technology will change the way we do business in 2013