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5 ways agencies shoot themselves in the foot when competing with direct writers

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There is a lot of conversation today about the changes in the marketplace when it comes to insurance distribution. We see enormous advertising budgets, overwhelming messaging to the audience, a focus totally on price and saving money, and conducting business in what is soon to be a nanosecond. The question for us independent agents is, “How in the world are we to compete in this ever-changing and increasingly ‘noisy’ space?”  The short answer may very well be, “We shouldn’t!”

It’s amazing how many agencies we observe are prospecting and approaching sales today the same as in the pre-Internet era. We are committing some cardinal sins in the way we go about the day-to-day operations that are making success so much harder, while at the same time practicing for a game no longer being played effectively.

If you’re a traditional agency and trying to compete in that space along with the other “fray,” rather than being a trusted adviser managing insurance programs (not selling policies) and providing valued advice to your clients, then there are some definite obstacles before you. 

Consider this:

  1. We try to get noticed in an environment where our competitors are spending north of $6 billion in advertising!
  2. We try to appeal to a buyer that sees little or no value in what we are offering.
  3. We allow our competitor to set the rules of engagement with little dialogue, a focus on savings, and a free “no obligations quote” in seven minutes or less.
  4. We become part of the “commoditized” insurance game we cannot afford to play.
  5. We accept an order for the desired request from the buyer, rather than truly selling the products we have available to us.

Let’s explore these observations in detail below.

    1. The spending: 
      The spending in marketing is incredible. Watching the industry go after what many agencies view as their least attractive customer leaves incredible room for those discriminating clients and prospects. The discriminating prospects value advice, have assets and equity and therefore something to lose, and have a high regard for the professionals in their life that provide direction. These types of prospects have actually gotten easier to access; there are fewer companies pursuing them.
    2. The value: 
      It’s time we look for clients that value what the independent agent is all about — relationships! They’ll spend more for the advice and counsel, they have more lines of business to insure, they spend more hard earned cash protecting what they have accumulated and they tend to be more loyal and less price sensitive.
    3. Free quotes! Really? 
      The average agency spends from $100 to $300 on a small account in acquisition costs. Just how many free quotes can we afford? If you want to be viewed as the least valuable and lowest common denominator in the consumer sales chain, just keep that up! Of course, there is an obligation and an expectation of doing business together when you evolve into customized insurance solutions for specific client problems and concerns. Set a new rule of engagement that includes providing solutions and added value to those you serve.
    4. Commoditization: 
      When the focus is on speed and price, there is little value provided by the agency. Another problem is that many go about this effort at the worst possible level of inefficiencies. If you have a call center and can process hundreds of calls an hour, maybe you can do it efficiently. Most agencies spend time in dialogue learning about the prospect, their needs, their problems, and what a better relationship would look like, helping qualify and build relationships. Then they fall flat by “taking” the lines or coverage given to them, rather than having a holistic approach to insurance solutions. We cannot afford to invest this time unless we’re selling every possible line or business.  Focus on being “less inefficient.”
    5. Order up! 
      The old days of a counter with the “gals” sitting there to take the orders of those who fell through their front door are long gone. Today’s successful agency sells multiple lines of coverage to all members of the family.  It’s about understating that we must generate every possible dollar of income from every account. You’ve heard me say it before: “Deeper with fewer,” which equates to maximizing the revenues from each relationship.

In a world that sees increased competition, over $6 billion spent in marketing to the audience has automated the buying process and made the product available when the buyer wants to access it 24/7/365.  The traditional agency with a five-day, eight-hour working culture has to find another way to succeed. Having those discriminating buyers concerned about managing risk is our future. 

Sit down today and make a list of the value added offerings you have available to your current and future clients that justify why you’re in the middle and worth every cent.


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