Small businesses dominate the American economy. With more than 28 million small businesses in the U.S., they account for 99.7 percent of America’s employers, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Top-performing producers specializing in small business and other experts shared their advice on how to target, sell and renew small business. Here are their words of advice.

Jim Mansfield, CPIA, is principal of Mansfield Insurance Agency Inc. in Bright, Ind., which specializes in small business. Mansfield is also vice president of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society, so he keeps close tabs on what’s happening in sales practices. Here are his 10 core basics for targeting small business:

  1. Deal with the decision maker.
  2. Ask the right questions.
  3. Listen to the answers.
  4. Formulate a plan that best fits the customers, not the agency.
  5. Be very clear in your presentation on uncertain issues or coverages.
  6. During the sales process, focus on the client, not the agency.
  7. Be prepared for objections.
  8. Business owners need a plan for the next steps in the sales process. Have a clear, step-by-step itemized list of what is to take place.
  9. Communicate after the initial sales presentation.
  10. Follow up on all questions and issues.

Aong with these basics, our experts pointed out 12 other areas that will help with small business sales. Click on the following pages to see them.

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1. Use a diversity of approaches.

In his years as a producer at his father-in-law’s agency, Ryan Hanley, now digital marketing lead for TrustedChoice.com, discovered he hated cold calling, and preferred getting leads via the Internet. Conversely, his brother-in-law is very successful at cold calling, and his father-in-law specializes in passive referrals.

“As a team, we blanketed the market in those three ways, and the agency grew significantly every year.”

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2. Play to your strengths. 

“Main Street USA local community agencies are uniquely prepared to connect with small to medium-sized prospects,” says Keith Savino, COO at Warwick Resource Group LLC in Bardonia, N.Y. “Being engaged in local social media, local organizations and frankly just living in close proximity gives you an edge.”

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3. Specialize.

Although “being there” for small businesses gives independent agencies an edge, having a unique knowledge of certain classes will bring you to the top of your prospects’ short list, Savino says.

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4. Provide a solid value proposition.

With direct writers eating into the territory, small business sales are competitive, and if you want to compete your agency had better be able to offer customers something more than just a policy, Savino says.

“Is the agency staff up to the task of supporting small accounts? Does the agency provide a client with 24-7 support? Do they offer solid remarketing efforts upon renewal and does the agency have a robust customer relationship management tool with a commitment to always communicating?”

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5. Use technology to succeed.

Without automation, targeting small business won’t be worth your agency’s time. Use tech methods such as CRM automated communication specific to the client’s policy information, emerging exposures unique to their classification, renewal process, and post-claims communications, Savino advises. Move away from email toward a combination of customer portals and personal touch via phone, balancing “high tech with high touch.”

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6. Have the right processes in place.

Many small business customers can translate into a back-office nightmare without efficient processes, Savino says. Streamline processes such as first notice of loss, logging adjuster notes, and all claims followups. Claims download should be implemented to reduce staff time and agency costs, and to help client portal inquiries, he adds.

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7. Go mobile.

Offer clients mobile support and 24-7 access; it’s not just a perk today, it’s expected.

“Small business owners need answers fast, and often not during typical work hours: for example, efficient, automated and fast access to proof of insurance requests,” Savino says.

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8. Lean on real-time functionality.

Defined as starting within the agency management system, real-time functions typically include billing, claims and policy inquiries, endorsement requests, and other policy basics.

“Having 10 carrier websites open all day and having to retype policy numbers and manually logging into carrier sites is about as inefficient as an ageny can be when working with small business,” Savino says. “Manual carrier site use is also an E&O exposure.”

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9. Turn on the social media.

Social media platforms like LinkedIn are like their own search engine within a search engine, says Brian Appleton, president of The GROW Program, a consultant specializing in digital marketing for agents. But most agencies make it all about them rather than what they can do for a prospect.

“Having a better profile that allows prospects to search for you in LinkedIn or Google can help,” he says.

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10. Go beyond blogs to produce valuable content.

Blogging can be a powerful tool, but it’s not the only way to grow an agency’s presence, Appleton says. Agents can show off their expertise on a local radio program, morning TV show, or article in the local newspaper.

“The great benefit is that you are seen as an expert and not as someone begging for someone else’s business,” he says.

Always avoid a blatant sales pitch in your content, focusing instead on providing value to small business owners, with content such as upcoming legislative changes that affect business owners, health insurance, or employees risks.

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11. Use online advertising.

Like everyone else, small business owners are on all of the social media networks. Run Facebook, LinkedIn and Google ads as specialized strategies to get the exact type of prospect you want, Appleton says. Include a specific action that takes the prospect through a sales funnel process, driving them to a landing page or other site where action needs to be taken.

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12. Don’t overlook direct mail.

The granddaddy of marketing tools isn’t dead, and in fact is having greater results because so many people have abandoned it, Appleton says. Once again, however, pick a specific target niche and send mailers specific to them.

“If you want to go after floral shops, find out their biggest needs and concerns, and ask them for their email on a landing page for a white paper,” he says.

See also:

5 secrets of a top-performing advisor