Alexandria, Va.-based Agents Council for Technology (ACT) is trying to sell independent agents on a new concept: using technology to enhance the sales and marketing aspects of their businesses.In phase one of a multi-part report designed to help agents and brokers build a disciplined, sales-driven agency culture, ACT, an affiliation of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), revealed in November that "as the independent agency system inevitably becomes more efficient, greater efficiency should improve productivity by enhancing the manufacturing and sales processes.
"Without a closed sale, there is no productivity to increase. Agencies need a solid, effective sales management strategy, and technology will necessarily be a factor in any such strategy."
Undoubtedly, while some independent agents have been proficient buying into this concept, many of the 300,000 agents and brokers affiliated with IIABA have not properly leveraged technology to enhance sales. This must change if independent agents want to optimize their new-business opportunities going forward.
"We need to heighten the awareness of the role technology plays to enhance agency business. It's been an area of weakness," says Jeffrey Yates, executive director for ACT.
"This report represents phase one. With this phase completed, we're focusing now on finalizing phase two, which is identifying the technology solutions that are making a difference with agencies to enhance sales strategies," Yates adds.
To produce the findings in phase one, entitled "The Transition to An Agency Sales Organization-Culture and Process First; Then Technology," ACT formed a sales and marketing work group that examined the pain points independent agencies face.
In specific detail, ACT-whose mission is to provide a forum to address technology and workflow issues facing independent agents-produced a four-step process to enable agencies to "transcend these traditional difficulties." These steps include:
- Discussing the components of a sales culture.
- Identifying methods to establish and sustain an effective sales process, and stressing the importance of agency owners to convince all producers to buy into an agency sales philosophy.
- Suggesting the use of a business-development coordinator to oversee an agency's marketing and sales processes.
- Classifying technology tools that support the marketing and sales processes.
A major pillar of the ACT report is creation of a sales culture first and then the recognition of technology to support that effort.
"Phase one began to take shape when we realized that an agency first needs to position itself to get the most out of this sales technology by creating a sales-oriented culture coupled with supporting workflows," comments Asa Pike, chairman of the sales and marketing work group and CEO of Agency Revenue Tools, Fryeburg, Maine.
Along with agents, the onus falls on vendors to provide the best tools to support sales management, and often this is lacking, Yates says.
"We encourage vendors to look at moving beyond technology that enhances operational areas, such as accounting and policy administration, and offer more solutions to improve sales management, such as generating leads for new-business prospects.
With automation in place to support operations, agencies can then shift their personnel from processing responsibilities to sales and marketing, he adds.
Are agencies sold?
Independent agencies must now determine what course to take with the blueprint ACT provides.
Already, some agents believe the findings hold merit, but it's a question of whether they can-or even need-to implement them.
"I view this report as advisory: Here are the findings. Now, it's up to agencies to avail themselves of these opportunities to improve their sales practices," says Lee Gaudette, owner of a mid-size personal and commercial insurance agency based in Worcester, Mass.
In conducting benchmarking to determine how his agency stacks up against ACT's conclusions, Gaudette admits that his operation has not adhered to all the guidelines, but it's getting there.
"We've come a long way with technology, but I'd still like to be able to download client information into a pocket PC in the field, or provide our underwriters with digital images to expedite rating new business," he says.
When it comes to building a traditional sales-driven culture, Gaudette has invested about $25,000 in an outsourcing initiative that generates qualified new-business leads for its sales team of five external and two internal producers.
In looking at the big picture, the way Gaudette's agency approaches sales has come a long way over the past decade.
"When my father was the principal of the agency, he generated new business from clients like the local nursing home or the local manufacturing plant," says Gaudette. "Back then, we pursued only local businesses and it was a very unsophisticated process."
These days, Gaudette has expanded outside the local community to target prospects on a more regional basis. And, when his sales force goes mining for new business, it leverages its strength in a certain type of risk to win over new accounts in that risk classification.
"This helps us expand our horizons in certain classes of risk. We're definitely harnessing our sales staff's ability to fly further."
The ACT report can be downloaded at www.independentagent.com
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