In the fiercely competitive direct-to-consumer insurance market, the ability to mine prospect data-and act quickly on that information-is critical to success. That was the challenge Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. of Massachusetts (SBLI) faced as it launched an aggressive marketing effort that would eventually bring in tens of thousands of new inquiries from potential customers.Specifically, SBLI, which is based in Woburn, Mass., needed to move several gigabytes worth of data through a system that not only could help identify hot prospects, but also would more proactively track the status of pending customers moving through the application process.

In early 2004, the company implemented a new Web-based system that enables agents to comb through data for new prospects, as well as provide real-time updates on pending application status. The new system is a key element in SBLI's evolution from a carrier that specializes in value-added insurance products for bank customers to a direct-to-consumer model.

"We're building a company strategically to go direct," says Robert K. Sheridan, president of SBLI. "At one time, 100% of our business was through savings banks. Now, it's 85% direct."

SBLI's agents sift through more than 80,000 leads annually that come in through the company's Web site, direct mail, advertising, the customer service center, and partners.

Patchwork of systems

The company was founded in 1907 by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis to provide low-cost life insurance through savings banks. As SBLI moved into direct sales in recent years, the company found that its existing processes-supported by a patchwork of manual and automated systems-could not handle its new business requirements.

SBLI was significantly increasing marketing efforts in nine eastern states, but the effort quickly overwhelmed the company's outmoded systems.

"We were manually distributing leads, so there wasn't a lot of science involved with that," says Sheridan. "It was very time consuming."

The carrier's lead-management system did provide in-house agents limited information about prospects, but the agents had to rely mainly on paper files.

SBLI also wasn't able to effectively track success rates for its marketing and direct advertising efforts-nor gauge the performance of agents and third-party paramedical vendors to ensure applications were being processed in a timely manner.

SBLI needed better agent support, lead management, and marketing-campaign analysis, Sheridan relates. Facing increased industry competition, SBLI's goal was to boost sales levels and maximize agents' closing ratios. The carrier needed a system to capture leads and give agents fulfillment follow up, quoting and sales tools, as well as to port data into its policy administration system.

To better capture and manage customer data, SBLI implemented a Web-based lead-management and sales-illustration system called InterTask-Insurance, developed by ArrayWorks, of Braintree, Mass.

The system-a customer relationship management and analysis platform that sits on a knowledge base-provides status reports on prospects and sales and illustration tools for higher-level analysis.

"This engine is putting leads in the hands of agents that can mine those leads and produce business," Sheridan says. "It's also a great management tool. We can look at agents, and say, 'How is this agent doing? What's the productivity? What are the closure rates?' And that's in real time. We didn't have anything like that before."

Sheridan says the system has enabled SBLI to target more lucrative prospects, and follow up more consistently. "As technology is, it's not cheap," says Sheridan. "But we're going to realize our return on investment very quickly."

The system provides SBLI with the ability to generate targeted customer leads, and track third-party service providers and agent performance.

The carrier was able to implement the InterTask-Insurance system on its existing base of Windows 2000 server boxes, including a Web server, database server, and document server. The hardware consists of Xeon-based processors with about one gigabyte of RAM.

Information is transferred between SBLI and its partners via a standard Internet connection using FTPS and PGP encryption to ensure data security.

The technology fits into SBLI's operations in two ways. Data gathered and stored within the system has become a valuable tool for lead management. Plus, SBLI is now better able to track policy administration issues with third parties, particularly paramedic firms contracted to perform medical check-ups on prospective customers.

End-user dashboards

SBLI's direct marketing capabilities have received a boost from the data now automatically gathered and forwarded into business intelligence applications.

"With the amount of information we now have, we have been able to build an incredibly large database," says Denis Clifford, assistant vice president for SBLI. "This year, we had just shy of 80,000 leads, and we also have leads from eight years of growth. We now have the capability to go back and mine that information."

The system evenly distributes valid leads to agents, according to Clifford. "It can automatically give agents the type of leads they handle best. The database gives us great insight into clients. For example, we can now create a list, such as all the men between the ages of 24 and 50 named John in Stamford, Conn., and market directly to them."

In addition, leads can automatically be directed to the agents best suited to sell in particular markets, Clifford adds.

While using the system, each class of end-user within SBLI-whether it's an agent, a sales manager or a call-center operator-is provided access to specific "dashboards" tailored to their role. For example, sales managers' dashboards are designed to help keep track of agents and view trends, while marketing professionals' dashboards enable real-time views of current marketing campaigns.

Agents log on to their home dashboard and receive new leads throughout the day, as SBLI scans its Web site for requests every three hours. The agent dashboard also has a "dashlet," or indicator light, that alerts agents when an action must be taken, such as following up on a deferred decision or medical exam appointment.

The system also enables agents to determine which underwriting class a prospect might qualify for by going through a set of pre-screening questions. Agents then assign the prospect to one of six underwriting classes to generate accurate quotes and illustrations.

Using a "what-can-you-afford" function, agents can recommend appropriate amounts of life insurance based on an applicant's budget.

Previously, an agent might have to create five different illustrations and quotes to cover different products and face amounts. Now, however, agents can show multiple face amounts for multiple life products and review 30 or 40 scenarios simultaneously.

Marketing support

The system also enables SBLI decision-makers to better target their direct advertising dollars. That's because it provides reports that show the results of direct-mail, advertising or Web promotions-in terms of number of leads, quality and percentage closed.

A marketing matrix provides a view of the entire year's results, cross-referenced by month and marketing activity. For example, if radio ads produced several hundred leads in July, SBLI marketing managers can slice and dice the data by age, location, and other demographic variables.

The system also manages information on activities that occur after the application process is launched. For example, a major sticking point is the medical exam.

Once a prospect applies for insurance, the SBLI agent books a medical exam. Often, however, these appointments are delayed or postponed-information that was not readily available to the agent before. As a result, the application process would often stall or take longer than necessary.

The InterTask-Insurance system now regularly collects information from a paramedical firm on the status of exams and provides alerts to agents if exams are postponed or cancelled.

"We now have a two-way interface that allows us to provide the paramedical information about customers on a timely basis," says Sheridan. The process with the paramedical firm starts when the agent logs into the system to electronically order and schedule an exam.

"The paramed's progress is translated back to us," Sheridan explains. "If an applicant has trouble trying to schedule an exam, we can review all the activity logged by the paramedical company in its attempts to reach someone. It gives customers a sense of well-being that we really are connected, and able to hold their hands through the whole process."

SBLI agents can quickly pull up the record on any applicant and find out the status of the exam. The system also enables SBLI managers to create and view reports showing how promptly paramedical vendors are responding.

Another factor that slows down or halts the application process is incomplete information entered on application forms. SBLI tweaked its system to stop the application process if an agent misses a required field.

For example, if an agent forgets to include the Social Security number, or beneficiary's name, the system flags the error and stops the process. "Busy people are under pressure, they want to move the paperwork, so they may take shortcuts," Sheridan says.

"That leads to incomplete applications. At some point, somebody has to get that information, and that adds a time delay and expense. This system will not allow agents to complete the process unless they get all the information, which is a big payback for us."

Joe McKendrick is a freelance writer based in Doylestown, Pa.

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