nGI: The M factor

What do you see young agents struggle with in their first years in this industry? What advice do you have?

Ryan Hanley: Time management. What I found to be the largest obstacle to overcome was managing my time in a way that I could provide the quality service and attention that my clients deserved while making time to consistently fill my pipeline with new prospects.

I advise new agents to block out time to prospect in a calendar just as you would for an appointment. Do not take service calls or personal calls, and turn your e-mail system to "offline" mode. Also, I found that breaking up my prospecting time over a series of days worked better than trying to do all my prospecting in one day.

Colleen Giles-Harris: I think the hardest thing is the comprehension of the terminology and learning about all of the different coverages. Our office highly encourages education so I attended insurance-specific classes and seminars right after I started at RW Scobie. I have earned my Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designation as well as my Certified Insurance Wholesaler (CIW) designation from the AAMGA University. I would definitely advise young people to get as much education as they can.

Amy Bryan: The biggest struggle is patience and focus. I see many new agents and producers start with such optimism about being able to write business and then get deflated when it's not happening at the pace that they expected. I think that having a support system and the patience to keep pushing forward helps when you feel like things are not moving fast enough. After a while, you get into a rhythm and learn the patterns of the industry and the trends. There is a lot of business out there to be written you just have to focus what you want to concentrate on and what sets you apart from the competition.

What new technologies help young agents get a leg up in this industry?

Bryan: To stay organized and flexible, I would say some of the most important things are ensuring that you have a good management system that allows you to be paperless. I also would invest in some sort of a VOIP phone system or technology similar to that. You can find inexpensive ones that are available at a low cost, which allow you voicemail and find-me technology where your office phone can forward to your cell phone if you are on the road. I also believe strongly in having a presence on the web as well as social media marketing. These can be done at a low or no cost to you and allow you to showcase your expertise and niches that you as an agent specialize in. It's also a way to put a face behind your name or the voice on the phone as a lot of business is done on the go today instead of face to face.

Giles-Harris: Social networking seems to be the wave of the future. Also, I don't think anyone works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in this industry, so being available via e-mail or a cell phone is really important. Being able to access my work at home on the weekends is key to staying on top of things.

Hanley: I have a blog and encourage all agents, not just young, to create their own space online. More than 90 percent of your clients go online to check you out before they purchase a policy. Doesn't it make sense to have control over what that online presence is? By not having an active presence online you are cutting an entire market segment out of your potential client list. My advice is to buy the domain name for your name or some version of your name online. This will cost you $10.

Many young agents enter this industry because other family members work in insurance. What advice do you have when working with family?

Hanley: Be patient and don't take things personally. I work with my father-in-law, brother-in-law and wife every single day. There is something invigorating about battling every day side by side with your family to grow a business. I'm not going to say that things are always lollipops and rainbows, but what I can say is that each us is always trying to do what's best for our clients.

Many family dynamics are not the same as mine. So the only advice I can give younger members of the family business is this: Be honest. If things aren't working out, you still have to go to Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Address problems, especially perpetuation, early, and I highly recommend getting decisions in writing.

Bryan: Coming from an insurance background, I know it can be hard to deal with family sometimes where as a young agent you have many new ideas and are faced with the experience that family has. I think it is important to learn from the experience that family can bring to the table while working to interject new ideas and technology into the family business. I think having clearly defined roles and managing expectations of the agency's perpetuation plan going in is also is important. Your vision for the family business may be different from what your parents or grandparents had in mind. Open communication is important in any business, especially when working with family.

Giles-Harris: I am a fourth-generation family member at RW Scobie and I take a lot of pride in working for the family business. My best piece of advice would be to lead by example, even if you are not in a leadership role. Managers, as well as other employees, will be watching you as a family member and it's important that they see that you are working as hard, if not harder, than they are.

What sales strategies worked for you in 2010?

Hanley: This year, one of my personal life goals was to give more time to charity. As an unexpected consequence, my experiences working with local charities also turned into one of my most profitable sales strategies. I know how that sounds, as if the only reason I was donating my time, money and skills to community organizations is for selfish business reasons.

The time spent working side by side with other members of my community raising money for local not-for-profit organizations created relationships that I could not have formed through a cold call or even a referral.

Bryan: We have tried various different things, from online quoting to direct mail. But at the end of the day, what worked for us in 2010 was working on renewal reviews with our existing clients, cross-selling where needed and making them aware of all of the products we can help them with for their needs. From this, we have a large pipeline or referrals from our existing clients. Networking, whether it is with other business people or your own clients, is key to our business. Letting people know what you do and how you can help them if they need you is half of the battle. The other part is timing; when the clients are ready to buy, they will think of you first. This year we also have delved further into the social media marketing and networking with our clients online. We run contests on Facebook and interact with them on social media outlets besides just doing renewal reviews. This makes it fun and interactive for everyone while educating them about insurance and what we can do as an agency.

Giles-Harris: I am not really in a sales role exactly, but I always try to provide excellent customer service and do just a little bit more when I'm dealing with one of our retail agents. If someone calls to check on the status of a policy, I always try to see if there is another account I can help them with as well, or if they have any questions on other submissions to our office. I think it's really important to make the most out of every customer interaction.

What skills do you think young agents will need in 2011?

Giles-Harris: I think communication skills are very, very important. People in the insurance industry not only need sales skills, but they need to be able to spark up conversations with strangers and work with a large variety of different personalities. Being able to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, is one of the most important skills to have in any business.

Hanley: In 2011, agents will need to master the skill of taking online relationships into offline business. Again, the Internet is becoming a larger part of U.S. culture every single day. I'm not saying you have to have a Twitter presence or your business will fail. But our society is forming communities online and successful agents will excel in turning online relationships into offline relationships and eventually into closed business. The platform with which this is done is inconsequential.

Bryan: I think it's going to be important going into 2011 for agents of all ages to be tech savvy while at the same time having people skills. For agents, I think if you can interact with customers online and communicate with them effectively and intelligently about insurance online, then you will have the best of both worlds. Networking and communication skills with people are also important because at the end of the day, people still want to do business with people. Another skill is flexibility. In this industry, multi-tasking is huge, especially in the world of being an independent agent. If you can communicate to your customers when they want and how they want, whether it's online, on the phone or in person, and can give them the service they are looking for, then you as an agent will be able to set yourself apart.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2010 as a young agent, and how did you handle it?

Bryan: The biggest challenge as an agent that I faced this year was time management. I have good people and good systems in place so whether the client is speaking to me or anyone in my office, they get the same great service. It's important to be able to have people and systems in place that you can count on, because you can't do it all. As an agency owner, you are a sales person, a manager and coach to your staff, finance manager, etc. You wear a lot of hats and you have to be able to manage your time effectively. Getting the right people and the right systems in place continues to be a work in progress, but helps build a better agency and service our clients better.

Giles-Harris: As a corporate manager I have been working on creating written processes and procedures for our company. In doing this I have been working with managers and staff members from multiple office locations, and many people have many different opinions on what the best way is to handle certain job functions. I have had to do a lot of negotiating and a little bit of compromising to get everyone on board. It can definitely be challenging when people don't immediately agree with your suggestions, but getting input from a lot of people can really help get everyone to embrace the changes.

Hanley: Managing time, consistently prospecting, growing my network, mastering products, establishing niche markets, renewals, and more. If there is anything I learned in year 3 of my career, it's that insurance is a tough business and there has to be a little bit of crazy inside you to stick with it.

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