Not too long ago, I attended a PIA business conference in Atlantic City, N.J. During a break from one of the continuing education classes, I overheard two agents discussing “how things were going.” One was lamenting that new business revenue was down in his agency. He supported this position by making the point that his phone had stopped ringing. My first thought was that waiting for the phone to ring was probably not an ideal marketing strategy, and that the agent probably hadn’t developed much of a sales effort. I didn’t give it much thought until sometime later, during conversations with several company marketing reps who mentioned that other agents were using the “my phone has stopped ringing” comment to describe what was occurring in their agencies. That got me thinking about what agents can do while they’re waiting for the phone to ring. In the poker game Texas Hold ‘Em, many players use the strategy of going “all in” to win. Here is an “all in” strategy for developing additional revenue growth in your agency. Analyze Get into analysis–not psychotherapy, but business analysis. But like psychotherapy, the first step in the process is to admit you have a problem. Let’s begin with the premise that your agency is not generating enough new revenue. If that’s the case, you need to find out why. Blaming your condition on the marketplace, the economy, the carriers, your staff, or even yourself may make you feel better, but it won’t change anything. You need to look deep into your agency and determine if there are policies or procedures that are keeping your organization from growing. At the same time, determine what proactive steps, if any, you are taking to stimulate growth. Some agency principals complain about lack of growth but secretly are content to keep on doing what they have always done. You must face up to the possibility that even if you think you have a sales organization, you may not. Examine your business model with no preconceived notions and evaluate its effectiveness. The first question to answer is whether you’re really a sales organization. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. In the first, list every proactive step the agency takes to generate growth. In the second column, write anything that might impede growth. One area to examine carefully is any policy that causes service to trump sales. Many agencies have procedures in place for handling transactional actions (i.e., “How much do I owe?”) that do not complement the ability to generate new sales. You should never let transactional service get in the way of revenue-generating opportunities. A candid analysis will let you know what needs to be changed. With enough effort, an overly service-oriented culture can develop into a true sales-oriented culture. Listen Once you’ve determined the need to transform from a service-oriented culture to a sales culture, then you need to develop a plan. The biggest mistake in the planning process is to involve only a few people. Some of the best ideas come from people on the front lines, usually the ones who are never asked what they think. One of the best ideas our agency developed to generate new growth in personal lines actually came from a commercial lines account manager. Begin planning by bringing everyone in the agency together and telling them what you’re trying to accomplish. Tell them why it’s important to the agency–and to them–to maximize revenue generation. Be specific that the agency must grow. Never take it for granted that they understand why growth is necessary and how lack of growth affects them. Ask them to conduct the same analysis that you conducted. Tell them to focus on processes that may hinder growth and steps to take to generate new revenue. Don’t give them your ideas first, or they’ll give back what you’re thinking. When they give input, pay close attention. If you listen carefully, you will be surprised what you hear. Look for opportunity Now it’s time to take that information and develop your specific plan to grow. An effective approach centers on seeking out new and existing growth opportunities. You need to look inside and outside the agency for those opportunities.
Internally, the most obvious place to begin is within the existing book of business. Although the strategy of “round, retain and refer” is pretty fundamental, the execution is not. The best way to develop a program to retain business, round accounts and ask for referrals is to go back to your staff. A successful approach is to provide dedicated time over several days for your team to discuss among themselves how to effectively “round, retain and refer.” Then they can report their suggestions back to you and you can develop a plan incorporating their ideas. This approach guarantees buy-in from your staff.