Little-known thoroughbred “I’ll Have Another”–sold for a mere $11,000 and entering the race as a 15-to-1 longshot–busted out of a large pack of competitors and blew to victory in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Two weeks later, the horse blazed to a win at the 137th Preakness, taking the second title in horseracing’s coveted Triple Crown. The day before the Belmont Stakes, the 3-year-old colt was scratched from the race, due to swelling in his left front leg.

While the prospects of a Triple Crown generate a lot of excitement—and a lot of money (tickets for Belmont, normally $20 or less, were reportedly selling for up to $800 up until the news hit), these competitors have nothing on independent agency principals. While the last Triple Crown winner was in 1978, in our business we must shoot for the Triple Crown every year. For me, that requires wearing a number of hats—and not necessarily the fancy ones that show up every year at Churchill Downs. 

First, I wear my principal’s hat. With that one on, I manage my agency’s operations, including new business and retention activity. These are key factors in enhancing agency value and profitability. A key part of my “management” work revolves around our agency’s new Epic agency management system. 

To maximize the system’s value to me as a principal, I use management reports that deliver important sales metrics to my principal partner, our producers and me. These reports help us better understand client and prospect behavior and how well we respond. All agency principals need to make use of the reports their systems offer, so they have information readily available when they need it, not just when they have time to find it. 

These reports provide real benefit to me as a principal, and that extends beyond things like premiums and revenue or dollars and cents. By consistently monitoring these reports, I have up-to-date and comprehensive information about what contributes to the intrinsic value of my agency. Reports cover virtually everything that drives agency value, from what’s in our current book of business and what our mix of business is to how we’re doing—good and bad—with certain carriers, where we’re achieving our greatest successes and, of course, how we can improve. 

The second hat I wear is my account development hat. As an agency, we’re working to expand our sales effectiveness as we enter a hard market. Again, maximizing our system and taking advantage of industry resources—from association and industry-wide offerings, including those from ACT and AUGIE, to user group education and networking opportunities locally, online and at our national convention—are critically important. 

Market and societal changes, including the shift to online shopping and a demand for speedier-than-ever response, brings the entire agency staff into the sales and account development arena. No longer is account development and nurturing the sole responsibility of producers and principals; all employees are now part of the mix. We all need to reach customers and prospects where they are, communicate with them exactly how they want, and respond to their requests—for new business and service—in minutes or seconds, not days or weeks. 

A third hat I wear is the people management hat. This looks kind of like the principal’s hat, but if you look closely, you notice subtle differences. As a people manager, I am responsible for making sure employees have the right tools to do their job, that they are adequately trained in using these tools, and that they’re properly motivated to contribute. 

Our goal as an organization is to meet commonly accepted best practices standards while maintaining current staffing levels. We have weathered an economic downturn and we intend to emerge stronger than ever. Without sounding like a broken record, this means I need to continually learn and dig deeper into our system to find better ways to work and then implement new functionality, or at least functionality that is new to me. Yes, as an agency management system users group leader I continue to find new features; I don’t know it all. There’s a lesson in there for all principals: Never stop learning. 

It’s nice to watch the Kentucky Derby, especially here in the heartland where so many horses are born and bred. However, unlike those fancy trackside bettors, if you’re an agency principal like me, you don’t wear just one fancy hat—no, you have to wear many, and look good in all of them at the same time.