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Agent to Agent: Begin With a Question

PillsburyDPort2012160x200.jpgNancyDoucette156x200.jpgBy Dennis H. Pillsbury and Nancy Doucette

If you’ve spent any time with five-year-olds you know they ask lots of questions. If one of your goals is to keep your agency’s producer pipelines percolating, perhaps it’s time to get in touch with your inner child and start asking more questions.

Michel Drouin, president of Charlesbois-Trepanier, Gatineau, Québec, started quizzing himself at the suggestion of a speaker at a Greenwich Group meeting. During a presentation by MarshBerry at the meeting, attendees were asked: “What is the biggest problem that producers and account executives have?”

Michel says a number of ideas ran through his head but before he could settle on one, the presenter answered his own question. “Getting the first appointment,” he announced. “Getting in the door and talking to a prospect.”

It was true, Michel thought to himself. The agency’s producers were having difficulty getting enough appointments to keep the agency growing. They were stuck in the “process and service” trap.

So he decided that the agency needed to hire someone for whom setting first appointments would be their sole responsibility — a business development coordinator (BDC). Because this position didn’t exist in the agency, the management team needed to develop a profile for the BDC. They also needed to create a suitable workspace, in addition to developing scripts because the BDC would be soliciting appointments over the phone.

“It’s important to have somebody with a mature voice — not a young voice,” Michel says. “And no call reluctance,” he adds with a chuckle. “The BDC needs to be comfortable approaching large accounts, have business acumen, and not be discouraged by rejection — cold calling is hard work.

“This is not an entry level position,” Michel emphasizes. “A semi-retired person might be a good fit.”

As for the workspace, the management team determined that the BDC would need an office, rather than a cubicle, to avoid cross talk or other background activity; a wireless headset so the BDC wasn’t tethered to the desk; and a large screen display to check a prospect’s website before making a call — to gather details to personalize the call and help start a conversation.

Once Charlesbois-Trepanier hired its BDC, he started working off a list that the agency had compiled based on inactive prospects that the agency’s producers and account execs provided. The list also included chamber of commerce, board of trade and program members. “We have a car dealers program,” Michel explains. “We subtracted the ones we already write and contacted the others.”

Out of 500 contacts, the BDC obtained 160 appointments that took place within the first five months. Another 140 were to be secured at a later date. “Our BDC was generating about 12 appointments a week,” Michel reports. “We couldn’t handle that much traffic so we gave him some other work to do to slow him down.” Nice problem to have.

Adding Value

At Peoples First Insurance in Rock Hill, South Carolina, producers approach prospects by asking: Please tell me about your business and the daily risk and compliance issues that frustrate you. How does your relationship with your insurance broker help with these frustrations?

This is the entrée into the agency’s Risk Watch™ process — a diagnostic, consultative approach which helps the agency identify exposures, define strategies, implement programs, and monitor and adjust the program as the client’s organization evolves. Risk Watch is based on the tenets of the Beyond Insurance Global Network (BigN) of which the agency is a member.

“Several years ago we started to look at ways we could add value to the relationship we have with our customers,” recalls agency president Jimmy Galloway. He says he liked the BigN approach of “becoming partners with clients and helping them reduce and/or eliminate risk.”

“We made the decision to do the right thing in terms of risk management, even if it meant turning down a potential customer,” explains Ken Cushman, CIC, CWCA, vice president, commercial risk advisor. “By taking this approach, we team up with those clients or prospects who want to create a safer workplace, reduce losses, and are willing to work to do so.

“We bring the Risk Watch process to our top clients — each producer’s top revenue producing clients,” Ken notes. He says Peoples First provides its Risk Watch process to commercial clients whose accounts generate $10,000 in revenue, although some accounts generating only $5,000 in revenue qualify. He adds that there are elements of the process that apply to small commercial accounts and high net worth personal accounts.

All the agency’s producers recently obtained the Certified WorkComp Advisor (CWCA) designation through the Institute of WorkComp Professionals. “A focus on comp brings another element to the Risk Watch process that we are very pleased with,” Ken says. “It’s a new initiative — approaching prospects from the standpoint of work comp and then pivoting off that into the other coverages.”

When Peoples First appeared on the October 2013 cover of Rough Notes one of its manufacturing clients was celebrating five years without an accident, thanks to the Risk Watch process. In May 2015 another Risk Watch manufacturing client was celebrating 1,000 days with no lost time. The agency hosted a lunch for all 250 of the client’s employees. The process works and brings in referrals, Ken says.

He points to one recent referral — a steel erection business — which came to Peoples First by way of another client that was part of the Risk Watch process. “The company was beyond being frustrated because of a workers comp situation,” Ken says. Keith Richardson, CIC, CWCA, the agency’s Risk Watch leader, met with the business’s safety manager and Ken says while the work comp issue isn’t resolved, Keith is “on track to impact the experience mod of the client.”

Peoples First uses several approaches to develop leads, Ken points out. One is Business Digest — a newsletter which addresses the business-related challenges business owners face: personnel, marketing, management, and communications — but not insurance. The agency provides its preferred SICs to Business Digest and the faxed newsletters are branded with the agency’s logo. Peoples First has 150 regularly sent out to build name recognition and trust.

Ken says the agency is also offering Lunch-n-Learns, focusing on lowering workers comp costs. He notes that the agency’s youngest producer, Brandon Berger, CWCA, recently closed an account generating $5,000 in revenue as a result of a lead that he cultivated from a seminar on workers comp and experience mods.

Producers ask existing clients for referrals in addition to meeting with CPA groups, showing them the Risk Watch process — specifically how it relates to the workers comp element — in an effort to develop new centers of influence. And each quarter Jimmy Galloway meets with his centers of influence to go over a list of their clients the agency would like to meet. “When we work off referrals, it’s basically a 100% hit ratio,” Ken states.

“We don’t talk about price or coverages initially. We offer to do an assessment. If the prospect will engage with us, and we go forward with the Risk Watch process, it’s usually a solid sell,” Ken says. “They may trust us with only one of their coverages at first, but once they engage with us and buy into the process, it’s a long-term relationship. Our retention is in the high 90s, year after year.”

Dennis H. Pillsbury is Executive Editor for Rough Notes magazine. Nancy Doucette is Managing Editor for Rough Notes magazine.