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Agent to Agent: Automated Marketing With a Little Pepper

Papandon_Alexi_143x200.jpgBy Alexi Papandon, CAE

We’ve all learned a few lessons along the digital highway. PIA member Tim Shaw of Tim Shaw Insurance – Acentria in Fort Myers, Florida, is no exception. Years ago, when the internet was new and he was setting up his first agency website, he found out a little too late that he didn’t actually own the web address that was being used to develop his website. When he decided to switch web developers, the group he was working with offered to sell him his web address for $1,200. He declined and learned a good lesson. Thankfully he was able to buy the web address a few years later for only $60.

Fast forward a few years and Tim was working with a prominent insurance marketing firm with a slick digital system of websites, email automation tools and other services. But as convenient as it was, the results just weren’t justifying the cost. That’s when Tim decided to take the lessons he had learned working with them and piece together his own automated marketing solution. He hasn’t looked back since.

At the heart of Tim’s email automation system is a program called SendPepper from Office Auto Pilot, which is now Ontraport. Using SendPepper, Tim captures the contact information of everyone who contacts his agency or visits one of his many web pages. He then uses the system to orchestrate continuous email campaigns to these prospects, contacting them throughout the year with a variety of useful tips, holiday greetings and birthday well wishes and then asking for their business as their renewal date draws near.

Where Do Leads Come From?

But let’s back up and start from the beginning, with the acquisition of leads. Before Tim’s automated marketing system can kick in, a lead must be entered into the SendPepper system. So where do they come from?

The majority come through a series of web pages that Tim has set up to offer specific types of insurance in specific towns and cities near his Fort Myers’ headquarters. Type in “home insurance” and the name of a nearby city and you’ll likely find Tim’s agency ranking very highly in Google and other search engines. If you don’t have time to do that simply visit Tim’s website at and scroll down—all the way down. There, way at the bottom, past all of the regular website navigation, out of site from the average person but in plain sight to Google and other web crawlers, you’ll find links to these many web pages.

These web pages, focused on myriad phrases like “insurance,” “homeowners Insurance,” “home owners insurance,” and numerous other types of coverages—plus the name of a locale—are one of the secrets to ranking highly in search engines. These are real web pages, with high quality content, with a local twist, on a website with many such web pages. To search engines this is the motherlode.

One thing you won’t find there are web pages with straight pitches for auto insurance—too much competition. Tim likes to focus on homeowners insurance and other niche products and save the auto and umbrella for later in his sales process.

“We don’t pay for web listings,” notes Tim. “Our goal is to rank highly in organic search and with this strategy we have been doing just that. But we don’t go it alone. I work with a local SEO (search engine optimization) guy who helps me understand the world of search engines and how to build web pages that will rank highly when people search for insurance.”

So what happens when web searchers land on one of these web pages? Hopefully they fill out the simple quote request form prominently featured on most of the pages on Tim’s website. These forms are part of the SendPepper system.

Like most agencies, once one of these forms is completed, staff at Tim Shaw Insurance receives notification of the new lead and act on it right away to provide the requested quote and try and make the sale.

However, at Tim Shaw Insurance the new contact is also automatically included in an automated marketing sequence that has been created specifically for people looking for the type of insurance related to the quote request form they completed.

Regardless of whether a sale is made or not, the new lead starts to receive periodic emails from Tim Shaw Insurance. These emails are sometimes insurance related, providing useful tips about certain types of coverages and describing other types of coverages that Tim’s agency doesn’t already write for the individual. Just as often, however, recipients receive emails wishing them a happy birthday or recognizing a holiday. Only as the expiration date draws near do the emails become more sales oriented.

It is this education-oriented, friendly approach that Tim credits for his low 2% unsubscribe rate. Equally impressive are the number of referrals the agency receives from email recipients who have not yet become clients of the agency, but feel comfortable enough to refer Tim’s agency to a friend or family member.

Should a person contact the agency by phone or email, maybe as a result of seeing the agency’s online advertising with the Better Business Bureau, which also ranks highly in local search, they are emailed a link so that they can enter their own information into Tim’s online system, reducing the amount of effort required to collect their data and ensuring that they not only receive a quote, but are included in the agency’s automated marketing system going forward. If necessary, but surprisingly infrequent, Tim’s staff will enter contact data into the system. The key is to ensure that everyone who contacts the agency—or is already doing business with the agency—is entered into the system so they can hear regularly from the agency.

Is creating a system like this a lot of work? Well, it does take a bit of time to set up and Tim does write his own emails. Plus, it can take a few years for the collection of email addresses to result in a critical mass. But for the agency looking to reach the modern insurance buyer on their turf, and use technology efficiently, it is well worth the effort and a good lesson learned.

Alexi Papandon is senior vice president of products and services for PIA National. Email Alexi at