Boy I am really showing my age now! Many of you that read this will say “what the heck is a Fuller Brush Salesman?” The Fuller Brush Man was someone who worked for the Fuller Brush Company selling door to door personal grooming items.
I remember my father who was in sales and sales management always looked down his nose, not at the hard working men and eventually woman who sold their products, but at the sales model itself. Eventually sales, like the milk and bread men, also went away.
So are we facing the same dilemma as the Local Insurance Agent? Is the way people are shopping different than it was even five years ago? Clearly we are in waters that we have never swam in before. How do Legacy Sales Models compare to the newer Inbound Sales Model? And what challenges do these present to Independent Insurance Agents?
The Truth Behind a Local Insurance Agent
There is a lot of emphasis on doing business locally, and as the owner for years of a local business I certainly support that. But this is being replaced by the way we do business. I have several examples personally and in different industries where the way we buy is changing.
Recently we bought a property with my daughter. We thought we had a good deal until we uncovered the house needed a complete rebuild of the electrical wiring. I told my wife I would get someone out to offer us a proposal. I went to, where else, Google and my search pulled up “Electricians Near Me.” I recognized a few of them and started to dial.
The first electrician I left a voice mail and still have not heard back. He was local but really could have been on the far side of the moon.
The next call and I was told that their estimator could not get back to me until next week and we were looking at six to eight weeks before they could do anything for me.
Finally I called the third. I did not recognize them, so I looked at their BBB rating and their website and they looked like a good firm. The lady said she could have someone there by noon. They had the top ranking in Google and could be there in 3 hours, maybe sooner. About an hour later the person being dispatched to the property called and said he was on his way. He asked more about what we were looking at. I said where was he coming from and he said about ninety miles away. But he would be there and if we agreed on his estimate he would be able to begin work immediately. At that moment the world shrunk and he was closer than any other professional. He came, measured and got the order.
To me he is local. How about to you?
Underwriters and company reps tend to perpetuate this mentality
I am struggling with this presently and with, of all people, my carriers. I had a conversation recently with an underwriter, who was new at her desk. She wondered why we submitted a binder for two risks in the last week that were from outside of our area. She could not understand how or why they would select us and not someone “local.”
Well as I illustrated from my own buying experience local is not across the street. We wrote those accounts because we were more visible, trusted, responsive and available. This underwriter works for a carrier celebrating 100 years this year and I challenged her to underwrite like its 2017 not 1917.
I know that in legacy type sales, it was all about the handshake. But there is more ways to shake a hand. I finally asked if she would be more comfortable if I wrote an account on the other side of our county and she indicated she would. Funny thing is, I probably don’t know them any better than two accounts we wrote from outside our area.
What I have seen on the horizon is local will be replaced with trusted advisor and thought leader. Bricks and Mortar replaced by Clicks and Orders. What does local mean to you?
How has the way people shop changed?
We all are being bombarded by the terms “Inbound Marketing for Insurance Agents” and “Digital Marketing for Small Business.” Many of us are passive in our knowledge of this seismic shift in consumer behavior. If you think about this personally, one of the best ways to answer this question is how have your own behaviors changed.
If you answered I have not changed how I shop, I would tell you that you should be alarmed because you would be an outlier. If you have avoided immersing yourself in the modern consumer behavior it will be hard for you to understand where your core client base will come from. If you are involved in using and reacting to Inbound and Digital Marketing what have you noticed?
I think that one of the most fundamental things we do is research and educate ourselves on a product or service before we ever reach out to someone to take the final plunge. And in many cases we are taking the entire journey solo.
Do you bank online? Do you use Amazon? Do you shop for large ticket items online like cars and appliances? Look for a new home online? The answer is probably yes, and it is time to ask yourself, have I positioned myself to be found in this beginning part of the journey? Also, are you thinking about how to position yourself for the consumer that will go all the way through to the end of the transaction without picking up the phone or driving to the office.
(Professionals spend a lot of their time online)
I often hear agents saying “I don’t want to do that. I want my clients to talk to me!”
I recently was presenting a lunch and learn for a State Association and I shared some of the things we are doing at the agency I work at. One of the services we offer is online access to our clients to access their policy, retrieve Certificates and Auto Id Cards and more. One of the participants typed in the question of “Doesn’t allowing your client to do this minimize the value of having you as their agent?” I answered that data shows and my largest clients have substantiated this, allowing them to do business the way that suits them best, enhances our value.
How do legacy sales models compare to inbound sales?
I recently completed a certification with HubSpot as being Inbound Sales Certified. It was really compelling in its comparison of the old way of selling and the newer Inbound Sales model. I will be sharing some of that in future blogs. But the fundamental difference in the shift between these two models is that the entire sales process should be designed around the buyer not the seller.
Focus should be on where they are in the journey and how to identify and qualify leads rather than chase and try to tackle whomever slows down to listen to you.
In the older legacy systems as soon as someone gave you the green light we would jump right into the “who we are, what we do, when can I pick up a check” solution. The Inbound Sales Model focuses on finding the right people to talk to, find out if they are on the journey and then qualify some more. This goes against how many of us think. We have not connected with the modern buyer and have resisted how they will buy from us.
There are many studies that show that many of the functions we hold as valuable will be replaced, shortly by digital solutions. Many of the day to day transactions like reporting claims, getting ID cards, adding and deleting cars and drivers. So where is our future? It is in shifting our priorities to make sure when the journey begins and people are seeking solutions they find you. To me being local means being on page one in Google. That is the neighborhood, that is the future.
What are your thoughts on the local insurance agent? As times change do you feel your sales techniques have had to change?