Competition: The Race Toward the Future
In the changing insurance marketplace, agencies aren’t simply competing against other agencies in the same city or town, or with the same product or service offering. Agency owners today must have the right business practices in place to compete on a national and even global level. This involves finding innovative ways to attract and retain the modern client in these days of digital transformation. It includes automating processes and workflow to streamline operations. It even includes expansion and hiring practices. Agencies who work to master the changing marketplace will race toward the future, while others will sadly get left behind.
How are you differentiating your agency from the pack? Has your business become stagnant, or are you advancing your business practices to compete? Knowing ways that you can transform your business can help you avoid this fate.
Appealing to Today’s Customer:
Human behavior has changed with the technological advances of our time. Therefore, as an agency owner, you must adjust your current business, marketing and sales strategies to make your business more attractive to customers. Some ways that you can address current trends and come out ahead of the game include:
- Emphasizing your value: Price-competition, particularly online, has made the modern consumer expect the lowest price possible. Position your agency to compete by showcasing your value aside from price to overcome these price-wars.
- Providing instant accessibility: Whether it’s offering online quotes and applications or allowing customers to submit claims and handle customer service online, offering fast and easy service is the way of the future.
- Using the latest technology: Find ways to service customers using new, online tools that can improve the customer experience. Examples include CRM (customer relationship management), social media, online quotes, and customer service chat features.
- Keeping the human touch: Customers still look for agents who understand their needs. Don’t abandon all your traditional methods of communication in favor of electronic ones. A well balanced customer communication strategy that mixes face-to-face communication with online interaction is key.
New Technologies to Help you Compete:
Luckily, advancements in technology have enabled the modern insurance agency to stay competitive and profitable. Here are some ways you can keep up with the changes and maximize growth:
- Digital Marketing Tools: Agencies who use social media, blog regularly and give their websites regular content and design upgrades benefit from increased visibility and top-of-mind awareness among potential customers. New targeting tools even allow for agents to customize advertisements by geographic, demographic and other profiles to ensure they reach their ideal customers. Investing in digital marketing makes sense for most agencies because of the high return on investment from this low-cost promotional method.
- Technology for Serving Clients: A wealth of tools exist for agents to service their clients better. These include VoIP technology, auto-attendants, web-based client portals, CRM, advanced phone systems, online data storage/retrieval, online quoting/chatting, customer service and more. Discover gaps in your current customer service process and uncover tools that can help you sell and service your customers more effectively. If the thought of implementing these tools is overwhelming to you, start slowly. Begin by integrating one or two technologies into your operational process, and you’ll start to see the benefits of the change in your business.
Hiring to Compete:
Another way your agency can stay competitive includes hiring and retaining the best available talent. Fresh producers will require all the latest resources at their disposal to succeed. If you offer new team members the latest software tools for selling and serving customers, you will give them an added advantage in the field. In addition, providing them with adequate training and opportunities for professional development will ensure that they can perform well and will thrive in your agency. Once you have hired your talent, it’s important to keep them happy and thriving so that they will remain loyal to your company. Ensure that they assimilate well with other members of your team and understand their role in the organization. Finally, make sure to mentor them and provide them with advice along the way, particularly if you are a seasoned agent hiring a producer with less experience.
Mergers and Acquisitions:
Depending on the goals of your agency, staying competitive may include opportunities to merge with, purchase or sell to another agency. Collaborating or acquiring another agency with a similar or complementary service or product line may give your company a competitive edge, while giving your customers added value. Whether you position your agency to sell, merge or acquire another agency, some ways you can appeal to buyers and sellers include:
- Upgrading your technology
- Streamlining and documenting your operational processes
- Refreshing your brand/logo/marketing message
- Updating your website and blog
- Maintaining a regular presence on social media
- Conducting targeted marketing campaigns
- Staying active and involved in the community
- Hiring and retaining top talent
- Updating and expanding your customer database
- Maintaining optimal data security practices
- Analyzing and documenting your marketing ROI
Obstacles for Success:
Staying profitable in this highly competitive industry can prove challenging for some agencies. Some of the obstacles many businesses encounter on the road to success include:
- The cost of competing: Trying to manage marketing, adopting new technologies, new hires and acquisitions can be quite overwhelming for anyone. Working capital investments can take the pressure off these new ventures as it can free up resources for those investments.
- Time required to implement: Agencies shouldn’t expect to change overnight. Hiring properly, improving processes, implementing new technologies and expanding your client base will take some time. If you are patient throughout the process, you’ll manage your expectations realistically without becoming frustrated.
- Getting your team on board: Educating and training your team on all the new processes, technologies and changes may prove to be a daunting task, especially if employees have done things the same way for some time. Hold a collaborative meeting to get everyone on the same page and explain the reasons for the shift in processes and systems so that employees are more receptive to the changes.
Managing your Growth While Mastering the Marketplace:
Agencies striving towards expansion in the next decade must do more than maintain the status quo. Employing any or all the following tactics will work to your advantage:
- Learn from industry leaders: Look to seasoned agencies in your area or even outside your area and learn from their successes. Ask where they network, how they market their business, and what has worked or not worked in their agency. Contact them to gain wisdom on how to implement similar strategies in your business. Consider finding an agent in another geographic area that is not competitive with yours.
- Continue to hustle: The best agents maintain a go-getter mindset when it comes to selling, servicing and growing. Be on the lookout for ways to adapt to trends, new clients to attract, or new technologies or systems to implement to improve your agency and out-hustle your competition.
- Always be available: The best agents are there when customers need them. Work toward building a relationship with your customers so that they know they can count on you when they have a question or a claim, and that you have their best interests at heart.
- Embrace digital communication: If your current processes don’t allow you to reach your customers online, or communicate or service them electronically, it’s time to upgrade your methods. Customers seek to research, get quotes, manage their accounts, and submit service requests online. Make it possible for them to do so with Web technologies and electronic systems.
- Integrate Digital and Traditional: Even if you have started employing digital marketing efforts, make sure you are integrating these with tried-and-true, traditional approaches for maximum impact. And don’t forget adding a personal touch: Customers may prefer to communicate digitally, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate personalization or one-on-one time.
- Showcase your brand and your products: Communicate to your customers and prospects why your agency is unique and what you offer. Be sure to include these marketing messages, unique aspects of your agency and brand and your product differentiators in your digital and offline marketing efforts. When you differentiate yourself from the sea of competitors in the marketplace, your customers will feel confident in their decision to choose you as their agent.
No matter how competitive the insurance industry becomes, or how much technology improves the processes and ways of communicating, agents must remain nimble and adaptable. Those agents set in their ways may struggle to keep up with the changing marketplace but should take advantage of any opportunities available to move their business forward. Following some of the strategies above for hiring, marketing and managing processes will ensure that those agencies have a chance to compete and thrive in the new, technologically-savvy economy.