A few months ago, I received an email from a company underwriter which, to his credit, sought information about how to make his agency visits more productive. He has allowed me to share our correspondence anonymously, but I will say he works for a regional insurer that is very agent-focused, along with being consumer-focused. Here is his email:
“I love your stuff and find everything you write worthwhile and meaningful. Not sure if you saw the recent National Underwriter magazine where they conducted a survey with PIA on independent agents and their thoughts on carriers, their needs and wants, etc. I found it really interesting.
“I work for an insurance carrier now as a commercial lines underwriter and work from the desk, but also perform agency travel as well. I’m expected to meet with agents at their offices at least 15 times a year within my territory. Here’s my question…from your experience, how can I make these visits worthwhile?
“I feel like agents don’t find them worthwhile. We’re all busy so I hate wasting people’s time. I know it’s about building relationships and talking about what’s new at my company, new opportunities, etc., but I don’t feel like that’s enough.
“I want differentiate myself but I’m unsure how. I’m sure you have had to meet with carrier folks in the past, so hopefully whatever guidance you can offer will be greatly beneficial.”
The first thing I did was send him a link to an article at PC360 about what agents are looking for in commercial lines carriers based on the survey he mentioned. The second thing I did was solicit feedback from several outstanding agents. Below are some of their thoughts. If you’re an underwriter or company marketing rep, I hope you’ll take these suggestions constructively. If you’re an agent, feel free to share them with your underwriters, marketing reps, and adjusters, along with local company management
- Start by contacting the agencies and admit what they already know, that you are aware that all too often company visitors (especially marketing reps) are better at wasting time than being helpful. Ask agency staff (and not just owners/managers, but also CSRs and producers) what you can offer that would help the agency help themselves and your company. They will appreciate this. As Will Rogers said, “Always be honest. That will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” And consider coming and bearing gifts…if you’re at an agency in the morning, bring some doughnuts…in the afternoon, bring some cookies. Seriously, that will set you apart from others and office staff will really appreciate the thoughtfulness. It at least sends them a subliminal message if not a direct one.
- From the information you gather from your initial contact, prepare a timed agenda. It might include a 10 minute training session on something unique to your company procedures, basic CLM information, or reviewing cool endorsements to customize coverage which would be new and unique especially to younger agency personnel. Maybe another 10 minutes on some emerging issue and how the company is addressing it. Maybe 10 minutes on best ways to submit accounts for maximum quote opportunities. At the end of the visit, wrap up with agency ownership/management on relationship issues.
- Let the agencies know if there is something you can do to make it easier for them to place good business with you. For example, one insurer found out how far behind an agency was in quoting new business and offered to do that for them. What can you do that they might not be aware of or that they’re not taking advantage of? For example, one insurer does virtually (no pun intended) everything online. Rather than submit an app, email follow ups a few times, and PRAY that a quote comes back in a week, this carrier can often quote in 15 minutes with a note if any other information is needed. This same carrier also offers an insured contract review (for construction contracts insureds enter into) and loss control inspection services on request. In addition, they offer CE classes and PAY agents to take them…many carriers offer no CE classes or they charge for them or at best make them free…imagine PAYING to attend.
- In your meeting, or as a handout supplement, explain where your policies may be broader than the competition. Just as important, explain where you know you are lacking and why. Solicit feedback well in advance of the meeting from agency staff on problematic policy language or procedures that you might be able to fix. Give the agency market intelligence about your and their competition.
- Make sure the agency understands why kind of business you want and if this is a long-term commitment to that class. Explain your pricing philosophy and flexibility. Tell agency staff how you want the submission sent and what you expect in it.
- If the agency is agreeable, consider bringing an adjuster, premium auditor, and perhaps loss control person with you so agency staff can get to know them.
- Provide an updated contact list of company staff that can help the agency staff…not a general directory, but specific individuals and contact information that the agency can access. In particular, when issues arise, be in a position to make a difference in resolving them and identify the ultimate decision makers at the company. This is really a lost art and needs to be re-established by many carriers.
- In everything you do associated with these meetings, think the bottom line: Make a difference. Your job requires 15 agency contacts. Rather than tick them off just to meet that requirement, bring the agency something of value and you might be surprised when you start getting more business. Also, the more entrepreneurial you can be, the better. If you submit a report on each agency visit, with information gathered based on the above suggestions, I think you will stand out from others at your company by providing very substantive information that helps both you and your agency force be more successful. Interested in advancement in your company? Help your agency force and I guarantee they will help you.
What do you think? Feel free to add your constructive thoughts in the Comments section below.