The hard market: Let your marketing campaigns educate and build relationships

November 30, 2023

Growing up in Southern California with doomsday-prepper parents I was prepared for the “Big One.” My family members slept with shoes next to the bed, and always had rations to hold us—along with the rest of the neighborhood—through a catastrophic event. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not have to run to the store for paper towels because mom had enough to tide us all over. It may seem lighthearted, but it did instill in me the need to be prepared. The hard market in the insurance industry is no different, and insurance agents who are coming into this market prepared are winning. This does not mean that all hope is lost for those who are coming into this space unprepared, but now is the time to act.

This insurance landscape can be overwhelming with daily updates, such as:

  • carriers tightening on underwriting guidelines
  • core carriers limiting or ceasing writing business all together
  • inspection issues
  • factitious growth due to rate with lagging policies in force
  • commissions being cut
  • long lead times for quotes
  • locating and retaining qualified staff
  • the integration of technologies into agencies tech stacks

The list of pains that agencies are experiencing are the worst they have been in over 75 years. If you are experiencing these challenges in your agency, know that you are not alone. Here are some tools you can implement with your team and help create efficiencies in your agency. We will focus on the following:

  • building relationships and getting proactive with customers
  • managing relationships with carriers
  • driving new business growth

For years in our industry, the marketing and sales messaging to the consumer has been save, save and save. We have trained policyholders to look at price rather than the value of the financial protection that insurance provides their families and businesses. For most consumers, insurance is confusing and an independent agent who can walk them through this market with the best interest of their financial future is going to be critical. How can we help? By focusing our marketing campaigns on educating our clients and prospects and building relationships.

Get proactive on renewals. Agents who have become proactive and connected with their customers are reporting increased renewal retention on average of 3%. You may say there is no way we can contact everyone and if you don’t have a solid plan on how to implement that process you will frustrate your staff members and your clients. Consistency is key and you must have a plan to track and adjust accordingly. With the right plan on how to execute and track your progress you can do it.

Control the message to clients. Use your social media, blogs, drip campaigns, etc., to get your message in front of clients. Share the market conditions with them and tell them what to expect in the coming months and years. This helps clients understand that rate increases are happening everywhere and it’s not personal. This also empowers our front-line staff members to have more educational conversations with clients and to become their trusted insurance advocate in this market.

Review accounts and save your remarkets. Now is the time to build those relationships with clients and understand their needs. We need to scrub accounts looking for discounts. Marketing materials should focus on cross-selling opportunities, increasing coverages and making sure accounts are sparkly and clean. Often, staff members jump into problem-solving mode and remarkets accounts automatically. We need to ask: “Is this really the right time to remarket, or is this the time to educate and create a solid plan with our client?” Everyone likes a plan. A solid plan creates unification with clients and stops them from shopping because they know: We got you.

Operate on facts and not feelings. Many agents don’t have control of or understand their own data. You cannot operate a business and make good decisions based on feelings. How many times have you heard, “I’m busy!” but when asked what is being worked on there is no real clarity on where the backlog is happening? There are many reasons why agents experience these challenges and often it’s because they don’t know how to access the information from their systems of record, or it’s not being entered correctly by end users.

Learn how to access and analyze your data to discover agency gaps. Once you have a true understanding of the data you can make better determinations on agency needs: Do you need to fix a process? Do you need to adopt a new piece of technology into your tech stack? Do you need another team member? The numbers will help make those determinations and it’s critical to understand your agency’s most important metrics and share that information with your staff members, so you are all in alignment.

At times we may feel like we are on opposing teams with our carriers but it’s going to be important that we do the best we can to build those relationships and support our carriers during this market. As frustrated as we feel about staff-member burnout and high turnover, our carrier partners are in the same situation. Focus on the end goals: Helping our client and remaining profitable. Working with carriers that have common goals is going to help sustain and continue agency growth. So, how can we be better partners to our carriers? Don’t forget that most carriers have marketing tools that they share with their agent partners.

Scrub accounts for accuracy. Spend time on the front end gathering updated underwriting information and getting accurate information from your client. This solves a lot of the back-and-forth questions and creates a better customer experience as bindable quotes can be turned around quickly. This also protects your agency from errors-and-omissions exposures as you have done your due diligence in gathering all the new and updated information up front and you can be more proactive when remarketing is the only option.

Send viable clean submissions. Carriers are going to respond to submissions that are neat and tidy. When it comes to underwriting, we are back in the 1900s. Many of us may remember the days of stacks of Polaroid film, carbon paper, and copies of the underwriting documents. Right now, our carrier partners are suffering record losses and they are looking to write profitable business—just like our agencies. It’s the agents’ job to make sure we are sending good, viable submissions so they know what to work on. Let’s be honest, you probably are having a hard time determining how to triage your time with clients and may be experiencing a backlog. Imagine what your underwriters’ email boxes are looking like when everything has a red flag and is urgent.

Create relationships. Creating relationships with our carrier partners can help boost response times. Understanding who to contact, having reliable contact information and forging the relationships will allow your underwriters to understand your submissions and know you are working in unison with them to write profitable business. This can be challenging as many of the faces at our carrier have changed due to high turnover so this may take some effort. We may find that we are spending time explaining things to our new underwriters. We can choose to be frustrated by this or approach it as an opportunity to mentor our fellow insurance industry professionals and assist our customers too.

Provide carrier cheat sheets. Create a cheat sheet of your top agency carriers. This will help your staff members explain the benefits of the policies they are selling during the sales process. Be sure to include any discounts that are available and include amounts/percentages or savings to empower your team to have great conversations with clients and ensure they have offered all the discounts their carrier offers when reviewing their accounts to qualify a remarket opportunity. Your agency marketing representative can be a great resource. Compile this information in one place (e.g., a spreadsheet saved in a shared space) that everyone in the agency can access in real time and identify who and how that information will be updated when new updates come through. This resource will assist our team members to stay on top of carrier enhancements and changes so they can spend more time building relationships with policyholders.

Carrier training. Take the time to prepare your team members for carriers that may not be in your current core. With the changing landscape and carrier guidelines being updated—seemingly daily—we need to be prepared. Put those shoes next to your bed now so that if your agency needs to start writing and placing business with a market that your employees are less familiar with it will help them adapt more swiftly. Prepare versus repair.

Drive new business growth

Agencies make money in many ways, and we have focused on many of the ways to fuel growth by simply managing existing client relationships. New customers are key to agencies’ success but how can agents cut through the noise and reach new customers?

Be open for business. Identify who your agency’s ideal customers are and communicate that information to your staff members to ensure you are targeting the right business. Consider developing targeted marketing campaigns that will allow you to reach these newly identified prospects.

Razzle dazzle them. Have a clearly defined mission, vision and values for your agency. Your potential customers want to know why they should work with you. What makes your agency the right choice for them? As an agency leader knowing and understanding this information is not enough. Your employees need to learn how to communicate the benefits of working with your agency clearly, as well as why they are the best choice for that client. What are you going to do that sets you apart from your competition? All too often when working with agencies I hear “provide good customer service” and that’s great but what does that mean? Having clearly defined expectations and outlining those for clients so they understand what to expect has major impacts on their buying decisions.

Ask for referrals. Make sure to ask for referrals from your existing clients. Empower your team members with scripts on how to ask for referrals. Role play during team meetings, so they become more comfortable with asking for referrals. Be sure to track and share these metrics so you can celebrate wins and show gratitude to customers who help you fuel your agency’s growth. A thank-you message goes a long way, and it keeps your agency’s name in your clients’ minds.

Get outside. During the pandemic, many agencies changed their marketing strategies and really leveraged the use of social media and other technology to get in front of potential clients. These are great strategies. However, it seems in doing so we have forgotten that the best way to build new relationships is to meet new people. Focus on expanding your reach outside of those that already connect with you through social media or marketing campaigns. Be an active participant in your community. Take the time and opportunity to build relationships with new centers of influence that will help your agency grow. Meet new potential customers and show them what your agency offers and why you are the best choice for all their insurance needs.

Keep promises and be consistent. Being consistent in keeping our promises to new customers is going to be imperative while earning their trust. We can coast a little easier with clients when we have established relationships since we have made deposits in our customer piggy bank, but we need to be consistent and work to build and earn that trust with new customers. This means responding to emails in a timely manner, completing activities in our source system when they come due—these are promises that need to be kept. Trust is earned when value is provided and honoring our commitments goes a long way. New clients will feel the love and allow you opportunities you may not have had otherwise.

Meet your customers where they are. Customer profiles are changing, and agents must be adaptable to giving customers ways to interact with them. A marketing campaign that highlights the ways you can work with your clients and their busy schedules can be meaningful. Let them know all the ways you can help them: Do you offer electric fund transfer, so they don’t need to bring in payments or pay more in fees? Do you have user-friendly portals that allow them to issue their own auto ID cards, certificates and evidence of insurance? Do you provide a way for them to complete and sign new business applications digitally? Let them know.

Offer a comprehensive account review. Just as recommended with existing clients, offer new clients the ability to have your professional and highly educated staff to do a full account review. This creates an elevated low-pressure situation for new clients. It also allows you a big picture look to understand what is happening with all their accounts and the ability to create a full 360 account for your agency. When done thoughtful and professionally you establish great rapport with your customers and give them the feedback they need to make the best buying decisions for their situation. Clients are in desperate need of help right now and they are looking for agents who are responsive, can educate them and who can partner with them to create a plan.

Be prepared, be proactive

My mom has a go bag in everyone’s trunk and she instilled in me the importance of being prepared for any situation. Similarly, the hard market in insurance requires agents to be prepared and proactive to succeed and grow.

The challenges in this insurance landscape can be daunting, but there are ways to navigate them successfully. It’s time to step up. By implementing some of these strategies and embracing preparedness we can navigate this market and emerge stronger, serving our clients with dedication and expertise.

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of PIA Magazine.

More in this series

The power of technology = efficiencies

The hard market: Use clear communication

Bobbie Fernandez
Agency Performance Partners

Bobbie Fernandez, AIS, is a performance coach at Agency Performance Partners. She has spent her career serving independent insurance agencies. Fernandez has worked with and trained remote workforces globally. Additionally, she has assisted agencies to solve their biggest challenges with honesty and fun. Reach her at bobbie@agencyperformancepartners.com. For more information, log on to www.agencyperformancepartners.com or www.linkedin.com/in/insureyou.

Related stories…

Share This