Growing a Brokerage Sales Organization

August 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Commercial Real Estate Tips

commercial real estate brokerage firms
by YoTuT

Growing a Brokerage Sales Organization

Culture and Process First; Then Technology

Independent insurance agents and brokerages are gaining efficiencies with technology. More efficiencies are on the way as vendors and carriers roll out real-time communications.

But with so many processes now automated and keystrokes eliminated, this is an excellent time to re-address the real inherent value of the independent agent. That value is around sales-unless a sale happens, nothing happens.

Efficiency-while continuing to be very important-can’t be the end game. The sales must first happen in order for all of the other improvements in brokerage workflows and technology to make a difference.

If a brokerage can’t create an effective sales organization, it can’t create enough growth to satisfy its insurance carriers. And if it can’t create enough growth, the great producers in that firm will leave for greener pastures.

Successful owners of sales-driven organizations use a four-step process for growth and profitability:

1.

Infuse the brokerage with a culture of marketing and sales
2. Develop and implement workflows for marketing, selling and processing business
3. Apply proper technology to manage these workflows
4. Hire outstanding talent to leverage that technology

Sustaining an effective sales management process over the long term has traditionally been a major challenge for independent agents and brokerages. This four-step process can enable the brokerage to transcend these traditional difficulties.

Culture

Let’s begin with the premise that most agencies simply do not have a sales environment.
When you ask the age-old question to an agent, “If you had to define what you provide best to your customers, what would it be?” The answer is, “We provide really good service.”

Most consumers perceive that agents and agencies provide sales and service, while most agents look to sales as a by-product or a given in their agencies.

In the flurry of day-to-day insurance processing work, and responding to customer requests, owners often lose sight of the big picture: the need for proactive client and prospect contact, which results in more sales.

Brokerage mergers, which create new and sometimes unexpected cultural differences, also can impact sales.

This issue is not to be taken lightly. A little history reminds us of how it often has played out in the real world.

In the 1950s the typical independent agent placed himself on a street corner in Small Town America and he became Mr. Everything. He became a trusted advisor in the community. He liked to contribute and be involved. He was a smart guy, and insurance was a great product that he really didn’t have to sell hard.

Then the brokerage begins to expand. It started out as a one or two-person brokerage and pretty soon it’s a 10-horse thing and then a 20-horse thing and decades later it’s a much a larger entity.

The lack of sales leadership is not just an issue in larger, merged entities. Every brokerage needs a sales and marketing quarterback. That requires retooling of human skills and creating the right environment, not just new technology tools. There is a lot of difference between being a really good insurance agent and being a really good manager of a sales process.

Some brokerage principals should continue in their current role as a really good insurance agent, and bring in a really good manager for the sales process who helps set up a sales-oriented culture throughout the firm. These are the firms that are positioned to use technology tools to enhance their sales process.

Not too long ago, the typical brokerage sales process was that Monday morning arrived, and the producers would ride out on their horses and sell. It worked well. But times have changed. Agents now have to have a pipeline in the office to produce prospects/customers over a long period of time.

A strong sales culture coming from top management is critical. It’s not enough to have good salespersons. A typical independent brokerage can find training on how to hire the right personality and how to turn them into an effective salesperson.

But if you don’t have a system behind those salespeople in this day of niche marketing, just having good salespeople knocking on doors from one end of Main Street to another and coming back with a slew of sales leads isn’t what the brokerage needs.

What the brokerage needs is the ability to develop a program, for example, on the types of leads or accounts it can bring into the brokerage because it knows the types of business it can place.

This cultural change necessarily results in upheaval in staff responsibilities. Independent agents who routinely take full advantage of new technology face an issue. Yes, you do free up resources with smart technology, but are the people remaining the right ones to handle the sales process? Painful decisions might need to be made.

Establishing and Sustaining an Effective Sales Process

The traditional brokerage entrepreneur can realize a whole new level of achievement if he or she orchestrates the transition of his or her brokerage into a sales organization. They, or someone they bring in, must manage the process. They need to create sales teams.

Agents need technology to ensure the sales manager knows that his or her salespeople are making the necessary contacts. In a best-case scenario, a sales manager would be in place – a coach willing to oversee that process. And sometimes the best producer is the worst one to be the coach.

A salesperson must assist in creating the needed process by providing input as to what needs to be done, along with the steps and strategies. Once you develop a sales strategy and a system, it may be tweaked a little bit as time goes by depending on demographics.

Basically, however, once it is created, the salesperson must be totally removed from implementation. Here’s why, the brokerage may want to target the H.S.A. small business market. They want to write every small business owner in their territory. He gets a list of viable small business prospects to target and they develop a system to do that (getting a referral, or direct mail, or seminar marketing, or association marketing). Then an agent for the brokerage is in charge of implementing the system. They send out direct mail and after the first week make phone calls. But after 10 calls and seven appointments they get excited and they are now busy going after those appointments. But in the meantime, they dropped the other part, such as sending out the letters, following up with phone calls – the part that creates those appointments. It’s an up-and-down cycle.

Distribution Sales Support

Thus agencies need Distribution Sales Support to assist the brokerage’s marketing and sales process and to assure that the brokerage continues to generate an ongoing stream of viable prospects. The responsibilities of this coordination are to:

· Oversee the brokerage’s marketing and sales processes
· Track producers to make sure they are making the necessary contacts and seeing to it that the information gets passed on and into the brokerage management system (or sales and marketing system)
· Coordinate mailings (newsletters, cards, promotional items)
· Process returns – keeps mailing info current on brokerage management system
· Update form letters

The Distribution Sales Support breaks down the whole process from the beginning. How do you find and identify prospects or suspects whom you think would be interested? How do you match them with carriers you have? And how do you create a system of contacts to get the foot in the door? That’s the marketing process.

The sales process is a system to assure that the detailed proposal is made, that the carriers and their quotes are presented, and that the sale is closed. This department also assures that the proactive services proposed to the customer are in fact delivered on time by the brokerage. Then the brokerage prepares for the first renewal, which means ongoing sales activity to retain the business and to broaden the protection provided where appropriate.

Breaking Down the Process for New Sales

When a prospect is looking for insurance and an agent is looking for prospects to write insurance, they are both looking for information. The prospect is looking for coverage and costs, and the agent is looking at the prospect to qualify him/her through field underwriting and placement. It is all about information.

The marketing process/area of an brokerage should start this flow of information by developing “suspects” and then by distinguishing within this group between suspects – those people and businesses an agent “suspects” may need his/her service – and prospects- those people and businesses that an agent “knows” may need his/her service because an x-date is secured or some other signal is given by the potential customer.

Technology Tools to Strengthen the Sales Process

Technology to support the marketing and sales processes falls into five broad categories:

1. Campaign manager: Software that automates the sales and/or marketing functions to prospects or customers.
2. Submission and proposal manager: Software that tracks where in the process to insurance companies, prospects, and customers the quoting/underwriting is currently.
3. True contact relations manager: Software to account-develop current customers.
After a brokerage writes a piece of the customer’s business, it can begin a marketing process to write the rest of the account.
4. Call center technology for a sales campaign: Software (e.g., telephony) and hardware
(e.g., headsets) that allow agencies to contact prospects and update account information while setting appointments for producer follow up.
5. 24/7 service pieces: Software for customer self-services, and customer processing of insurance information by the customer, as well as e-newsletters on the brokerage’s website. Other services to customers and prospects are available depending on how expansively a brokerage wants to develop those services.

Once the culture in the agency has evolved so producers stop freelancing based on what they did in the past, then owners can look at technology to support that new sales culture. One key element in a sales-oriented agency is the ability to sustain the process in order to provide consistency over a long period of time, fully leveraging the marketplace opportunity.

Brokerage owners must have Distribution Sales Support with the skills to sustain a sales management culture and sales process over the long term. Agents need a customer relationship management (CRM) system that facilitates prospect/customer contacts on a proactive basis based upon the additional services they have interest in or are candidates for.

Some agencies find their brokerage management systems suitable for handling their sales and marketing activities, while others find using a third party system more efficient and effective.

The first step is for an brokerage to gain a full understanding of the sales and marketing capabilities of its brokerage management system before deciding to go to a third party system to meet its needs. If considering a third party system, it is important to know how well this system integrates with the brokerage’s management system. Some agents have been successful using their brokerage management systems to track their sales process and to generate the necessary management reports.

A brokerage management system is used for most marketing efforts. All prospects are keyed into the system. It tracks last contact, form of contact, industry, etc. A variety of reports off the system can be run – all of which help to determine the next step. This needs to be done actively, and then follow up with agents to make sure they have provided the information about their appointments. Without that, the system wouldn’t have good information.

Conclusion

The Independent Agency System certainly is competitive. In most sales opportunities, a direct-writing company can’t compete successfully against an independent agent and broker who can offer the client an array of products. In both personal and commercial lines, independent agents and brokers usually have the weapons to carry the day.

But first they need to have the sales system to get in front of a steady stream of potential new customers. The direct writers have been successful doing this with the massive advertising, disciplined sales process, and training they have put in place and required of their producers.

As the Independent Agency System inevitably becomes more efficient, greater efficiency should improve productivity by enhancing the manufacturing and sales processes. Without a closed sale, there is no productivity to increase. The sales culture in an agency must have the principals deeply involved. If not, sales will suffer. The owner is the bus driver and carriers can be the fuel for the bus.

Agencies need a solid, effective sales management strategy, and technology will necessarily be a factor in any such strategy. We encourage those with a stake in the Independent Agency System to continue to encourage the development of a sales culture coupled with the implementation of sustainable sales processes which can be managed and enhanced with technology.

Lloyd Lofton, L.U.T.C., C.S.A. has been a licensed insurance agent, agency manager, sales trainer and Training Director of a large mid-west insurance company. He is a coach, trainer and sales consultant. He has published articles in Life Insurance Magazine, Agent Sales Journal, Certified Sales Journal and has spoken at industry related functions such as L.O.M.A. He can be reached at 865-776-7632 for questions, training or to speak.

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