Some days it seems that you are in battle with every person who sells property casualty insurance. It’s easy to view other local independent and exclusive agents as the enemy. This assessment is understandable, but it’s also counterproductive. That’s because even though you are business rivals, you are also industry allies. You both face growing competition from well-financed direct mail and Internet marketers as well as a whole new breed of bankers. For your mutual survival, you must aggressively explore trading opportunities with other agents outside of your organization. Over time, these budding relationships lead to a better bottom line for all and may even evolve into a future merger or buyout.
Seven potential agent-to-agent trades
Exchange accounts that match up with each other’s target markets. To strengthen your position as the “insurance guru” within a particular industry, ask competing agents to refer leads from this class to you. You can then respond in kind by introducing your generous rival to a prospect that belongs to his or her preferred niche. [See this column in the Nov. 21, 2005, issue for tips on establishing your agency as an expert in any target market.]
When you encounter an account you can’t competitively place, instead of declining to quote or expending extensive time searching for a viable market, refer the prospect to a competing producer who can easily write it. For each lead that you send his way, expect an easy one to be sent to you in return, or to at least receive a split of the first-year’s commission. Agents with market exclusives make for strong trading partners, if you can deliver them fresh leads they haven’t yet solicited.
Exchange marketing concepts. Direct writers and independents have different perspectives on what is essentially the same business. Meet with your “enemy” at a social lunch or after a CE meeting. Through this dialogue, you’ll both be able to better understand how the other markets and sells. You may learn some money-making methods that would otherwise never have occurred to you.
Caution: Be certain to respect any applicable copyrights. Also, if you elect to share actual proposals, remove any identifiable and confidential prospect information.
Trade company negotiation and sales tips. Some agents just seem to know how to obtain better pricing or additional benefits from their carriers. Others have strong prospecting and closing skills. Exchange your expertise for ideas of comparable-quality from a rival, especially one who is working with similar-sized accounts. And while much of this skill-sharing already goes on casually, it is worthwhile to formalize it. As an added plus, you can share these newly-learned sales approaches with other producers in your office.
Trade unhappy target accounts. Sports teams often trade valuable players before they become free agents, when they are confident they can’t re-sign the person. If you are 100 percent certain that you won’t be able to renew an unhappy but sizeable commercial account, refer it to a qualified competing agent. In exchange for the in-person introduction, look for an account of similar value to be referred your way or a share of the future commissions. Under either game plan, you retain at least some of the value from your former insured.
Share the identities of decision makers on your prospect list. Sometimes it seems that you are competing against only one other agent, because you have both targeted the exact same industry. You can continue to keep your distance or choose to accommodate each other. One way to work together is to swap names of insurance decision makers (or influencers) from your respective prospect lists. These names aren’t major secrets. If you can discover who to talk to, so can your rival. However, as a result of this simple fill-in-the-blanks exchange, you both can spend more time actively selling and less time trying to ascertain who to solicit.
These agent-to-agent exchanges are not intended to be one way. Each participant has to bring something of value to the table. The contacts may take place during an association meeting, after a continuing ed class, at a user group conference, or in a formal setting. The venue is not as important as the level of communication. However, you must always be aware that the person with whom you’re meeting is not a member of your team. So, be absolutely certain not to violate any published privacy policies or applicable privacy or collusion laws. And always keep your most important and successful trade secrets to yourself. After all, you can’t afford to give away your best stuff.
Alan Shulman, CPCU, is the publisher of Agency Ideas, a subscription-only sales and marketing newsletter. He is also the author of the 1001 Agency Ideas book series and other popular P/C sales resources. He may be reached at (800) 724-1435 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.agencyideas.com.
From This Issue
2006 Excess, Surplus and Specialty Markets Directory, Vol. I