How to Establish Your Agency as an Expert in Any Target Market

By | November 21, 2005

Some agents assume that they know all about a specific industry simply because they have written a few accounts that belong to it. Their experience with these insureds makes them an authority, at least in their eyes. However, closing a few sales isn’t nearly enough. You must also be perceived as an expert by the actual industry itself. It takes time, education, and execution to achieve this rare status. Many successful agencies have done their homework and realized their goal: to be accepted and sought after as a target industry’s insurance pro. If they can do it, so can you.

Select your targets
Begin by creating a short list of industries that you and your support personnel enjoy working with. It’s not necessary to be an expert in them from the start, but you must be willing to learn how they tick. To be viable, each selected industry must include a reasonable quantity of approachable contacts that are situated within your marketing territory. To estimate the number of area firms within a particular industry, find out the number of local readers that subscribe to their national trade magazines. The fastest way to gather this information is to call the advertising department or the list broker for these publications and ask. Sometimes these facts are available on their online rate card. While gathering them, also inquire about the rates for renting a list of local subscribers for a future direct mail campaign. Then double-check the subscriber count against local Yellow Pages listings. Triple-check by running a SIC code or similar search on www.InfoUSA.com.

Then, once you have determined that there are enough prospects to proceed, make certain that your companies or MGAs openly embrace the industries you have selected. And while a special program or policy for the target is an added plus, it is not essential. However, they must be serious players and be willing to aggressively compete for the business. Some co-op ad money doesn’t hurt either.

Perform market research
Gaining authentic industry knowledge is essential to building your reputation. This involves some adventures in the world of market research. Start by recognizing the difference between the primary and secondary types. The facts collected by you and your staff through direct interviews, surveys, and focus groups are primary data. Facts collected from existing sources such as the Web, annual reports, and censuses are secondary, as are the old standbys, target-specific insurance checklists and underwriting guides.

This second type of research is less glamorous to gather and learn, but it is also enlightening, and in certain cases it’s free. Secondary research starts on the Internet. For instance, you can easily locate sites of trade associations, trade magazines, link malls, industry-specific RSS news feeds, and more. The sites of national consultants who analyze your selected industry are also advantageous. Other secondary sources include the annual reports of publicly-traded companies that interact heavily with the targeted group.

You can also gather your own primary research, without hiring marketing pros. Begin by interviewing agency insureds who belong to your targeted group. Next, seek out interviews with trade association executive directors, committee people, business publication editors, and columnists for extra insight. Finally, approach industry prospects who recently declined an agency proposal. Use a lost bid survey to uncover reasons other than price why they didn’t accept your quote. Another option is to join trade-related Internet newsgroups, forums, blogs, and lists. These are often ripe with timely information and rumors. Lastly, you can try your hand at traditional market research tools: surveys and focus groups. Gather ideas and questions for each from your secondary research activities. Surveys can be in print form or online [visit www.surveymonkey.com for details]. As for focus groups, hold sessions in conjunction with a casual lunch or dinner.

Create your own package
Combine the research data that you have gathered with your knowledge of insurance by introducing an agency-created “package policy” put together especially for the targeted industry. Build in company-created or MGA-based programs only when you have a true exclusive on them. But in most cases, your package will be based on “policy repackaging” alone.

Combine the agency services that your prospects want, as determined by your market research, with the insurance protection they need, to form a unique coverage and service agency package.

Get free publicity
The introduction of any new marketing program costs money. Therefore, you should take advantage of all the free publicity that you can get. Experiment with some public relations efforts prior to investing in the requisite paid promotions. Use the resulting free press to test the waters. Send a news release announcing your first “package program” to the editors and association officials whose industry insights contributed to its formation. Follow up the release with phone calls. Ask each contact to include information about your program in their association publications and on their Web site. Or better, offer to contribute a brief article about coverage needs and insurance pricing tips that benefit their readers and members. Also, send an announcement to the business people section of your local paper.

Sending out a few press releases isn’t enough. You must also deal with industry members, face-to-face. One way to accomplish this, without incurring direct costs, is to ask your association contacts to hook you up with the group’s education chairperson. Offer to make a non-sales presentation on insurance at an upcoming gathering. When the audience is relatively sophisticated, deliver a technical paper on risk management in lieu of a straight presentation about insuring their businesses. Also, to advance your image as an expert, conduct your own series of insurance seminars.

Attend industry conferences
Attendance at trade shows is mandatory. The various educational sessions help you to learn more about your prospects’ current concerns. You also get to meet the people that you have been talking to by phone. You can even invite business owners and industry executives to participate in a focus group. For maximum convenience, hold this research session in the convention hotel.

Exploit the Internet
Use a dedicated portion of your agency’s Web site to further your image. Display more than just coverage-related information; also feature RSS news feeds, links to selected blogs and other industry resources. Set up a special domain address to use when marketing. Also develop and maintain an opt-in e-mail list. Invite industry members to sign up and receive a quarterly agency newsletter.

Conclusion
Once you are perceived as an industry insurance expert, the resulting sales opportunities don’t stop at the county line. You’ll attract the attention of businesses well beyond your traditional marketing territory. So, take full advantage of this valuable perk. With today’s inexpensive toll-free numbers, Web sites, and e-mail, you can affordably extend your agency’s marketing efforts throughout your entire state, and into neighboring states, if you wish. Do your homework and enjoy the future rewards. See, your parents were right after all.

About Alan L. Shulman

Alan Shulman, CPCU, is the publisher of Agency Ideas® sales and marketing newsletter (free basic subscription at www.agencyideas.com/join). He is also the author of “500 Sales Ideas for Commercial Lines Producers” among many other P&C sales resources. Email: alan@agencyideas.com. Website: www.agencyideas.com. More from Alan L. Shulman

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