Relationship Refresher: 5 Ways to Keep Your Professional Relationships Fresh

By | April 1, 2024

With technology relentlessly simplifying many parts of our business, and consolidations changing the competitive landscape as well, personal service businesses will continue to be challenged to rethink their business models in the coming years.

Typically, when an industry sees change in the method and costs of product delivery (or manufacturing), competitive pricing is the result, which inevitably brings lower margins and commoditization. Commoditization is where the consumer of the product sees price as the preeminent – and often only – value proposition.

Many think that personal service businesses, like insurance agencies, are immune to this consequence. After all, the independent agency’s traditional value propositions have been service, choice and relationship, which seem difficult to commoditize. But we’ve all seen consumer surveys over the last few years that demonstrate that agency services are not valued as highly by customers as they are in the minds of agency owners.

As many carriers have broadened their distribution platforms through direct selling, aggregator access and downsizing individual agency volume requirements, the value of “choice” is impaired, as well.

With all else being equal, or at least not determinative of value, that leaves “relationship” as the lone differentiator for any service business, including insurance agencies. This begs the question: How intentional and intensive are our customer relationships? Are they as deep, broad and valuable to the customer as we think they are? If it is increasingly the most important part of long-term client business, how can we focus on ensuring relationships are truly a valuable hallmark of our businesses?

Here are five simple, fundamental and easy-to-implement disciplines to promote across your agency to fuel a successful future based on strong relationships.

Deep Understanding

How many producers or agency service team members know what the mission and values of the clients they write insurance for are? Do we know the business plans of the prospects we solicit? Have we become acquainted with the personal histories and ambitions of the people with which we interact in our clients’ businesses?

Various sales “systems” use questionnaires to remind us to consider these things. But are we skilled at taking conversations with our clients beyond those questions? And if we do, do we share our findings with our whole team?

Do we know what our clients and prospects want? Do we ever simply ask that question? I am not talking about a product they want. I’m referring to their goals, ambitions, dreams, fears and other more fundamental things. In my experience it’s rare. But isn’t understanding those aspirations and fears fundamental to any meaningful, deep, human relationship? It’s a simple but profoundly powerful question to ask, especially when followed by others that demonstrate a genuine desire to know.

Altruistic Attention

Starting out as producer many years ago I made a promise to myself that I would never calculate a commission when working on a prospect or client’s account. I didn’t want to even tempt myself to think about their value to me before I’d proven my value to them.

This seems a simple thing, but it isn’t easy to do when carriers are in your office constantly pushing compensation opportunities to move business. There are many opportunities to put the interests of the people we do business with first in our daily work. Some agents are better at this than others, but it is a discipline that pays dividends. It’s worth thinking about and worth finding every possible way we can to make sure the client is always first in our thinking.

Mutual Admiration

In prospecting for new clients, and servicing existing ones, I find it most common for agency owners to think about the businesses they serve in terms of commission volume, premium and perhaps niche membership. It’s rare to hear a producer say, “I am working on obtaining this account because I admire what they do, who they are, their values or their owner’s capabilities.” And I don’t often hear agency staff, when discussing the pride they feel for their agency, citing their admiration for their clients.

We may admire our clients, but is it a centerpiece of how we care for their needs? Is it something we express, in human terms, in our interactions with them? It can be and it can also be the impetus for client reflection on how they value us. Or, what they’d like to see changed in our behavior or service.

Independent agents seek to be “trusted advisors.” I have always told my sons that people usually do business with people they trust and to be trusted, a person must like you first. If they don’t admire you, they probably don’t like you either. No admiration equals no trust. No trust equals business based on something other than relationships.

Communicating Consistently

I often find people believe that when they’ve spoken to someone, they’ve communicated with them. But it’s only when the other person understands what has been said that communication has taken place.

I recently coached a local financial services executive. She’s a very bright and talented executive, but was concerned that when she presented, her audience was not comprehending. She’s an expert in a very technical field, filled with jargon and acronyms – just like insurance. I reminded her that it’s not the audience’s responsibility to understand her, as much as it is her responsibility to present the material in a way that can be understood.

Considering whether or not people are comprehending what we are saying is key to improving relationships. How often and in what manner we “communicate” with prospects and customers is a discussion for another time. But I think it’s worth recognizing that whatever our current level of communication with our clients is, it is likely not enough.

There is an often-cited statistic that a person must be told something seven times before they will remember it. In my experience, that’s not enough. When I was running my first political campaign, a voter showed me a handful of mail pieces I’d sent. He said, “if you send me one more thing I’m voting for your opponent.” This was obviously upsetting. When I complained to my experienced consultant, he said, “that means we are just now getting our message through.”

Whatever you are doing isn’t enough.


We all say “thank you” when we issue the binder, pick up the check, get the order, secure the renewal and at many other times in our interactions with prospects and clients. In fact, we say it dozens of times every day. What does it really mean? Does it mean anything beyond the checking of a box on the list of expected social norms?

What if we took the time to tell our clients why we are grateful for their business? What if we told them what their business really means to us personally? I started doing that many years ago and found it was transformative. I discovered it was the secret sauce for deepening relationships.

I am convinced the future success of your business is centered on building strong, resilient relationships with clients. Thinking about how to improve, and consistently act on these five disciplines will create a powerful marketplace advantage.

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