CSR selling doesn’t happen by decree. Principals can’t simply declare a sales quota and expect instant results. It is a long-term process getting customer service representatives involved in selling. Management must take some well thought out steps to motivate reps to think about sales as well as service. [Refer to my column of March 7, 2005 “Preparing Your Personal Lines CSRs to Sell,” for specifics.] This month’s column suggests five additional ways to prime the CSR sales pump.
Provide each CSR with a blank prospect list at the start of every calendar quarter. Ask them to write down the names, addresses, and contact data for the people and businesses that they believe make credible insurance prospects. Don’t set a minimum, because you want real leads, not just a list of names. And since everyone encounters new people throughout the year, ask for the lists on a quarterly basis. Then assemble, input, and reassign the gathered data back to the reps and others in the agency for qualifying, x-date collection, and solicitation.
Teach reps how to casually upsell. This act is performed when a CSR delivers no-pressure upsell advice to a personal lines or small business insured who calls in or stops by for a routine policy change. Point out that it costs the agency virtually nothing to add another change item to a policy that they already have to amend. For instance, if an insured wants to add a driver or change a car, your CSR can make an informal suggestion like this: “As long as we’re making this change, we should also increase your liability coverage [or no-fault coverage or rental reimbursement or …] from $X to $XX.” Since any increase in premium will be pro-rated, nearly all insureds will accept the small extra cost.
If reps routinely apply the casual upsell, adding something extra to each routine policy change, their sales confidence grows. This in turn, makes the transition from incidental sales to organized CSR selling easier to enact and administer. Further advantages include enhancing an insured’s protection and generating small but cumulative additional revenues for the agency and carrier. The commissions from these small additional premium endorsements add up quickly, when it is applied to every eligible change request that flows through the office.
Teach CSRs to actively request leads from satisfied insureds whose careers give them the opportunity to influence others. Common examples of professionals who can refer business your way are accountants, attorneys, employment agents, mortgage brokers, realtors, stockbrokers, travel agents, and vehicle salespeople. Others include officers and committee members in civic, charitable, fraternal, religious, and trade organizations. When CSRs and clients have good rapport, they are often happy to help each other by exchanging referrals (subject to any applicable privacy policies and regulations). All that is usually needed to prime the pump is a personal appeal. This request is best handled informally, when the rep is already talking to the influential individual on some insurance-related matter, instead of calling specifically for this purpose.
Your CSRs may not fully recognize the variety and quantity of insurance-selling competitors that vie for your clients. They may think that since your agency has been in business for X years, that the firm’s survival is not even a consideration. This, of course, is wrong. A casual level of paranoia is essential to your continued existence. The barriers to competition are paper thin in the agency business. Almost anyone can get a license and open up shop. But your real rivals are the veteran sellers that you encounter every day. And to demonstrate how prevalent they are, post a “scare list” in your office for your CSRs and producers to see. List the names of rivals coming from such varied sources as independent agencies, exclusive agents, captive agents, regional agencies, national brokers, banks, agency companies that also sell directly, the Web and 800# marketers, etc. Distribute updated copies at periodic meetings. Use it to remind your staff that everyone’s job is in constant jeopardy.
Once your CSRs develop some basic selling, upselling, and cross-selling skills, put them to the test. Have your personal and commercial CSRs work as a unit in competition against a team of producers. Be creative and openly stack the deck in favor of the reps. For instance, if the finish line is $10,000 in new annualized agency commissions, let every three policy x-dates collected by your reps equal “$100” in commission. Double the commission value of policies resurrected from your dead files, etc. Even if your CSRs lose, the effort will help them to realize they have more to learn, making them hungrier for more sales knowledge — and a rematch.
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: email@example.com. His Web site is www.agencyideas.com.
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