Be a Casual Specialist Instead of a ‘Sell Everything’ Generalist

By | September 19, 2011

Six Informal Ways to Target Commercial Lines


There are still plenty of generalist insurance agencies around. These overly polite offices consist of accommodating professionals who earn their living by generously quoting virtually every person and business that inquires about protection. Nice guys and gals populate these classic workplaces, and as such, they are doomed to finish last.

From Generalist to Specialist

The “sell everything” style of agency is living on borrowed time. It’s exhausting and expensive for insurance agency personnel to prospect, fact find, and quote without self-imposed limits. Plus more focused, contemporary competitors thrive on picking off generalist accounts that align with their specialty. Just like in medicine, the real respect and serious money comes with specialization. But in our industry, we don’t call it that. Instead, we term it “target marketing” or “niche marketing” and it’s a time-tested staple of commercial lines sales. Call it what you will, generalist agencies cannot instantly stop being what they are – but they can transition toward targets. And with the possible exception of small offices in small towns, they must do so in order to survive. Fortunately, there is no single path to target marketing; there are myriad ways to approach it.

Target Market Vantage Points

Target marketing can be tackled from multiple vantage points, including vertically, horizontally, and laterally. New commercial lines prospects can be spotted and approached individually or as members of a formal or casual group. Trade associations are formal groups that are commonly targeted by agents. But, you can be as creative and inclusive as you wish. The more original your efforts, the greater your competitive advantage will be. Below are six informal groupings, viewed from the commercial producer’s perspective.

  • Vertical marketing. This approach is target marketing, as most agents know it. It consists of manageable segments of larger industries. For instance, jewelers are a specialty segment of the retail industry and their insurance needs differ significantly from those of bookstores.
  • Horizontal marketing. As its name implies, this type of marketing encompasses wide groups spread across multiple industries. Common examples are “Main Street” businesses and “technology” companies. Soliciting prospects within these groupings is target marketing only in the broadest sense of the term.
  • Lateral marketing. This sideways approach involves developing a competitive advantage in the marketplace through the rearrangement of existing products or services into new and hopefully salable configurations. An example is when a producer combines standard insurance policies, along with a collection of his own value-added services, to arrive at a marketable “package policy” of his own creation.
  • Mini-business networks. Businesses that work with others within informal mini-groups may also be targeted. A common example is a group of subcontractors who labor together on new construction and various repair/remodeling jobs. Another group is a gathering of professional advisors who routinely interact. Attorneys, accountants, and investment brokers, each with complementary specialties, might fall into this definition. Another mini-network is suppliers and buyers, such as auto parts wholesalers and a network of the gas stations, repair shops, muffler shops, etc., that buy from them. Every business belongs to multiple mini-networks, which can open up many doors for you, once you sell just a single member.
  • Neighborhood marketing. Proximity is also a target delimiter. It consists of businesses within a specific neighborhood, shopping mall, industrial park, office complex, etc. To gain access to the locally owned firms within each commercial neighborhood, check your files. Learn which businesses you insure within the selected structure. Ask the clients you’ve identified if you can use them as references to contact their business neighbors.
  • Online networking. Businesses within your marketing territory that follow you on Twitter, like you on Facebook, and are connections on LinkedIn, make up your own semi-private online network. Contact selected people, primarily locals who own or manage businesses, to arrange online or in-person meetings.

Topics Agencies

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

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.

From This Issue

Insurance Journal West September 19, 2011
September 19, 2011
Insurance Journal West Magazine

Professional Liability Directory, The Best Insurance Agencies to Work For, Employment/HR Issue