Change the Holiday Slump to the New Year Jump

Is the holiday season the slowest time for your agency? Do the distractions of the season take the focus off of identifying ways to grow the business for next year? If you have answered yes to either of these questions, maybe it’s time to reconsider how your agency approaches the last few weeks of the year.

Instead of seeing this downtime as a holiday slump, turn it into a time to get a jump-start on the New Year. These five strategies will help to put your focus on the future, while your competitors are busy looking back at the past:

Make a Plan

Every agency has the same goal in mind — grow the business. However, of the thousands of agents I have met in my 35 years of experience in the industry, few of them actually have a plan for how they are going to reach their goal. It all starts with the agency’s philosophy. Now that business is quieter, reflect on the type of agency you would like to be running. For example, is it sales-driven, or service-focused?

Once that vision is determined, review the business tactics and understand your strengths and weaknesses. Consider what is being measured, how your people are being managed and motivated and how day-to-day tasks are being completed. In the end, what takes place in your agency each day should clearly align with the predefined agency philosophy and what you want to accomplish.

Use the Three “R’s” to Get a “W”

How can referrals, retention and rounding accounts equal a winning agency? The answer to this question can be determined by going back to your agency’s philosophy. Are you primarily focused on servicing clients or producing new clients each and every day? Once that’s determined, establishing a referral and retention plan should take place.

For those focused on service, pay close attention to rounding accounts and payment options for clients. In my experience, if a customer has more than one policy with an agent, they will stay with them longer. Spending time on touch points with customers throughout the year, or during life cycle changes (weddings, births, etc.) will provide a proactive strategy for high levels of service. In addition, think about the payment options offered to customers when it comes to retention. Offering EFT and recurring credit card as options will likely lead to less billing questions and greater customer retention. This frees up time to be more productive elsewhere.

For those with a sales-driven philosophy, identify where your business is coming from. If it’s mainly referrals, make sure your staff is asking for them and understanding how and where you are getting them. You might be surprised at how many new prospects you can get by simply asking for them after delivering a good experience. Also, tapping into your current personal insurance customer base to increase your number of policies per client or cross-selling personal lines to your commercial clients is certainly a way to boost sales.

Measure Factors Important to Growth

At any point during the year, can you specify where your customers are coming from? How many of them have fully rounded accounts? What is the number of clients that have left in the past 12 months?

If you’re not keeping track of the data that could give you these answers, now is a good time to start. Measuring these items can give you a clear view on what needs to change as well as what everyone is doing right at the agency. For example, are you measuring how many referrals you have gotten and how you received each one? Zero ing in on this information will help you to spend time focusing on what works, what needs to be done to improve and how you are measuring up to your own philosophy.

Focus on Sales Efficiency

Have you ever stopped to consider how efficient your agency is throughout the course of the year? Are you maximizing the time spent in the office, or are there ways to improve?

Consider many tactics for improving sales efficiency within your agency like implementing the use of dual monitors, scanning documents to make them part of a client’s automated file and taking advantage of carrier service centers for basic customer service items like billing questions or issuing ID cards. Committing to efficiency enhancements could have a significant impact on the agency’s capacity for the long-term.

Identify the Waste of Time Factor

To identify the Waste of Time factor, you’ll need to be measuring your close rate, number of policies at point of sale, and total number of sold policies for each way you acquire a new client — Internet ad, referral, walk-in, yellow pages, etc.

If you are only closing on 5 percent of Internet leads, the Waste of Time factor is 95 percent. If you are closing on 90 percent of referrals, the Waste of Time factor is 10 percent. Clearly, you can follow this logic and by knowing your close rates on the ways you acquire customers, you can see where to spend more time and money.

If you have thought about these ideas and didn’t have time to execute them during the year, take advantage of the slow weeks ahead. Implementing many of these strategies within your agency and measuring your success can not only help the business grow next year, but it can also help improve the customer experience.

As the world seems to be winding down with the holiday season, consider making your New Year’s resolution a bit early and get started now on the best ways to position your agency for success in 2011.

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King is a director of agency development for Travelers Personal Insurance. Reach him at dking@travelers.com