How to Grow Your Agency by Asking and Answering the Right Questions

By | April 26, 2013

One of the “secrets” to building an agency, or any business for that matter, is to ask introspective questions and to answer them thoughtfully. For an operation that sells contractual promises, written by others, these queries cover a lot of ground. Buyers and suppliers make inquiries from the outside, but the most vital questions are those posed from within.

This column asks but three of them and each deals with an aspect of selling. Sales self-analysis is essential to the survival and growth of any agency. The first inquiry was inspired by last year’s horrendous hurricane season. The other two are more generic.

How soon is too soon? In addition to all of the wonderful things that Mother Nature does, she is incredibly destructive. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural causes of devastation all appear in her column, the results of which suggest this query: How long should you wait to show respect for the physical and financial victims of a natural disaster, before attempting to help others avoid the same fate?

For example, when is it socially acceptable, time wise, to promote the virtues of flood insurance following a major flood? If you act too soon, you may be seen as a profiteer. If you wait too long, concern fades, and you may miss out on an opportunity to provide this vital protection to personal and commercial property owners. The timing is difficult, requiring your best judgment. Just make certain that what you select is consistent throughout your office; don’t leave it up to individual staffers.

What do you learn when a commercial prospect says no? The agency business is fraught with “failure” because it’s impossible to close every policy you solicit. This is to be expected. And it’s not a bad thing as long as each declined offer is evaluated for cause. However, if it is simply written off to pricing, then the agency misses a learning opportunity. Pricing is seldom the exclusive reason why a new prospect said no; other factors typically come into play. These might include competing against a special program, a late quote from a carrier, incorrect premium bases, a weak proposal document or presentation, etc.

After hearing a final no, ask each prospect specifically (by phone call, visit, or survey) why they declined your offer. They likely expect you to ask. Simultaneously, complete a detailed producer self-survey that itemizes possible causes for the unsuccessful solicitation. The resulting data, gathered from both the non-buyer and non-seller, generates practical information that guides future sales success, particularly when similar problems repeatedly appear.

Do your personal lines CSRs service more than sell? Too many CSRs believe that service is their primary duty. It’s a major misunderstanding of their job function and it’s contrary to why independent agencies exist. Agencies were created to sell policies, with service as a by-product, albeit an important one.

Still, the “service side effect” can generate myriad selling opportunities if the front line staff is trained for it. Due to their close client contact, reps can spot otherwise unseen revenue openings.

For instance, ordinary life changes such as marriage, divorce, a new child, a new job, retirement, opening a home-based business, etc., frequently result in additional premiums.

Stimulate staffers to convert routine client contact into coverage improvement opportunities, when it’s warranted. Encourage cross-selling, upselling, referral and retention building by setting attainable goals, providing in-house sales training, and maintaining continuous oversight. Praise serious efforts and reward bankable results with such awards as cash, time-off, preferred parking, representing the agency at industry functions, etc.

About Alan L. Shulman

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

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