What’s Going on with Farmers Insurance Agents?

It’s common knowledge that there are A LOT of changes happening in the insurance industry. Different factors are playing into carriers taking on rate and companies cutting commissions. Of course, there are digital companies trying to make a wave, as well. So, what I’m about to say probably isn’t going to be classified as a “breaking news story.”

 

Our team recently had the privilege of attending the UFAA National Convention in Las Vegas. UFAA stands for “United Farmers Agents Association.” Basically, it’s the union for Farmers Insurance agents across the U.S.

 

picture of ufaa logo

 

They have local chapter members and regular meetings as a chance to communicate on common successes and struggles, as well as air out major grievances they might have with Farmers.

 

The ultimate goal for UFAA is to do what’s best for all Farmers agents, boasting a tagline of “Agents Helping Agents.” That might be coming up with a solution to help their current agency’s success or a way to help them move on to greener pastures, such as starting their own independent agency.

 

We were invited to the convention to speak with the chapter presidents and delegates (representing UFAA members from their respective areas) about the changes that Farmers is forcing them to go through.

 

It was quite shocking to not only hear the company, as a whole, is going to be taking on rate as soon as this month (and continuing for the next couple years), but they’ll be taking commission cuts on both home and auto rates for the next couple years, as well.

 

Obviously, this is beyond frustrating and upsetting to most Farmers agents, especially those that have been around for a while. For those that are newer agents, they don’t feel as much of the “pain” in what’s happening but will soon find out that these changes are going to make it very hard to run a successful agency and earn a living.

 

It’s very clear that these agents aren’t feeling the love from a company that sold them on the idea of the ability to run a profitable business that would help support their families.

 

In addition to the worry of an increased challenge of selling a higher premium and taking less of a cut, Farmers agents are in a battle over a never-ending slew of rules and requests that tell them how to run their business. An issue that troubles most agents who thought they would be running more of an “independent” operation.

 

At this convention, there were other resource offering to help agents become independent or tools that can help their agency run more efficiently. We met other vendors that help agents finance the sale or purchase of books of business (Capital Resources), unique marketing tools (automated lead calling systems) and of course, other alliances/aggregators.

 

It was in the middle of the convention when we truly realized how many agents we could help with our customized solution. These agents are hungry for viable salutation and someone who can relate.

 

Our position and pitch to them is just that. Our founders have been captive agents and wondered how successful they could be on the “outside.” Upon establishing the alliance, it became necessary that they create valuable partnerships with companies that have the same goal in mind: helping agents.

 

orange button learn more about pacific crest insurance

 

Every agent is different and has specific and unique concerns about leaving what they’ve spent so much time and money to build and develop. We understand that and want to help those with what we believe is a best-case scenario for Farmers agents.

 

The key word here is FLEXIBILITY. Through these partnerships and customized opportunities, agents with different wants and needs are able to make the transition to independence at their speed, without the fear of starting over.

 

After explaining this concept to everyone we had the time to speak with, the excitement in the air was clear. Farmers agents all over the country are desperate for a way out, they just need the “escape pod” to do so. That’s where we come in.

 

If you’re a Farmers agent or know someone who could benefit from Pacific Crest’s ability to help agents start and run a successful independent agency, please have them reach out today!

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Episode 16 – Staffing

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Episode 15 – Underwriting

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The Great Independent Podcast Episode 14 – Travelers Insurance App

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The Great Independent Podcast Episode 13 – Travelers Insurance Industry Trends

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How to Deal With Poor Online Reviews

Recently, one of our independent agents reached out to our alliance about a poor review his insurance agency received on Facebook. He was curious as to how to handle the negative comment that was in plain sight for the world, and his potential clients to see. This particular agent takes a lot of pride in his online presence and wanted to make sure he did the right thing by his agency and more importantly, the upset client.

 

When this happens to your business (and it will), there are quite a few ways to handle these situations, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you do:

 

  1. Don’t Fret

Let’s face it, at some point, we’re all going to get some criticism from one angle or another. Your agency can’t please everyone and that one person you can’t help is going to be the one that gets upset enough to tell the world about it. Unfortunately, in today’s society, it’s part of the new digital age where every little comment is visible to everyone.

Be prepared, stay calm and respond with care.

 

image of the words problems and solutions

 

  1. Have a Plan

When setting up your insurance agency’s presence online, you should go beyond simply inputting your information to be relevant in the digital realm. Create branding guidelines and a “brand voice” that keeps your messaging consistent.

Your agency should have procedures in place for when something bad (or good) happens. This could be for in-person “reviews” or the online variety. Know how you want to respond and what you’re going to say.

 

  1. Be Consistent

Make sure you carry out your plan consistently and everyone in your company is trained on how to handle these situations. These procedures are most likely going to be in-line with how you already view customer service.

Consistently respond to negative (and positive) comments with similar messaging to let everyone know you are aware of them and resolve issues.

 

image of consistency is key

 

  1. Create a Response that Reflects Your Voice

Don’t respond in a way that isn’t true to how you run your business. Don’t feel as though you have to go out of your way to be someone you aren’t.

If you feel a more direct approach is necessary, feel free to craft a response that more directly reflects the issue and message at hand. If you think that staying very generic solves the problem, that’s fine, too. Say you’re sorry and that your agency usually handles the issue more efficiently.  Maybe even a mix between the both.

It’s your business and you should be able to answer negative criticism as you see fit. Just remember, anyone and everyone can see them!

Get some tips on how to respond to negative reviews from this article that Review Trackers put out. https://www.reviewtrackers.com/respond-negative-reviews/

 

  1. Use Great Customer Service

Don’t forget what business you’re in. Your agency’s purpose is to help people through customer service. Use best practices when responding to these comments.

Online comments should be treated with the same urgency and care as if it were presented to you in person.

 

  1. Don’t Ignore the Post

The worst thing you can do when someone makes a complaint is to ignore the post, or even worse, delete it.

No matter how long the comment has been up, someone has seen it and is most likely waiting to see what your response is. If someone sees that you have deleted the comment, it’s going to tell them that you only care about the positives and that you don’t want to deal with the negatives. Not a good look!

Be sure to respond to the review with your prepared procedure, and do it in a timely manner. This is relative to your practices – if you only get online once a week, that’s a perfectly acceptable response time. If you get online every day, you should respond within a day.

 

  1. Follow Through

Answering a negative review is a great first step, but don’t stop there!

Go the extra mile and make sure that someone from your office fixes the actual problem, offline. Call or message the upset client and do what you can to fix the issue.

It’s possible to ask the previously upset client to update their comment after you have resolved the issue.

This particular customer could be (probably will be) the one person that spreads a negative word about your agency that has a lasting impact on the success of your business.

 

  1. Learn from the Criticism

Want to take it a step further? Take the negative criticism and put policies into place for your business to not run into the issue again.

No one is perfect and people know that. Keep an open mind when reading the review and don’t take it personal. This is an opportunity to improve your business, no matter how trivial the issue at hand may be.

 

 

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Episode 7 – Cold Calling

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Small Changes Big Impact – ITC Guest Blog

How Small Changes to Your Website Can Have a Big Impact

As the largest provider of insurance agency websites in the country, we talk to a lot of agents about their websites. Agents know the importance of updating their website. So what is the most common reason that prevents them from accomplishing this critical task? A lack of time.

There is a popular misconception that you need to spend a whole day working on your website. While you could, it’s not necessary. Spending an hour a week or a few hours a month can have a big impact on the success of your website.

Your website needs attention and care for you to get the value out of it. It just doesn’t have to take a lot of time for you to see the benefit.

Survey Says…

If you’re still skeptical, let’s look at what consumers have to say about small business websites.

Vistaprint Digital recently surveyed U.S. adults about their visits to the websites of small businesses.

First, some inspiration. More than 40 percent of those surveyed visited a small businesses website. That’s great news for Main Street America. It also shows that your website is essential.

So, what do people want from your website? What can you improve in an hour a week?

Sometimes it’s the obvious answer.

 

Contact Information

You can spend a lot of time on the design of your website. Or working on your mobile presence. Or optimizing your website for search engines. But, sometimes people just want to contact you.

Almost 50 percent of respondents said outdated contact information leaves a bad impression.

 

graph of the importance of keeping updated contact information

 

 

Our agents can update their contact information in five minutes using the Insurance Website Builder administration console. If you’ve moved or got a new phone number or added a new location, don’t wait to add that information to your website. Do it as soon as you can!

If you work in a home office, add something to your agency website to give visitors direction. It can be a city/state combination or a mailing address.

 

Content

Another question from the survey: “What’s most important when it comes to having a positive experience with a small business website?”

 

graph of importance of accurate content on a website

 

Notice how the other responses don’t even come close to having solid, timely content?

Don’t assume updating your content needs to take a lot of time. (Those other responses to this questions? Those are the time-consuming tasks.)

Many of the pages on your website just need a change to a paragraph or a few sentences to keep them up to date. You can accomplish this in 30-45 minutes. If you did two pages a week, you’ve updated eight pages in a month!

This is why it’s important you have the ability to make changes to your website content. So you can do it quickly on your own without having to get a developer involved. Our agents can change any page of their website from our administration console.

 

Recently Updated

When do consumers consider a website outdated? Take a look at this graph:

 

graph of how long one has to update information on a website

 

Most people will give you six months. That’s a long time.

This shows that you can maintain your website on one hour a week or a few hours a month. It’s also confirmation that you need to update your website or you’re leaving a bad impression.

 

Shopping

So what’s the impact if your website leave a bad impression? How likely is a consumer to buy from you if they think your website is poorly designed or unprofessional?

 

graph of the likelihood of someone making a purchase/transaction on a website when information is outdated

 

Sixty percent said they would be not very likely or not at all likely to buy from you.

This definitely includes out-of-date websites or those without contact information. You can see how important it is to do regular maintenance on your website.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time. One hour a week or a few hours a month can make the difference. It doesn’t have to be a whole day. Just make sure you’re maintaining your website.

 

Did You Know?

ITC has a direct relationship with Pacific Crest to help you start and manage your website. Check out this document with more information.

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Safeco Marketing Symposium Recap

Safeco Insurance goes out of their way to help their independent partners grow their agencies. One way they do this is by providing marketing symposiums on a regular basis. Last week, I had the privilege of attending one such event, here in Boise. My hopes were to strengthen my knowledge of marketing an insurance agency and to connect with local independent agents. If I could get a better understanding of marketing activities they are using to grow their agency, it would ultimately help the alliance and our agents.

 

If you haven’t had the chance to attend one of these symposiums, I highly suggest it. Whether you feel well versed in marketing your agency or if you think your agency could use a spark, the brainstorming sessions and networking are priceless.

 

To give you an idea of the format, I’ll give you a brief oversight of how Safeco split up the day.

 

We were warmly greeted by Safeco’s Gabe Gonzalez, the Marketing Director for the Northwest region. Gabe walked us through a bit of history that the independent insurance world has seen over the last 15 years and what the industry is experiencing today. This included some challenges and potential competitors in the market. These include the new digital-based insurance apps that boast about getting away from what insurance agents would call “must-haves” for the client. You may have seen some related posts on our blog or social channels. Interesting discussions took place about the potential problems the industry and what the client would face with some of these new “solutions.”

 

From there the room listened to a presentation from Wood River Insurance on a marketing tactic they picked up from a previous Safeco marketing event. In the past five months of using this tactic, they’ve seen their new business numbers double. An amazing feat for any agency.

 

Gabe and his team took us all through some exercises to showcase a couple other techniques and activities that any agency could do easily, which led us to a break out session.

 

image of a brain with a puzzle piece inside it

 

In several groups, we all took part in sharing a marketing activity that we had recently started or were looking to in the near future. There were some great ideas surrounding community-related events and hiring techniques as many agents found it hard to get the younger generation interested in pursuing a career in the insurance business.

 

There is where I shared our new podcast, The Great Independent powered by Pacific Crest, and hopefully inspired some agents to do even more with their marketing practices. It’s my hope that not only our agents at Pacific Crest, but other independents take their passion to the next level.

 

The Great Independent Podcast Logo Microphone with orange hair behind mountains

 

Lastly, our break-out groups had to come up with an event that would encapsulate others from our community and gain traction beyond the event itself. There were some great ideas that tied in organizations from the local police and fire departments to non-profits that benefitted great causes.

 

It’s amazing what ideas can transpire when a few people get together with a similar goal in mind and a few resources.

 

image of a web of connected people

 

I highly encourage any agents to attend a marketing symposium or event that is available to you. The benefits will be much higher than you initially realize. If you can’t make it to an event, reach out to other local independent agents and pick their brain on what they’re doing or what they’ve heard from others in their network.

 

Also, keep in mind the other marketing resources that Safeco offers to its independent partners. Keep an eye on your inbox as they send out regular emails on tools and offers that are hosted on their agent marketing site.

 

Take advantage of what your carriers offer you! Often times these assets can change your business for the best.

5 Reasons Why Networking is VITAL for Insurance Agents

 

If there’s one thing that new (and established) insurance agents struggle with, it’s generating leads. Not only in the early days of setting up shop, but throughout their days as a small business owner. Then again, what agent doesn’t want (or need) more leads? When looking for legitimate ways to grow their business, insurance agents should make networking a BIG part of their game plan. Here are 4 benefits besides increased sales:

 

  1. Creating relationships in the community you’re located in

 

As an independent insurance agent and small business owner, your entire business model is centered around selling to the community your office is located in. This means you need to rely on referrals from current customers and relationships that you have in place. It’s not easy for a new business owner to come up with the cash to spend on marketing, nor finding the time. The more relationships you establish and the more you get your name out there, the better chance you have of referrals knocking your door down. Replicating yourself and your efforts through others can multiply your success rate.

multiple hands coming together in a community setting

 

  1. Generating leads in an over-saturated market

 

Marketing isn’t easy for any small business, never mind insurance agents. The insurance industry has the highest cost associated with its digital advertising, including the keyword “insurance” as the MOST expensive word to bid on with Google AdWords. That’s intimidating considering the players at hand: State Farm, Geico, Allstate and the list goes on…

How are you, the local independent agent supposed to compete with the hundreds of millions of dollars they each spend on advertising every year?

If you can make genuine connections in this day in age, you place yourself in a much better position than a company with 1 commercial in every :30 of ad space. The best way to do that is to pound the pavement and have face-to-face interactions.

  1. Making connections with industries that are directly related to your business

 

The most successful independent agents you talk to will tell you that they have relationships with certain industries in their communities. Can you guess what these industries are?

The mortgage companies, real estate agents and loan officers are their go-to’s. Makes sense, doesn’t it? These professionals are talking to and interacting with folks that are known to be actively looking for insurance. Making connections with these professionals can meet warm/hot leads being funneled your way, regularly.

 

  1. Overall business growth

 

Today’s society values authenticity more than ever. The large corporations are being forced to make connections in local communities, rather than simply blasting a big campaign over the airways. It’s much easier for someone that’s already local and knows the people that around him/her to make these connections.

Being intertwined with your community can mean more than just generating leads. It can mean finding new employees that are looking for an opportunity, getting a lead on some new office space you’ve been looking for or even new avenues that you hadn’t realized would be a good source of business.

  1. Referrals have the highest close rate

 

If there’s one of these points that gets through to you, it should be this one. Referral business has the highest close rate out of any lead source. The data coming your way is warm and your name has been vouched for. That holds 10x more weight than you are opening the phone book or buying leads and making cold calls.

If you can get in with a group of people that have their own community, they’re likely to spread the word about what great service you gave them and how happy they are with their insurance agent.

There’s a saying in business, “the best advertising is word of mouth.” Capitalize on it!

 

Networking takes time and energy. It also requires most people to get outside their comfort zone. However, the upside can’t be measured. The value that comes with establishing yourself in the right networks, in the right industries, can mean the difference between your business making it or falling flat on its face.