NOTICE: This post has been updated to reflect the insurance marketplace in 2015.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a local lunch-and-learn presentation on the current state of insurance in relation to technology and how independent insurance agents will compete with direct writers in the future.
The presentation was very well done and I took some excellent ideas away that I hope to implement in my work at Agency Nation. Presentations like these are type of collaborative discussions that our industry needs more of in order to be successful in the future business world.
After the presentation I went back to my office but it was hard to concentrate on work. There were two specific conceptual ideas brought up during the presentation that had my brain tweaked. I needed to get the thoughts down on paper. That is what this is.
But before we dig into the two ideas I want you to understand something about me, (since many of you reading this do not know me personally), so that you can hold a frame of reference throughout the article.
I am very passionate about the ideas I believe in and my personal vision of how independent insurance agents will succeed through technology. When it comes to insurance, my vision quest is destroying the misconception that insurance is a commodity.
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I believe technology will allow us to do that. Communication tools such as websites, social media and email, e-signatures, cloud-based servers, single sign-on… these are all action initiatives that ACT, the Agents Council for Technology, is working on and all are vitally important to the success of the independent insurance agent.
Capturing the Connected Generation
Passion for the value of insurance and the importance of the independent insurance agency is what allows me to consistently pour my heart out about an industry I adore and career I cherish. I affectionately refer to this as Bleeding on the Keys…
This is why after eight years working for a family-owned independent insurance agency I made the hard decisions to leave and join TrustedChoice.com as their Vice President of Digital Marketing.
For me, the quest to help insurance agents capture the connected generation is the valuable work I can do at this point in my career.
I hope, with the preceding introduction, will help you understand why as a thirty-three year old former independent insurance agent and standard bearer of the insurance industry, I am in such vigorous disagreement with the following two beliefs I’ve heard circulating throughout our industry:
- The Millennial Generation does not value the service independent insurance agents provide and prefers to deal with direct writers.
- The ability to provide online quotes is essential to competing with online direct writers.
Could it be that these are the prevailing ideas of Insurance Industry’s thought leaders?
I hope that I am wrong… But in case I’m not, let’s attack these two statements.
1. The Millennial Generation does not value the service independent insurance agents provide and prefers to deal with direct writers
I’ve heard this statement packaged a couple different ways:
“Millennials grew up with computers and want to buy through computers…”
“Millennials associate anything with an “Agent” as more work and more expensive…”
“Millennials have been marketed to their entire life and don’t respond to brand value…”
Have you ever heard these arguments or some variation of them?
I bet you have. When hear and read something that is expressing this viewpoint such as those above I cringe.
The problem is not that Millennials do not relate to Independent Agents… The real issue is that Independent Agents do not relate to Millennials.
Too many of us are sitting in our agencies ignoring the Internet, marketing as if it’s 1979, and selling with the same tired pitch we’ve always used. Coverage this… Price that… Review once a year whatever… It’s all bullshit.
Coverage, price and service are simply the barrier to entry for attracting Connected Generation consumers. Connected Generation consumers know that technology allows us to provide great coverage, competition price and high-quality service with minimal effort.
What attracts the Connected Generation is experience they receive working with your agency.
The Customer Experience
But Ryan, how can you say that when these people make insurance buying decisions based on conversations they’ve had on Facebook? I didn’t say that Millennials want the same type of relationship that Baby Boomers want.
Actually I’d say that Millennials want a different type of relationship all together (for more this read 5 Content Marketing Tactics the Connected Generation Can’t Resist).
The reason your independent agency is struggling to attract Millennials is because you are either unaware, unable or unwilling to provide the type of relationship that Millennials seek. That my friend, is a YOU problem, (an US problem really), not a Millennials problem.
Some of you are saying, “We’re old school here.”
We’ve been successful doing business the same way for 30 years. “We work on referrals…”
Do you think technology is going away?
Do you think that technology is going to become any less integrated with our daily lives?
Please tell me you don’t believe the whole “The World is Swinging Back to 1950’s Cold Calling and Direct Mail Marketing” thing.
Let me answer both those questions for you:
- No, technology is not going away and,
- No, technology is going to become even more a part of everything we do.
To pretend like that is not the truth is like saying the sun won’t rise tomorrow.
Just because YOU don’t like technology doesn’t mean you’re prospects and clients don’t like technology. Millennials want a relationship and they are going to seek out that relationship with whoever is willing to provide the relationship.
But here is the trick, as long as that relationship is provided on their terms.
So far direct writers are the only companies within the insurance industry willing to attempt to provide Millennials with the relationship they want. But there is hope, they stink at it.
This is the value in TrustedChoice.com. TrustedChoice.com is capturing the attention of Connected Generation consumers, introducing them to the independent insurance agency system and then connecting these consumers to an actual independent agent.
2. The ability to provide Online Quotes is essential to competing with online direct writers
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about online quote integration for independent agency websites with idea being today’s consumer wants to be able “shop” online for insurance themselves.
Go back and read the last two sentences of the third paragraph of this article. If that is too taxing a task, (I don’t blame you), here it is again:
“When it comes to Insurance my vision quest is destroying the misconception that insurance is a commodity. I believe technology will allow us to do that.”
Do you think that as independent agents we have any chance of competing with big-budget direct marketers if our value statement is “Come to our site where you can shop for your own quote?”
UPDATE: When I first wrote this section, the way in which independent insurance agents address online quoting was completely different. The platforms were awkward, clunky and provided limited and relatively inaccurate results. These platforms were not extending the value of the independent agency system.
Today with the introduction of the TrustedChoice.com platform and easier, more seemless integration from comparative rating tools such as EZLinks and ITC we can now provide the consumers who desire online rating a more valuable experience.
I hated the way we used comparative rating was first available to independent insurance agents. We used comparative rating to scream “PRICE” as loud as we could into the Internet. Then we’d hope someone comes running to buy insurance from us…
Crazy? A marketing strategy of yelling into air will have approximately the same results as playing the direct writers game of self-service online quote shopping.
The 2015 Model for “Get a Quote”
This is part of the genius behind TrustedChoice.com (you may think I’m playing favorites by talking about TrustedChoice.com, seeing that I now work there. But there’s a reason I took the job. I believe in the model).
When a consumer visits TrustedChoice.com they have the option of “Find an Agent” or “Get a Quote.” If the consumer chooses “Find an Agent” they are taken directly to the directory of local agents who write the product they are looking for. Easy.
When an insurance consumer chooses “Get a Quote,” they are asked a series of questions. Based on the consumers answers to these questions and other factors such as product desired, the state they are in, etc, insurance carriers who’ve chosen to provide rating return a preliminary quote.
This is when the independent agent value proposition takes over. Instead of allowing consumers to bind online, TrustedChoice.com directs consumers to an independent agent to close the deal, verifying that the consumer has chosen the correct coverage and carrier to meet their need.
When this article was first published I was pretty aggressive against online rating. I’m sure some of you reading this have some form of do-it-yourself-online quote system that you pay some amount of money for and you’re completely offended by everything I wrote at that time. So let’s skin this cat a different way.
As independent insurance agents how do we differentiate ourselves from direct writers? What is our value statement? What makes doing business with a human being a more advantageous insurance experience for the consumer than doing business with a computer?
At its simplest form… WE CARE!
We care that our clients have proper coverage.
We care that our client’s service needs are met in a manner they appreciate.
We care that our clients receive the competitive price in the market.
We care that our client’s insurance carrier will respectfully and dutifully respond to a claim.
How do you establish that value when insurance consumers are quoting their own insurance through an online rater?
If your answer is “After they purchase a policy,” you are so sadly mistaken. At that point we’ve established ourselves as order takers… Our opportunity to make a great first impression has come and gone.
Now process my change or I’m shopping my insurance for something cheaper. All I have to do is go online… NOW, I SAID!”
Not me Compadre, I want to establish relationships of trust and respect with my insurance consumers.
Trusted Choice is a big part of that. Creating and maintaining a conversational and educational online presence is part of that. Understanding customer experience and not service is what separates the independent agency system is a part of that. Building relationships with carriers, wholesalers, MGA’s, vendors and peer insurance professionals is a part of that.
“Get a Quote” is only part of the solution.
The Future of Insurance and Social Media
True I didn’t always believe in online raters and I’ve always loved the Internet. I believe so strongly in the power of marketing, communication, relationship and trust building potential held within the online world of social media and digital marketing for independent insurance agents that stopped selling insurance to help our industry.
That’s why I do the work I do today.
I believe in the independent insurance agent more than ever.
Insurance consumers need independent insurance agents more than ever.
But the marketplace is changing and if we’re really as good of businessmen and women as we’d like others to believe we must be willing to change with that marketplace.
The thing is, we can’t think of ourselves as insurance agents, I never did. We are a relationship builders. That’s what we do, we build relationships with people, it just so happens that the service we provide is insurance (or risk transfer for you old school cats).
And I know it to be true that so many of you feel the same way. That is why you are so successful at selling insurance. And that is what social media is all about, building relationships.
Yes, these relationships are built through a computer, but they’re certainly not meant to stay there. I tried, if geographically feasible, to sit face-to-face with every client I had and I sell a decent amount of insurance to people my first contact with is over the computer.
What I’m trying to say is great relationship builders, (YOU!), absolutely kill it on social media.
This is what Millennials (Connected Generation) want, a relationship, they just want to build it on the computer first. Millennials still want to know that there is a living, breathing human being who gives a crap about their insurance program on the other side of that computer looking out for their needs.
This is why we as independent insurance agents, should not rest on the success of online self-service quoting platforms. We’re not building the relationship upfront that sets us apart from the machines. At TrustedChoice.com we pride ourselves on educating consumers first, (we’ve done this with over 1,200 articles on the site and more coming everyday).
You should tap into that resource, while at the same time building your own.
If done correctly, with diligence and dedication, an online social media presence can build the trust and respect necessary to establish a quality agent / client bond.
I’m hoping that this article stirred up some emotions. It’s been three years since I published the original version of this post and funny thing is, not too much has changed.
We’re still fighting direct writers and independent agents are still questions the validity of digital marketing and social media as tool for attracting new business to their agency.
It’s time for this to change. I don’t want to update this article three years from today facing the same questions from agents.
The time for action is now.
Let’s hear your thoughts!
This is an extremely important topic facing our industry. The debate is crucial.
Thank you and good luck,
I am Ryan Hanley
P.S. If you’re looking to take this conversation deeper read 7 Ways to Fail at Content Marketing.